Sunday, December 2, 2012

Five Stories Of The Week: Ending December 1, 2012


News & Commentary











Here are five stories that shaped my world this week:

Protests In Egypt Over Presidential Decree:  Egyptians took to the streets last week to protest President Morsi's decree, which grant him unprecedented powers that many say are reminders of the previous autocratic government. The protests has divided the nation. An article in The Jerusalem Post says:
Youths clashed with police in Cairo on Saturday as protests at new powers assumed by President Mohamed Morsi stretched into a second day, confronting Egypt with a crisis that has exposed the split between newly empowered Islamists and their opponents. A handful of hardcore activists hurling rocks battled riot police in the streets near Tahrir Square, where several thousand protesters massed on Friday to demonstrate against a decree that has rallied opposition ranks against Morsi.
Following a day of violence in Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said and Suez, the smell of teargas hung over the square, the heart of the uprising that swept Hosni Mubarak from power in February 2011.
More than 300 people were injured on Friday. Offices of the Muslim Brotherhood, which propelled Morsi to power, were attacked in at least three cities. Egypt's highest judicial authority said the decree marked an "unprecedented attack" on the independence of the judiciary, the state news agency reported. Judges in the Egyptian city of Alexandria decided to go on strike on Saturday in protest of Morsi's decree, the state news agency reported. The judges' club in Alexandria said work would be suspended in all courts and prosecution offices until the decree was reversed, the agency reported.
That this comes so soon after President Morsi's successful brokering of a mideast truce between Israel and Hamas shows, among other things, that a victory on the international stage, no matter how great, has little effect on domestic matters. All governments, ultimately, succeed and fail by what they do for their citizens.

In many ways this is a battle between the old regime and the new one, between the political Islamists and the secularists, and among the various factions trying to get some say in the drafting of Egypt's new constitution. It is also about dueling legitimacies, and a natural and normal result of a nation undergoing transformation to a constitutional democracy after a long history being otherwise. No one says democracy is without its messiness, rancor and rhetoric.

Egypt is no exception, and Morsi, who seems like a pragmatic leader, might have to retract his decree, or at least those parts of it that bypass the judiciary. The international community is watching with great interest. These are important times, and what takes place in the next few days, and weeks, will tell us much about which direction Egypt is heading.

The above was written only a few days ago; and the situation has changed, the politics of power always fluid and calculating for superior advantage. Now we know that President Morsi will appeal to the people for support, calling for a national referendum slated for December 15th—a strategy that will make the divide between Islamists and secularists more pronounced. Its purpose, ostensibly to gain a vote of confidence from the people, might result in "the street" coercing the judiciary to not oppose the plans of Morsi. The sound you are hearing is the anguished cry of democracy— as we know and had hoped for—in Egypt.

Factory Fire In Bangladesh Kills More Than 100 Persons:  A fire at a garment factoryoutside the city of Dhaka, Bangladesh, has killed at least 111 persons, and injured many others who suffered burns and smoke inhalation. More than 500 Bangladeshi garment workers have died from fires at garment factories, says an article in the New York Times:
It took firefighters more than 17 hours to put out the blaze at the factory, Tazreen Fashions, after it started Saturday evening, a retired fire official said by telephone from Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital. At least 111 people were killed and scores of workers were taken to hospitals with burns and smoke inhalation injuries.
“The main difficulty was to put out the fire; the sufficient approach road was not there,” said the retired official, Salim Nawaj Bhuiyan, who now runs a fire safety company in Dhaka. “The fire service had to take great trouble to approach the factory.”
Bangladesh’s garment industry, the second largest exporter of clothing after China, has a notoriously poor record of fire safety. Since 2006, more than 500 Bangladeshi workers have died in garment factory fires, according to Clean Clothes Campaign, an anti-sweatshop advocacy group based in Amsterdam. Experts say many of the fires could have been easily avoided if the factories had taken the right precautions. Many factories are in cramped neighborhoods, have too few fire escapes and widely flout safety measures. The industry employs more than three million workers in Bangladesh, mostly women.
This is reminiscent of what took place in New York City's garment industry—notably the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire on March 25, 1911, where 146 persons, mostly women, died; many jumped to their death from the eighth, nineth and tenth floors of the Asch Building, at 23-29 Washington Place, now known as the Brown Building—a historical landmark. The fire became a symbol of poor workplace standards, and ultimately led to both legislation requiring better safety conditions for factory workers and the catalyst for union representation for workers.

Israel's Ehud Barak Announces Plans to Quit Politics: Ehud Barak, 70, Israel's defense minister  announced plans to quit politics after the January 22nd elections. An article from Reuters by Jeffrey Heller and published in The National Post says:
Israel’s Defence Minister Ehud Barak said on Monday he was quitting politics, a surprise decision that deepens uncertainty over how Israel will confront Iran’s nuclear program.
Barak’s political fortunes appeared to be on the rise after Israel’s eight-day Gaza offensive ended in a truce, but polls predicted his centrist party, a junior partner in right-winger Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, would win no more than four seats in Israel’s 120-member parliament in a January 22 election.
A former head of the centre-left Labour Party, Barak has insisted he and Netanyahu have been united on policy toward Iran, an issue that has often put the prime minister at odds with U.S. President Barack Obama.
But as the only centrist member of the governing coalition of right-wing and pro-settler parties, Barak has frequently visited Washington for talks with top U.S. officials and had criticized Netanyahu for airing differences with the United States.
At a hastily called news conference, he said he would not be a candidate in the national ballot that Netanyahu’s Likud party is forecast to win. He said he would remain in his post until a new government was formed in about three months’ time, signaling his decision would have no immediate effect on Israel’s calculations on how best to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“The Iranian issue remains very important, even after I leave my position in three months. It will remain a central issue on the agenda,” said Barak, who was often seen as a moderating force in considering possible military action against Iran. The 70-year-old ex-general said he wanted to spend more time with his family. Politics, he said, “has never been a particular passion of mine, and I feel there is room to allow other people to serve in senior roles in Israel.”
All kinds of commentators, both in Israel and abroad, will now raise speculations on why Mr. Barak decided at this time to make his announcement. It might have been in the works for a while, and only delayed by the recent war-time hostilities between Israel and Hamas. We wish Mr. Ehud Barak well in his retirement from politics; he has served admirably as Israel's defense minister and as a military leader.

Saudi Center in Vienna Promotes Inter-Faith Dialogue: An article in Ynet news says that a Saudi-backed centre, in Vienna, to promote inter-faith dialogue has an Orthodox Israeli rabbi on its board: Rabbi David Rosen:
A Saudi-backed center to promote interfaith dialogue worldwide began work in Vienna on Monday by bringing hundreds of religious activists together to discuss how to promote understanding among different beliefs.Named after Saudi King Abdullah, the center is a welcome boost for bridge-building between faiths in an era of financial austerity but has drawn criticism because Saudi Arabia enforces a strict Islam and bans non-Muslim religious practice.
The center was inaugurated in the presence of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and representatives of different countries – some hostile to IsraelThe surprise of the evening was unquestionably the appointment of Rabbi David Rosen from Israel as a member of the center's board of directors."The prime purpose is to empower the active work of those in the field, whether in the field of dialogue, of social activism or of conflict resolution," Rosen said. "We want to empower you," he told an opening session where dialogue projects from Europe, the Middle East and Africa reported on how they worked to foster interfaith understanding.
Rosen, an Orthodox rabbi from Jerusalem, serves as the international director of interreligious affairs of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and as an advisor on interreligious affairs to Israel's Chief Rabbinate.
Any initiative that promotes dialogue, leading to conflict resolution and tolerance, is always good and preferable one. At the heart of bridge-building is open discussion between individuals and groups with conflicting ideas. Let's hope that this initiative eventually leads to the Arab nations, led by Saudi Arabia, recognizing Israel and the Jewish people, not as enemies but as friends.

Iran Close to Plutonium Bomb: An article in PJ Media by David P. Gloldman reports that Iran is going ahead with producing a nuclear weapon, or at least producing material for a nuclear bomb.
Iran might be “on the verge of producing weapon-quality plutonium,” Germany’s daily Die Welt reported on Nov. 26. Hans Rühle, a former top official in the German defense ministry, and foreign editor Clemens Wergin cite clues pointing to an Iranian crash program to build a plutonium bomb in the just-released International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iran’s nuclear activity. Rühle headed German defense policy planning during the 1980s; Wergin is one of the most capable young journalists writing in any language. Their report should be read in dead earnest.
The IAEA reported that Iran removed fuel rods from the Bushehr light water reactor—supposedly a peaceful application of nuclear energy—on October 22. There might be a technical explanation for the premature extraction of fuel rods from a light water reactor, Rühle and Wergin observe. But “it may also mean the starting point for production of weapons-grade plutonium. That would mean a dramatic expansion and acceleration of Iran’s nuclear armaments program (my translation).”
Although light water reactors are not designed to produce weapons-grade plutonium, the design can produce large amounts of weapons-grade plutonium in a short period of time. In a matter of months, the authors report, the low-enriched uranium fuel in the Bushehr reactor could yield enough plutonium for dozens of atomic bombs:

In a light water reactor, which is operated with low enriched uranium (four percent), the fuel remains in the reactor up to 60 months when the reactor is run at maximum power generation,. But it takes only a few months to produce plutonium 239, that is, weapons-grade plutonium. … In the 1970s a British company had shut down a light water reactor prematurely. The result was around 450 kilograms of plutonium, or material for about 70 bombs.
This story needs further watching and seems to dispel any doubt that Iran is going ahead with its nuclear program in some fashion. What ultimate purpose this program will serve also needs further investigation and scrutiny. The current ruling regime's record of half-truths, evasions and prevarications is leading the Islamic Republic of Iran on a dangerous course. But then again nuclear weapons in themselves are the ultimate danger to humanity; yet, for many nations their appeal is currently too great to overcome: prestige of membership in the nuclear club.


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December 1st In History
1835: Hans Christian Andersen published his first book of fairy tales;
1891; James Naismith creates the game of basketball;
1887: The character of Sherlock Holmes, created by  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, first appears in print in Study in Scarlett;
1986: The Musée d'Orsay opens in Paris;
1913: The Buenos Aires Subway, the first underground railway system in the southern hemisphere and in Latin America, begins operation;
1919: Lady Astor becomes the first female Member of Parliament to take her seat in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, having been elected on November 28;
1955: American Civil Rights Movement: In Montgomery, Alabama, seamstress Rosa Parks refuses to give up her bus seat to a white man and is arrested for violating the city's racial segregation laws, an incident which leads to the Montgomery Bus Boycott.