Daily Archives: May 23, 2008

Chavez apologizes to Merkel over Hitler remarks

Reuters | May 16, 2008

LIMA (Reuters) – Days after calling German Chancellor Angela Merkel a political descendant of Adolf Hitler, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez shook hands with her on Friday and apologized.

“I haven’t come here to fight. I was pleased to shake hands with the German chancellor,” Chavez was quoted as saying at a summit of European and Latin American leaders in the Peruvian capital, Lima.

“I told her that I was sorry if I’d been harsh,” he said, according to Peru’s state news agency Andina.

Photographs showed the two smiling as they shook hands while heads of state mingled at the gathering dedicated to tackling poverty and climate change.

Merkel, a conservative, had sought to play down the spat before her arrival in Lima, saying she would greet all delegates courteously.

Earlier this week, Chavez made his Hitler comments after Merkel implied the leftist leader had harmed relations between Europe and Latin America.

Chavez routinely insults conservative leaders, especially U.S. President George W. Bush, calling him the devil.

During a summit in Chile late last year, Spain’s king told the socialist leader to “shut up.”

McCain rejects evangelical leader over Nazi remarks

AFP | May 22, 2008

WASHINGTON (AFP) — Republican John McCain faced down a fiery evangelical pastor backing his White House bid who, it was revealed, believed the Nazis did God’s will by chasing Jews from Europe.

But while McCain Thursday disavowed the Texas pastor, John Hagee, the Arizona senator aimed a pointed dig at his Democratic rival Barack Obama’s own preacher problems in observing he had never been part of Hagee’s flock.

The issue, which has the potential to embarrass McCain among independent voters, erupted as he and Obama traded highly personal invective over a bill to give college education to Iraq and Afghan war veterans.

Hagee is a well-known television evangelist who founded the strongly pro-Israel Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas. It has 19,000 members, according to his website.

On Thursday, the Huffington Post website posted audio of his remarks in a 1990s sermon, and published comments he made saying Adolf Hitler was a “hunter” sent by God to herd Jews to the land of Israel.

“Why did it happen? Because God said my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel,” Hagee was quoted as saying.

“Obviously, I find these remarks and others deeply offensive and indefensible, and I repudiate them,” McCain, the presumed Republican nominee for November’s presidential election, said in a statement.
“I did not know of them before Reverend Hagee’s endorsement, and I feel I must reject his endorsement as well.”

Some commentators have compared the episode to Obama’s own political drama over racially tinged sermons by his former pastor Jeremiah Wright, which threw the Illinois senator’s campaign onto the defensive for weeks.
McCain stressed: “I have said I do not believe Senator Obama shares Reverend Wright’s extreme views.

“But let me also be clear, Reverend Hagee was not and is not my pastor or spiritual advisor, and I did not attend his church for 20 years.

“I have denounced statements he made immediately upon learning of them, as I do again today.”

Hagee — whose endorsement McCain sought in February — was quoted by the Huffington Post on Thursday as saying that the sermon about Hitler and the Jews had been “intentionally mischaracterized” and was a “gross example of bias.”

“To assert that I in any way condone the Holocaust or that monster Adolf Hitler is the biggest and ugliest of lies,” Hagee said in a statement to the website.

Democrat Hillary Clinton, still clinging to hopes of blocking Obama’s drive towards the nomination, fought to stay in the limelight even as aides to both her rival and McCain charted terrain for a presidential battle in November.

Clinton’s campaign took heart from a new Quinnipiac University survey suggesting she would beat McCain in three swing states — Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. Obama was ahead of the Republican only in Pennsylvania.

But with Obama seemingly enjoying a mathematical lock on the party’s nomination heading into the final contests on June 3, both he and McCain stoked speculation about their vice presidential picks.

McCain was reported this weekend to be meeting three potential running mates — Florida Governor Charlie Crist, the Indian-American governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, and former presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.
Other reports said Obama, despite banning public comment from his top aides about the issue to avoid angering Clinton, had begun to quietly assemble a team to vet prospective VP candidates.

The Obama and McCain campaigns refused to comment.

With the contours of a November battle taking on sharper definition, Obama and McCain traded some of their harshest personal attacks yet as the Senate adopted the bill offering a fully paid college education to the veterans.

In an unusually direct speech on the Senate floor, Obama said he could not understand why the Vietnam War hero would back President George W. Bush’s opposition to the bill.

“I can’t believe why he believes it is too generous to our veterans,” he said of McCain, who favors an alternative approach that would boost benefits according to a service member’s length of service.

McCain shot back in a statement: “I take a back seat to no one in my affection, respect and devotion to veterans.

“I will not accept from Senator Obama, who did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform, any lectures on my regard for those who did,” he said. Obama in turn condemned McCain’s “schoolyard taunts.”

UK firm ranks U.S. as more violent than Serbia in Global Peace Index

Associated Press | May 20, 2008

LONDON — The United States is ranked as a little less peaceful than it was last year and a lot more violent than Kuwait, Nicaragua and Libya, according to the Global Peace Index released today by Britain’s Economist Intelligence Unit.

The index, now in its second year, ranks 140 countries according to their relative states of peace, based on factors such as military expenditure and respect for human rights.

The latest index released today ranked the United States at 97th, one place lower than last year and way below countries such as Costa Rica, Madagascar and Chile.

This year, Iceland was voted the most peaceful place, beating last year’s winner, Norway. The United Kingdom is at 49, just below Panama. Unsurprisingly, Sudan, Somalia and Iraq are at the bottom of the list.

The idea for the index came from Steve Killelea, an Australian businessman and philanthropist who wanted to identify just what creates a peaceful country.

He asked the Economist Intelligence Unit to look at a range of variables, from levels of homicides per 100,000 people — which drags down America and boosts Denmark — to corruption and access to primary education.

“The U.S. does so badly because has the highest proportion of jailed people in the world. And it has high levels of homicide and high potential for terrorist attacks,” Killelea told The Associated Press. “Its overall score is a reflection of that. The index is not making any moral statements by the ranking.”

Gavin Hayman, director of campaigns for Global Witness, a non-governmental organization that lobbies against corruption and human rights abuse, said the results were slightly skewed.

“The people who did this study only look at peace and the absence of war, and this approach may throw up some perverse readings,” he said. “The U.S. has done some nasty things geopolitically, and it ranks poorly because of its high military spending, but that’s a little unfair as they are the ones that keep the world’s waterways free, and play a role in protecting global assets.”

Andrew Williamson, global director of client research at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said he hoped the index would be used by other researchers to look into why some countries stay more peaceful than others.

“The index is trying to measure the absence of peace. We are not looking at explanatory factors why some countries are more peaceful than others. We are inviting others to do this analysis themselves,” Williamson said.

The Top 10 most peaceful countries:

1. Iceland

2. Denmark

3. Norway

4. New Zealand

5. Japan

6. Ireland

7. Portugal

8. Finland

9. Luxembourg

10. Austria

Genetically modified monkeys given incurable brain disease at conception

Telegraph | May 19, 2008

By Roger Highfield

Monkeys have been genetically modified to develop a devastating human degenerative brain disease.

American scientists carried out the experiment – which has been criticised by the RSPCA – as part of research into possible future treatments for Huntington’s disease.

It is believed to be the first time that primates have been genetically modified to have a human ailment.

The achievement by scientists at the National Primate Research Centre could pave the way for creating genetically modified primates with other severe degenerative brain conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Fragile X and Alzheimer’s disease.

But even researchers accustomed to animal research say working with GM monkeys should only be a last resort

And the RSPCA condemns the creation of primates that were designed to suffer.

“We understand that medical research is vital, but there are many different ways of carrying out research on these diseases without using primates,” a spokesman said. “The animal suffering involved, in our view, would be considerable.”

People are born with the faulty gene responsible for Huntigton’s disease but symptoms typically do not appear until middle age.

They may include uncontrolled movements, mood swings, cognitive decline, balance problems, and eventually losing the ability to walk, talk or swallow. It affects five to 10 people in every 100,000.

There is no known treatment to halt progression of the disease, only medications to relieve symptoms. Death typically occurs 15 to 20 years after onset.

In the journal Nature Dr Anthony Chan and colleagues at Yerkes, part of Emory University, Atlanta, said one of two surviving rhesus macaque monkeys engineered to have the defective gene that causes Huntington’s in humans is alread showing tell-tale symptoms aged just 10 months.

The team chose Huntington’s because the hereditary disease is untreatable.

Researchers often study laboratory animals such as mice to get insights into the underlying biology of diseases and to test treatments. But when it comes to brain disease, rodents come a poor second to monkeys and other primates that are much more similar to people .

“Rodent species can capture some of the characteristics of the disease, but they have not been satisfactory in being able to really capture the essence of the disease,” said Stuart Zola, head of the Yerkes centre. “Now we have a genetically modified nonhuman primate that really has captured the clinical signs that we see in patients with Huntington’s disease.”

The researchers also chose Huntington’s as the disease for creating the genetically modified monkeys with an eye toward simplicity – because it is linked to mutations in a single gene.

Huntington’s disease is one of a number of degenerative diseases marked by build up of a malformed proteins in brain cells.

In all, the Yerkes team engineered five rhesus macaque monkeys to develop the disease. The brains of one set of twins, who died a day after birth, contained clumps of the mutant protein while the lone animal, who died a month after birth, jerked involuntarily.

Recently Prof David Rubinsztein and colleagues at the University of Cambridge announced that they have identified a number of candidate drugs to investigate further which encourage cells to “eat” the malformed proteins that lead to the disease

McCain believes Iraq war can be won by 2013

Associated Press | May 16, 2008


COLUMBUS, Ohio – Republican John McCain declared for the first time Thursday he believes the Iraq war can be won by 2013, although he rejected suggestions that his talk of a timetable put him on the same side as Democrats clamoring for full-scale troop withdrawals.

The Republican presidential contender, in a mystical speech that also envisioned Osama bin Laden dead or captured, and Americans with the choice of paying a simple flat tax or following their standard 1040 form, said only a small number of troops would remain in Iraq by the end of a prospective first term because al-Qaida will have been defeated and Iraq’s government will be functioning on its own.

“By January 2013, America has welcomed home most of the servicemen and women who have sacrificed terribly so that America might be secure in her freedom. The Iraq War has been won,” McCain told an audience of several hundred here in the capital city of a general election battleground state.

Later, as the Arizona senator drove to the airport on his “Straight Talk Express” campaign bus, McCain was peppered by reporters with questions about the timetable. He and his aides insisted there was a difference between ending the war and bringing troops home and, as they criticize the Democrats, announcing a withdrawal upfront without regard for the military endgame.

“It’s not a timetable; it’s victory. It’s victory, which I have always predicted. I didn’t know when we were going to win World War II; I just knew we were going to win,” McCain said.

The Vietnam veteran added: “I know from experience, you set a day for surrender — which is basically what you do when you say you are withdrawing — and you will pay a much a heavier price later on.”

In the primary campaign, McCain had criticized former Republican rival Mitt Romney for hinting at a timetable.

Democrats challenged McCain’s comments, led by presidential contender Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In a statement, the New York senator dismissed McCain and said he “promises more of the same Bush policies that have weakened our military, our national security and our standing in the world.” The Barack Obama campaign said that while the candidate agrees with some of McCain’s sentiments, “you cannot embrace the destructive policies and divisive political tactics of George Bush and still offer yourself as a candidate of healing and change.”

Other Democrats equated McCain’s comment with President Bush’s May 1, 2003, speech on the deck of an aircraft carrier displaying a “Mission Accomplished” banner.

In his remarks, McCain peered through a crystal ball to 2013 and envisioned an era of bipartisanship driven by weekly news conferences and British-style question periods with joint meetings of Congress.

The senator conceded he cannot make the changes alone, but said he wanted to outline a specific governing style to show the accomplishments it can achieve. He backed up his remarks with a Web ad featuring similar content.

“I’m not interested in partisanship that serves no other purpose than to gain a temporary advantage over our opponents. This mindless, paralyzing rancor must come to an end. We belong to different parties, not different countries,” McCain said. “There is a time to campaign, and a time to govern. If I’m elected president, the era of the permanent campaign will end; the era of problem-solving will begin.”

To the disdain of some fellow Republicans, the likely GOP nominee has worked with Democrats on legislation aimed at overhauling campaign finance regulations, redrafting immigration rules and regulations and implementing government spending controls.

While that has cultivated a maverick image for McCain, the Arizona senator has also been accused of exhibiting a nasty temper — swearing even at fellow lawmakers from his own party — and unabashed partisanship.

In particular, McCain has clashed with the leading Democratic presidential contender, Barack Obama. After tangling with the Illinois senator on lobbying reforms, McCain questioned Obama’s integrity in a publicly released 2006 letter.

McCain wrote he had thought Obama’s interest in ethics legislation “was genuine and admirable,” before adding: “Thank you for disabusing me of such notions.” He accused Obama of “partisan posturing.”

In outlining other potential achievements of a first term in his speech, the 71-year-old McCain implicitly was suggesting he would seek a second term, an attempt to mute suggestions he would serve only four years after being the oldest president elected.

In particular, he sees a world in which the Taliban threat in Afghanistan has been greatly reduced.

He added: “The increase in actionable intelligence that the counterinsurgency produced led to the capture or death of Osama bin Laden, and his chief lieutenants. … There still has not been a major terrorist attack in the United States since Sept. 11, 2001.”

McCain also pledged to halt a Bush administration practice of enacting laws with accompanying signing statements that exempt the president from having to enforce parts he finds objectionable.


McCain: Americans Fine With Troops In Iraq For 10,000 Years