Not Much Blogging Today
Probably none. Have to get our hovel in shape for Adventskaffee (mit Feuerzangenbowle) by, oh, about 13 hours from now...
And I've already been working on this since about 10 A.M. today.
Political blog from the radical left, because the Invisible Hand is giving you the finger. rorschach782003 at yahoo dot com
"rorschach, have I told you how good your blog is? You find stories nobody else does." --Echidne of the snakes
Not Much Blogging Today
Conservative Rabbis Okay Gay Unions, Gay Rabbis
Leaders of the Conservative Jewish movement opened the door on Wednesday to the ordination of gay rabbis and the recognition of gay marriage, but made it clear the more orthodox in the faith may go on opposing such liberalization.
The Wages of Faith
An offer of $41,000,000 to the Hickory Ridge Community Church in Sussex County, Del., allowed scammers to cheat a group of prominent Christians out of $350,000.
"It was brilliant, absolutely brilliant," said Jeff Premo, an accountant hired by the church whose early skepticism about the offer ultimately dissolved after the Nigerians professed their faith.
"I thought I could ask them about, you know, 'Can you confess Jesus as Lord?' And they could answer all that," Premo told ABC News.
The crowd is getting ugly. Soldiers roll up in a Hummer. Suddenly, the whole right half of your body is screaming in agony. You feel like you've been dipped in molten lava. You almost faint from shock and pain, but instead you stumble backwards -- and then start running. To your surprise, everyone else is running too. In a few seconds, the street is completely empty.
You've just been hit with a new nonlethal weapon that has been certified for use in Iraq -- even though critics argue there may be unforeseen effects.
1% Own 40%
The richest 1% of adults in the world own 40% of the planet's wealth, according to the largest study yet of wealth distribution.
Europe, the US and some Asia Pacific nations account for most of the extremely wealthy. More than a third live in the US. Japan accounts for 27% of the total, the UK for 6% and France for 5%.
The report found the richest 10% of adults accounted for 85% of the world total of global assets. Half the world's adult population, however, owned barely 1% of global wealth. Near the bottom of the list were India, with per capita wealth of $1,100, and Indonesia with assets per head of $1,400.
Many African nations as well as North Korea and the poorer Asia Pacific nations were places where the worst off lived.
"These levels of inequality are grotesque," said Duncan Green, head of research at Oxfam. "It is impossible to justify such vast wealth when 800 million people go to bed hungry every night. The good news is that redistribution would only have to be relatively small. Such are the vast assets of the rich that giving up a small part of their wealth could transform the lives of millions."
Number One on the List of "How Not to Help the Palestinian Cause"
Iran announced yesterday details of a conference questioning whether the Holocaust really happened, prompted by an international outcry a year ago when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described the slaughter of six million Jews by the Nazis as "myth" fabricated to justify Israel.
The foreign ministry said "intellectuals and researchers" from 30 countries - including Britain - would attend Studying the Holocaust: An international view, in Tehran on Monday and Tuesday.
The idea for the gathering was dismissed earlier this year as "shocking, ridiculous and stupid" by Tony Blair. Iran responded by inviting him to attend.
A Foreign Office spokesman said it had no record of who was going. "I think the government's views on Iran's comments regarding the Holocaust are well known but it is not up to us who travels to Iran."
Participants will consider documentary, pictorial, physical and demographic evidence in what Iranian officials depict as an academic investigation to establish the Holocaust's authenticity and whether the reported number of victims was exaggerated. Organisers say it will include submissions for and against. It will also focus on the plight of the Palestinians.
More Christmas Spirit
A fed-up mother had her 12-year-old son arrested for allegedly rummaging through his great-grandmother's things and playing with his Christmas present early.
The mother called police Sunday after learning her son had disobeyed orders and repeatedly taken a Game Boy from its hiding place at his great-grandmother's house next door and played it. He was arrested on petty larceny charges, taken to the police station in handcuffs and held until his mother picked him up after church.
A nativity scene on the University of Texas campus is generating double-takes with Gary replacing Mary and the absence of a baby Jesus. But this is no nativity in support of same-sex couples. Far from it.
The manger scene was put up by the Young Conservatives of Texas. They've dubbed it an "ACLU nativity scene" that includes positions taken by the American Civil Liberties Union with which the campus group disapproves.
“We’ve got Gary and Joseph instead of Mary and Joseph in order to symbolize ACLU support for homosexual marriage, and of course there isn’t a Jesus in the manger,” said YCT Chair Tony McDonald.
“The three Wise Men are Lenin, Marx, and Stalin because the founders of the ACLU were strident supporters of Soviet style Communism. The whole scene is a tongue-in-cheek way of showing the many ways that the ACLU and the far left are out of touch with the values of mainstream America.”
The display includes a terrorist shepherd and an angel in the form of Nancy Pelosi.
Too Many Churches
While communities traditionally zone against houses of ill-repute, not houses of worship, frustrations have grown since 2000, when then-President Clinton signed the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. The law doesn't exempt churches from zoning regulations, per se. But when religious groups say the rules would create "a substantial burden," officials must show a compelling reason for the limits. Sometimes, the results leave neighborhoods feeling helpless in the face of ecclesiastical development.
Across the country, local governments are challenging the law in court, says Marci Hamilton, a church-state scholar at Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York. She believes the issue probably will reach the US Supreme Court.
"It's happening all over the country," Ms. Hamilton says. "I get an e-mail from a new neighborhood daily. It's unbelievable because of this law what religious entities are willing to impose on residential neighborhoods."
For their part, religious leaders say they are responding to growth in their communities by providing needed services. Growth among houses of worship - particularly megachurches - poses a delicate quandary for local leaders. In smaller communities, too many churches - because of their tax-exempt status - can even strain the economy.
30 More Down
Suspected insurgents set off a car bomb to stop a minibus carrying Shiite government employees in Baghdad, then shot and killed 15 of them, the government said. In another attack in the capital on Tuesday, two car bombs exploded in a commercial district, killing 15 other Iraqis, police said.
Be Proud, America!
The head of Latvia's human rights committee says gays and lesbians should not be covered by the law because they are not a legitimate minority and could choose to be heterosexual.
Barring that, said Janis Smits at a press conference, they should keep their sexuality behind closed doors.
Smits, a leading member of the ultra-right First Party was elected to the post by Parliament last month. In his first interview with the media since becoming committee chair he said that homosexuality is a consequence of human lewdness and a sin that might cost people eternal life, the Baltic News reports.
He went on to call on gays to "return from their sins" and "recover normal sexual orientation."
Fiji's prime minister has said he is under house arrest as army soldiers blockade his residence in the South Pacific island's capital, Suva.
Get That Freakish Moustache the Hell Out of Here
Lacking the votes to keep his job, embattled U.N. Ambassador John Bolton said Monday he would resign, a defeat for a chagrined President Bush who had clung to hopes of Senate confirmation.
Bolton got the position in August 2005, appointed by Bush when Congress was in recess. With that temporary assignment about to expire, and his long fight for confirmation going nowhere, Bolton made it official.
He handed in a resignation letter that did not mention the political fight behind it. It said simply: "I have concluded that my service in your administration should end when the current recess appointment expires."
Another Big Step
NASA may be going to the same old moon with a ship that looks a lot like a 1960s Apollo capsule, but the space agency said Monday that it's going to do something dramatically different this time: Stay there.
Unveiling the agency's bold plan for a return to the moon, NASA said it will establish an international base camp on one of the moon's poles, permanently staffing it by 2024, four years after astronauts land there.
It is a sweeping departure from the Apollo moon missions of the 1960s and represents a new phase of space exploration after space shuttles are retired in 2010.
NASA chose a "lunar outpost" over the short expeditions of the '60s. Apollo flights were all around the middle area of the moon, but NASA decided to go to the moon's poles because they are best for longer-term settlements. And this time NASA is welcoming other nations on its journey.
A lawsuit seeking same-sex marriage will be heard today in Maryland's highest court while on the west coast a bill that would legalize gay marriage will be introduced in the California Assembly.
Welcome to the "New Army"
One month after her case was referred to a Special Court Martial, 22-year-old Army Spec. Suzanne Swift was prepared to strike a plea bargain with military authorities.
According to Swift's mother, Sara Rich, in early November the Army offered Swift an honorable discharge in exchange for an additional 19 months of active-duty service.
Rich says her daughter was on the verge of agreeing to the deal in order to avoid a trial, but balked when the Army asked her to sign a statement claiming she was never sexually harassed. The military now has set a tentative date of Jan. 8 for a special type of court martial that, among other things, restricts punishment to 12 months.
Swift is in trouble with the military for refusing a second deployment to Iraq six months ago. The reason, she claims, is that she was sexually harassed by her superiors while in Iraq and she couldn't stand the thought of going through it again. She is charged with being absent without leave and missing movement.
Swift was arrested last June at her mother's home in Eugene, Ore., after being AWOL from her unit for six months. Swift alleges that she experienced ongoing sexual harassment--such as solicitations for sex and constant sexual banter from her superiors--and was coerced into a sexual relationship with her squad leader. A therapist later diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by the experience after she went AWOL.
The Army disagrees with the therapist's diagnosis. Its own evaluation, conducted at Fort Lewis last July, determined that while she showed signs of stress, it wasn't enough to be full-blown stress disorder.
Chavez Still In
Leftist President Hugo Chavez won re-election in Venezuela by a wide margin Sunday, giving him free reign for a more radical turn toward socialism and six more years to counter U.S. influence in Latin America and beyond.
The War on Christmas Continues
A German chain of shops has removed miniature wooden Santa Claus figures from its shelves and destroyed them after customers complained it looked like they were giving the stiff-armed Hitler salute that is outlawed.
Josef Lange, a spokesman for the Rossmann chain that has 1,200 outlets, told Reuters Friday the figures depicting Father Christmas with his right arm stiffly upright toward the sky and holding a sack in his left hand upset some customers.
I Wonder What He'll Do
President Bush is deciding whether to lift a ban on oil and gas drilling in federal waters off Alaska's Bristol Bay, home to endangered whales and sea lions and the world's largest sockeye salmon run.
Leasing in a portion of the area rich in oil and natural gas ended nearly two decades ago — while Bush's father was president — in the outcry after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.
But with natural gas prices higher, the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service proposed reopening up the North Aleutian Basin. That includes Bristol Bay and part of southeastern Bering Sea.
White House spokesman Scott Stanzel confirmed Saturday the president was considering taking that step.
Environmentalists oppose drilling there because of the potential for oil spills and harm to wildlife. They have speculated in recent days that Bush might allow such drilling before Democrats regain control of Congress in January.
For months, the Waheed brothers steadfastly endured the killings raging around them in their mainly Sunni district, staying put as fellow Shiites packed up and left.
Finally, a death threat persuaded Majed and Mondhir Hatem Waheed to leave the neighborhood of Dora where they grew up and, together with their wives and children, join 24 relatives in an uncle's house in Baghdad's Shiite Sadr city district.
"At least, we are safe," 25-year-old Mondhir Hatem Waheed said.
In the 43 months since Saddam Hussein's ouster, entire Iraqi provinces have become virtually off-limits to one or another sect, mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods are slowly disappearing, and a Kurdish region in the north appears to have all but seceded.
Selling sex on the streets of this gambling capital is a dangerous pursuit: Streetwalkers have been strangled, smothered, slashed and set ablaze.
So far this year, six prostitutes are believed to have been killed in or near Atlantic City, a seventh survived after her throat was slashed. Countless others are believed to have been assaulted but chose not to report the crimes to police.
The latest worry for those who make their living in the sex trade is that a serial killer was to blame for the deaths of the four women, ranging in age from 20 to 42, whose bodies were found face-down in a ditch last month behind a string of seedy motels just outside the city.
"It's dangerous, but all you're focused on is that next dollar," said a prostitute known on the streets as Spazz, who is now looking for a gun or a knife to protect herself. "It kind of clouds your judgment. You're not focused on the situation you're getting into. That's the scariest part about it."
In any case, the attacks illustrate how dangerous it is for prostitutes, who are statistically 18 times more likely to be killed than other women, and 40 times more likely to die from other than natural causes, according to national studies.
A study of the murder rate among prostitutes from 1981 to 1990 found that an average of 124 hookers were murdered each year in the United States, according to a 2004 article in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
The nation's most notorious prostitute killings were committed in the Pacific Northwest by a single attacker who came to be known as the Green River Killer. In pleading guilty in 2003 to the murders of 48 prostitutes, Gary Leon Ridgway told a judge he targeted street walkers "because I thought I could kill as many as I wanted to without getting caught."
"They were easy to pick up, without being noticed," he said in court. "I knew they would not be reported missing right away, and might never be reported missing."
More Good Times to Come
The gulf's two military powers, Sunni-Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran, are lining up behind their warring religious brethren in Iraq in a potentially explosive showdown, as expectations grow in both countries that America is preparing a pull-out of its troops.
The Saudis are understood to be considering providing Sunni military leaders with funding, logistical support and even arms, as Iran already does for Shia militia in Iraq.
The strategy — outlined in an article last week by Nawaf Obaid, a senior security adviser to the kingdom's government — risks spiralling into a proxy war between Saudi and Iranian-backed factions in the next development in Iraq's vicious sectarian conflict.
Saudi Arabia, America's closest ally in the Arab world, is considering backing anti-US insurgents because it is so alarmed that Sunnis in Iraq will be left to their fate — military and political — at the hands of the Shia majority.
House of Death
Luis Padilla, 29, father of three, had been kidnapped, driven across the Mexican border from El Paso, Texas, to a house in Ciudad Juarez, the lawless city ruled by drug lords that lies across the Rio Grande. As his wife tried frantically to locate him, he was being stripped, tortured and buried in a mass grave in the garden - what the people of Juarez call a narco-fossa, a narco-smugglers' tomb.
Just another casualty of Mexico's drug wars? Perhaps. But Padilla had no connection with the drugs trade; he seems to have been the victim of a case of mistaken identity. Now, as a result of documents disclosed in three separate court cases, it is becoming clear that his murder, along with at least 11 further brutal killings, at the Juarez 'House of Death', is part of a gruesome scandal, a web of connivance and cover-up stretching from the wild Texas borderland to top Washington officials close to President Bush.
These documents, which form a dossier several inches thick, are the main source for the facts in this article. They suggest that while the eyes of the world have been largely averted, America's 'war on drugs' has moved to a new phase of cynicism and amorality, in which the loss of human life has lost all importance - especially if the victims are Hispanic. The US agencies and officials in this saga - all of which refused to comment, citing pending lawsuits - appear to have thought it more important to get information about drugs trafficking than to stop its perpetrators killing people.
The US media have virtually ignored this story. The Observer is the first newspaper to have spoken to Janet Padilla, and this is the first narrative account to appear in print. The story turns on one extraordinary fact: playing a central role in the House of Death was a US government informant, Guillermo Ramirez Peyro, known as Lalo, who was paid more than $220,000 (£110,000) by US law enforcement bodies to work as a spy inside the Juarez cartel. In August 2003 Lalo bought the quicklime used to dissolve the flesh of the first victim, Mexican lawyer Fernando Reyes, and then helped to kill him; he recorded the murder secretly with a bug supplied by his handlers - agents from the Immigration and Customs Executive (Ice), part of the Department of Homeland Security. That first killing threw the Ice staff in El Paso into a panic. Their informant had helped to commit first-degree murder, and they feared they would have to end his contract and abort the operations for which he was being used. But the Department of Justice told them to proceed.