Daily Archives: October 21, 2007

Tony Blair could become permanent president of EU Superstate

Telegraph | Oct 20, 2007

By Toby Helm and Bruno Waterfield in Lisbon

Tony Blair has been placed in the frame to become the first permanent President of the EU after France launched a campaign to install him in the powerful new Brussels job.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, touted the former Prime Minister as his preferred candidate after Gordon Brown and fellow leaders agreed the EU Reform Treaty, which establishes the new post from January 2009.

“I saw Tony Blair the night before last,” said Mr Sarkozy, referring to a dinner between the two men in Paris where the idea was discussed.

“He is a remarkable man, the most European of all the British.

“I do not know what his intentions are but that one could think of him as a possibility would be quite a smart move.”

A spokesman for Mr Blair has refused to rule out the move, saying only that he was “focused on his current role” as an international envoy to the Middle East.

The job, which could be done part-time, would involve Mr Blair coordinating EU policy and brokering agreements between leaders of the 27 member states.

It is expected to carry a salary and perks package of at least £200,000 a year.

While Downing Street appeared cautious, hinting Mr Blair might not be the choice of many EU leaders because of the Iraq war, Mr Brown gave his initial backing.

However, he said it was too early to get involved in such discussions, because the Reform Treaty had not yet passed into law.

The job, which would run for a two and half year term and is renewable once, has been established to replace the existing system of rotating six-month presidencies between member states.

Heads of government will choose the President by a majority vote.

Mr Sarkozy suggested Jean-Claude Juncker, the long-serving Prime Minister of Luxembourg, as an alternative to Mr Blair.

The new EU Treaty also establishes a new EU foreign policy chief and a European diplomatic service. However Mr Brown again rejected calls for a referendum.

. . .


Sarkozy and Brown push Blair for EU presidency
President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain endorsed Tony Blair on Friday to be the European Union’s first permanent president

Russian Dissident Vladimir Bukovsky Prepares to Fight KGB ‘Chekists’


Vladimir Bukovsky at the Indpendent Press Center in Moscow. Mr Bukovsky spent 12 years of his life in the Russian Gulag system for his non-violent civil rights activism

Kommersant | Oct 18, 2007

Former Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, who lived for many years in Great Britain, presented his presidential campaign manifest in Moscow yesterday. He says that the numerous democratic presidential candidates that have announced themselves will succeed in agreeing on a single democratic opposition candidate. Bukovsky’s chances if becoming that candidate are small.

Vladimir Kara-Murza, manager of Bukovsky’s initiative group, called the candidate “someone who knows how to beat chekists,” using a Russian term referring to agents of the Soviet/Russian security services. The topic of fighting chekists is prominent in Bukovsky’s campaign materials. Kara-Murzxa said that the candidate’s goal is to present a clear alternative to the current regime.

“Authority in the country has been fully and wholly usurped by chekists, as in the Bourbon period of the Restoration, and they didn’t understand anything and didn’t learn anything. They declared the collapse of the Soviet Union a disaster and are methodically and stubbornly restoring the Soviet regime,” Bukovsky said.

Bukovsky also said that he has no personal political ambitions and that the democratic candidate with the greatest chances of victory should be the one to run for president. The Central Elections Commission has pointed out that the law “On Presidential Elections” requires to have lived in Russia for the last unbroken ten years.”

Bukovsky was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1976. In addition, he has dual British and Russian citizenship, which is also prohibited for presidential candidates. Kara-Murza challenged that prohibition in the Constitutional Court in May of this year, and his challenge is scheduled to be heard on November 1.

. . .


Torture’s Long Shadow By Vladimir Bukovsky

From Wikipedia
Soviet secret policemen were commonly referred to as “Chekists” throughout the entire Soviet period and the term is still found in use in Russia today (for example, President Vladimir Putin has been referred to in the Russian media as a “chekist” due to his career in the KGB).

Seven protesters arrested at Blackwater’s headquarters

The Virginian-Pilot | Oct 21, 2007


MOYOCK, N.C. – Seven people were arrested Saturday at Blackwater Worldwide’s front entrance after protesters re-enacted the Sept. 16 shooting incident in Baghdad involving Blackwater contractors in which 17 Iraqis died.

It was the first protest at the 10-year-old private military company’s headquarters, a reflection of its heightened profile since the Baghdad shootings stirred Iraqi anger and created a diplomatic crisis for Blackwater’s client, the U.S. State Department.

The protesters drove a small gray station wagon, covered with simulated bullet holes and smeared with red paint, onto Blackwater’s property. One lay back in the driver’s seat and five others got out and lay on the ground, as if they had been shot.

The scene was intended to mimic that in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, where an Iraqi doctor and her son died in a fusillade of gunfire as their car approached a Blackwater diplomatic convoy.

The protesters also smeared red handprints on two Blackwater signs.

Currituck County sheriff’s deputies, called to the scene by Blackwater guards, told the protesters they were on private property and asked them to leave. When they didn’t respond, they were handcuffed and placed in a sheriff’s van. Some went limp and had to be dragged.

A crowd of about 50 more protesters who had gathered along the adjacent public road cheered as the seven were driven away. The group carried signs with slogans such as “Bring Blackwater to Justice,” “Security Contractors are Unlawful Combatants” and “Blackwater: Shoot First, Ask No Questions.”

The six re-enactors arrested were Steve Baggarly of Norfolk; Beth Brockman of Durham, N.C.; Mark Colville of New Haven, Conn.; Peter DeMott of Ithaca, N.Y.; Laura Marks of Ayden, N.C.; and Bill Streit of Louisa County, Va. They were charged with second-degree trespassing, injury to real property and resisting arrest.

A seventh protester, Mary Grace of Madison County, Va., was arrested after the re-enactment when she walked onto Blackwater’s property and knelt on the pavement. She was charged with second-degree trespassing.

The protest was organized by the Norfolk Catholic Worker and Blackwater Watch, an activist group based in Durham, N.C.

Christian Stalberg, a spokesman for Blackwater Watch, said the group’s aim is to “shut down Blackwater.”

“It’s an unmitigated disaster,” he said. “They’re irresponsible and totally unaccountable.”

DeMott, who described himself as a Vietnam War veteran, said he was willing to risk arrest because “not to raise my voice would be to tacitly condone Blackwater and its murderous activities.”

Blackwater has said its security contractors reacted appropriately to an insurgent ambush on Sept. 16. The Iraqi government says the shootings were unprovoked and that those killed were innocent civilians.

Anne Tyrrell, a Blackwater spokeswoman, said of the protest: “People who haven’t seen any findings from the FBI investigation that’s under way are rushing to judgment and doing so, apparently, in violation of some laws.”

After the protesters dispersed, the station wagon was towed away and the red handprints on Blackwater’s bear-claw logo sign were painted over. The other defaced sign was taken down.

Afghan toddler ‘killed by NATO bullet’

An ISAF soldier fired a single shot to stop a vehicle from coming too close to a military patrol, the force said in a statement.

Several civilians have been killed in Afghanistan this year by warning shots fired to stop people approaching international security force checkpoints and patrols.

news.com.au | Oct 21, 2007

A TODDLER died when she was struck by a gunshot from a NATO soldier while troops killed four dozen Taliban in two days of battles in Afghanistan’s top opium-growing area, officials said today.

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said it deeply regretted the death of the child in the southern province of Helmand yesterday.

Helmand provincial police chief Mohammad Hussain Andiwal said the girl was two years old and the incident had happened outside her home.

An ISAF soldier fired a single shot to stop a vehicle from coming too close to a military patrol, the force said in a statement. The bullet allegedly ricocheted and hit the child although the incident was being investigated, it said.

“Sometime later, a family brought a child suffering from a gunshot wound to the head to an ISAF base for medical attention. Unfortunately, the child died,” it said.

Several civilians have been killed in Afghanistan this year by warning shots fired to stop people approaching international security force checkpoints and patrols.

Troops are the main target of Taliban suicide bombs, often delivered by car or fixed to a person who launches himself at the soldiers.

The separate US-led coalition, which works alongside ISAF and the Afghan security forces, said meanwhile it had killed about four dozen Taliban fighters in two straight days of fighting elsewhere in Helmand.

Nearly three dozen were killed today and more than a dozen yesterday in fighting in the Musa Qala area, an insurgent hotbed.

Both battles were sparked by ambushes which Afghan and coalition soldiers beat back with return fire and help from war planes, the force said.

The fighting was “part of a larger operation to disrupt terrorist activities in the Helmand province”, it said in a statement.

Helmand produces most of Afghanistan’s opium which the United Nations says accounts for up 93 per cent of world supply.

The top US commander in Afghanistan, General Dan McNeill, said this week he estimated up to 40 per cent of the Taliban’s income comes from opium, the raw ingredient of heroin.

The Taliban have been in control of the Musa Qala district centre for months and officials have said the small town has become a headquarters for rebels who are assisted by foreign “jihadists” in their bid to topple the US-backed Kabul government.

The Taliban were in power between 1996 and 2001 when they were removed by the coalition for not surrendering their al-Qaeda allies following the September 11 attacks.

They are leading a campaign of daily attacks joined by other Islamist outfits.

In other bloodshed, two policemen were killed and four wounded Saturday when a bomb blew up their pick-up in the eastern province of Paktia, provincial police chief Ismatullah Alizai said, blaming the Taliban.

Unknown gunmen meanwhile shot dead a tribal elder in the same province, he said.

Russia is returning to Soviet-era repression, says dissident Bukovsky

Sunday Times | Oct 7, 2007

by Mark Franchetti

A FORMER Soviet-era dissident who wants to stand for president of Russia has likened the lack of free speech under President Vladimir Putin to the repression of communist times.

Vladimir Bukovsky, who spent more than 12 years in camps and psychiatric hospitals before being released in 1976 and moving to Britain, said that Russians were now as scared of criticising the Kremlin as they had been during the cold war.

Speaking as he prepares to travel to Russia for the first time in 14 years to hold talks with opposition groups, Bukovsky accused Putin of turning back the clock. “I follow what happens in Russia very closely and increasingly people’s unwillingness to oppose those in power reminds me of my youth when speaking out was very dangerous,” he said.

“Russia is going backwards and there’s no democracy there. Putin’s regime won’t tolerate any kind of opposition. Clearly this is a system which is scared of any threat and too weak to face the slightest challenge to its rule.”

Bukovsky, an academic who lives in Cambridge, has announced his intention to stand in the March presidential election. However, because of his long residency outside the country he will be barred from the race.

“I know I don’t stand a chance but that is no reason to give up,” he said. “I have views about what’s going on in Russia and I’ll do all I can to air them.”

JK Rowling outs her Dumbledore character as gay

Rowling said her books are a “prolonged argument for tolerance”

BBC | Oct 20, 2007

Michael Gambon as Professor Dumbledore in The Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter author JK Rowling has revealed that one of her characters, Hogwarts school headmaster Albus Dumbledore, is gay.

She made her revelation to a packed house in New York’s Carnegie Hall on Friday, as part of her US book tour.

She took audience questions and was asked if Dumbledore found “true love”.

“Dumbledore is gay,” she said, adding he was smitten with rival Gellert Grindelwald, who he beat in a battle between good and bad wizards long ago.

The audience gasped, then applauded. “I would have told you earlier if I knew it would make you so happy,” she said.

“Falling in love can blind us to an extent,” she added, saying Dumbledore was “horribly, terribly let down” and his love for Grindelwald was his “great tragedy”.

“Oh, my god,” Rowling, 42, concluded with a laugh, “the fan fiction”.

Fan sites have long speculated on Dumbledore’s sexuality as he was known for having a mysterious, troubled past.

Rowling told the audience that while working on the planned sixth Potter film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, she saw the script carried a reference to a girl who was once of interest to Dumbledore.

She said she ensured director David Yates was made aware of the truth about her character.

Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell welcomed the news about Dumbledore and said: “It’s good that children’s literature includes the reality of gay people, since we exist in every society.

“But I am disappointed that she did not make Dumbledore’s sexuality explicit in the Harry Potter book. Making it obvious would have sent a much more powerful message of understanding and acceptance.”

And a spokesman for gay rights group Stonewall added: “It’s great that JK has said this. It shows that there’s no limit to what gay and lesbian people can do, even being a wizard headmaster.”

Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Daniel Radcliffe plays Harry Potter in the films

Rowling also did a brief reading from the seventh book in her best-selling series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, as part of her Open Book Tour of the US – her first there for seven years.

She said she regarded her novels as a “prolonged argument for tolerance” and urged her fans to “question authority”.

But she added that not everyone likes her work. Christian groups have alleged the books promote witchcraft. The author said her revelation about Dumbledore would give them one more reason.

The seventh Potter book broke sales records on both sides of the Atlantic when it was published in July, selling 11 million copies in 24 hours.

The fifth film adaptation of the series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was released this summer. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is due for release late next year.

Obesity likened to climate change

Obesity ‘as bad as climate risk’

“We will only succeed if the problem is recognised, owned and addressed at every level and every part of society.”

Alan Johnson said a “cultural and societal shift” was needed

BBC | Oct 14, 2007

The public health threat posed by obesity in the UK is a “potential crisis on the scale of climate change”, the health secretary has warned.

Alan Johnson said the magnitude of the problem was becoming clear for the first time and “it is in everybody’s interest to turn things round”.

Details have emerged of a government study which says half the population could be obese within 25 years.

Ministers are drawing up a long-term action plan to tackle obesity.

Greater efforts

The government-commissioned Foresight report is expected to report on Wednesday.

It suggests the cost of the epidemic, in terms of health care provision and lost work hours, could reach £45bn a year by 2050, according to the Observer.

Professor Klim McPherson, of Oxford University, and Tim Marsh, of the National Heart Foundation, predict that within 15 years 86% of men will be overweight – but not necessarily obese – and within 20 years, 70% of women.

The study showed there had to be “further and faster” efforts beyond existing anti-obesity measures to encourage exercise and healthy eating, Mr Johnson said.

We will only succeed if the problem is recognised, owned and addressed at every level and every part of society
Alan Johnson, health secretary

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has backed a long-term action plan to fight obesity, funded by money earmarked in Tuesday’s Comprehensive Spending Review.

The government is also due to ask the Food Standards Agency to probe the use of unhealthy “trans-fats”, which have been linked to coronary heart disease, in fast food.

But Mr Johnson said individuals also had to take responsibility for their own health as part of a “cultural and societal shift”.

He said: “There is no single solution to tackle obesity and it cannot be tackled by government action alone.

Public Health Minister Dawn Primarolo told the BBC that a longer term view needed to be taken of the obesity issue.

She said: “The government has been doing a lot already in terms of healthy foods in schools, sports activity in schools, labelling of food, working with young people.

“This report was part of the development of our strategies.

“But… if we don’t act, what will happen in health terms for individuals and for our communities in 10, 20 years’ time is really something we that we need to face up to, and that means looking at everything.”

Dr Colin Waine – who chairs the National Obesity Forum – said that in terms of its impact on society, the health threat posed by obesity “will hit us much earlier than climate change”.

He added: “We are now in a situation where levels of childhood obesity will lead to the first cut in life expectancy for 200 years. These children are likely to die before their parents.”