Sunday, October 28, 2012

Five Stories Of The Week: Ending October 27, 2012

News & Commentary










Here are five stories that shaped my world this week:

Palestinian Elections: Palestinians voted last Saturday in the West Bank’s first local elections since 2005, selecting new leaders for 295 towns and villages, in 643 ballot stations, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Turnout was light in the morning but picked up as the day progressed, according to officials from the central elections commission. As they cast their votes, many Palestinians expressed pride and happiness that the long-delayed local elections were finally being held.
“It makes me feel that democracy is well here,” said Tareq Makhlouf, 26, a U.S.-born Palestinian who moved to Ramallah last year.
Others said they hoped the new slate of local leaders would bring change. “It is time to see new faces in the municipalities,” said Faisal Darras after casting a vote at a Ramallah polling station. “Seven years of the same faces is enough .... Elections should be held every four years, not every seven.”
The Palestinian Authority had attempted to conduct local elections several times since 2010, but votes were canceled due to political instability and the fracture between the two main Palestinian parties, Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Voter turnout was about 54 percent, the Palestinian election commission said when the polls closed, substantially lower than the last election when there was a 74 percent voter-participation rate. About a half a million persons were eligible to cast votes. 

Unrest In Lebanon: An article in the New York Times says that Syria's civil war might be spilling over into Lebanon, a country that had faced its own civil war between 1975 and 1990. For some, the memories of the destruction that such sectarian wars create have become livened by last week's car bomb that killed a top Lebanese intelligence official.
Tensions rippled across Lebanon on Saturday after the Friday attack, which killed Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan, a top Lebanese intelligence official who was a Sunni and seen as a supporter of the rebels fighting to oust the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad.
People affiliated with the various opposition groups staged protests, burned tires and fired weapons into the air in Beirut and other cities as they called on the government to resign. Prime Minister Najib Mikati said he offered to step down, although he said President Michel Suleiman “asked me to stay for a while longer as he discusses the situation.”
The offer to resign, and the unrest after the attack, was partly a reflection of Lebanon’s continuing sectarian tensions, which are in danger of being stoked by the 19-month uprising across the border in Syria. Mr. Mikati is a Sunni, while Hezbollah, a Shiite militant group, and his other partners in Lebanon’s government are considered supporters of Syria’s leadership in its brutal fight against a mainly Sunni uprising.
A Letter Of Betrayal: Christian-Jewish relations took another setback when 15 leaders of Christian churches sent a letter to the U.S. Congress to ask them "to reconsider giving aid to Israel because of accusations of human rights violations," the New York Times reports. The Times adds: "The signers, besides the Presbyterians, included leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church, the National Council of Churches, the United Church of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the American Friends Service Committee (a Quaker agency) and the Mennonite Central Committee. Two Catholic leaders also signed, one with the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, an umbrella group of men’s religious orders."
The Christian leaders say their intention was to put the Palestinian plight and the stalled peace negotiations back in the spotlight at a time when all of the attention to Middle East policy seems to be focused on Syria, the Arab Spring and the Iranian nuclear threat. “We asked Congress to treat Israel like it would any other country,” said the Rev. Gradye Parsons, the top official of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), “to make sure our military aid is going to a country espousing the values we would as Americans — that it’s not being used to continually violate the human rights of other people.”
The Jewish leaders responded to the action as a momentous betrayal and announced their withdrawal from a regularly scheduled Jewish-Christian dialogue meeting planned for Monday. In a statement, the Jewish leaders called the letter by the Christian groups “a step too far” and an indication of “the vicious anti-Zionism that has gone virtually unchecked in several of these denominations.”
“Something is deeply broken, badly broken,” said Ethan Felson, vice president and general counsel of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella group that helped to convene the meeting. “We’re certainly not getting anywhere now.”
Such is as true a statement you'll ever hear. Although such political moves might not represent the majority of the people in the pews, it is nevertheless disturbing. Betrayal is the right word to describe such actions, but then again the problem likely lies in the New Testament's narrative of the Jews, colouring the ability of many of its followers to recognize the church's complicity in their long tortured history of persecution of the Jewish People. For example, it was only in 1994 that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America officially rejected Martin Luther's anti-Semitic writings, with its 1994 “Declaration to the Jewish Community.”

Unemployed In Spain Waiting For A Miracle: The economic crisis, and that's the right word, has hit Spain especially hard. People who never expected to be without a job, including engineers and other professionals, are now in the undignified position of having to wait in line to receive a free meal, their daily bread if you will The Voice of America writes:
In central Madrid on a Saturday afternoon, the economic crisis seems like something only economists worry about. But in the working class suburb of Mostoles, the crisis hits home.Here at the San Simon de Rojas food-distribution center, unemployed construction worker Antonio Molino Pelaez is just one of many getting acquainted to life on the streets. "When I had a job, I had a good life. I didn't have lot of money but enough to eat. Now I can't survive. I have nothing," he says. "It affects me a lot, because I'm a man of 41 and I don't have any prospects. I don't have a future. I don't have anything."
Pelaez, who eats here six days a week — on Sundays when the food-distribution center is closed, he doesn't eat — has no wife or family to support, a fact for which he is grateful. Many people who come to the food center do have families, including the unemployed waitress who is serving the hungry; living in an abandoned building with her children and unemployed husband, she is too embarrassed to come to the center merely to take a handout. It's a story heard over and over again. Twenty-five per cent of Spanish workers are unemployed and a growing number of them can't afford to buy enough food to live.
Consider the full impact of such a statement: "a growing number of them can't afford to buy enough food to live." What that means is that those who are fortunate enough to have homes can only pay for their housing; yet after doing so, there is no money left for the necessities of life, of living, which includes food. While the economists and political leaders in Europe (and America) might debate and dicker on how nations like Spain and Greece got in such a financial mess, they do so with little understanding of how it affects the middle-class, many of whom have now slipped into poverty—through no fault of their own.

Here are some facts. The nation was doing well financially, enjoying twenty years of sustained growth, and where 8 out of 10 individuals owned homes—the world's highest rate of home ownership. But Spain, like the United States, had a real estate bubble, a result of speculation and government incentives to encourage home ownership. Then the 2008 world recession hit it, and it has not yet recovered, resulting in a high unemployment rate, the New York Times reports: "In April 2012, Spain’s unemployment rate reached 24.4 percent, the highest in Europe and an especially stark figure given that the government had not yet begun to lay off public sector servants in any significant number."

Such are the hard facts and data, but that does not remotely tell the many individual stories of heartache and loss, and such facts matter little to the many millions of individuals, including professionals, who have lost their jobs, their residences and their way of life. Even if there is some bank bailout (an estimated €100bn of rescue loans has been set aside, with terms, of course) to resolve the liquidity crisis, as it is called by economists, it might be too little too late for many of the unemployed. The prospects of ever finding a job for many middle-aged men are now dimmer than ever. That's a shame; a real shame.

Changes In China: An article in The Economist looks at the possibility that China's upcoming leader,
Xi Jinping, might be more reform-minded than his predecessors. Or he might not; it's always hard to speculate what China's top leader might do. In a nation that desires both economic and social stability, as well as prosperity, Xi truly has a tough road ahead of him.
JUST after the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, which starts in Beijing on November 8th, a short line of dark-suited men, and perhaps one woman, will step onto a red carpet in a room in the Great Hall of the People and meet the world’s press. At their head will be Xi Jinping, the newly anointed party chief, who in March will also take over as president of China. Behind him will file the new members of the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s supreme body. The smiles will be wooden, the backs ramrod straight. Yet the stage-management could hardly be more different from the tempestuous uncertainties of actually governing.
As ruler of the world’s new economic powerhouse, Mr Xi will follow his recent predecessors in trying to combine economic growth with political stability. Yet this task is proving increasingly difficult. A slowing economy, corruption and myriad social problems are causing growing frustration among China’s people and worry among its officials.
In coping with these tensions, Mr Xi can continue to clamp down on discontent, or he can start to loosen the party’s control. China’s future will be determined by the answer to this question: does Mr Xi have the courage and vision to see that assuring his country’s prosperity and stability in the future requires him to break with the past?
Depending on what the results are on November 6th in the U.S. presidential elections, both economic powerhouses might have new leaders—one elected by the will of the people; and the other selected by party officials. The difference is telling.

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October 27th In History
  312: Roman emperor Constantine the Great has his famous "Vision of the Cross";
1492: Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus discovers Cuba, claiming the island for Spain;
1810: The United States annexes West Florida from Spain;
1838: Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs issues the "Extermination Order," which orders all Mormons to leave the state or face extermination; 
1916: The first published reference to "jazz" appears in Variety;
1938: DuPont announces its new synthetic fiber will be called "nylon";
1962: During the Cuban missile crisis (Oct 16-28), an American U-2 spy plane is shot down by a Soviet missile crew over Cuba, resulting in the death of Major Rudolf Anderson, Jr., USAF;
1978: Menachem Begin of Israel and Anwar Sadat of Egypt share Nobel Peace prize