Daily Archives: July 14, 2009

New Mexico Department Of Health Prepares For Influenza Mass Vaccination Clinics

Medical News Today | Jul 14, 2009

The New Mexico Department of Health is planning for influenza mass vaccination clinics that will take place this fall to protect people against the novel H1N1 strain of influenza (earlier referred to as swine flu) and against seasonal influenza. The Department of Health is also ensuring that the State and its local partners are prepared to deal with the possibility of an increase in severity of H1N1 influenza cases, including a potential pandemic in New Mexico.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising states that vaccine companies are working on producing an H1N1 vaccination that may require people get two shots in addition to the seasonal influenza vaccination. The agency has not told states when to expect vaccines yet. CDC plans to cover the cost of vaccines for all states.

“We are reaching out to our healthcare and education partners throughout the state to make sure we can immunize New Mexicans from H1N1 and seasonal flu,” said Health Secretary Alfredo Vigil, MD. “We recognize that we’re asking the public to take the time to protect themselves from two different strains of influenza this year. We are trying to plan clinics statewide that are convenient for people.”

Due to the increase in the number of vaccinations, the Department will recruit additional people into the NMserves database, a statewide registry of pre-credentialed, volunteer healthcare professionals available to potentially respond to an emergency. To volunteer, look up http://www.nmserves.org/ or call Bobbie MacKenzie at 505-476-8302.

“We appreciate the dedication of our healthcare professionals who are willing to step up during a time of need and help us protect New Mexicans,” Dr. Vigil said.

The Department is updating its response plans if flu severity increases this year. This includes planning for storage and distribution of antivirals, establishing an inventory of personal protective equipment, training hospitals on medical evacuation and medical surge, and developing toolkits to educate specialized populations about what they can do to prevent and respond to flu cases. The Department will distribute educational information to child-care centers, schools, long-term care facilities, prisons, families and the elderly.

The Department of Health participates in weekly conference calls with the CDC to have the latest information about vaccine development and current tracking of the H1N1 disease.

H1N1 illness has been mild so far in New Mexico. Twenty-two clinics across New Mexico are reporting weekly on the percent of patient visits with influenza-like illness. So far, there have been no clusters of H1N1 cases in New Mexico and no deaths. Thirteen people have been hospitalized, and everyone has recovered.

Pope Gives Harry Potter Film His Blessing

Japan Harry Potter

A Japanese fan in Harry Potter outfit undergoes a security check upon arrival for Japan Premiere of the upcoming film “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” in Tokyo, Japan, Monday, July 6, 2009. AP Photo

The Vatican even said romances between the film’s characters were ‘balanced’

Sky News | Jul 14, 2009

The Vatican has given a nod of approval to the latest Harry Potter film, saying it made clear that good would triumph in a battle with evil.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince arrives in cinemas on Wednesday and is the sixth installment in the fantasy series about the boy wizard and his Hogwarts school friends.

The official newspaper of the Vatical City – which is ruled by the Pope – said it was the best adaptation yet of JK Rowling’s hit novels.

L’Osservatore Romano said the film’s treatment of adolescent love achieved the “correct balance” and made the story more credible to the general audience.

However, the paper criticised JK Rowling for failing to make any explicit “reference to the transcendent” in her books.

Nevertheless, L’Osservatore said the latest installment made clear that good should overcome evil – a fight that sometimes “requires costs and sacrifice”.

“In addition, the fitful search for immortality epitomised by Voldemort is stigmatised,” the review said.

The Vatican’s praise follows the sharp criticism of the Harry Potter series by a conservative Austrian priest at the centre of a church crisis earlier this year.

The Rev. Gerhard Maria Wagner claimed Harry Potter novels help spread satanism, while other Christian groups have argued that the books promote witchcraft and dark arts.

Many churches, however, see the message of good versus evil as being in line with teachings of Christian morality.

Atlanta Freemason lodge fights for equality

Letting in a black man

Atlanta Freemason lodge fights for equality

The Sunday Paper | Jul 12, 2009

By Chuck Stanley

An Atlanta Masonic lodge’s struggle to keep its charter in the face of racially charged complaints from fellow Georgia Freemasons has erupted into a public court battle, high-level resignations, and efforts from Masons across the country to show that such prejudices run counter to the fraternity’s principles of equality and brotherhood.

Ever since Victor Marshall’s first dinner with the Masons of Atlanta’s Gate City Lodge No. 2 during the summer of 2007, his experience with the centuries-old fraternity has been almost everything he hoped it might be. His interest in the “craft,” as it is called by Masons, began in his teens and continued to grow as the years passed. He was drawn by the idea of an egalitarian brotherhood free from barriers of class or social status. After researching various Atlanta area lodges, Marshall made up his mind to attend one of the open dinners held by Gate City Lodge No. 2 before each of their meetings at the Atlanta Masonic Center on Peachtree Street.

Marshall spent the next year getting acquainted with the Masons of Gate City Lodge, thus satisfying the prescribed amount of time a Master Mason must know a prospective member before vouching for his candidacy to join. By early 2009, Marshall had passed through the stages of Apprentice and Fellow Craft to be recognized as a Master Mason. The community service, the brotherhood and the discourse on history and philosophy he has participated in since joining have made him happy with his decision.

“I’ve gotten to know a lot of good brothers. I’ve learned a lot,” he says. “It’s exactly what I wanted.”

In February of this year, Marshall, along with Masons from across the state, attended the 275th anniversary of Solomon’s Lodge No. 1. The Savannah lodge traces its origins to Gen. James Oglethorpe, and claims to be the oldest continuously active lodge in the Western Hemisphere. Marshall says he was greeted enthusiastically by his fellow Masons. Shortly after his appearance at Solomon’s Lodge, though, word began to circulate that the Masons of Gate City counted a black man amongst their ranks.

Grand Master James Jennings, who heads the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons in Georgia, sent out a memo dated Feb. 25, 2009, in an apparent attempt to tamp down commentary about Marshall. “To answer any question about Gate City Lodge No. 2 raising a black man in their lodge,” he wrote, “ … Since all requirements in the Masonic Code were met, and no part of our obligation has been violated, he is a regular Mason and should be received as such.”

Nonetheless, Masonic charges meant to revoke Gate City’s charter and expel its leader, Michael Bjelajac, were soon filed by Starling “Sonny” Hicks and Douglass Etheridge, leaders of Georgia’s Philogia Lodge in Conyers and Metro Daylight Lodge in Chamblee, respectively. They accused Bjelajac of raising “a nonwhite man” to the level of Master Mason. Bjelajac’s occupation as a police officer prohibits him from commenting publicly on legal matters, but his attorney and fellow Gate City Lodge member, David Llywellen, says the charges filed by Hicks and Etheridge have no basis in Masonic code.

“It has certainly never been part of our law that you have to be a particular race to be a Mason, and it is un-Masonic to contend otherwise,” Llywellen says. “These charges are like saying, ‘I charge you with the crime of drinking water.’”

In Georgia, Llywellen says Masons of Arab, Persian, South Asian, East Asian and Latin heritage are all represented. Marshall, says Llywellen, is at least the second black man within Gate City Lodge to become a Master Mason, and certainly not the first black Mason in Georgia.

The apparent lack of foundation for the charges filed against Gate City, as well as a fear of losing their charter, led Bjelajac and Gate City to file a lawsuit in DeKalb County to stop the Grand Lodge of Georgia from taking internal action against the lodge and its leader. Llywellen contends that the Grand Lodge had an obligation to dismiss the charges leveled by Hicks and Etheridge as soon as they were filed. Instead, says Llywellen, the Grand Lodge, including a South Georgia attorney named Franklin Aspinwall, who was to chair the Masonic charges and is named in the suit, violated their contractual obligation to Gate City members by putting their charter in jeopardy based on “spurious” charges. Although the internal charges made by Hicks and Etheridge have been withdrawn, the Gate City Masons want some assurance they will not be subject to similar charges in the future before they withdraw their suit.

“We want an order in place to protect us from anyone trying to continue to attack us for doing what is right,” says Llywellen.

The controversy surrounding Gate City Lodge has resulted in two resignations at the state level. David Herman, a member of Gate City Lodge, resigned from his post as district deputy to the Grand Master. He declined to comment on his resignation for The Sunday Paper but, in a post to Gate City’s Web site dated June 20, Herman wrote of his resignation from the state level: “As a District Deputy, I must be the Grand Master’s representative; nothing more and nothing less. Yet, as a Freemason, I could not sit on the sideline and be a passive witness to these events. I resigned so that I might stand with my [Gate City] Brethren.”

Further elaborating on his decision, Herman wrote in this month’s edition of Work and Lectures, a DeKalb County Masonic newsletter: “I found myself unable to remain silent on the sidelines in the face of the charges read against our Worshipful Master, for the actions that we had taken as a lodge. My resignation should not be interpreted as a criticism of the Grand Master or the Grand Lodge.”

Gate City fell under the jurisdiction of District Deputy John Holt, an 82-year-old retired machinist and salesman, when Victor Marshall became a Master Mason. Grand Master James Jennings asked Holt to tender his resignation after the controversy broke. Holt maintains that the Grand Master never expressed dissatisfaction over the induction of a black man into Gate City. However, when complaints and, later, charges against Gate City made their way to the Grand Lodge, he says, Jennings felt “blindsided.”

“I failed to inform the Grand Master of what was going on in that [Gate City] lodge,” says Holt, who says he harbors no ill will over the situation. “That’s my duty and I didn’t do it. So for that reason, I had to resign.”

In retrospect, Holt says, Marshall’s membership in the lodge was “out of the ordinary” (he was not aware of any other black Masons in the district) and therefore should have been relayed to the Grand Master. At the time, though, it never occurred to him to report it.

“It’s just one of those things,” he says, sympathizing with Jennings’ request that he resign. “It’s my job to report on anything out of the ordinary.”

Gate City’s Llywellen says he was contacted by representatives from the Grand Lodge in January, who inquired about Marshall’s membership and whether he was indeed black.

As the drama between Gate City and the Grand Lodge plays out, it is likely to have effects beyond a shake-up of Georgia’s Masonic officers. South Dakota’s Mt. Rushmore Lodge No. 220 has petitioned the Grand Lodge of South Dakota to “issue a formal, public statement that it will not accept racial or religious intolerance, prejudice, or bigotry in any of its subordinate lodges.”

Chris Hodapp, who authored “Freemasons for Dummies” and also runs the book’s companion blog, says electronically connected Masons across the country are closely following the Gate City story.

“It’s humiliating for the rest of the world of Freemasonry,” he says. “I contacted my Grand Master and said, ‘If it turns out that these charges go through and if something happens to Gate City Lodge or its members because of it, I would strongly recommend considering withdrawing recognition of Georgia.’”

Hodapp describes withdrawing recognition as a “nuclear option” that would pit Grand Lodges against each other. Such a move, he says, is only justifiable if a lodge acts in clear contradiction of Masonic principals.

The overflow of Georgia Masonry’s internal squabbles into the public eye, says Hodapp, is “very, very unusual” for the group, which generally prefers to settle its disagreements in-house. The headlines, though, may force Freemasons to address issues of race that have been ignored by Grand Lodges in the past. In a fraternity that clings to centuries-old traditions, says Hodapp, there are some individuals and lodges that may continue to hold on to traditions that existed when the whole of American society was divided by color barriers. Because of the relative autonomy of individual lodges, he adds, it is possible that some have continued an unspoken whites-only policy unbeknownst to members of their respective Grand Lodges. While emphasizing that these individuals and lodges constitute a very small minority in American Freemasonry, Hodapp notes that the problem is not limited to Old Dixie states. While serving as Worshipful Master of his Indiana lodge, Hodapp remembers the backlash that followed the raising of two black men into the lodge.

“I was accused of not only destroying the lodge, but of destroying Freemasonry,” he says. “[Those critics] were a tiny minority.”

Hodapp believes the silence of Georgia Grand Master James Jennings since Gate City filed its suit is evidence that his hands may be tied as far as creating a real solution to the dispute. Gate City wants a guarantee that it will not be the subject of continued charges and attempts to revoke its charter. However, any such guarantee could mean that Gate City is no longer subject to the bylaws of the Grand Lodge. Furthermore, any guarantee made by Jennings is subject to repeal when the Grand Lodge convenes at the end of his term.

“At the annual communication,” says Hodapp, “they review everything [the Grand Master] has done in the course of the year. And they are allowed to say, ‘You blew that, you did that wrong, we’re eradicating your decision.’”

Despite the stickiness of the situation, Hodapp feels there are things the Grand Master could do to resolve deeper problems surrounding the Gate City situation. A statement denouncing racism in Georgia Freemasonry would help erase any confusion over the role of race in Georgia Masonry, says Hodapp. The Grand Lodge, he says, could also move to recognize Georgia’s Prince Hall Freemasons. The predominantly African-American group sprang up as a response to the segregation inherent to nearly all social groups in the United States before the mid-20th century, and is recognized by most Grand Lodges in the U.S. Recognition of Prince Hall Masons by Georgia’s Grand Lodge would make Prince Hall Masons welcome at meetings of Masonic Lodges across Georgia and blur the implied color line that comes from having two separate grand lodges in the state.

James N. Cline, the Roswell attorney representing the Grand Lodge, has stated that representatives from Gate City and the Grand Lodge have been in contact in the hopes of keeping the case out of court. He was unable to comment on any concessions the Grand Lodge might be willing to make, as the two sides are still struggling to reach an agreement.

“We’re meeting and trying to get this problem resolved internally, if we can,” says Cline. “All of this is still up in the air.”

Meanwhile, Victor Marshall, the mild-mannered Army Reservist whose interest in brotherhood, charity and enlightenment unwittingly placed him at the center of a scandal being followed by Masons across the country, remains no less glad to be a Mason. The supportive e-mails he has received from around the country and the solidarity he has witnessed within Gate City Lodge have him convinced that Freemasonry, as a whole, is everything he hoped it would be when he first broke bread with his Gate City brethren nearly two years ago.

“Freemasonry itself is kind of like a life-changing event. There are principals that we’re now supposed to live by, attempt to live by, so it’s a 24-hour ordeal and I welcome it,” Marshall says. “I’m proud to be a Freemason.” SP

Gore: Cap-and-Trade Will Bring Global Government

Newsmax | Jul 13, 2009

By: Rick Pedraza

Former Vice President Al Gore told a British conference on the environment that the energy tax under the so-called cap-and-trade legislation in Congress would bring about global governance.

Speaking at the Smith School World Forum on Enterprise and the Environment in Oxford, England, Gore said the United States is responding to the threat of global warming with the cap-and-trade legislation, Times Online reported.

“Just two weeks ago, the House of Representatives passed the Waxman-Markey climate bill,” Gore told the conference. “[This is] very much a step in the right direction. It achieves real reductions below the 1990 base level by 2020, and that is the threshold that many have said will dramatically increase the prospects for success.”

Gore acknowledged that the bill includes a carbon tax that President Barack Obama supports and is helping to push through the Senate.

“For all of its flaws, [it] does put a price on carbon,” he admitted.

Gore, whose film documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” on the claims of global warming won him praise from environmentalists, told the forum that Obama had secured billions of dollars from Congress for renewable energy work.

But, “It is the awareness itself that will drive the change,” he said. “And one of the ways it will drive the change is through global governnance and global agreements.”

Environmental awareness among young people is the great hope for the future, Gore said.

“The average age of scientists in the space center control room was 26, which means they were 18 when they heard President Kennedy say he wanted to put a man on the moon in 10 years. Neil Armstrong did it eight years and two months later.”

Gore urged political leaders and governments around the world to join the battle against climate change. He conceded, however, that the level of awareness and concern among populations has not crossed the threshold where political leaders feel that they must change.

“The only way politicians will act is if awareness rises to a level to make them feel that it’s a necessity,” he said. “We have everything we need except political will, but political will is a renewable resource.”

Justice Ginsburg Says She Originally Thought Roe v. Wade Was Designed to Limit ‘Populations That We Don’t Want to Have Too Many Of’


U.S. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg (L) and Stephen Bryer chat before President Barack Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 24, 2009. Reuters Pictures

CNSNews.com | Jul 10, 2009

By Christopher Neefus

In an interview to be published in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she thought the landmark Roe v. Wade decision on abortion was predicated on the Supreme Court majority’s desire to diminish “populations that we don’t want to have too many of.”

In the 90-minute interview in Ginsburg’s temporary chambers, Ginsburg gave the Times her perspective on Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s first high court nomination. She also discussed her views on abortion.


John Holdren, Obama’s Science Czar, says: Forced abortions and mass sterilization needed to save the planet

Her comment about her belief that the court had wanted to limit certain populations through abortion came after the interviewer asked Ginsburg: “If you were a lawyer again, what would you want to accomplish as a future feminist agenda?”

“Reproductive choice has to be straightened out,” Ginsburg said. “There will never be a woman of means without choice anymore. That just seems to me so obvious. The states that changed their abortion laws before Roe (to make abortion legal) are not going to change back. So we have a policy that only affects poor women, and it can never be otherwise, and I don’t know why this hasn’t been said more often.”

Ginsburg discussed her surprise at the outcome of Harris v. McRae, a 1980 decision that upheld the Hyde Amendment, which prohibited the use of Medicaid and other federal funds for abortions.

Here’s a transcript of that portion of the Times’ interview:

Q. Are you talking about the distances women have to travel because in parts of the country, abortion is essentially unavailable, because there are so few doctors and clinics that do the procedure? And also, the lack of Medicaid for abortions for poor women?

Justice Ginsburg: Yes, the ruling about that surprised me. Frankly, I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion. Which some people felt would risk coercing women into abortions when they didn’t really want them. But when the Court decided McRae, the case came out the other way. And then I realized that my perception of it had been altogether wrong.”

The comment suggested Ginsburg eventually changed her mind and concluded that Roe was not decided with the idea that abortion could be used to limit “growth in populations we don’t want to have too many of.” But she did not qualify her position that the policy enacted under the case put an unacceptable burden on poor women.

During the interview, the justice also affirmed a position she took on abortion during her Clinton-era confirmation hearing, suggesting the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was a better grounds for justifying abortion on demand than the “right to privacy.”

“The basic thing is that the government has no business making that choice for a woman,” Ginsburg told the Times.

In 1993, she told the Senate Judiciary Committee during her confirmation hearing:

“(Y)ou asked me about my thinking on equal protection versus individual autonomy. My answer is that both are implicated. The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself. When the government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a full adult human responsible for her own choices.”

The Court legalized abortion under Roe v. Wade based on a “right to privacy” that it found in the 14th Amendment—and not the Equal Protection Clause. In doing so, it said the state had an interest in protecting the unborn child that increased as pregnancy progresses. Ginsburg’s position that women have an equal right to abortion as a result of their gender would appear to allow for no state restrictions on abortion.

Plantagon: Geodesic Dome Farm of the Future


Food production will have to move into cities

Inhabitat | Jul 13, 2009

by Ariel Schwartz

Lots of cities have farmers markets, but most — if not all — of the produce comes from rural farmers that use oil-intensive methods of transportation to cart around their food. With 80% of all people on the planet projected to live in cities by 2050, food production will have to move into cities if it is to remain cost-efficient. A Swedish-American company called Plantagon has conceived of an incredible solution: a massive urban greenhouse contained within a geodesic dome. The vertical farm, which consists of a spiral ramp inside a spherical dome, is currently in the development stages.

Full Story

Federalists accused of ‘hijacking’ European Parliament opening


Soldiers of the Eurocorps detachment raise a European Union flag to mark the inaugural European Parliament session  Photo: AFP

Federalists have been accused of hijacking the official opening of the new European Parliament session after soldiers raised the EU flag to the tune of Europe’s official anthem Ode to Joy.

Telegraph | Jul 13, 2009

By Bruno Waterfield in Strasbourg

Critics accused them of using the event to uphold the flag and anthem symbols of European Union statehood that were officially dropped after French and Dutch referendum rejections threw out Europe’s Constitution in 2005.

Leading the ceremony in Strasbourg, a detachment of combat troops marched to the overture of The Force of Destiny by Verdi, before raising an EU flag twice the size of the national flags around it to a military bugle call.

The troops – drawn from the Eurocorps member states of Germany, France, Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg – then stood to attention to a full orchestral and choral rendition of Ode to Joy.

Eurocorps was created in 1992 as a self-styled “force for the European Union” and is regarded as an expression of ambitions to create a Euro-army as part of a federal Europe.

Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, said: “Today is the EU’s equivalent of trooping the colour. There is no pretence anymore. The EU is to be a fully militarised state.”

British MEPs have been angered by the European Parliament’s defiance in clinging on to EU symbols of statehood that were cut from the Lisbon Treaty after voters in France and the Netherlands rejected its predecessor, the EU Constitution, four years ago.

Timothy Kirkhope, leader of Conservative MEPs in the EU assembly, accused European federalists of hijacking the event.

“The parliament should focus on its efforts to increase democracy and accountability in the EU, rather than its attempt to create a federal Europe,” he said.

“These displays are Europe attempting to take upon itself a character that the vast majority of its citizens do not want.”

The linkage between the EU and military ambitions to create a European army is deeply controversial in Ireland as the neutral country, that has remained outside Nato, gears up for a second referendum on the Treaty on Oct 2.

Joe Higgins, a Socialist Party MEP for Dublin, said: “Why should there be military involvement in the European Parliament? I object to that. Is this part of a process of trying to get people used to the idea of a military EU?”

Fears of “militarism” played a major part in last year’s Irish rejection of the Treaty and the Eurocorps involvement in the parliament’s opening will be taken up by Ireland’s No campaigners over the next three months.

“Drafting in combat soldiers to raise the European flag is politically explosive as Ireland prepares to hold a second Lisbon Treaty vote and after the Irish government denied any link between the EU and militarism,” said Roger Cole of Dublin’s Peace and Neutrality Alliance.

Troops from Eurocorps form part of Nato’s rapid response forces and have served during Alliance operations in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan over the last 14 years.

Major Juan Billon, the Spanish Eurocorps officer leading the honours squad in Strasbourg, insisted that his troops were proud to be present at an EU political ceremony.

“It is very important for us. It is what Eurocorps is about. The EU is really what we belong to. It is our first vocation,” he said.

Japanese turn to communists in downturn


College students raise their fists at a job-hunting rally in Tokyo as economic crisis makes the ‘salarymen’ rethink their corporate loyalty  Photo: REUTERS

Millions of Japanese salarymen, whose fathers and grandfathers initiated this nation’s economic miracle, are fully aware that the chaff has already been winnowed out of the domestic workforce.

Telegraph | Jul 13, 2009

By Julian Ryall in Tokyo

They have seen the part-time employees clock out one last time and the foreign labourers’ contracts not renewed. They know there is no staffing fat left to trim and have seen the axes beginning to fall in companies where previously the dark-suited salaryman has been untouchable.

“It’s very hard right now,” says Keisuke Obata, a 42-year-old employee of a major manufacturing company based in Tokyo. “I’ve never seen things so bad, and all we hear from the company and the politicians is that we have to try a little harder and endure for a little longer.”

Obata has been on a reduced working week since January, has seen his pay cut and his summer bonus similarly shrivel. The company is appealing for people to take voluntary redundancy.

“It makes you think,” he admits. “But there are not many other jobs out there and I have commitments.”

Men like Obata, who has given two decades of service to his company yet is on the verge of being summarily dismissed, are finding their previously unswerving commitment to their employers eclipsed by the instinct for self-preservation.

With a mortgage and three young children to provide for, Obata has heard the message that has gradually spread across the shop floor and entered the domain of the white-collar workers. Communism, they say, might just have the answer.

“Companies are only interested in their profits and protecting their management,” says Tatsuya Yoshida, an employee of a Tokyo-based transport company. “They do not care about their staff. They see us as disposable.”

The last time 42-year-old Yoshida voted, he backed the New Komeito Party.

The junior member of the two-party coalition with the Liberal Democratic Party, it draws its support mainly from the ranks of the Sokka Gakkai Buddhist organisation and is presently the third largest party in the Japanese Diet.

According to the latest opinion polls, however, it has been overtaken by the Japanese Communist Party. And workers like Yoshida are doing all they can to spread the word.

“I used to have pressure from my family to vote for New Komeito, but Japan needs real change and I’ve had enough of politicians making promises that they soon break,” he says.

Yoshida ticks his main concerns off the fingers of his left hand: protecting his job, ensuring his two sons have enough money to go to a good university, ensuring that everyone has a minimum standard of living and protecting Article 9 of Japan’s constitution, which renounces war.

Other parties have made those promises, and more, in opposition, he points out, but “forgotten” them as soon as they are in a position of power.

“The opposition is effectively a pseudo-LDP and even if they do win the next election I see no chance of improvements in the political, economic or social situation in Japan,” Yoshida says, pointing a finger at the Democratic Party of Japan until recently headed by a former LDP politician who was forced to resign for taking illegal donations from a construction company.

“How can we trust these people with our futures?,” he said.

Public prosecutors indicted Ichiro Ozawa’s personal secretary for accepting the funds, but stopped short of arresting the DPJ leader.

“People are coming to us because the JCP does not accept donations from companies or organisations,” says Yoshida. “That is why we can speak out against big corporations.”

And despite sticking to its principles on donations, the JCP is the second-best fund-raising party in the country. Only the ruling LDP does better.

Rampant corruption combined with the spiralling unemployment caused by the global economic downturn has given the party a huge new support base.

Party officials say that more than 14,000 people have joined the cause in the last 18 months, a quarter of whom are under 30. Similarly, circulation of the party newspaper, Akahata (Red Flag) has risen to 1.6 million copies.

The LDP, on the other hand, has seen its membership collapse from a peak of 5 million to just 1 million today.

“Many workers are being deprived of the right to work with dignity,” Kazuo Shii, the charismatic 54-year-old chair of the JCP, told a press conference in March. “This is the cruelest form of behaviour under ‘capitalism without rules.’

“Most people working on temporary contracts are disposable workers, forced to endure exploitative and unstable working conditions as well as discrimination,” he said, describing conditions as “a revival of slave labour and a modern-day form of cruelty.”

“I am indignant that temporary workers are being forced to toil in such inhumane conditions at corporations such as Toyota and Canon,” he said.

According to the party, the number of workers earning less than Y2 million (£13,885) a year has risen to more than 10 million.

This increase in grass-roots support has been boosted by a manga version of Karl Marx’s “Das Kapital,” which sold more than 6,000 copies in the two days after it was released in December, and revival of interest in a 1929 novel titled “Kanikosen” that told of a rebellion among workers on a crab processing ship off northern Japan.

Despite the recent surge in its fortunes, Shii and his supporters accept that the JCP will not have a majority in the Diet in the near future. They will fight the national elections, of course, but they are focusing much of their attention on winning hearts and minds at the local level.

“In general, Japanese people do what they are told by more powerful people,” says Yoshida. “We do not want to cause disharmony with the people around us. So we obey when we are told what to do and do not give our own opinions. This is why we have the same political parties running the country since the end of the war.

“Even though the communists only have 3.3 per cent in the latest opinion polls, more than 31 per cent of the people said they were undecided,” he points out. “We aim to increase our support one vote at a time and we want our politicians to tell the Diet what the people are really thinking.”

The approach is showing signs of working; in late April, JCP candidate Hiroshi Shikanai was elected mayor of the city of Aomori, overcoming his LDP opponent and incumbent.

A key issue in the campaign was the state of the regional economy, which will undoubtedly be at stake again when the country goes to the polls in the next few months.

Keisuke Obata has cancelled his plans for a trip to Hawaii with his family later this year and is instead planning to take them on a camping trip by the lakes around Mount Fuji.

He said he was looking forward to some time away from the office and a little peace to contemplate his future, both professional and political.

British soldiers ‘made Iraqis dance like Michael Jackson’

British soldiers manipulated the cries of pain of Iraqi prisoners to sound like an “orchestrated choir” and made them dance like Michael Jackson, an inquiry into the death of Baha Mousa has heard.

Telegraph | Jul 13, 2009

By Aislinn Simpson

The men, who were being held as suspected enemy fighters, claim they were also verbally abused, burned, stamped and urinated on and forced to lie face down over full latrines during the time they were held by the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment in Basra in September 2003.

One of those detained, hotel worker Baha Mousa, 26, died from 93 separate injuries inflicted on him over a 36-hour period while other prisoners examined by a doctor suffered “extensive and serious” injuries.

Much of their treatment was meted out in a bid to soften the men up for interrogation.

An inquiry into the abuse which opened in London on Monday heard that it may have provided extremists with a “rallying cry” to incite further attacks on UK forces in the war torn country.

According to Gerard Elias QC, the Counsel to the Inquiry, it also undermined the sacrifices made by other members of the Armed Forces working to improve security and rebuild the infrastructure following the fall of dictator Saddam Hussein.

Footage was also released for the first time of a soldier screaming abuse at whimpering and hooded detainees.

The soldier shown in the footage, Cpl Donald Payne, pleaded guilty to inhumane treatment at a court martial into the alleged abuses two years ago, while six others, including Col Jorge Mendonca, the QLR’s Commanding Officer, were acquitted of negligence and abuse.

Mr Mousa was arrested at the al-Haitham Hotel along with nine other Iraqis on Sunday September 13, 2003, after soldiers found a cache of weapons on the premises and the hotel’s co-owner fled the scene.

The men were held in custody for as long as 56 hours, during which time conditioning techniques such as hooding and the use of stress techniques, outlawed in 1972 as a result of abuse in Northern Ireland, were used on them.

By Monday night, father-of-two Mr Mousa was dead. A post-mortem examination found he had suffered extensive injuries “consistent with a systematic beating”.

In his opening statement to Sir William Gage’s public inquiry into the death, requested by former Defence Secretary Des Browne in July 2008, Mr Elias said new evidence has emerged that Mr Mousa’s catastrophic injuries were deliberately inflicted.

“Statements to this inquiry now suggest perhaps a greater degree of deliberation than has hitherto been described,” he said.

He also said that Sir William’s investigation would look at the “scandalous” allegations that soldiers tried to manipulate the detainees’ moans into an “orchestrated choir”.

Mr Elias said the abuses, and the way in which Mr Mousa died, raised “serious questions” about troop behaviour in Iraq that it was vital to examine in detail.

“Such an event can act as a rallying cry for extremists, with all the pressures that puts on those men and women still on active service,” he said.

“To be seen to be dealing with such allegations in a comprehensive and fair way may not of itself heal the wounds but perhaps it does go some way to providing reassurance both to those who may have been wronged and to those who have nothing to fear from the truth.

“That is why we say it is important that this inquiry takes place.”

The Baha Mousa Inquiry is expected to last into next year and will hear evidence from soldiers involved as well as the detainees.

The Ministry of Defence has already agreed to pay a total of £3million in compensation to Mr Mousa’s family and other detainees who were abused.

Medvedev sees single currency dream in G8 coin gift

medvedev_global currency2

Medvedev sees single currency dream in G8 coin gift. AFP

AFP | Jul 11, 2009

L’AQUILA, Italy (AFP) — Even if Russia’s call for a global currency failed to gain much traction at a G8 summit, President Dmitry Medvedev took home a coin meant to symbolize that the dream may one day come true.

The Russian leader proudly displayed the coin, which bears the English words “United Future World Currency”, to journalists after the summit wrapped up in the quake-hit Italian town of L’Aquila.

Medvedev said that although the coin, which resembled a euro and featured the image of five leaves, was just a gift given to leaders it showed that people were beginning to think seriously about a new global currency.

United Future World Currency


“In all likelihood something similar could appear and it could be held in your hand and used as a means of payment,” he told reporters. “This is the international currency.”

Russia, along with China, has been a vocal proponent of diversifying the global currency system away from the dollar, which has dominated global finance and commerce since the end of World War II.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the summit joined the band in favour of dumping the dollar as the international currency of reference, insisting that “we cannot stick with just one single currency.”


Russian President Dmitry Medvedev pulls new world currency from his pocket

Medvedev Shows Off Sample Coin of New ‘World Currency’ at G-8

Gold coin symbolising future world currency presented to G8 leaders

Medvedev given first coin of future supranational currency at G8