Daily Archives: October 9, 2009

Obama Peace Prize win has Americans asking why?

Reuters | Oct 9, 2009

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The award of the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday to U.S. President Barack Obama had many puzzled Americans scratching their heads.

“It would be wonderful if I could think why he won,” said Claire Sprague, 82, a retired English professor as she walked her dog in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. “They wanted to give him an honor I guess but I can’t think what for.”

Itya Silverio, 33, of Brooklyn, was also surprised. “My first opinion is that he got it because he’s black,” she said. “What did he do that was so great? He hasn’t even finished office yet.”

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who won the peace prize himself in 2002, said Obama’s win showed the hope he had inspired worldwide.

“It is a bold statement of international support for his vision and commitment to peace and harmony in international relations,” Carter said in a statement.

When told of Obama’s win Robert Schultz, 62, a retired civil servant and Vietnam veteran, asked: “For doing what?

“The guy hasn’t solved any conflict anywhere so how can he win the peace prize? But if we don’t reelect him the next go around we will all look like idiots because the world has anointed him,” said Schultz, who lives in a suburb of Dallas.

Some said the choice could damage the Nobel committee’s credibility and that of the award.

“It looks less like an objective award than it does a political endorsement,” said William Jelani Cobb, a history professor at Spelman College in Atlanta and author of a forthcoming book on Obama.

“Guantanamo is not closed yet and it makes it difficult for him to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan,” he said, referring to the U.S. prison in Cuba where some detainees have been held for years without trial.

Haag Sherman, director of Houston-based investment firm Salient Partners, said it politicizes the award.

“Largely left leaning U.S. leaders have been recent recipients of that award. It will clearly be viewed as political by the right,” he said. “It illustrates that the U.S. is still the prevalent power in the world and that the world really is seeking engagement with the United States.”

Opera singer Carissa March, 30, said she was surprised but the win might help Obama achieve some of what he had started.

“Although he’s trying to open up talks with nations we haven’t spoken with we haven’t had enough time to see if it’s worked,” she said.

“Sometimes when things like this happen it forces people to view things more positively so hopefully other leaders around the world will take (the talks) a little more seriously and open up more.”

In Chicago, retiree June Latrobe, 68, was also nonplused. “In all candor he hasn’t done anything yet,” he said.

Many seemed happy even if they weren’t sure why Obama won.

“How wonderful, I think that’s fantastic,” said David Spierer, 48, from New York who works in medical sales. “I know what he’s doing but what has he done? Change is coming but you don’t win a Nobel Peace Prize for the future.”

“Obama won? Really? Wow,” said David Hassan, 43, of Pine Brook, New Jersey. “He deserves it I guess, he’s the president. He’s a smart guy and I guess he’s into peace.”

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Shock as Barack Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize

The Australian | October 10, 2009

US President Barack Obama sensationally won the Nobel Peace Prize last night less than a year after he took office with the jury hailing his “extraordinary” diplomatic efforts on the international stage.

The choice made Mr Obama the third sitting US president to win the peace prize, following Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 and Woodrow Wilson in 1919.

It shocked Nobel observers because the 48-year-old president took office less than two weeks before the February 1 nomination deadline.

“The president was humbled to be selected by the committee,” a White House Official said, adding that spokesman Robert Gibbs woke him by telephone at 6am (9pm AEDT) to tell him.

Sydney Peace Foundation director Stuart Rees said Mr Obama had been given the prize prematurely. Professor Rees said Mr Obama’s win came as a massive shock and he had much work to do if he was to live up to the award.

“We’ve all got our fingers crossed (Obama) can wave his magic wand and make these things happen. Perhaps the Nobel organisation wants to give him a magic wand,” he said. “I think the guy is full of promise but I don’t think the promise has been realised yet particularly in regards the Middle East.”

Mr Obama’s name had been mentioned in speculation before the award but many Nobel watchers believed it was too early to honour the US President. Observers had also suggested there was no obvious candidate for the prize as no major conflicts had been resolved by peaceful means in the past year.

Speculation had focused on Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Colombian senator Piedad Cordoba and jailed Chinese dissident Hu Jia, along with an Afghan women’s rights activist Sima Samar.

Asked whether it was too early to give Mr Obama the prize at a time when the US was fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, Nobel Committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland last night replied: “If you look at the history of the Peace Prize, we have on many occasions given it to try to enhance what many personalities were trying to do.

“Before he took office the situation was so dangerous. Step by step, he has given the message to the world that he wants to negotiate on all conflicts, strengthen the UN and work for a world without any nuclear arms.

“We had no problem … It was a unanimous decision.”

The Nobel committee praised Mr Obama’s creation of “a new climate in international politics” and said he had returned multilateral diplomacy and institutions such as the UN to the centre of the world stage.

The plaudit appeared to be a slap at George W.Bush from a committee that harshly criticised Mr Obama’s predecessor for resorting to largely unilateral military action in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Rather than recognising concrete achievement, this year’s prize is intended to support initiatives that have yet to bear fruit: reducing the world stock of nuclear arms, easing US conflicts with Muslim nations and strengthening the US role in combating climate change.

“Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future,” Mr Jagland said.

“In the past year Obama has been a key person for important initiatives in the UN, for nuclear disarmament and to set a completely new agenda for the Muslim world and East-West relations.”

He added that the committee endorsed “Obama’s appeal that ‘Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges’.”

The first African-American President has brought the Israeli and Palestinian leaders together for a meeting, approved new diplomatic engagement with Iran, Burma and North Korea and signalled a new willingness to attack growing environmental problems.

Mr Obama went to Cairo to make a major speech on relations with the Muslim world, badly tarnished by Mr Bush’s order to invade Iraq. At the UN, he has launched an initiative to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world.

“The exciting and important thing about this prize is that it’s given to someone … who has the power to contribute to peace,” Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said.

Last year’s Peace Prize winner Matti Ahtisaari, the former Finnish president and veteran troubleshooter in international conflicts, said the award should “encourage” Mr Obama’s Middle East peace efforts. “We do not yet have a peace in the Middle East … this time it it was very clear that they wanted to encourage Obama to move on these issues,” Mr Ahtisaari told CNN. “This is a clear encouragement to do something on this issue. I wish him good luck.”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Mr Obama was the “appropriate” person to win the prize; however, the Taliban said the US President had “not taken a single step towards peace in Afghanistan”.

Exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer said the honour would raise expectations for the US leader to stand up for human rights around the world.

Ms Kadeer, who has been tipped as a laureate for her fight on behalf of the Chinese minority group, said: “I am very happy that he got it. Now he has to do something with the award. It raises expectations on him to stand up for oppressed nations.”

Secret meetings bring about demise of dollar for the New World Order

torn-dollar

The demise of the dollar

In a graphic illustration of the new world order, Arab states have launched secret moves with China, Russia and France to stop using the US currency for oil trading.

Independent | Oct 6, 2009

By Robert Fisk

In the most profound financial change in recent Middle East history, Gulf Arabs are planning – along with China, Russia, Japan and France – to end dollar dealings for oil, moving instead to a basket of currencies including the Japanese yen and Chinese yuan, the euro, gold and a new, unified currency planned for nations in the Gulf Co-operation Council, including Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Qatar.

Secret meetings have already been held by finance ministers and central bank governors in Russia, China, Japan and Brazil to work on the scheme, which will mean that oil will no longer be priced in dollars.

The plans, confirmed to The Independent by both Gulf Arab and Chinese banking sources in Hong Kong, may help to explain the sudden rise in gold prices, but it also augurs an extraordinary transition from dollar markets within nine years.

The Americans, who are aware the meetings have taken place – although they have not discovered the details – are sure to fight this international cabal which will include hitherto loyal allies Japan and the Gulf Arabs. Against the background to these currency meetings, Sun Bigan, China’s former special envoy to the Middle East, has warned there is a risk of deepening divisions between China and the US over influence and oil in the Middle East. “Bilateral quarrels and clashes are unavoidable,” he told the Asia and Africa Review. “We cannot lower vigilance against hostility in the Middle East over energy interests and security.”

This sounds like a dangerous prediction of a future economic war between the US and China over Middle East oil – yet again turning the region’s conflicts into a battle for great power supremacy. China uses more oil incrementally than the US because its growth is less energy efficient. The transitional currency in the move away from dollars, according to Chinese banking sources, may well be gold. An indication of the huge amounts involved can be gained from the wealth of Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar who together hold an estimated $2.1 trillion in dollar reserves.

The decline of American economic power linked to the current global recession was implicitly acknowledged by the World Bank president Robert Zoellick. “One of the legacies of this crisis may be a recognition of changed economic power relations,” he said in Istanbul ahead of meetings this week of the IMF and World Bank. But it is China’s extraordinary new financial power – along with past anger among oil-producing and oil-consuming nations at America’s power to interfere in the international financial system – which has prompted the latest discussions involving the Gulf states.

Brazil has shown interest in collaborating in non-dollar oil payments, along with India. Indeed, China appears to be the most enthusiastic of all the financial powers involved, not least because of its enormous trade with the Middle East.

China imports 60 per cent of its oil, much of it from the Middle East and Russia. The Chinese have oil production concessions in Iraq – blocked by the US until this year – and since 2008 have held an $8bn agreement with Iran to develop refining capacity and gas resources. China has oil deals in Sudan (where it has substituted for US interests) and has been negotiating for oil concessions with Libya, where all such contracts are joint ventures.

Furthermore, Chinese exports to the region now account for no fewer than 10 per cent of the imports of every country in the Middle East, including a huge range of products from cars to weapon systems, food, clothes, even dolls. In a clear sign of China’s growing financial muscle, the president of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet, yesterday pleaded with Beijing to let the yuan appreciate against a sliding dollar and, by extension, loosen China’s reliance on US monetary policy, to help rebalance the world economy and ease upward pressure on the euro.

Ever since the Bretton Woods agreements – the accords after the Second World War which bequeathed the architecture for the modern international financial system – America’s trading partners have been left to cope with the impact of Washington’s control and, in more recent years, the hegemony of the dollar as the dominant global reserve currency.

The Chinese believe, for example, that the Americans persuaded Britain to stay out of the euro in order to prevent an earlier move away from the dollar. But Chinese banking sources say their discussions have gone too far to be blocked now. “The Russians will eventually bring in the rouble to the basket of currencies,” a prominent Hong Kong broker told The Independent. “The Brits are stuck in the middle and will come into the euro. They have no choice because they won’t be able to use the US dollar.”

Chinese financial sources believe President Barack Obama is too busy fixing the US economy to concentrate on the extraordinary implications of the transition from the dollar in nine years’ time. The current deadline for the currency transition is 2018.

The US discussed the trend briefly at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh; the Chinese Central Bank governor and other officials have been worrying aloud about the dollar for years. Their problem is that much of their national wealth is tied up in dollar assets.

“These plans will change the face of international financial transactions,” one Chinese banker said. “America and Britain must be very worried. You will know how worried by the thunder of denials this news will generate.”

Iran announced late last month that its foreign currency reserves would henceforth be held in euros rather than dollars. Bankers remember, of course, what happened to the last Middle East oil producer to sell its oil in euros rather than dollars. A few months after Saddam Hussein trumpeted his decision, the Americans and British invaded Iraq.

Japanese airline All Nippon wants passengers to use bathroom pre-flight to cut carbon emissions

nippon airways

All Nippon Airways has an unusual request for its passengers: take a pre-flight potty break instead of using the plane’s restrooms.
Handout/AFP/Getty Images

NY Daily News | Oct 8 2009

BY Rosemary Black

Use the john before you get on. That’s what a Japanese airline is asking all passengers to do before boarding their flight.

All Nippon Airways (ANA) says if half its travelers used the bathroom before hopping on the plane, it would reduce carbon dioxide by 4.2 tons per month, according to CNN.

The unorthodox request is all part of the airline’s “e-Flight” promotional program to reduce the amount of carbon that is expelled each day on its twice-a-day international flights to Singapore and its 38 domestic routes.

Asking passengers to go to the toilet [before boarding] is just a small part of the program,” ANA spokeswoman Megumi Tezuka told CNN.

As another part of the program, the airline is using recycled paper cups and plastic bottles, and eliminating glass bottles. In-flight educational films also will be shown, CNN reports, and passengers are encouraged to pack light.

As is customary in Japan, the request is a suggestion rather than an outright plea, and the word “bathroom” isn’t even used. Here’s what passengers hear, according to CNN: “This flight is a so-called ‘eFlight.’ The idea behind the operation is to think about the Earth in the sky above. Fuel reduction by lightening the weight of the aircraft will lead to restrain the carbon dioxide emission, which is one of the causes of global warming. Thank you for your understanding.”

So, no signs or loudspeaker announcements?  Says Tezuka, “No it’s more subtle than that.”

October is the airline’s month-long trial program for preflight potty trips, which will be extended if it’s successful, Tezuka told CNN.

Obama ‘sees role for Taliban in Afghanistan’s future’

President Barack Obama is prepared to accept a role for the Taliban in Afghanistan’s political future in a major shift of policy towards the Islamic radicals who are attacking US and British troops, it has been reported.

Telegraph | Oct 9, 2009

By Philip Sherwell in New York

As he assesses a request from his top commander in Afghanistan to dispatch another 40,000 troops to fight the Taliban, he is also “inclined” to send only as many as needed to keep al-Qaeda at bay.

The assessment was given to the Associated Press by a senior official involved in Mr Obama’s discussions with his top national security and military advisors about Afghanistan strategy.

There is believed to be a growing favour in his war council for differentiating between native Afghan Taliban factions and the foreign extremists of al-Qaeda. Several of the president’s advisors are arguing that the Taliban are predominantly fighting against what is perceived as Nato “occupation” while it is al Qaeda that poses a threat to US defence.

Aides have made clear that Mr Obama is unlikely to reach a final decision on strategy and troop numbers before the end of October.

But it seems increasingly unlikely that he will grant the request from Gen Stanley McChrystal, the commander he appointed only this summer, for an extra 40,000 US troops to join the 68,000 who will already be in Afghanistan by the end of the year.

Gen McChrystal’s recommendations have not been made public, but he is widely reported to have warned that the US faces “failure” in Afghanistan without his requested troop surge.

Obama adviser says Islamic Sharia Law is misunderstood

President Barack Obama’s adviser on Muslim affairs, Dalia Mogahed, has provoked controversy by appearing on a British television show hosted by a member of an extremist group to talk about Sharia Law.

Telegraph | Oct 8, 2009

By Andrew Gilligan and Alex Spillius in Washington

Miss Mogahed, appointed to the President’s Council on Faith-Based and Neighbourhood Partnerships, said the Western view of Sharia was “oversimplified” and the majority of women around the world associate it with “gender justice”.

The White House adviser made the remarks on a London-based TV discussion programme hosted by Ibtihal Bsis, a member of the extremist Hizb ut Tahrir party.

The group believes in the non-violent destruction of Western democracy and the creation of an Islamic state under Sharia Law across the world.

Miss Mogahed appeared alongside Hizb ut Tahrir’s national women’s officer, Nazreen Nawaz.

During the 45-minute discussion, on the Islam Channel programme Muslimah Dilemma earlier this week, the two members of the group made repeated attacks on secular “man-made law” and the West’s “lethal cocktail of liberty and capitalism”.

They called for Sharia Law to be “the source of legislation” and said that women should not be “permitted to hold a position of leadership in government”.

Miss Mogahed made no challenge to these demands and said that “promiscuity” and the “breakdown of traditional values” were what Muslims admired least about the West.

She said: “I think the reason so many women support Sharia is because they have a very different understanding of sharia than the common perception in Western media.

“The majority of women around the world associate gender justice, or justice for women, with sharia compliance.

“The portrayal of Sharia has been oversimplified in many cases.”

Sharia in its broadest sense is a religious code for living, which decrees such matters as fasting and dressing modestly. However, it has also been interpreted as requiring the separation of men and women.

It also includes the controversial “Hadd offences”, crimes with specific penalties set by the Koran and the sayings of the prophet Mohammed. These include death by stoning for adultery and homosexuality and the removal of a hand for theft.

Miss Mogahed admitted that even many Muslims associated Sharia with “maximum criminal punishments” and “laws that… to many people seem unequal to women,” but added: “Part of the reason that there is this perception of Sharia is because Sharia is not well understood and Islam as a faith is not well understood.”

The video of the broadcast has now been prominently posted on the front page of Hizb ut Tahrir’s website.

Miss Mogahed, who was born in Egypt and moved to America at the age of five, is the first veiled Muslim woman to serve in the White House. Her appointment was seen as a sign of the Obama administration’s determination to reach out to the Muslim world.

She is also the executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, a project which aims to scientifically sample public opinion in the Muslim world.

During this week’s broadcast, she described her White House role as “to convey… to the President and other public officials what it is Muslims want.”

Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, said Miss Mogahed was “downplaying” Sharia Law.

“There is a reason sharia has got a bad name and it is how it has been exercised. Regrettably in the US there have been acts of injustice perpetrated against women that are driven by the Sharia-type mindset that women are objects not human beings,” she said.

She cited the example of Muzzammil Hassan, a Buffalo man who ran a cable channel aimed at countering Muslim stereotypes and was charged earlier this year with beheading his wife after she filed for divorce.

“Americans understand by example, it’s not as if we are an ignorant mass of people. Just as we don’t broad brush all Muslims, so should Dalia not downplay the serious nature of sharia law.”

Giant cosmic-ray laser to flash across Paris sky

Telegraph | Oct 9, 2009

Every time the detector picks up a a muon, a pulse of laser light will flash across the sky from the Paris Observatory  Photo: AFP/GETTY

Every time the detector picks up a a muon, a pulse of laser light will flash across the sky from the Paris Observatory Photo: AFP/GETTY

The rooftop of a Paris skyscraper will to be transformed into a giant cosmic-ray detector in an unusual week-long experiment that is due to start on Saturday.

Every time the machine, which will be placed on top of the 689-foot high Montparnasse Tower – Paris’s tallest building – picks up a sub-atomic particle called a muon, a pulse of laser light will flash across the sky of the city’s Latin Quarter from the Paris Observatory.

Muons are debris from protons that are blasted out from the Sun or beyond our Solar System and constantly bombard the Earth.

The protons smash apart when they collide with molecules in the upper atmosphere. Their short-lived remains shoot down to the planet’s surface at nearly the speed of light.

The so-called “cosmic opera”, which will only be visible at night, seeks to inform the public about cosmic particles and pay tribute to an experiment into the phenomenon, conducted at the top of the Eiffel Tower in 1910 by a German physicist, Theodor Wulf.

The week-long event is part of a Europe-wide science festival, during which astroparticle physicists will meet the public to reveal some of the most exciting mysteries of the Universe.