Daily Archives: September 15, 2008

Palin softens on global warming and melts the hearts of the right

Palin denied saying previously that human activity has no role in climate change

Independent | Sep 15, 2008

By Leonard Doyle

The force of nature known as Sarah Palin was back at work inside America’s living rooms yesterday, attempting to wreak havoc with Barack Obama’s hopes.

In the space of a fortnight, she has transformed the national conversation from the urban and economic issues favoured by Mr Obama to the mythical values attributed to smalltown America.

As the public’s fascination with the 44-year-old Alaskan Governor grows by the day, she even eclipsed media coverage of the Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

Yesterday, ABC broadcast the second of a three-part exclusive interview series with her. Under gentle questioning from the veteran news anchor Charlie Gibson, she breezily brushed off criticisms of her plans to drill for oil in Alaska’s national wildlife reserve. She also softened her tone on global warming, denying saying previously that human activity has no role in climate change.

Mrs Palin is professionally trained for the media, thanks to her degree in journalism and a brief career as a sportscaster and her first interviews showed she could smooth talk her way around tricky questions.

In one exchange during the first interview broadcast on Thursday, it became apparent that she did not know what was meant by the “Bush doctrine”.

“In what respect, Charlie?” Mrs Palin replied when asked what she thought of the doctrine annunciated in September 2002 before the Iraq war. Gibson impatiently told her it meant the right of “anticipatory self-defence”.

The Governor finally responded: “Charlie, if there is a legitimate and enough intelligence that tells us that a strike is imminent against American people, we have every right to defend our country. In fact, the president has the obligation, the duty to defend.”

But this was no Jeremy Paxman-style grilling and tempers were never frayed. Mrs Palin remaining composed throughout. She was carefully briefed in advance by a team of advisers from Mr McCain’s campaign and the format was more akin to a celebrity interview than a forensic analysis. It was shot both indoors and outside against a backdrop of Alaska’s turning leaves and an enormous shiny oil pipeline.

The ABC interviews culminated in a 40-minute presentation from her hometown of Wasilla which reinforced the message of her speech to the Republican convention when she told 46 million viewers: “We grow good people in our small towns … I grew up with those people. They’re the ones who do some of the hardest work in America, grow our food and run our factories and fight our wars. They love their country in good times and bad, and they’re always proud of America.”

That message strikes a chord with voters who are still wary of having a black Democrat in the White House. Mrs Palin is a conservative, anti-abortion and pro-gun rights mother of five, whose smalltown message is firing up Republican Party grassroots members and has ignited a surge of momentum for Mr McCain.

In her own words

*Climate change

I believe that man’s activities certainly can be contributing to the issue of global warming, climate change. Here in Alaska … we see the effects of climate change more so than any other area with ice pack melting. Regardless, though, of the reason for climate change, whether it’s entirely, wholly caused by man’s activities or is part of the cyclical nature of our planet – the warming and the cooling trends – regardless of that, John McCain and I agree that we gotta do something about it and we have to make sure that we’re doing all we can to cut down on pollution.

*On drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

I’m going to keep working on that one with [McCain]. ANWR, of course, is a 2,000-acre swath of land in the middle of about a 20 million-acre swath of land. Two-thousand acres that we’re asking the feds to unlock so that there can be exploration and development … We’ll agree to disagree, but … I think, eventually, we’re all gonna come together on that one.

*On the Bush doctrine

Gibson: The Bush – well, what do you – what do you interpret it to be?

Palin: His world view.

Gibson: No, the Bush doctrine, annunciated September 2002, before the Iraq war.

Palin: I believe that what President Bush has attempted to do is rid this world of Islamic extremism, terrorists who are hell bent on destroying our nation. There have been blunders along the way, though. There have been mistakes made. And with new leadership … comes opportunity to do things better.

Gibson: The Bush doctrine, as I understand it, is that we have the right of anticipatory self-defence, that we have the right to a pre-emptive strike against any other country that we think is going to attack us. Do you agree with that?

Palin: Charlie, if there is legitimate and enough intelligence that tells us a strike is imminent against American people, we have every right to defend our country. In fact, the president has the obligation, the duty to defend our country.

Gibson: Do we have the right to be making cross-border attacks into Pakistan, from Afghanistan, with or without the approval of the Pakistani government?

Palin: As for our right to invade, we’re going to work with these countries, building new relationships, working with existing allies, but forging new also, in order to, Charlie, get to a point in this world, where war is not going to be a first option.

*On her foreign travel

Canada, Mexico, and then, yes, that trip … the trip of a lifetime to visit our troops in Kuwait. That was the trip of a lifetime and changed my life.

*On Russia

They’re our next door neighbours and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska. We will not repeat a Cold War. We must have good relationship with our allies, pressuring, also, helping us to remind Russia that it’s in their benefit, also, a mutually beneficial relationship for us all to be getting along.

*On Iran

I agree with John McCain that nuclear weapons in the hands of those who would seek to destroy our allies, in this case, we’re talking about Israel, we’re talking about Ahmadinejad’s comment about Israel being the “stinking corpse, should be wiped off the face of the Earth,” that’s atrocious. That’s unacceptable … We have got to make sure these weapons of mass destruction, are not given to those hands of Ahmadinejad, not that he would use them, but that he would allow terrorists to be able to use them.

Nazi war criminal invited to judge beauty pagent

Erich Priebke, 95, sent “hugs and kisses” to beauty contestants in a video message from prison  Photo: EPA

A Nazi war criminal has caused outrage in Italy after it emerged that he was invited to judge a local beauty pageant.

Telegraph | Sep 15, 2008

By Urmee Khan

SS captain Erich Priebke, 95, is serving a life sentence under house arrest near Rome for his part in the World War II massacre of 335 Jews and partisans in 1944 at the Ardeatine Caves outside Rome.

However, he was allowed to transmit a video message to participants of last week’s beauty contest, causing fury among the Italian Jewish community.

It was shown on giant screens at the pageant in the town in Lazio. He sent “hugs and kisses” to contestants.

Preibke, who was invited as an “act of forgiveness for a new era” by a PR company, said: “I thank the organisers for their invitation which I consider a humanitarian gesture.”

Newly elected Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno called the idea “crazy.”
Claudio Marini, the organizer of the “Star of the Year” beauty contest, had invited the former SS officer to be on its jury. Marini said he did not invite Priebke as a publicity stunt but as part of a “process of pacification.”

“Speculating on the macabre notoriety of a war criminal is really the opposite of a beauty contest,” Renzo Gattegna, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

“And to this is added the cynicism of never considering the pain of the families of the victims.”

Priebke was jailed for life in 1998 after he was discovered working as a schoolteacher in Argentina, and was extradited to stand trial.

In 1999, he was given leave to serve the remainder of his sentence under house arrest in his lawyer’s home, on the grounds of his ill health.

The 1944 massacre was a reprisal ordered by Adolf Hitler after partisans killed a patrol of 33 German soldiers.

Priebke was one of several officers present during the killing of the men and boys, 75 of whom were Jewish, at the caves.

Goths arrested on suspicion of murdering and eating teenagers in Satanic ritual

Police in the western Russian city of Yaroslavl have arrested a gang of goths accused of killing and eating four teenagers in a gory Satanic ritual.

Telegraph | Sep 15, 2008

By Miriam Elder in Moscow

The eight suspected Satanists, aged 17 to 19, allegedly lured the four youths to parties on the forested edge of Yaroslavl’s city limits, before inducing them to drink and then chopping up their bodies.

Police found the victims’ arms and legs in a pit dressed with Satanic symbols, and investigators say each victim was stabbed 666 times – a number taken to be the sign of the devil.

The four victims were lured in two separate incidents in late June, investigators believe. First the gang approached and dismembered Olga Pukhova and Anna Gorokhova on June 28, before attacking Varya Kuzmina and her boyfriend Andrei Sorokin the next day. All the victims were between the ages of 16 and 17.

Investigators launched a citywide search before discovering the gruesome death site in mid-August.

The victims – all goths themselves – had told their families they were going to a nearby music festival. Instead, police discovered they had all phoned the flat of alleged Satanist cult leader Nikolai Ogolobyak, who lives 250 metres away from the site of the deadly ritual.

Kuzmina reportedly called a friend from Ogolobyak’s apartment late the night of her murder and said: “I don’t like it here, something’s not right. I’ll tell you about it later.”

One of the eight arrested Satanists had spent time in a psychological facility, but was later released. He refused to renounce his beliefs, allegedly saying “Satan will help me avoid responsibility – I’ve brought him many victims.”

Goth and emo culture have come under increasing scrutiny in Russia, where pierced youths draped in black are ubiquitous.

In June, the State Duma held a hearing on proposed legal amendments that would regulate emo websites and prevent goth-inclined teenagers from entering schools and government buildings.

Two dozen bodies dumped near Mexico City

The Age | Sep 15, 2008

Tracy Wilkinson, Mexico City

GAGGED and bound, the bodies were dumped on a grassy roadside strewn with rubbish. Most had been shot in the head, probably on the spot, judging from the spent shell casings.

In what appears to be the largest single mass killing since Mexico’s drug war escalated nearly two years ago, the bodies of 24 men were found 50 kilometres outside the capital at the weekend. The execution-style slayings were likely the latest battle between rival drug gangs, officials say.

The bodies were found in La Marquesa park, near a rest stop used by travellers.

Enrique Pena Nieto, Governor of Mexico state, said the slayings were part of the “insecurity that prevails, in generalised form, in the nation”.

All of the dead men had military-style haircuts and were dressed for warmer weather than Mexico City. Authorities suspect they came from the neighbouring states of Michoacan or Guerrero, where fighting among drug gangs is relentless.

There was speculation that either the killed or killers belonged to the Zetas, a ruthless band of hit-men working for a powerful narcotics-trafficking syndicate.

The Attorney-General’s office said in a statement that the dead ranged in age from 20 to 35. All had been shot in the head. Their hands, feet and mouths were bound with tape, state prosecutor’s office spokesman Octavio Campos.

“The initial investigation indicates some of the people had been executed before arriving at the site while others were executed there,” Mr Campos said. “This may be a settling of scores between organised criminal bands.”

According to a tally kept by Reforma newspaper, 3148 people have been killed in drug-related violence this year.

Elsewhere in Mexico, 17 other people were killed in shootings and attacks. Many victims have been found decapitated, including 12 headless bodies discovered on August 28 on the Yucatan Peninsula. Kidnappings are also at epidemic levels.

Warfare that was once confined to lawless areas near Mexico’s border and along smuggling routes has spread throughout Mexico since President Felipe Calderon’s decision to direct the army against traffickers in December 2006.

Organized crime takes control in parts of Mexico

Gruesome gangland-style murders and targeted assassinations of law-enforcement officers have claimed headlines in what Mexicans now refer to as war.

The chilling reality of Mexico is the mounting evidence that organized crime has become the de facto power in parts of the country, and local authorities can no longer protect citizens and impart justice.

McClatchy | Sep 14, 2008

By Jane Bussey

MORELIA, Mexico — As helicopters circled overhead, trucks carrying Mexican army troops lurched through the colonial streets of this provincial capital to a central plaza, where a grenade had been discovered near the cathedral.

Law-enforcement agents cordoned off the plaza and removed the grenade. But the latest attempt at intimidation in Michoacan , the state where Mexican President Felipe Calderon first dispatched the military to confront the Mexican drug cartels, appears to have succeeded.

Fear of the drug gangs pervades this city about 200 miles west of Mexico City .

“Don’t go to Aguililla or to Tepalcatepec or to Coalcoman!” is the warning Victor Serrato , president of the State Commission on Human Rights in Morelia gives visitors. There is a risk of abduction, mistreatment or worse, he said.

Paracuaro , which human rights experts considered a “safe” town, turned out not to be. Not long after this reporter and a photographer sat down at a restaurant interview a local resident about drug violence, two police officers arrived and sat down — only to rush off when they spotted the visitors. We took the hint and quickly left town.

Gruesome gangland-style murders and targeted assassinations of law-enforcement officers have claimed headlines in what Mexicans now refer to as war.

The chilling reality of Mexico is the mounting evidence that organized crime has become the de facto power in parts of the country, and local authorities can no longer protect citizens and impart justice.

” Michoacan is one of the states where you feel most the breakdown of the social fabric because of this criminal activity,” Serrato said.

“These cartels, which previously were dedicated to the narcotics business, have now turned to control a whole other series of activities,” he said. “They are demanding payoffs not only from owners of illicit businesses, but what is more serious, they are demanding them from people who sell clothing in markets or the owners of small restaurants.”

The winnings from the trafficking of illegal cocaine, marijuana and other drugs are on view in Uruapan : There are luxury car dealerships, stores selling expensive furniture and homes that locals say belong to drug traffickers, distinguished by having no windows facing the street and thick walls on all sides and strings of electrified wires atop the walls.

Violence between competing drug gangs reached a peak in 2006, when drug commandos knows as the Zetas tossed five severed human heads on a night club floor in Uruapan , some 290 miles west of Mexico City . But there is no sign that the bloodshed has ended. In the last week in August, the state was the site of four gangland killings and the abduction of Uruapan’s town council secretary, Maribel Martinez , who was snatched after the attended an evening mass. Her bodyguards were wounded.

“This happens all the time: killings, kidnappings, robberies, rapes,” said Morelia college student Francisco Paredes , putting on a brave face. “I was afraid, not any more.”

Life in some parts of Mexico is part Colombian-style violence, part Al Capone’s Chicago in the 1920s, and part civil war, although the gangs are not fighting for any cause beyond self-enrichment.

Despite the 2,673 deaths in the violence through mid-August — more than in all of 2007, life goes on. Some 14,000 people recently ran a Mexico City marathon; “12 Angry Men” played to packed audiences in Mexico City in August and Wal-Mart Mexico opened 14 stores in June.

But Mexicans in Michoacan and other parts of the country, described in dozens of interviews the growing sense of despair that organized crime has moved beyond just drug trafficking to kidnapping and extortion of ordinary people, overwhelming law enforcement with their spoils of crime, estimated at $25 billion to $40 billion annually.

Like Michoacan , residents in Tamaulipas , which borders the U.S., say that drug cartels control widespread intelligence-gathering networks, for example paying waiters to keep tabs on whether diners are talking about drug gangs or spotters in small towns to report on visiting outsiders. The majority of kidnappings go unreported.

A number of wealthy Mexicans have started to make plans to move to the U.S. because of the rising incidence of kidnapping and extortion.

A poll taken in June showed 53 percent of Mexicans thought drug gangs were winning the war and only 24 percent believed the government had the upper hand.

What’s worse, security analysts agree that while the military can reduce the open violence, soldiers can do little to weed out the spread of organized crime into civilian institutions. That effort requires coordination with law enforcement and justice institutions.

Increasingly political leaders and officials are speaking openly of the threat to the country’s democratic government.

On Aug. 23 , Beatriz Paredes , leader of the Institutional Revolutionary Party , lashed out at Calderon’s government over the rising violence.

“There are risks of this becoming ungovernable above all because the rule of law is being weakened by rising crime and public insecurity,” she said.

Paredes echoed Guillermo Valdes , the head of the government’s intelligence organization CISEN, who framed the issue as a threat to democracy. Drug traffickers are attempting to take control of the government, he told foreign reporters recently.

It’s too early to call Mexico a failed state. The federal government retains enormous power, and Calderon pledged in a radio message on Aug. 25 that the insecurity problem was “a cancer that we are going to eradicate.”

But there are some states that are failing to protect their citizens from the slaughter.

On the same day Paredes was criticizing the Calderon government, Jose Reyes Baeza , the governor of Chihuahua, faced down an angry crowd in the town of Creel demanding an explanation for the absence of police protection on Aug. 16 , when drug commandos stormed a dance hall, gunning down and killing 13 people, including an infant.

Despite the 40,000 troops Calderon has deployed — including 6,500 in Michoacan — safety and security still elude residents in zones where drug lords and their heavily armed commandos fight among themselves, battle the military and wage a low-intensity war of intimidation on the population.

“People are at the breaking point,” said Serrato of the Michoacan human-rights commission.

Bush’s Overseas Policies Begin Resembling Obama’s

Washington Post | Sep 15, 2008

By Dan Eggen

Barack Obama contends that a John McCain presidency would amount to little more than President Bush’s third term. But as it turns out, an Obama presidency might look a bit like Bush’s second.

On a range of major foreign policy issues over the past year, Bush has pursued strategies and actions very much along the lines of what Sen. Obama has advocated during his presidential race, according to the Illinois Democrat’s campaign and many diplomatic and security experts.

The administration has pushed ahead with high-level diplomatic negotiations with Iran and North Korea, agreed to a “time horizon” for a reduction of U.S. forces in Iraq and announced plans last week to shift troops and other resources from Iraq to Afghanistan. U.S. officials also confirmed last week that Bush has formally authorized cross-border raids into Pakistan without that government’s approval — an idea that Obama first endorsed, and was heavily criticized for, in 2007.

Bush administration officials and aides to Sen. McCain (Ariz.), the Republican presidential nominee, argue that the developments have little in common with Obama’s policies and dismiss any comparison as simplistic and misleading.

But the Obama campaign views the moves as vindication of sorts, arguing that Bush has been forced by the pressure of events to move away from the hard-line policies of his first term and toward a more pragmatic path in his second. When Bush announced the new troop deployments to Afghanistan, for example, Obama said he was “glad that the president is moving in the direction of the policy that I have advocated for years.”

Obama aides also say the moves by Bush complicate matters for McCain, who is more hawkish than his opponent on issues including the crisis in Georgia and the war in Iraq.

“What we have here, in many ways, is that a McCain presidency would look a lot like a Bush first term and a move back in that direction,” said Rand Beers, who served as a National Security Council staffer in Republican and Democratic administrations and is now an unpaid adviser to the Obama campaign. “The flip side of that is that John McCain is therefore to the right of George Bush, which I don’t think is the way he conceived of his campaign.”

But Randy Scheunemann, McCain’s top foreign policy adviser, accused the Obama campaign of “rank hypocrisy” and said it was “comical” for the Democrat to now claim accord with the Bush administration on some issues. “I find the whole argument relatively amusing, given that they have done nothing but criticize Bush administration foreign policy, and now claim that Bush is moving in their direction,” Scheunemann said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

McCain has accused Obama of wanting to “lose in Iraq to win in Afghanistan,” criticized him for endorsing direct talks with leaders of Iran and other enemies, and repeatedly called Obama “naive” for publicly advocating the Pakistan raids.

McCain’s running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, seemed to endorse unilateral raids in Pakistan during an interview last week with ABC News, saying that “we have got to have all options out there on the table.” Scheunemann said Palin’s remarks were in line with McCain’s views, and that McCain’s criticism of Obama was focused on his decision to talk publicly about detailed counterterrorism strategies.

The renewed wrangling over foreign policy comes as Obama struggles to convince voters that he is trustworthy on world affairs and seeks to fend off McCain’s overall gains in national polls. The Republican nominee has a 17-point lead on the question of which candidate can better handle an unexpected crisis and a double-digit advantage as the one more trusted on international affairs, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released last week.

Both McCain and Obama said they approved of Bush’s announcement last week that 8,000 troops would be removed from Iraq by early next year while nearly 5,000 troops would be added to Afghanistan by the end of the year. But their interpretations of these events were starkly different.

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