Daily Archives: August 27, 2008

Russia ready for a new Cold War

Abu Dabi National | Aug 27, 2008

By Paul Woodward

“Russia’s relations with the West plunged to their most critical point in a generation today when the Kremlin built on its military rout of Georgia by recognising the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states,” The Guardian reported.

“Declaring that if his decision meant a new cold war, then so be it, President Dmitri Medvedev signed a decree conferring Russian recognition on Georgia’s two secessionist regions. The move flouted UN Security Council resolutions and dismissed western insistence during the crisis of the past three weeks on respecting Georgia’s territorial integrity and international borders.

“Tonight, Medvedev accused Washington of shipping arms to Georgia under the guise of humanitarian aid.”

A news analysis in RFE/RL said: “Even though Medvedev tasked the Russian Foreign Ministry with drafting treaties on friendship, cooperation, and mutual assistance with both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, South Ossetia is almost certainly likely to be subsumed into the Russian Federation sooner rather than later. Indeed, its de facto president, Eduard Kokoity, was quoted by kavkaz-uzel.ru on May 20 as saying that ‘the primary aim of South Ossetia is unification with North Ossetia within the composition of Russia. We have never made any secret of this.’

“North Ossetian President Teimuraz Mamsurov too has described unification of the Ossetian nation within a single territorial entity as righting a historic injustice. The appointment last week of Russian Regional Development Minister Dmitry Kozak to oversee post-conflict economic reconstruction in South Ossetia indicates that Moscow will continue to call the shots there.”

The Times reported: “Russia played a trump card in its strategic poker game with the West yesterday by threatening to suspend an agreement allowing Nato to take supplies and equipment to Afghanistan through Russia and Central Asia.

“The agreement was struck at a Nato summit in April to provide an alternative supply route to the road between the Afghan capital and the Pakistani border, which has come under attack from militants on both sides of the frontier this year.

“Zamir Kabulov, the Russian Ambassador to Afghanistan, told The Times in an interview that he believed the deal was no longer valid because Russia suspended military cooperation with Nato last week over its support for Georgia.”

Having just returned from Georgia, Ukraine and Poland, two of US presidential candidate John McCain’s leading supporters, senators Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman wrote in The Wall Street Journal: “The first priority of America and Europe must be to prevent the Kremlin from achieving its strategic objectives in Georgia. Having been deterred from marching on Tbilisi and militarily overthrowing the democratically elected government there, Russian forces spent last week destroying the country’s infrastructure, including roads, bridges, port and security facilities. This was more than random looting. It was a deliberate campaign to collapse the economy of Georgia, in the hope of taking the government down with it.

“The humanitarian supplies the US military is now ferrying to Georgia are critically important to the innocent men, women and children displaced by the fighting, some of whom we saw last week. Also needed, immediately, is a joint commitment by the US and the European Union to fund a large-scale, comprehensive reconstruction plan – developed by the Georgian government, in consultation with the World Bank, IMF and other international authorities – and for the US Congress to support this plan as soon as it returns to session in September.

“Any assistance plan must also include the rebuilding of Georgia’s security forces. Our past aid to the Georgian military focused on supporting the light, counterterrorism-oriented forces that facilitate Tbilisi’s contribution to coalition operations in Iraq. We avoided giving the types of security aid that could have been used to blunt Russia’s conventional onslaught. It is time for that to change.”

Anatol Lieven wrote in The Times: “If the events of the past fortnight in Georgia have demonstrated one thing clearly, it is that Russia will fight if it feels its vital interests under attack in the former Soviet Union – and that the West will not, and indeed cannot, given its conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Other Western threats are equally empty. Russia itself pulled out of co-operation with Nato. If a real threat is made of expulsion from the G8, Russia will leave that organisation too – especially since a club that does not include China and India is increasingly meaningless anyway. The threat of being barred from joining the World Trade Organisation is a bit stronger – but Russia has done so well economically without membership that this goal too has lost much of its allure.

“Moscow has reminded Nato of the importance of Russian goodwill to secure the supply lines of the US-Nato operation in Afghanistan through Central Asia.”

A commentary for Eurasianet on the implications for Iran from the widening gulf between Russia and the West said: “The Iranian Foreign Ministry adopted a decidedly neutral tone when addressing the Russian-Georgian conflict, resorting to diplomatic platitudes that countries use when they don’t want to commit themselves. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi stated simply at an Aug 12 briefing that Tehran was ‘following current developments in the Caucasus and urge[s] the belligerent parties to resolve their disputes through peaceful means.’

“Since then, Iranian officials have uttered nary a word about the conflict. The low-profile approach seems to indicate that pragmatists in Tehran have control of the foreign policy wheel. Iranian neo-conservatives who are loyal to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have voiced discontent with Tehran’s current policy. ‘Our reticence only aids the camp that wishes US regional adversaries to remain silent while US supporters come to the support of [Georgian President Mikheil] Saakashvili,’ noted an Aug 16 commentary published in Kayhan, a newspaper that is strongly supportive of Ahmadinejad.

“Experts in Tehran believe the Iran’s foreign policy establishment is playing a waiting game in the expectation that deepening US-Russian acrimony will open up new diplomatic avenues that Tehran can use to end its international diplomatic isolation.”

UN pleads with Nepal Maoists to release child soldiers from camps

RTT | Aug 26, 2008

(RTTNews) –   The United Nations on Tuesday urged Nepal’s Maoists to release some 3,000 of its under-aged fighters, who were recruited during their decade-long campaign against the monarchy, from its ranks.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, special representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, appealed to the Maoist-led government of Nepal to release the under-aged fighters, who are currently housed along with other fighters in U.N. monitored camps in Nepal. He said that UN agencies should be provided access to the child soldiers to ensure their “recovery and reintegration”.

However, the Maoists say that they cannot abandon the children as they fought along side the other fighters in the group’s fight against the country’s monarchy. The Maoists want the Nepalese army to absorb all of its fighters, but the army has been reluctant to recruit them as they are politically indoctrinated.

Illegal Immigrants Returning to Mexico in Record Numbers

Reports are already out in Mexico that the large number of illegal immigrants returning home could drive down wages and put pressure on social services — the same concerns many Americans have with illegals living and working in the U.S.

Fox News | Aug 22, 2008

By Kris Gutierrez

DALLAS —  Illegal immigrants are returning home to Mexico in numbers not seen for decades — and the Mexican government may have to deal with a crush on its social services and lower wages once the immigrants arrive.

The Mexican Consulate’s office in Dallas is seeing increasing numbers of Mexican nationals requesting paperwork to go home for good, especially parents who want to know what documentation they’ll need to enroll their children in Mexican schools.

“Those numbers have increased percentage-wise tremendously,” said Enrique Hubbard, the Mexican consul general in Dallas. “In fact, it’s almost 100 percent more this year than it was the previous two years.”

The illegal immigrant population in the U.S. has dropped 11 percent since August of last year, according to the Center for Immigration Studies. Its research shows 1.3 million illegal immigrants have returned to their home countries.

Some say illegal immigrants are leaving because a soft economy has led to fewer jobs, causing many laborers to seek work elsewhere.

Others argue that a tough stance on immigration through law enforcement has spread fear throughout the illegal population.

“There’s no question there’s a variety of suggestions that people are in fact returning,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. “Remittances, which is the money immigrants send home to Mexico, have gone down dramatically over the past year. Again, probably part the economy, but also part enforcement, leading to fewer people being here.”

Advocates for immigrants are disturbed by the trend. Albert Ruiz, an organizer for the League of United Latin American Citizens, agrees that more undocumented immigrants are going home — but says families are being torn apart in the process.

If a father is deported, Ruiz says, his family members in America are forced either to fend for themselves or follow him to a country where they’ve never even lived.

“So the mother is saying we should return home with the breadwinner of the family to Mexico, and the children are saying, I don’t want to leave, I’m a U.S. citizen, I don’t know that country,” said Ruiz.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon plans to help returning nationals by providing food, medical care and temporary shelter if needed. But reports are already out in Mexico that the large number of illegal immigrants returning home could drive down wages and put pressure on social services — the same concerns many Americans have with illegals living and working in the U.S.

Freemasons defy mystical roots in bid for new members

Salem News | Aug 26, 2008

By Alan Burke

Hollywood couldn’t concoct a more ominous crowd. All men, they gather to perform odd rituals. Their roots go back so many centuries, no one knows exactly when they started. They recognize one another through secret handshakes and exotic symbols.

And now the Freemasons have startled the world with the ultimate conspiracy — television commercials aimed at attracting new members.

Except, it’s not exactly a conspiracy if it’s on television.

For that matter, says Charles Austin, a Freemason at the Salem Masonic Temple, they were never all that shadowy to start with. In the past, he scoffs, “people were claiming we were a secretive, satanic cult.”

In truth, Austin says, the group has always been welcoming of anyone wanting to join. And if Freemasonry is a conspiracy, it’s a conspiracy to do good, to provide scholarships, to donate to the Shriners’ Hospital and help fellow Masons in need. (The Shriners are a subgroup of the Masons.)

“We use the mason’s tools,” says Austin. “The level. Every mason is on the level. The plumb line. Every mason is upright and erect.”

“If it was secret,” argues John Blaney of the Marblehead lodge, “there wouldn’t be a sign outside every town saying ‘Philanthropic Lodge of Masons meets every Thursday.'”

Nevertheless, not enough people know about the Masons to keep the membership lists stable.

Fraternal organizations in general have suffered a loss of members in recent years, says Alan Foulds of the Scottish Rite, another Masonic subgroup. The TV commercials feature an actor portraying Freemason Ben Franklin, calling for young men to join.

Over the years a number of lodges across the state have simply disappeared. Membership ranges from as many as 800 men in Salem’s two lodges to 200 in Peabody, says Austin. “But if you get 20 percent of those at a meeting, you’re doing a good job.”

Marblehead, half the size of Salem, is apparently doing a very good job, bucking the trend. The town lists as many as 600 at a lodge founded before the Revolution. Paul Revere signed the charter.

“I just got my pin for 60 years as a member,” says Mason Emerson Brown. Becoming a Mason after service in World War II, the 87-year-old sees the organization partly as a social club. “You have a wonderful time here.”

More importantly, he adds, “We help a lot of people who need it.”

“It’s a brotherhood dedicated to helping others,” echoes Marblehead Mason Harry Christensen.

With Masons already in his family, he joined after service in Vietnam inspired him to help others.

Centuries of history

Freemasonry goes back at least to the 1600s. Almost any man is eligible — women can join auxiliary organizations. “We have members from all the religions,” Christensen says, “Jewish, Moslem, Christian.”

Belief in a supreme being is one of the prerequisites of Freemasonry, says Blaney.

He blames the recent declining membership on the time-consuming demands of modern life.

Marblehead with its unique sense of history and community has avoided such pitfalls. Marblehead is very close,” explains Austin. “It’s a neighborhood.”

Moreover, the lodge itself has been careful to retain all the Masonic rituals and ceremonies. These tend to cement an individual’s dedication, Blaney believes.

The decision to advertise was not without controversy within Freemasonry. “You may have lost a little bit of the mysticism,” says Austin. “One side thought we should have made it more exclusive.”

In the past, the Masons have waited for potential members to come to them. In just that way they attracted some impressive people, including presidents George Washington, Harry Truman, and Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt.

On the other hand, the TV commercials have had an impact.

“We’ve gotten people who wouldn’t have thought of it to consider joining,” says Austin. Many are young — although one was old enough to comment, “If I’d known about this, I would have joined 41 years ago.”

Compensation for sex abuse victims at children’s home inexplicably blocked by government

‘Cellar four’, at the former children’s home at Haute de la Garenne. Remains of at least five children so far have been uncovered beneath the floors.

Mr Harper, who now lives in Ayrshire, Scotland, said that victims would give statements and his team would put together a file, but then they would run into “inexplicable delays”. He said that it was as if “the goalposts were being moved” and the decision-making process for the Jersey legal system appeared to be “whenever, wherever”. He said: “They are not trusted at all by the victims. They are held in contempt by the vast majority of the victims.”

Independent | Aug 26, 2008

Damages claims for Jersey abuse ‘blocked’

By Robert Verkaik, Law Editor

Claims for compensation by victims of sexual abuse at a Jersey care home are being blocked by the island’s government.

Negotiations between Jersey’s law officers and representatives of dozens of residents of Haut de la Garenne children’s home have failed to establish a right to compensation which victims’ lawyers say could cost the island tens of millions of pounds.

The failure to bring justice to the victims of the abuse scandal will add to the perception that Jersey is unwilling to confront its past. Last week, the former head of the Jersey child abuse investigation criticised the Channel island’s legal system, which he said had delayed prosecutions and was held in “contempt” by victims.

Now the civil claims dating back to between 1960 and 1980 appear to have run into similar problems.

Tracey Emmott, a child abuse lawyer and partner with Pictons, solicitors in Luton, is representing 12 people who claim to have been abused at Haut de la Garenne and other children’s homes in Jersey. She has written to the island’s Attorney General, William Bailhache, asking for more to be done to bring about a settlement of the pending cases. While the courts in England and Wales have lifted the bar on historic sexual abuse claims, Jersey’s legal system is ill-equipped to deal with such cases.

The criminal injuries compensation board of the parliament, known as the States of Jersey, can only make awards only for injuries sustained after 1 May 1991, and claims for damages in the civil courts have to be launched within three years of a victim turning 18.

Haut de la Garenne closed in 1986 and more than 100 people have come forward saying they were abused there during the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties. A police investigation has resulted in three arrests and the discovery of fragments of children’s teeth and bones in the cellar.

Ms Emmott says she is concerned that there should be “movement” from Jersey’s law officers in order to obtain justice for her clients by setting up a “board of address” similar to child abuse compensation schemes established in Ireland and Canada.

A year after the scale of abuse first became known, Ms Emmott says the island’s law officers have so far given no indication that they see this as a solution.

“At the outset,” said Ms Emmott, “we envisaged these difficulties, but now that we are actually in the process of putting the claims together the situation seems to have reached an impasse, I hope temporary, until Jersey introduces changes to the law. This kind of situation was never envisaged when laws involving personal injury were drawn up.”

She added: “In England and Wales the law on time limits changed earlier this year in a House of Lords landmark decision in A v Hoare, otherwise known as the ‘Lotto rapist’ case. The law lords held that a court could exercise discretion when determining whether a claim brought after the cut-off date should be allowed to go ahead. This decision effectively swept away the absolute bar on claims for historic sexual abuse. But it could take a long time, if ever, for this to filter through to the Jersey legal system.”

Lenny Harper, who led the inquiry until he retired as deputy chief officer of the States of Jersey Police earlier this month, has also been critical of the legal process. Mr Harper, who now lives in Ayrshire, Scotland, said that victims would give statements and his team would put together a file, but then they would run into “inexplicable delays”.

He said that it was as if “the goalposts were being moved” and the decision-making process for the Jersey legal system appeared to be “whenever, wherever”. He said: “The legal system has to accept the reality of the situation. They are not trusted at all by the victims. They are held in contempt by the vast majority of the victims.”

The retired officer said a dedicated lawyer they were promised “just wasn’t there” and for long periods they had no legal assistance. This month, a legal challenge over the handling of the criminal investigation was launched at Jersey’s High Court.

A campaign group led by the Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming and the Jersey senator Stuart Syvret wants a judicial review of the “failure” of UK ministers to “enforce the rule of law”. But the government of Jersey says it has every confidence in the investigation, and when the judicial process has been completed, any evidence of a cover-up by individuals or agencies will be thoroughly investigated and resolved.

Mr Bailhache said that criticism of its justice system was misplaced. “The courts of Jersey have been delivering justice week in, week out for centuries,” he said. “Justice will be done.”