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Spain Becomes Fourth Country to Approve Gay Marriage
Just days after Members of Parliament in Canada stamped their approval on a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, Spain�s Parliament did the same.
The vote was 187 in favour, 147 against and four members abstained.
The bill was approved despite heavy criticism from conservatives and clergy in the traditionally Roman Catholic European country.
Holland and Belgium were the first two countries to allow gay marriage.
Here's something interesting
A lake disappeared in a Russian east of Moscow this past May. And if the Reuters account of the vanishing lake is to be believed, some local residents blamed the disappearance on the evil Americans. The Western press loves stories like these -- it proves that even God has it in for the Russians. And with good reason: they're anti-American, and they're stubbornly backwards, so therefore, bad things naturally happen to them.
It didn't take long for the smug American sneer-machine to respond. One blogger compiled a list of humorous accounts called, "Memo to Self: Don't Waterski in Bolotnikovo." An article by Matt McClurg on the cleverly named e-zine "Spoof.com," titled, "U.S. Steals Lake-Mocks Russian Village," opens with this ham-fisted side-slapper:
The Russian village of Bolotnikovo, where Stalinist Brainwashing remains the religion of choice, is renowned as a peaceful place... But, the greatest pride of tiny Bolotnikovo, the beaming joy of its happy and well-educated serfs turned scientists, was its lake -- its splendor slightly greater than a mud hole, but not as extravagant as an oil slick rainbow on wet tarmac. Briefly: it was a place that the Americans were monstrously envious of.
The joke, you see, is that America is so wealthy and advanced that it would have no need for a wretched lake in a dying stretch of Middle Russia. Americans find it funny -- the same way that rich bullies get off on sneering at poor, doomed losers. You can almost hear the cheerleader sneer at the unpopular loser girl: "Yeah right, I'm like, soooo jealous that I don't have oily skin and that I don't live in a shack like your family. Gawd, it's like, I'd do anything to trade in my family's five-bedroom home for yours!... Not!"
The real story here should be exactly what McClurg mocks: that in fact, Bolotnikovo, like so many villages in this, the largest country on earth, is literally dying a depressing, slow, unless an unbelievably extinction that normally goes unnoticed grotesque tragedy strikes it -- in which case the people with the SUVs and speedboats can cite it as witty material to celebrate their own health, wealth and progress.
Why would a cruel act of nature visited upon a poor remote village inspire a seemingly absurd anti-American outburst from its inhabitants, and triumphant bully-humor in response?
The answer, incredibly enough, is because the Americans really did steal that lake.
Although I've been living in Russia for most of the last 10 years, I remember my fellow Americans well enough to know that their reaction to this statement is: the "Oh come on, please!" sneer they give you, which is an argument killer that works every time. But the fact is that America has, by any objective standard, been at war with Russia for nearly two decades, a grossly one-sided war in which the U.S. is quietly conquering more and more territory with the kind of tireless efficiency and success not seen since the days of the Golden Horde.
As crazy as this may sound, the fact is that official Russian media reports on this undeclared war almost every day, and off-screen, American analysts have been gloating about it for quite some time. As the intelligence newsletter Stratfor -- which Time magazine ranked as the nation's top intelligent site in 2003, and which Barron's described as "a private quasi-CIA" -- pointed out a few months ago, with Ukraine now firmly in the West's orbit, America, with NATO and the EU, has managed to succeed exactly where Hitler and Napoleon failed: it has dismantled the Russian empire, leaving the rump state exposed, weakened and essentially at the West's mercy.
Indeed right after last December's successful US-funded revolution in Kiev, Stratfor observed, "Without Ukraine, Russia's political, economic and military survivability are called into question...To say that Russia is at a turning point is a gross understatement. Without Ukraine, Russia is doomed to a painful slide into geopolitical obsolescence and ultimately, perhaps even non-existence."
While most Americans are fed stories about a menacing, resurgent Russia behaving like a mini-version of its evil old Soviet self, the real looming threat according to others is that the Russian state might actually disintegrate. Dmitry Medveev, the Kremlin's chief of staff and the man often mentioned as Putin's potential successor, warned exactly of this danger immediately after the so-called "Tulip Revolution" in Kyrgyzstan.
In a rare interview with the Russian business magazine Expert, Medvedev, a 39-year-old former lawyer, said, "If we don't manage to consolidate elites, Russia may disappear as one state. The disintegration of the Soviet Union would look like a kindergarten party compared to the collapse of the modern Russian state."
He warned that the Russian elites, who have become increasingly divided lately, should unite behind the idea of "preserving an effective state system within the existing boundaries."
It is interesting that Medvedev emphasized preserving Russia's "existing boundaries," since this shows that Russia's biggest worry now is not so much losing its former vast sphere of influence -- that's already pretty much gone -- but rather, it may lose whole chunks of its own territory. Much as Serbia, its one lone ally in Europe, did after it opposed the West.
The Kremlin isn't alone in worrying. Peter Reddaway, the Georgetown professor and Russia specialist, co-wrote an article a few months ago in Newsweek arguing exactly the same point: "What's the main problem in Russia today? Most people have a ready answer: President Vladimir Putin's strangulation of democracy. Yes, but there's a bigger one. That's whether Russia is stable enough to hold together."
During the 1990s, Professor Reddaway was ostracized by his peers for daring to criticize the Yeltsin regime and warn that its insane corruption was bound to end in disaster. After the 1998 crisis, Reddaway became a kind of guru, while all of the neo-liberal think-tank tools and major media hacks who had shamelessly cheered the Yeltsin reforms on quietly changed their tune.
Today, Party Line in the American mainstream media, academia, and its masters in Washington are creating an equally facile and flawed filter through which to judge Russia's problems: Putin's worsening democratic credentials. According to this new Party Line, it is Putin's rollback of democracy which is really the great threat to the region. But is it? Reddaway counters that this mainstream once again ignores the real problem: "Few Russia watchers would suggest the country is on the verge of disintegration. Yet it could be. Certainly, its present boundaries are likely to be altered."
What an incredible statement! For years now, no country has been allowed to change its borders and get away with it -- except of course for Yugoslavia, Russia's former ally, which opposed the West and soon after lost most of its territory. And Indonesia, which also opposed the West after Suharto's fall, losing East Timor in the process.
The threat of Russia's disintegration is real. It is losing territory and power just as Bolotnikovo lost its lake. In the process, the Kremlin has become increasingly paranoid, reflecting not so much inherent Soviet evil as fear and desperation.
This leads to the most important, and dangerous, question: is Russia simply disintegrating, or is America breaking it apart?
In the wake of the Beslan massacre in September, 2004, in which hundreds of children were killed during a Chechen separatist seizure of a school in southern Russia, President Putin went on television and blamed certain foreign powers for supporting the terrorists with the aim of defanging Russia for good, breaking it apart, and seizing its valuable resources. He did not name the United States, but it was clear whom he meant. Shortly after Putin's speech, the state-run TV media picked up where he left off, with some of the most famous news personalities specifically accusing the US of being behind the Chechen raid.
Mikhail Leontyev, the pseudo-scruffy state Channel One commentator and noted Kremlin waterboy, starkly noted, "It is time to name that power which is trying to break Russia apart. It has a name, and that name is the United States."
Stratfor, whose politics could be described as something between patriotic-American and realpolitik, agreed. According to its Kremlin sources, Putin specifically named the U.S. and Great Britain during private meetings. And as Stratfor noted in its April report, there is plenty of evidence to support the Kremlin's claim.
In the first place, while Muslim separatist militants from other conflict zones are shunned and even violently pursued by the U.S., the Chechen separatist representatives are routinely given haven and official voice in both the U.K. and America. Ilyas Akhmadov, the separatist group's "ambassador" to the U.S., was granted asylum just last year, while Akhmed Zakayev was given asylum in the U.K. in late 2003. While the U.S. has moved to crack down on militant Islamic charities that are linked to other areas of the world, it has allowed several foundations to operate in the U.S. which are believed to funnel money to Chechen rebels, including the American Committee for Chechnya, Chechen Relief Expenses, International Relief Association and others.
This is part of the policy shift ushered in by the Bush Administration, when, in February 2001, a ranking State Department official, John Beyrle, met with Akhmadov, the highest ranking U.S. official to ever receive a Chechen separatist. It was deliberate, and the Russians reacted furiously.
One of the unintended consequences of the Bush Administration's coddling of the Chechen separatists was that it could not obtain a proper warrant to search the computer of suspected 9/11 hijack plotter Zacarias Moussaoui, who was detained before September 11th. FBI officials were unable to obtain the proper FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) warrant which would have allowed them to search his computer because at the time, he was only known to have been linked to Chechen separatism (French intelligence warned the U.S. that Moussaoui aspired to become a jihadist in Chechnya). Had U.S. officials categorized Chechen militants the same way as other Islamic separatist movements, the FBI would have been able to secure a special FISA warrant, and Moussaoui's plans might have been uncovered. But that was a price to pay for keeping the Chechen separatist movement warm.
As Stratfor notes, the British connection to the Chechen separatists goes farther back. "During the first Chechen war-from 1994 to 1996-retired U.K. special forces officers trained British Muslim recruits in British territory to fight in Chechnya," Stratfor claims, echoing reports out of Russia. "Some militants who attended that training and were later captured told the Russian government."
After Chechnya gained de facto independence, a scandal apparently erupted in Russia-U.K. relations when de-mining instructors from a private security firm, which included American ex-military personnel, were caught "training Chechen militants how to launch mine and bombing attacks against Russian troops," according to Stratfor.
It was through humanitarian assistance that Fred Cuny, the famous "swashbuckling" American aid worker, became a key figure, and later a martyr, in the first Chechen War. Cuny was killed in Chechnya in 1995. When Russian reports labeled him a spy, it was dismissed in the US media as "conspiracy theory" and "paranoia." But as it turned out, Cuny did indeed have both military and intelligence connections.
Stratfor, along with many in the Kremlin and the Russian elite, believe that the U.S. and Britain have supported Chechen separatism precisely because it weakens Russia, advances U.S. power in the vital Caspian Sea region, and cripples a potential future rival. As Stratfor notes, since Bush's re-election, the West has increased pressure on Putin to come to a peace agreement. Such an agreement, leading to the withdrawal from Chechnya, would represent "complete defeat in Chechnya and the Caucasus."
Meanwhile, the U.S. has massively increased its own military presence in both the Caucuses and Central Asia... but more on that later.
Sympathy for the Chechen cause in America has, to say the least, very suspicious motives. The main lobbying group pushing for Chechen independence in the U.S. is a group called The American Committee for Peace in Chechnya (ACPC), which describes itself as "The only private, nongovernmental organization in North America exclusively dedicated to promoting the peaceful resolution of the Russo-Chechen war."
That might sound fuzzy and warm, until you look at who sits on its board. It is a Who's Who list of right-wing imperialist warmongers, including Richard Perle, architect of the recent Iraq war; Elliot Abrams, who engineered Reagan's bloodbath in Central America and who served in Bush's National Security Council; and former Carter National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, a leading American imperialist hawk who needs no introduction in Russia.
Normally, these guys hate Islamic militants; but for some strange reason, their maternal instincts suddenly light up for the Chechen cause. This might be excused as a rare case of ogres showing humanity, unless you consider their motives. Many of the ACPC's members also served on the Project for the New American Century, which had also pushed for militant American global hegemony, rolling back Russia and invading Iraq.
In 1997, Brzezinski published a treatise, "The Grand Chessboard," calling on America to seize global hegemony. Perhaps colored by his Polish youth, Brzezinski didn't see the main enemy in China or radical Islam. Rather, he argued, "America's capacity to exercise global primacy" hinged on preventing "the emergence of a dominant and antagonistic Eurasian power." By "Eurasian power," he meant, of course, Russia. "Eurasia is thus the chessboard on which the struggle for global primacy continues to be played."
While serving under President Jimmy Carter, Brzezinski made a name for himself when he went to the border of Afghanistan and was filmed aiming a mujahedeen gun at Soviet forces-symbolically. Through ACPC, Brzezinski is back with the muhajedeen fighting Russian forces.
In the same book, Brzezinski also pushed for ripping Ukraine away from Russia's influence as a way of crippling the "Eurasian power":
"Even without the Baltic states and Poland, a Russia that retained control over Ukraine could still seek to be the leader of an assertive Eurasian empire.... But without Ukraine and its 52 million fellow Slavs, any attempt by Moscow to rebuild the Eurasian empire was likely to leave Russia entangled alone in protracted conflicts with the nationally and religiously aroused non-Slavs, the war with Chechnya perhaps simply being the first example." Indeed, with emerging conflicts in neighboring Caucuses republics Daghestan, Ingushetia, Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Brzezinski was oddly prophetic.
Amazingly enough, it looks like the plan is working. Ukraine is now preparing to join NATO, and Russia is left bleeding, desperately trying to keep a lid on the Caucasus as the separatism and terrorism expands. Russia is now tied down fighting within its own borders, just as the U.S.-backed Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline, carrying crude from Azerbaijan to the Turkish port on the Mediterranean, is going operational. The pipeline was constructed specifically to allow the U.S. and the West to bypass Russia, Iran and China and extract the valuable Caspian reserves into its own network. Thus the pipeline runs from friendly Azerbaijan through friendly Georgia and out of NATO member Turkey, and into NATO-controlled seas.
This is what the current undeclared war is all about. What drives Brzezinski, what drives the support of regime change on Russia's borders, and within its borders, isn't just Old School Russophobia. It's oilophilia. The Caspian Sea basin holds the world's biggest untapped fossil fuel resources. Estimates range from 85 to 190 billion barrels of oil, worth up to $5 trillion. Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan alone might hold over 130 billion barrels, more than three times the US reserves. As Vice President Dick Cheney said in a speech in 1998, when he was CEO of Halliburton, "I cannot think of a time when we have had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian." In 2001, Cheney, who sat on the Kazakhstan's Oil Advisory Board, advised President Bush to "deepen [our] commercial dialogue with Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and other Caspian states."
While Cheney was working Kazakhstan, Brzezinski was one of just seven men who sat on the board of the USACC: The United States Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce, considered the key power center in the region for years now. The other six board members were, again, Dick Cheney, Henry Kissinger, James Baker, Brent Scowcroft, John Sununu and Lloyd Bensten. Richard Perle sat on USACC's board of trustees. Richard Armitage served as the USACC's Board President until 2001, while Cheney's daughter, Elizabeth, left Armitage Associates around the same time in order to take the post as Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs for regional economic issues. Cheney's wife, Lynne, sat on the board of Lockheed Martin, which funded space launches in Kazakhstan's Baikhonur space port.
In the summer of 2003, James Baker, representing both American oil interests in Azerbaijan and President Bush's political wishes, was sent to Georgia to tell then-President Edward Shevardnadze, who had shown increasing signs of independence from his American sponsors and was suspected of cozying up to Russia, that he must hold "free and fair elections" that autumn or else. When the elections turned out to be predictably flawed (no less flawed than previous Georgian elections which the US had backed, and no less flawed than the elections in neighboring Azerbaijan that very same autumn which the Bush Administration warmly received), Shevardnadze was ousted in the U.S.-orchestrated "Rose Revolution," and pro-U.S. President Mikhail Saakashvili seized power, securing America's position in the Caucasus. Saakashvili's first major act as president was to throw out the Russian-backed leader of Georgia's autonomous Adjaria region, the same region which coincidentally serves as Georgia's transit point for the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, and he installed his own pro-American people instead. Now American forces and friendly regimes secure the Caspian oil pipeline route from pumping station to port.
To really appreciate how much Russia has lost over the past 15 years, take a map and color-code Russia's territorial retreat, and America's advance, in the same way that school textbook maps coded the advance and retreat of conquering European armies.
On the eve of the Soviet Union's collapse, its defined borders encompassed the much of the old Russian empire, including the Baltic republics, the Caucasus and Central Asia, as well as Ukraine. Beyond that, its direct control over proxy regimes extended deeper than at any point in Russia's history, slicing halfway through Central Europe, until the end of the 1980s. The U.S. was able to help pull the Warsaw Pact countries out of the Soviet Union's orbit by a combination of plying Gorbachev along with promises of becoming accepted into the West and assurances that he had nothing to fear. As Strobe Talbott noted in his book "Russia Hand," then-Secretary of State James Baker assured Gorbachev in 1990, "If we maintain a presence in Germany that is part of NATO, there would be no extension of NATO's jurisdiction for forces of NATO one inch to the east."
In 1999, when NATO expanded into Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright publicly assured the Russians that eastward expansion of NATO "posed no threat to Russia." The NATO invitation to the three countries was extended while NATO was bombing Russia's ally, Serbia, in the war over Kosovo, a war which Russia strongly objected to.
By June of 1999, NATO forces occupied Kosovo, and a year later, Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic was ousted in the first of the "color-coded" revolutions which have since been repeated with varying degrees of success throughout the former Soviet Union. The highly-staged, marketing-mad revolution in Serbia in 2000 was the culmination of years of planning and preparation which was overseen in large part by Richard Miles, who served as chief of mission in Yugoslavia in the mid-late 90s. In 2002, Miles was appointed ambassador of Georgia. He arrived -- along with a contingent of U.S. Green Berets, who were brought to Georgia ostensibly to help that country fight terrorism. Instead, U.S.-trained Georgian forces have been on the front lines fighting Russian-backed South Ossetians since last year. A year after Miles arrived in Georgia, the "Rose Revolution," the second of these "color-coded revolutions," threw out an unreliable leader and installed a friendly one. Now, Georgia is angling to enter NATO by the end of the decade.
Miles also served in Azerbaijan, whose ambassador today is Reno Harnish, who had previously served as the Chief of Mission in Kosovo. Over the past year, Azeri authorities have accused Harnish of helping to foment another potential color-coded" revolution there this November. Azerbaijan, which spun out of Russia's orbit years ago, has been a key member of NATO's "Partnership for Peace" program and regularly hosts Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In late 2003, Russia was so concerned that Azerbaijan was about to host a major U.S. base that its ambassador there told reporters, "There has not been and there will not be any kind of American presence in the Caspian. We will not allow it." There are many theories as to why the US is clearly preparing another "color-coded" revolution for Azerbaijan this year, but the biggest reason is thought to be that officials and oil magnates are unhappy with the grotesque levels of corruption in the current regime. In other words, they're not reliable, and it's not easy to make a good buck - so the democracy advocates are being wound up and ready for revolution.
In March of last year, NATO announced a massive expansion into former Russian proxy governments and territory, taking the former Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania. The latter two countries may soon host major U.S. bases.
Central Asia has all but fallen too. The U.S. base in Kyrgyzstan is its largest in Central Asia, and, coincidentally, Kyrgyzstan was the first former Soviet state in Central Asia to experience a color-coded revolution, albeit one which didn't go exactly according to script. Uzbekistan hosts the other large U.S. base in that region, in Khanabad. Meanwhile, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan both train with NATO forces, and Russia's influence in Turkmenistan is practically nil. As the Eurasia Journal noted earlier this year in its article "Kazakhstan Inches Towards NATO," this year has been a turning point in terms of Kazakhstan moving closer towards joining the alliance.
All that is left, really, is Belarus, Tajikistan, and the breakaway regions in Georgia and Moldova, but they won't last long. In April of this year, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice openly called for revolution in Belarus, which America's new allies in Ukraine and Georgia have openly pledged to support. "If [revolution] brings about democratic progress, why is it a bad thing for people to throw off the yoke of tyranny and decide they want to control their own futures?" Rice said about Belarus. A failed attempt to start a color-coded uprising in Minsk last month ended with several arrests, including several Ukrainian pro-democracy activists.
There's a lot of officially-manufactured anti-American paranoia in the Russian media these days. But the depressing fact is that in the larger picture, Russia is right. In fact, it's obvious, yet like so many obvious things, you'll never hear it admitted in the mainstream American media. Conquest is rewritten as liberation; military expansion as security.
While it's true that Russia's state-controlled television is filled with paranoid anti-American conspiracy theories and ranting, the depressing fact is that much of the parnoia is grounded in fact. The current power-mad American elite saw an opportunity as the Soviet Union teetered, and it seized it. They wanted oil, and hegemony, and the only thing standing in the way of it was Russia -- both the current crippled Russia, and the future possibility of a resurgent Russia. The prize is the oil and gas reserves in the Caspian Sea. In order to control the oil, Russia had to be diverted, particularly after the less-friendly Putin came to power.
This is why normally bloodthirsty, anti-Islamic hawks like Richard Perle, Elliot Abrams and Zbigniew Brzezinski all found time to squirt a few for the Chechen cause. It has served as the perfect crippling diversion while America gained control over the Caspian Sea oil, and at the same time, having Russia bogged down in Chechnya allowed the West to pry away key states, particularly Ukraine, from Russia's orbit, ensuring that it will likely never challenge America's position -- or its dominance of Caspian oil -- in our lifetime.
This is what Stratfor meant when it said that America succeeded where Hitler and Stalin had failed. The only question is, how long will the strategy work, and how will it eventually end up. But that question won't be asked, because for whatever bizarre reason, America still thinks it's not out to conquer Russia and the Caspian. In fact, your average Joe, fed by the mainstream media's facile and wildly misleading accounts, thinks that all that's happening over there in the former Soviet Union is that all the countries around Russia love us because we're just so damn good, and that the Russians, for some reason (jealousy, lack of positive thinking, dead-ender mentality), just won't get with the program. That's why God himself is draining their lakes. And that's why smug suburban jesters like Matt McClurg are laughing.
Germany and Poland warm to UK budget plan
Germany and Poland appeared to sympathise with the British presidency's ideas on the EU budget at a meeting of foreign ministers and Polish ambassadors in Warsaw on Monday (27 June), while urging Europe to press ahead with enlargement.
"It is in the interest of Germany...to back a gradual decrease of funds earmarked for agriculture in exchange for those destined for innovation", Berlin's foreign minister Joschka Fischer said according to Reuters.
I must admit I admire Tony Blair. If he manages to convince Europe that it must turn from agriculture to innovation, it will be his biggest political achievement yet.
German diplomats were quick to tell EUobserver that the remarks do not signal a major shift in policy however, and were just another way of saying that direct payments to farmers should be phased out in favour of creative rural infrastructure aid.
I love European spin.
Polish foreign minister Adam Rotfeld gave a "fantastic" reaction to UK Europe minister Douglas Alexander's ideas on EU funding and enlargement, according to a source at the British foreign office.
The UK contact added that London is pushing for over 50 percent of the EU's 2007-2013 budget to go to new member states compared to 40 percent under the outgoing Luxembourg presidency's proposals.
Let's see France swallow that.
Mr Alexander's speech warned against "a politics of anxiety and an economics of protectionism" while pointing out that farming currently gobbles up 40 percent of EU funds but provides just 5 percent of its jobs.
Polish plumber pops up again
Poland's Mr Rotfeld also seemed to criticise France when he said that "national egoism is in the process of supplanting the values that created Europe", before urging politicians to abandon negative myths such as that of the Polish plumber.
The Polish plumber became a byword for cheap eastern European labour in last month's EU constitution debate in France.
Meanwhile, French foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy urged the UK to "live up to its financial responsibilities" to Europe or risk turning the EU budget into a "fiasco", the Polish news agency PAP reports.
But the event was not as confrontational as implied by some British media, with the Telegraph implying that Mr Douste-Blazy refused to turn up in Warsaw until the UK delegation had left.
"The French minister had to stay behind for a meeting with prime minister De Villepin, that was all", a British source noted.
Paris praised Poland's "exemplary" behaviour in the recent summit talks,
Why thank you, we were just hoping so that out behavior would please you.
... while Warsaw described Germany as a key European partner and called France a locomotive driving events in Europe.
Enlargement must continue
Britain, France, Germany and Poland agreed that Europe is facing a period of political crisis that requires strong leadership and urged fellow member states to press head with the enlargement agenda.
"The prospect of EU accession is a catalyst for change in Turkey and in the Balkans", Mr Fischer noted.
The French and German ministers stayed in Warsaw for a Weimar triangle dinner on Monday night, while Mr Alexander flew to Vilnius to sell the UK presidency's plan to the Lithuanian president Valdas Adamkus.
The French and British camps aim to spend the rest of the week drumming up good will in the east.
UK deputy prime minister John Prescott will visit Poland, the Baltic states, the Czech republic, Hungary and Slovakia in the next few days, while French Europe minister Catherine Colonna will drop in to Hungary.
U.S. Has Plans to Again Make Own Plutonium
New York Times:
The Bush administration is planning the government's first production of plutonium 238 since the cold war, stirring debate over the risks and benefits of the deadly material. The substance, valued as a power source, is so radioactive that a speck can cause cancer.
Federal officials say the program would produce a total of 330 pounds over 30 years at the Idaho National Laboratory, a sprawling site outside Idaho Falls some 100 miles to the west and upwind of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Officials say the program could cost $1.5 billion and generate more than 50,000 drums of hazardous and radioactive waste.
Project managers say that most if not all of the new plutonium is intended for secret missions and they declined to divulge any details. But in the past, it has powered espionage devices.
"The real reason we're starting production is for national security," Timothy A. Frazier, head of radioisotope power systems at the Energy Department, said in a recent interview.
He vigorously denied that any of the classified missions would involve nuclear arms, satellites or weapons in space.
The laboratory is a source of pride and employment for many residents in the Idaho Falls area. But the secrecy is adding to unease in Wyoming, where environmentalists are scrutinizing the production plan - made public late Friday - and considering whether to fight it.
They say the production effort is a potential threat to nearby ecosystems, including Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park and the area around Jackson Hole, famous for its billionaires, celebrities and weekend cowboys, including Vice President Dick Cheney.
"It's completely wrapped in the flag," said Mary Woollen-Mitchell, executive director of Keep Yellowstone Nuclear Free, a group based in Jackson Hole. "They absolutely won't let on" about the missions.
"People are starting to pay attention," she said of the production plan. "On the street, just picking up my kids at school, they're getting keyed up that something is in the works."
Plutonium 238 has no central role in nuclear arms. Instead, it is valued for its steady heat, which can be turned into electricity. Nuclear batteries made of it are best known for powering spacecraft that go where sunlight is too dim to energize solar cells. For instance, they now power the Cassini probe exploring Saturn and its moons.
Federal and private experts unconnected to the project said the new plutonium would probably power devices for conducting espionage on land and under the sea. Even if no formal plans now exist to use the plutonium in space for military purposes, these experts said that the material could be used by the military to power compact spy satellites that would be hard for adversaries to track, evade or destroy.
"It's going to be a tough world in the next one or two decades, and this may be needed," said a senior federal scientist who helps the military plan space missions and spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the possibility that he would contradict federal policies. "Technologically, it makes sense."
Early in the nuclear era, the government became fascinated by plutonium 238 and used it regularly to make nuclear batteries that worked for years or decades. Scores of them powered satellites, planetary probes and spy devices, at times with disastrous results.
In 1964, a rocket failure led to the destruction of a navigation satellite powered by plutonium 238, spreading radioactivity around the globe and starting a debate over the event's health effects.
In 1965, high in the Himalayas, an intelligence team caught in a blizzard lost a plutonium-powered device meant to spy on China. And in 1968, an errant weather satellite crashed into the Pacific, but federal teams managed to recover its plutonium battery intact from the Santa Barbara Channel, off California.
Such accidents cooled enthusiasm for the batteries. But federal agencies continued to use them for a more limited range of missions, including those involving deep-space probes and top-secret devices for tapping undersea cables.
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George Bush's long hot summer
It should be used to rethink his ambitious second term
GEORGE BUSH likes his summers hot. While the Clintons used to disappear to the cool breezes of Martha's Vineyard, he heads down to the furnace of Crawford, Texas, and spends an inordinate amount of time clearing brush on his ranch. This summer is likely to be sweatier than most.
Mr Bush's second term is not going well. The most visible disaster remains Iraq: the euphoria of the January election has worn off, six out of ten Americans want to bring their troops home and he has failed to get much help from the Europeans. His secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, is (correctly) beating the drum for democracy in the Middle East; but the face of American justice remains the internment camp at Guantánamo Bay, which Mr Bush seems unsure whether to close. A new Pew survey of global attitudes to the United States (see article) shows hearts and minds are not being won.
Things are also going badly at home, where his approval ratings have dipped below 45% (see article). The president has spent weeks on the road, flogging his ambitious plan to overhaul the Social Security system—and nobody seems to be buying it. This week, the ever less loyal Republican Congress again held up the nomination of John Bolton, his proposed ambassador to the United Nations. Mr Bush has had to postpone his efforts to reform the tax code, and he is struggling to hold down government spending, after his first-term splurge, and also to get through a tiny Central American trade deal.
Meanwhile, his promises to bring the country together after his re-election have faded away. Both the main Republican gambles on Capitol Hill this year—trying to “save” the life of Terri Schiavo, a brain-damaged Florida woman, and trying to force the Democrats to give up the filibuster they are using to block his judicial nominations—were deeply divisive and ended in failure. Congress is even less popular than he is. And soon (maybe next week, if the ailing Chief Justice William Rehnquist retires at the end of the Supreme Court's current term) Mr Bush may have to nominate a new Supreme Court justice—plunging the country into its bitterest fight yet.
To Mr Bush's many critics, his discomfort is easy to explain: it is the sound of a flock of Texan wild turkeys coming home to roost. This most loathed of presidents is getting his come-uppance for being wrong on just about everything.
This rejoicing seems wrong on two counts. First, it is premature to write off Mr Bush: even in this fallow period, he can point to some achievements, including a partial reform of the tort system at home and the glimmerings of an Israeli-Palestinian deal abroad. He still enjoys the support of his base: his approval ratings are 85% among Republicans. And the Democrats lack both ideas and leadership.
Second, from this newspaper's perspective, Mr Bush has not been wrong about everything. We have never shared his enthusiasm for the religious right (see article), which is one reason to watch his Supreme Court appointments nervously. And we have long regarded his approach to both fiscal policy and civil liberties as reckless: he deserves all the flak he gets over Guantánamo. But we have supported his push for democracy in the Middle East, his tough approach to the war on terror and, yes, the Iraq war; and in his domestic policy we have found things to admire, including his education reforms and his willingness to tackle Social Security.
So what is he doing wrong? Mr Bush's biggest problem remains execution—a crucial failing in one so ambitious. The mistakes vary from challenge to challenge, but they usually involve three things: mis-selling, an obstinate refusal to change course or personnel and a failure to reach out to opponents.
Baghdad and beyond
With Iraq, even Mr Bush's supporters admit that the administration exaggerated Saddam's ties to al-Qaeda. But in some ways, the current blithely optimistic doublespeak is worse. How can Mr Bush say he is “pleased with the progress” there, or Dick Cheney claim that the insurgency is “in the last throes”? Iraq is no Vietnam, but the sooner Mr Bush spells out the truth bluntly, the sooner he will recover his reputation as a straight-shooter with the American people and Congress.
With Social Security the mis-selling is more complicated. Mr Bush deserves credit both for pushing America to reform its huge entitlement system before the baby-boomers start to retire and for trying to create an “ownership society”, based around private accounts. But he has blurred the lines between the two, trying to sell private accounts as an answer to an immediate pensions crisis. In fact, Social Security will be “fixed” only by changing the entitlements or the contributions.
Recently, Mr Bush has altered course a little with pensions. But on many issues his generally admirable resoluteness has descended into pig-headed obstinacy. The only possible explanation for his determination to stick with Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary responsible for post-invasion planning and the disasters of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, is the misguided assumption that firing him would be a sign of weakness. In fact, it would be a sign that even Mr Bush's friends are accountable. The same goes for Guantánamo itself. Giving terrorist suspects a proper trial is not a risk; it is justice.
It is hard for Mr Bush to reach out beyond his natural supporters, partly because he often brings out the worst sort of unprincipled negativism in his opponents—be they Howard Dean or Jacques Chirac. But it cannot help the war on terror that so many people regard America as an unprincipled bully. At home, his tactic in the first term of beating up the Democrats, even when they supported his tax cuts, has solidified their opposition—and he is finding it difficult to get anything past them, let alone a project as large as Social Security reform.
More than anything else, Mr Bush's long hot summer represents a failed opportunity. Last November he was given not just a mandate, but a chance to reinvigorate his presidency. He did not take it. The next few months will be crucial—and not just for Mr Bush. It is not good for the world to have an American president consumed by domestic misfortune. But that is what we will have to deal with, unless Mr Bush clears the brush that threatens to overwhelm his legacy.
Main article here. It's well worth the read.
Poland's Plea to Europe: Can We All Get Along?
The New York Times:
The quip making the rounds of Warsaw in these days of European crisis is that joining the European Union was good for Poland, but it does not seem to have been very good for the European Union.
Indeed, Poland has become a symbol of the risks that many in the richer countries to the west of here believe to be posed by an ever bigger and more integrated Europe - Polish plumbers driving down wages, a ruthlessly competitive Europe stripped of its social welfare benefits.
Poland in this sense falls on one side of a new European divide, between the rich countries beginning to see an ever-expanding Europe as a danger to their well-being and still enthusiastic poorer countries wondering if the club they were invited to join is still willing to live up to its vision.
"The unification of Europe still faces the challenge of a kind of Rio Grande, between rich and poor countries, and if we want to build a unified Europe, we have to get rid of that border," said Bronislaw Geremek, a former Polish foreign minister who is now a member of the European Parliament. He said he was astonished that the richer countries would be so avidly pinching pennies just at the time that eight poorer new members have joined the club.
As if to demonstrate the country's European commitment, the Polish press has widely reported an 11th-hour effort to save the failed Brussels summit meeting a week ago. Prime Minister Marek Belka, who was soon joined by the seven other former East Bloc members, offered to cut some of Poland's subsidies in exchange for an overall budget agreement, an effort that was rejected by the British and the French.
"It was very embarrassing for them," Poland's current foreign minister, Adam Daniel Rotfeld, said in an interview, meaning the countries whose arguments about money caused the collapse of the summit. "Suddenly they realized that the new countries are much more attached to the E.U.'s values than the old founders of the E.U."
"For Poland, political union and the very existence of the E.U. as a new political entity is more important than money," Mr. Rotfeld said.
From the point of view of the Poles, the rich countries have engaged in a narrow-minded, defeatist act of national selfishness, and they have done so just when the European Union's enlargement to 25 members last year promised to complete the revolution that began with the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1991.
"National egoism won," President Aleksander Kwasniewski said in the wake of the collapse of the Brussels summit meeting.
Read the rest
I hate Texas
from the very bottom of my soul.
Make your taunts good...
Pistons rain on Spurs' parade, force Game 7
BY MITCH ALBOM
FREE PRESS COLUMNIST
SAN ANTONIO -- They took every stone the devil could throw, and they caught the last one and threw it back in his face. It took history. It took belief. It took desperation in every dribble. But mostly it took hope, and with every Pistons achievement -- every Rip Hamilton jumper, every Rasheed Wallace put-back, every Ben Wallace block, every Chauncey Billups three-pointer -- there was hope. They were supposed to die, because that's what teams do when faced with silly odds. But here they were at the end, heading off the floor with one more game to play.
Dead men walking.
And slamming. And blocking. And jamming. And stealing. And staying -- staying put, staying alive, staying in Texas for one last game to settle the kingdom.
Put down that bugle. Hold off the eulogy. In any and every way you can push a series to its limit, the Pistons now have done it. On the first day of summer, they held off the setting sun, and became the first team in history to win Game 6 in the NBA Finals on the road and force a Game 7 there to decide it. The score was 95-86.
But the real score was Desperation 1, Expiration 0.
"A lot of people thought we were out," Rasheed Wallace told ABC-TV after the series-tying victory. "They had their Cristal (champagne) ready. ... But we'll be here Thursday."
They made sure of it Tuesday night. They did it by coming out hard and never letting up. They did it with a stifling defense and a blow-for-blow offense. They did it with deadeye shooting. They did it with hustle and second-chance plays, and they did it by defying injury, foul trouble and the unending brilliance of Manu Ginobili (21 points, 10 rebounds), who almost won this thing by himself. But he is a man. And this is a team.
And the team is still here.
Dead men breathing.
A game for the ages
What a game! It was like 48 minutes of sprinting, 48 minutes without gulping a breath.
Here was Ben Wallace taking a lob from Tayshaun Prince and ramming it halfway to Mexico. Here was Billups, on a night when every point was critical, cranking up the fattest baskets possible, hitting an amazing five treys for 21 points. Here was Hamilton, finding his jumper when they needed it most, leading the team with 23 points. Here was Prince, playing at a different level, one-hand slamming, floating down the lane, grabbing precious rebounds when they were most needed.
Here was Rasheed Wallace, coming off the self-described "bonehead" play of Game 5, surviving five fouls to come back late for key baskets and a key steal in the final two minutes.
As a result, there will be a seventh game in the NBA Finals for the first time in 11 years. All the things that defined the Pistons' championship last year were on display in what could have been their last game Tuesday night.
"We're just tough, man," Billups told the TV crew. "We're tough as nails. We always find a way to climb out of that foxhole."
And San Antonio has to crawl back in it. How ready were the Spurs for a victory? Not only had a parade been planned for Thursday (a fact that made the Pistons' locker-room blackboard) but in the lower-level hallways of the SBC Center there were stacks of newly printed T-shirts that read "San Antonio Spurs, NBA Champions, 2005." There were hundreds of them, ready for use, intended for the party that was coming once the Spurs buried the Pistons.
And then the game was played.
Oh, yeah. Forgot about that.
One night to go
"This is what our team is about," coach Larry Brown said. "I've been with these guys for two years, and they don't disappoint me in terms of their desire to win."
Tuesday marked Brown's 100th career playoff victory. In a building where the Pistons had not scored 80 points this season, they scored 95. In a town where they hadn't won a game in eight years, they won a game when it mattered most. This is what they do. They break the mold.
"Can you talk about what it means to force a Game 7?" someone asked Billups.
"Yeah. It means everything. We go back to the hotel instead of the airplane."
Admit it. You didn't expect this, did you? You thought the specter of winning two games in this town would weigh like a metal jacket. You thought the Pistons would fold. You thought the Spurs would ride the home court to victory. You thought it -- or somebody you knew thought it.
What matters is that the Pistons didn't think it. Whatever the outcome of this down-to-one-game Finals, Detroit already has established some kind of record for resiliency. The Pistons came back against Indiana. They came back against Miami -- and won Game 7 on the road. They've now come back twice against the Spurs and whittled the season to a single night, 48 minutes of basketball, that suddenly seems impervious to location.
Sure, the Pistons dig their own holes sometimes. But there is more heart in this team than in a zoo full of lions. How astounding was this? Consider this: The last time the Pistons won a road game in this town -- of any kind -- Grant Hill had a triple-double.
You remember Grant Hill, right, kids?
Ask your older brother.
Meanwhile, to paraphrase Langston Hughes: What happens to a defeat deferred? Does it dry up sweet like a raisin in the sun, or fester like a sore and run? Who is more affected by this game? Do the Spurs rack themselves silly for a wasted chance? Are they pushed to the wall of what might have been? Do they come back harder in Game 7?
And the Pistons? Did they leave it all on the floor Tuesday night? Or will they find even greater spirit now that the season, the series and the title defense is shrunken to a single frame?
Time will tell. But no matter what happens, the Pistons already have delivered an amazing trunk full of memories, one that glows with the aura of an indomitable spirit. And here's a nice little stat: The last 10 times the Pistons have had one game to win a series they have gotten it done.
Chew on that for the next 24 hours. Thursday will come soon enough. For now, remember Tuesday, when summer began and basketball didn't end. The Pistons are defying critics, trends, analysts -- even the calendar. And that sound you hear is a hopeful heartbeat, thumping like a basketball.
This is kind of fun, isn't it?
Pistons teach Spurs another lesson, tie series at 2
BY MITCH ALBOM
FREE PRESS COLUMNIST
This was the moment that said it all: Tayshaun Prince, holding the ball, alone on the wing with Manu Ginobili, the early god of these NBA Finals. And Ginobili stuck a big, old Argentinean hand in front of Tayshaun's eyes. Block his vision? That schoolyard trick? Tayshaun shook his head, then shook his shoulders, then shook his torso and his feet -- Elvis getting ready to rock -- and then he shook off Ginobili as surely as a Labrador shakes off a bath. Whoosh. He blew right past him for a two-handed slam.
Say good-bye to Games 1 and 2. We're starting over now. New storyline. And here's how this one goes: Give no quarter. Give no half. Give no easy rebound, no easy shot, no Tim on the block, no Manu down the lane.
By giving nothing to the Spurs without a hand, fist or elbow, the defending champions have risen to their feet after that initial Texas knock to the canvas. They are standing upright this morning, toe-to-toe, their blood drier than their opponents, beckoning with the gloves and saying, "Come on, let's finish it."
Three games left. Two victories needed. One team survives.
"We're starting to play the way we need to play," Chauncey Billups said after the 102-71 series-tying blowout Thursday night, in which seven Pistons scored in double figures. "We're really a different team right now than we were in Game 1 and 2."
You can say that again. Comparing those Pistons to these Pistons is like comparing Maria Callas to Marie Osmond.
Here, Thursday night was a stunning performance that erased any residue of Spurs dominance from last weekend. Rather, Game 4 started the way Game 3 ended, with Detroit running away from a bewildered San Antonio, which must really love the idea of three more days in a Birmingham hotel.
This time the Pistons didn't need Stevie Wonder to inspire them. They sang "Isn't She Lovely?" all night long. See it coming? How about when Ginobili was called for a foul -- on the opening tip play? How about when Ben Wallace hit several jump shots to beat the shot clock? How about when Lindsey Hunter, who works so hard on defense he has a terrible shooting percentage in the playoffs, came off the bench and banged in four straight baskets? How about when Billups made such a blinding juke it left Tony Parker watching as helplessly as his (don't say she's his) girlfriend, Eva Longoria?
See it coming? How about the Spurs committing 18 turnovers, arguing over fouls, Gregg Popovich drawing a technical, Ginobili losing the ball like a rookie, Parker getting whistled for traveling and Tim Duncan, the only Spur who even got a "B" for effort, sitting on the bench looking like a kid whose mom forgot to pick him up at school.
They are a tightly woven unit, the Spurs, but their seams loosened Thursday night. This is unraveled for them. Unraveled back to a pile of thread, just like the Pistons now, each team waiting to stitch its final tapestry.
Three games left. Two victories needed. One team survives.
Defense, defense, defense
A moment here to describe the Pistons' interior defense. Five words come to mind:
Strip, rip, pull, poke, strip.
OK, so we said strip twice. It happened a lot. From Duncan to Robert Horry to Nazr Mohammed to Ginobili or Parker, anyone who dared to try the paint rarely came through it with the ball. The Pistons had 13 steals and six blocks. That doesn't count the poke-aways that luckily came back to the Spurs. Detroit held Duncan to 5-for-17 shooting.
"That's what we do," Billups said. "Us guards always feel like we can pressure because we've got the most athletic and quickest big men in the league.... People think when they get by myself or Rip or Tay that it's going to be an uncontested lay-up, like in the first two games. ... Now we're back to ourselves again."
And this is how Detroit wins, defense, defense, leading to offense. And it's nice the country has now had a chance to see it. The Pistons shared the ball the way they shared the burden. And they kept the pressure coming, as if slowly turning the heat up on a burner.
As a result, it looked easy. It wasn't easy. But it was effort, execution, excellence and a lot of other e-words.
In their two losses, the Pistons won one quarter -- total.
In their two victories, they've won seven out of eight.
"Trust me," Joe Dumars had said before this game, "the Spurs are gonna come back and play better" than in Game 3. "I expect this to be the best game of the series, I really do."
Well. It was the best game -- if you're the Pistons' president of basketball operations.
A really big game on Sunday
"How do you explain such a turnaround from the first two games to these two?" Larry Brown, the Pistons' coach, was asked.
"Good coaching," he said.
He was kidding. I think.
But having said that, let's keep this all in perspective. Before Game 4, someone had asked Rasheed Wallace about his team's mood after the cruising Game 3 victory:
"We're not sitting up here jumping for joy," he said. "We still have to go out there and try to accomplish what we did last night."
Take that quote and reprint it. Because, despite the euphoria (another e-word), this all goes for naught if the Pistons don't win Game 5 on Sunday night. We have said all along, Detroit needs to return to San Antonio up, 3-2, in order to have a shot at the title. That doesn't take away from the blowout Thursday night (by the way, I think Hunter just hit another jumper).
But it does keep it in perspective. One game is one game. You don't get extra points for reaching 100.
But you do get momentum. And the fact that the next game is also in the Palace, with Kid Rock scheduled for the national anthem, suggests that momentum is clearly wearing a red-and-blue wig right now.
"We just played great tonight," Brown said. "Pop and I were walking out. He knows how we felt the first two games and now I know how he felt. We were phenomenal tonight."
Down one hall, the Pistons were taking off their jerseys and looking forward to congratulations from their friends and family. Down the other hall, the Spurs were talking off their jerseys and thinking about the long three days ahead of them on the road. A few hours later, all these men, Pistons and Spurs, would be sleeping in different places, but their dreams would be variations on a theme.
The theme now is simple: Who wants it more? Forget the blowouts. Forget what has been. They are eye-to-eye now, chin-to-chin, breath-to-breath.
Three left. Two needed. One survives.
Go to your corners.
Gustav's internet down
My internet at home is experiencing technical difficulties, all of which will hopefully be resolved by next week. Due to this, my responses to any comments may take even longer than before (I'll have to wait for a free moment at work -- like now).
Identical twins lead polls in Poland
The identical twins first entered the spotlight as child actors playing a pair of rascals who mend their naughty ways. Now, the Kaczynski brothers are promising to solve the nation's problems with a return to clean government and traditional morality.
Not much distinguishes this power pair of Polish politics, whose similarity extends from their cherubic faces and silver hair to a back-to-basics message that has helped put them in position to vie for Poland's two top jobs.
Warsaw mayor Lech Kaczynski is leading in the polls for president. As head of a leading right-wing party, Law and Justice, Jaroslaw Kaczynski is a possible contender for prime minister.
That identical twins are in the running for the positions is one of the quirks of an election year that will culminate in general elections Sept. 25 and presidential balloting in October.
Polls indicate the right will win both parliament and the presidency - now both in the hands of former communists. Such a handover of power would mark the sharpest change in direction since the end of the communist rule in 1989.
Should they hit the double jackpot, the Kaczynskis, Geminis who turn 56 on June 18, are promising nothing less than a radical "moral renewal," sweeping away a left-of-centre government they say has been infected with corruption.
In separate interviews with The Associated Press, the brothers - who avoid appearing together in public - laid out their vision for a better, cleaner Poland.
They both vowed to fight the so-called system of "political capitalism" that has flourished since the 1989 fall of communism: cronyism built on communist-era ties that has seen politicians promote the interests of certain businessmen in return for bribes or other favours.
"This must be broken," Jaroslaw said. "The Polish state must be overhauled." Lech calls for "a country more rooted in its traditions."
They pledge to be good partners with the United States, with Lech saying relations would be "the best possible" and that he could even imagine extending the presence of Polish troops in Iraq past a Dec. 31 deadline for ending the mission.
Still, he reserves criticism for what he says is an acceptance by Germany, France and to a lesser extent by the United States of what he views as an increasingly authoritarian Russia under President Vladimir Putin.
The two gained fame as youngsters in a movie based on a popular Polish children's book, The Two That Stole the Moon.
In high school and the army, they would sometimes take exams for each other. "Mostly my brother would take exams for me, in tactics, armaments, regulations or knowing the terrain, showing up and presenting himself as 'Private Kaczynski,"' Lech recalled with a smile.
The best way to tell them apart? Look for the distinctive moles that Lech has on his cheek and nose.
Surveys consistently show Lech leading a race of about a half dozen presidential contenders. A June 3-6 survey by the CBOS agency showed the mayor with 25 per cent support, ahead of famed cardiologist Zbigniew Religa with 19 per cent. The margin of error was plus or minus three per cent.
In the general elections, the twins' party - Lech is an honorary party leader - is running neck and neck with the business-friendly Civic Platform, meaning Jaroslaw could contend for the job of prime minister in a coalition or else hold another top ministerial post.
Unlike their allies in Civic Platform, the Kaczynskis and Law and Justice see a stronger role for state intervention in the economy.
Lech has won popularity as mayor for taking a tough stance on crime and promoting efforts to commemorate Warsaw's history - including a museum devoted to the 1944 Warsaw Uprising and a planned museum on the history of Poland's Jews.
But he has also drawn the ire of gay rights activists and others by banning a yearly homosexual rights parade in Warsaw for the second consecutive year. Defying the ban, more than 2,000 gay-rights activists marched in Warsaw.
The brothers differ on whether they can imagine ending up a president-premier pair.
Jaroslaw said he might ask another party member to head the government to spare Poles the confusion of two top leaders with the same face.
But Lech wants no such sacrifice.
"If we win, I will strongly prevail on my brother not to yield," he said, referring to Jaroslaw's decision to refuse the premier's post in 1990. "I have no right to block my brother."
A long way to go, #2
Gays, extremists clash
Warsaw - A march by more than 2 000 homosexuals through the Polish capital in defiance of a ban by the mayor degenerated into violence on Saturday as marchers clashed with right-wing extremists.
The clashes, in which at least three people were injured including a policeman and about 10 arrested, occurred towards the end of the gay parade through Warsaw, for which police were out in force, an AFP correspondent at the scene said.
Warsaw's right-wing Mayor Lech Kaczynski had banned the parade on Friday, on the grounds that the application to march had not been correctly filed.
A favourite in the race for president of this devoutly Catholic country in October, Kaczynski had also banned the gay parade last year and has made clear his opposition to homosexuality.
Warsaw police spokesperson Mariusz Sokolowski said more than 2 500 people had attended the parade, and were met by around 300 counter-demonstrators.
Earlier in the day the gays had been pelted with eggs and insulted as "deviants, peadophiles" by around 100 far right youths when they held a demonstration outside the parliament building.
The gays yelled back that the rightwingers were "fascists" and a line of police officers had to step in to separate the two groups. Police also intervened to lift barricades placed along the route of the parade by the extremists.
An estimated two million gays and lesbians live in Poland, making up five percent of the population. But they complain of discrimination at work and open hostility in a society which is more than 90% Catholic.
Carrying rainbow-coloured flags the protesters were joined by a number of politicians including Poland's deputy prime minister, Izabela Jaruga-Nowacka, and two German lawmakers from the Green Party, Claudia Roth and Volker Beck.
The German Greens lawmakers appealed to Poland's national leaders to respect homosexual rights.
Lech Kaczyński is the leader in the race for President. The latest poll
Most Poles favored banning the parade, as Kaczyński had tried to do, but most Varsovians favored allowing it
"Gays are not pedophiles" "Mr. Kaczyński, real men don't fear gays"
A long way to go
Pope rejects condoms for Africa
The spread of HIV and Aids in Africa should be tackled through fidelity and abstinence and not by condoms, Pope Benedict XVI has said.
Speaking to African bishops at the Vatican, the Pope described HIV/Aids in Africa as a "cruel epidemic".
But he told them: "The traditional teaching of the church has proven to be the only failsafe way to prevent the spread of HIV/Aids."
More than 60% of the world's 40m people with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa.
In South Africa alone, 600-1,000 people are thought to die every day because of Aids.
Pope Benedict, who was elected to succeed John Paul II in April, has already signalled that he will maintain a strictly traditional line on issues including abortion and homosexuality.
Before being elected pope, Benedict served as head of the Vatican's doctrinal office.
These were his first public comments on the issue of Aids/HIV and contraception since taking office.
It is of great concern that the fabric of African life, its very source of hope and stability, is threatened by divorce, abortion, prostitution, human trafficking and a contraception mentality
He was addressing bishops from South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia and Lesotho, who had travelled to the Vatican for a routine papal audience.
Some Catholic clergymen have argued that the use of condoms to stem the spread of the disease would be a "lesser of two evils".
The Pope warned that contraception was one of a host of trends contributing to a "breakdown in sexual morality", and church teachings should not be ignored.
"It is of great concern that the fabric of African life, its very source of hope and stability, is threatened by divorce, abortion, prostitution, human trafficking and a contraception mentality," he added.
The virus "seriously threatens the economic and social stability of the continent," the Pope said.
The UN estimates that without new initiatives and greater access to drugs, more than 80 million Africans may die from Aids by 2025 and HIV infections could reach 90 million, or 10% of the continent's population.
Pulling Ukraine in whether the EU likes it or not
Visegrad PMs adopt common EU strategy
The prime ministers of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary have agreed that the ratification of the EU Constitutional Treaty should be continued despite the failure of the recent referenda in France and the Netherlands.
The meeting of the so-called Visegrad-4 in Kazimierz-Dolny, central Poland, was also attended by the Ukrainian prime minister Julia Timoshenko who was assured of the V-4 support for Ukraine’s bid to join the European Union.
On the bloc’s forthcoming budget debate, Polish prime minister Marek Belka said the Visegrad group outlined an identical position on EU’s spending plans. ‘We want the fact of a certain economic lag of the Central European countries to be taken into consideration in adopting the terms of absorbing EU funds. He aded that the four countries want to pay only the lowest possible rate to co-finance EU-funded projects.
Possible terrorist threat in Warsaw
The mayor has announced that there is some sort of terrorist threat at a major shopping mall in the center of Warsaw. The mall has been evacuated, no further information is available.
Personally, I think it's a false alarm. I'll keep you updated.
Latest Confirmed Nominee Sees Slavery in Liberalism
The New York Times:
Janice Rogers Brown, the African-American daughter of Alabama sharecroppers who was confirmed Wednesday to the federal appeals court here, often invokes slavery in describing what she sees as the perils of liberalism.
"In the heyday of liberal democracy, all roads lead to slavery," she has warned in speeches. Society and the courts have turned away from the founders' emphasis on personal responsibility, she has argued, toward a culture of government regulation and dependency that threatens fundamental freedoms.
"We no longer find slavery abhorrent," she told the conservative Federalist Society a few years ago. "We embrace it." She explained in another speech, "If we can invoke no ultimate limits on the power of government, a democracy is inevitably transformed into a kleptocracy - a license to steal, a warrant for oppression."
To her critics, such remarks are evidence of extremism. This week, some Senate Democrats have even singled her out as the most objectionable of President Bush's more than 200 judicial nominees, citing her criticism of affirmative action and abortion rights but most of all her sweeping denunciations of New Deal legal precedents that enabled many federal regulations and social programs - developments she has called "the triumph of our socialist revolution."
Her friends and supporters say her views of slavery underpin her judicial philosophy. It was her study of that history, they say, combined with her evangelical Christian faith and her self-propelled rise from poverty that led her to abandon the liberal views she learned from her family.
"We discuss things like, 'How did slavery happen?' " said her friend and mentor Steve Merksamer, a lawyer in Sacramento, Calif. "It comes down to the fact that she believes, as I do, that some things are, in fact, right and some things are, in fact, wrong. Segregation - even though the courts had sustained it for a hundred years - was morally indefensible and legally indefensible and yet it was the law of the land," he said. "She brings that philosophy to her legal work."
I'm so sick and tired of conservatives accusing liberals of seeing no "right and wrong". While we do see the world in more shades of gray, we certainly have values and morals -- and are not accepting of just any value system. Conservatives are attacking us as "relativists" on every front -- when it's THEY who see no right and wrong when it comes to things like business and US security. When is a prominent liberal going to speak out against this hypocrisy?
Now, where's the check?
Award Limit in Tobacco Case Sets Off a Strenuous Protest
The New York Times:
A Justice Department decision to seek $10 billion for a stop-smoking program in its suit against the country's leading tobacco companies, instead of the $130 billion suggested by one of its expert witnesses, set off a firestorm on Wednesday.
Several Democratic lawmakers with a longtime interest in smoking and health issues attacked the department for what they said was a politically motivated decision, as did public health groups.
Judge Gladys Kessler of Federal District Court, who is presiding in the trial here against the companies, took note of the sudden change, telling the court on Wednesday, "Perhaps it suggests that additional influences have been brought to bear on what the government's case is."
The move infuriated lawmakers who have long been critics of the tobacco industry. "It reeks of an administration whose heart isn't really in this case," said Senator Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey, at a news conference with other Democrats who suggested that Justice Department officials with ties to the tobacco industry might have grown uncomfortable with a large financial demand as part of the government's case against the companies.
The payments are intended to finance a stop-smoking program that a government witness said would cost $130 billion over 25 years. In court on Tuesday, a government lawyer, Stephen D. Brody, said the government would ask for a program costing only $10 billion to be paid out over five years.
In a statement issued Wednesday evening, the Justice Department said, "The government's suggested smoking cessation program is only an initial requirement, based on the compelling evidence that the defendants will continue to commit fraudulent acts in the future."
A department official said that $10 billion figure represented an effort to ask for an amount that would comply with adverse rulings by a court of appeals. "This is not politics," said the official. "This is exactly the contrary. This is trying to stay within the law and trying to stay within a decision with which we disagreed."
Despite the lower figure, if the judge, who is hearing the case without a jury, rules against the companies, she can impose financial penalties of any size, no matter what the government has requested.
The appeals decision cited by the administration official occurred five months into the trial. The ruling held that under civil racketeering laws, the tobacco companies could not be forced to relinquish past profits. Instead, the court said, the government could only seek sanctions that involved payments for new programs ordered by the judge.
Tobacco company lawyers expressed surprised delight at the change, saying they believed the government lawyers realized that Judge Kessler would not grant them as much as $130 billion.
The original figure was based on testimony from Dr. Michael C. Fiore, an expert on tobacco addiction, who said an effective nationwide program that included a telephone help-line, access to medical treatment and counseling and a budget for advertising and promotion would cost $5.2 billion a year for 25 years.
"Why, in the middle of a lawsuit, would you give up, which is exactly what this administration has done?" said Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois. "Was it because of the power of the tobacco lobby? Was it their close connection with people within the administration? Was it the fact that they'd never had the stomach to tackle this special interest group in Washington?" He added, "I think it's all of the above."
The first time in my life I agree with Clarence Thomas and William Rehnquist
The LA Times:
What were those Justices smoking?
The U.S. Supreme Court ruling against medical marijuana Monday was widely expected, but that doesn't make it defensible from a legal or moral perspective.
Writing for the 6-3 majority, the 85-year-old liberal Justice John Paul Stevens counseled patients suffering chronic pain to turn to "the democratic process" for comfort. "The voices of voters," he mused, may "one day be heard in the halls of Congress" on behalf of legalizing medical marijuana.
His plea that those who need medical marijuana demand - and wait for - a change in federal law is weak medicine at best. The simple fact is that California voters, and voters in several other states, have already democratically raised their voices in support of allowing the use of marijuana in controlled situations for medical reasons.
While we consider whether the Republican-controlled Congress will pass a medical marijuana bill, we can listen to the howls of pain from people such as Angel Raich and Diane Monson, who brought the case to the Supreme Court.
They are Californians who suffer from a brain tumor and a degenerative spinal disease, respectively. Raich and Monson have testified that marijuana eases pain and helps them function in ways that other drugs do not. Most medical researchers find that plausible, as did 56 percent of California voters when they approved a proposition legalizing medical marijuana in 1996.
In 2002, however, the Drug Enforcement Administration began to confiscate the drug from users because marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Raich and Monson sought an injunction against confiscation and other enforcement actions.
Now a Supreme Court majority has ruled that state laws allowing medical marijuana run afoul of the Constitution's "commerce clause," which gives the federal government supreme power to regulate commerce among the states. Invoking a 1942 case, it claims that even small amounts of homegrown pot used for medical purposes might well make it impossible for federal law enforcement to police the national market in illegal drugs.
Yet, as Justice Sandra Day O'Connor noted in her dissent, the government "has not overcome empirical doubt that the number of Californians engaged in personal cultivation, possession, and use of medical marijuana, or the amount of marijuana they produce, is enough to threaten the federal regime." It's not even clear that medical marijuana is commerce as we normally understand the term.
In recent years, the Supreme Court has reeled in Congress' powers under the commerce clause. The court struck down the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act, which prohibited the possession of firearms within 1,000 feet of schools, and the Violence Against Women Act, which would have allowed victims of sexual crimes to sue in federal court. Such issues, said the court, were the states' responsibility and should remain beyond Congress' grasp. Partly because of such decisions, court watchers started to talk about a revival of federalism and states' rights as the legacy of Chief Justice William Rehnquist (Rehnquist joined Thomas and O'Connor in the Gonzales vs. Raich dissent.)
In her opinion, O'Connor stressed that having states experimenting with state medical marijuana laws "exemplifies the role of states as laboratories" of democracy. The majority, though, ruled such experiments forbidden when it comes to medical marijuana that never leaves California or is never bought or sold.
If the legal reasoning behind the majority is puzzling, the moral effect is not. Medical marijuana users can now add possible jail time to their list of problems. As Monson told the media, "I'm going to have to be prepared to be arrested."
California Attorney General Bill Lockyer claimed that the decision won't change police priorities, so there was no reason to panic. "Nothing is different today than it was two days ago," he said. Except, of course, the legal status of medical marijuana.
Will Monson, Raich or any of California's medical marijuana users be able to call him for bail money from federal jail?
I’ve been thinking about Africa
A lot of people are these days, it’s all over the news – this famine, that genocide. It’s gotten so it’s hard to keep track. It’s just always there, in the background, the white noise that’s unpleasant, but you live with it.
Tony Blair is in Washington today to try to convince George Bush to give more money to Africa. Bush won’t do this, because he and his ideological ilk believe that handouts, whether to countries or individuals, are inherently evil, and only create dependency. In the case of Africa in particular, they believe that the donations are eaten up by corruption, and do nothing to help those really in need.
That’s true, of course – to an extent. We all know that aid doesn’t necessarily have to go to governments, that there are plenty of successful extra-governmental programs, independent aid groups and the like. Heck, we could even use our own people – increase investment in the Peace Corps., for starters.
Conservatives also argue that the US gives more money in aid to Africa than any other country on the planet - US aid to Africa has tripled since Bush has been in office. Liberals argue that the US gives just 0.025% of its GDP in aid to Africa – one of the lowest rates in the world. I would wager that which measurement you favor could predict who you voted for last November.
So, let’s agree. Corrupt governments in Africa fritter away aid dollars – making direct aid to many of the governments in the region useless.
But can we also agree that Africa is in a deep, deep mess?
OK, great, I think most of you are still with me. Now, here’s where I get controversial:
Helping Africa is not only morally good, but also in our interest.
I was just watching a review of a recently released (or soon to be released) documentary film which tells the story of Lt. Gen. Roméo A. Dallaire, the general who commanded the UN “peacekeeping” force sent to Rwanda to stop the genocide there. In his own words the general said he had “failed” in his mission, and that he had “tried his best” gave him no consolation. He puts the blame squarely on an ineffectual UN.
Just as conservatives say: the UN has lost its relevancy. It’s powerless. Except that his argument was that the national interests of member countries (he uses the plural, and doesn’t mention the US explicitly) got in the way of more UN action.
Conservatives say that the US shouldn’t send soldiers to this region of Africa or the other because “that’s the UN’s job”, and then turn around and tell you that the US shouldn’t donate more troops to the UN because they wouldn’t be under the command of US generals. They know that the UN would be handicapped without US troops, and I think they realize this. Which is why they throw up their hands and say, “Aw heck, they’d go on killin’ each other anyway. They’re just crazy. Let them go on killin’ each other.”
This of course is not true, and in no way solves the problem.
But really, in 1994, while the Rwandan genocide was happening, we all were resigned to that attitude to one degree or another. Hand-wringing doesn’t count as fighting for a cause. At the time I hardly knew it was going on.
That is my fault. I should have done more. I couldn’t have written a letter?
Send more troops to Rwanda!
Truth is, most of us weren’t in the mood after what had recently happened in Somalia. But 800,000 people were slaughtered because of it. We could have stopped it, and because we didn’t we all bear responsibility.
[Bush and Blair are now on television, giving their statements. Blair makes his argument convincingly, and I hope that his clout with the American people can help him convince a few folks. Bush, taking a question about why the US doesn’t double its aid to Africa, blathers on about those countries trading fairly and opening their markets when he knows full well that the US doesn’t trade fairly with those countries either.]
The deep, deep shit that Africa is in doesn’t bode well for the continent, but it endangers the rest of the world too. In conditions of dire poverty, little education, and military chaos, religious extremism prospers. There are well over 600 million people in Africa. That makes for a lot of future terrorists. Do our grandchildren deserve to pay with their lives for our inaction?
Of course, if you’re looking for a positive incentive, look at it as 600 million potential trading partners we could gain.
It seems to me then, that even conservatives should agree that Africa needs both military aid – to halt current conflicts and prevent future ones – and financial aid – to alleviate hunger, fight disease, raise education standards and build infrastructure.
The question is: How do we do it?
I’m not picky. I understand that conservatives are wary of trusting an organization not fully under US control – and nobody wants to entrench our boys in some gigantic African quagmire. So how do we get the troops there?
I also don’t care how the financial aid gets to the people, so long as it translates into tangible improvements in life. Whether it’s through responsible governments or compassionate aid organizations doesn’t matter, but it’s got to begin making a much larger impact. Africa will need some 60 billion dollars in aid by 2015. How do we pay for it?
Under what conditions would you support increasing aid significantly more than what the US is now giving?
Under what conditions would you support sending a significant contingent of US troops to halt a conflict in Africa?
How do we make sure that Africa doesn’t become one giant boiling cauldron of terrorism? And how do we improve life there?
Looking for a repeat
Congratulations to the Pistons on their victory in the Eastern Conference finals.
Any San Antonio fans out there?
Warsaw Business Journal:
Polish aviation plant PZL Świdnik, which manufacturers helicopters, has signed an agreement to supply parts to the US Navy.
Initially the American government will purchase high precision door panels for F-14 Tomcat fighter plane, which is used to protect groupings of aircraft carriers. On Tuesday PZL's headquarters will host a ceremony to mark the establishment of the only European technical assistance center to the US Navy, which has been developed in order to supervise the quality of components delivered to the USA. The move creates an enormous opportunity for other domestic producers in the aviation sector. "Now the plant has at its disposal a unique center of processing composites, for which the demand is growing," said Jan Mazur, spokesman of PZL Świdnik. At the moment over half all of Świdnik's revenues are generated by cooperation with aviation companies, such as Airbus, Bombardier, Agusta, GKN and Cessna.
California lawmakers kill off gay marriage bill
California's Assembly on Thursday killed off a bill that would have allowed gay marriage in the nation's most populous state.
The measure, defeated in a third and final vote, mirrored a bill that also failed last year and proposed making marriage in California "gender-neutral" and a "personal relation arising out of a civil contract between two persons."
In its first two votes starting late on Wednesday night, the Democratic-controlled Assembly fell six votes short of the needed 41 votes for the bill by Democratic Assemblyman Mark Leno of San Francisco, who is openly gay.
He lobbied intensely throughout the day, but picked up only two additional votes for the measure. The last vote on Thursday night ahead of a Friday deadline to pass current legislation was 37-36.
None of the 33 Republicans in the 80-member Assembly backed the bill.
"This issue does not go away. Gay and lesbian couples are not going to disappear as of tonight," a bitter Leno said after the vote. "But they will have been told by the state of California one more time they're not worthy."
"We have to be patient," he continued. "Every poll shows that those over 65 oppose this idea ... but those under 35 support it more than those over 65 oppose it. So when the demographic shift occurs, the debate ends."
California became a prime battleground for same-sex marriage after Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco, one of the world's gay capitals, allowed more than 4,000 homosexual couples to wed last year until halted by court order.
A legal fight over gay marriage continues in California courts, as it does in many U.S. states, and is likely to last for years.
President Bush has called for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage, and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, also a Republican, has expressed opposition to same sex weddings.
California law affirms a traditional definition of marriage but also allows domestic partnerships for gay couples, providing them many rights extended to married heterosexuals.
The Polish entrepreneurial spirit
Warsaw Business Journal
A former teacher from Kłodawa is hoping to give the Irish a few lessons in drinking
Plucky Radek Pilat is hoping to tackle the Irish at their own game after opening the first Polish pub in Ireland.
The 28-year-old ex-geography master hopes Biało Czerwoni (White Red), in his adopted home of Limerick in southwest Ireland, will bring in many of the Poles who have moved to the Emerald Isle and appeal to locals at the same time.
And the initial signs are very encouraging, Pilat says. On his opening night, just over a fortnight ago, the mix of Poles and Irish was 50-50 and they barely touched the Guinness and Heineken he had on tap.
“They all wanted to know what Polish beer I had and they finished off all eight cases that I had of Okocim,” he told the Limerick Post. “It’s seven-percent alcohol as opposed to the 4.3 percent of Heineken. They called it Black Label – it was our biggest seller.”
Ireland is one of the handful of EU countries that has lifted employment barriers to citizens of the new EU members. It is estimated that around 3,000 Poles have now moved to Limerick, forming a sizeable and well-liked community.
“It would be silly opening an Irish pub for Polish people in Ireland so I’ve just decorated it in red and white, like the Polish flag. I play only Polish music, all the staff are Polish and I’ve also got Polish TV,” he said.
Pilat added, however, that he is under pressure to play R&B in his pub from his fellow countrymen, so has agreed to dilute his homespun sounds with Destiny’s Child and Anastasia.
He moved to Ireland two years ago after a friend called and offered him the chance of working in a newsagent’s shop. “I didn’t have to think twice about it,” he said. Since then, Pilat has found jobs for 15 friends and family in Limerick, and most importantly has also found love. Pilat and Nathalie Ouzzame, 24, from Paris, now plan to wed in Poland later this summer after having firmly established what will inevitably be dubbed ‘The Polish Pub’ by locals.
Asked whether he had any regrets about his life in Ireland, though, he had to admit there was one fly in the ointment: “I really miss the Polish bread and the ham sausages.”
The bread here really is fantastic.