Anti-Colonial Agitator

Friday, August 29, 2003

Japan's factories boosted their output in July 2003 by a greater margin than expected. But the figures contrasted sharply with evidence that much of Japan's economy remains in trouble, with unemployment still stubbornly high and household spending failing to show any signs of an upturn. The industrial output gain, of 0.5% in July, was put down to the apparent improvement in the US economy by observers. Production of electronic goods including mobile phones and digital cameras was sharply higher, and vendors such as Sony are speaking of continuing their push for bigger market share in areas such as flat-screen TVs. The gain in output reflects recent figures showing that the economy has now expanded for six straight quarters, and a IMF report which boosted predictions of growth to above 1% for 2003. But the worry remains that domestic spending - Japan's Achilles heel throughout the past decade of underperformance - has yet to break out of the doldrums. Unemployment in July was stuck at 5.3%, unchanged from the previous month and not far off the all-time high of 5.5%. And household spending sank 6% over the year to July, reflecting worries about job security and undermining the chances of a domestic upturn. Retail sales figures accentuated the situation, showing a 3% year-on-year fall and a 28th straight month of decline.

About 80 people have been killed by a car bomb in the holy city of Najaf - among them leading Shia Muslim politician Ayatollah Mohammed Baqr al-Hakim. At least 100 were also injured in the explosion near the Tomb of Ali in the central Iraqi city, one of the holiest shrines for Shia Muslims. Shia figures suggest that supporters of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein could be behind the attack in an attempt to further destabilize the country. The leader of an Iran-backed group, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri), Ayatollah Hakim had returned to Iraq in May 2003, after spending more than two decades in exile in Iran. He was leaving the shrine after saying Friday prayers when the bomb went off.

The French economy has been dealt some more bad news after official figures showed that the unemployment rate rose in July 2003. The Labor Ministry said that the jobless rate had risen to 9.6% in July, from June's figure of 9.5%. The number of people classified as unemployed under International Labor Organization measurements increased by 0.8% to 2,615,000. The French economy is struggling with figures showing that it contracted by 0.3% during the April to June period. There are fears that the French economy could be about to follow Germany and Italy into recession. But the French government is constrained in it what it can do to boost the economy by the rules of the eurozone's Stability and Growth Pact. There are fears that the French government's budget deficit could exceed the 3% of GDP limit for the third year in a row in 2004. French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has called for greater flexibility in the way the eurozone's budgetary rules are applied.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Brian Feeney on the UDA and their British allies.

The International Monetary Fund has raised fresh doubts about Gordon Brown's forecasts for the British economy when it cut its assessment of British growth both for 2003 and 2004 and expressed concern about Britain's inflation-prone housing market. The next half-yearly health check of the global economy will show the IMF projecting that Britain is on course to undershoot the Treasury's 2%-2.5% prediction for growth in 2003 after struggling in the first half of the year. A leaked draft of the IMF's world economic outlook shows that the Washington-based institution expects Britain to grow only modestly, putting added pressure on already stretched public finances in the run-up to the next election. The IMF said the strong growth in house prices in some industrial nations, including Britain, was a risk to global recovery. Hefty consumer spending on the back of rising house prices has been the mainstay of British growth in recent months. But on the assumption that the economy will accelerate in the second half of the year, the IMF remains more cautious than the British government. It has pencilled in growth of 1.8% for 2003, down from 2% in the spring. In 2004, it anticipates that Brown will miss his growth target by an even bigger margin. The British chancellor said in the Budget earlier in 2003 that Britain would grow by 3%-3.5% in 2004, but the IMF has now cut its spring forecast of 2.5% to 2.3%. Brown has blamed the sluggishness of the global economy, and the weakness of the eurozone in particular, for the performance of Britain so far this year. Despite the swift end to the war in Iraq and low interest rates across the world, the IMF is anticipating a slightly less robust recovery in the global economy than it did several months ago and remains worried about the threats to the global economy from the burgeoning US trade deficit, which it believes could trigger a disorderly adjustment of exchange rates. The world economic outlook will trim predictions of growth in the 2003 global growth forecast to 3.1% from 3.2%, and its forecast for 2004 from 4.1% to 4%. Despite recent signs of stronger activity, US growth is put at 2.2% for 2003 and 3.6% in 2004, while Japan is upgraded from 0.8% to 1.1% in 2003 followed by a slightly softer 2004. The IMF has cut its eurozone growth forecast to 0.7% in 2003 from 1.1%. Germany is expected to see no growth at all in 2003, down from a forecast of 0.5% in April, with France and Italy both cut to 0.8%.

A senior British Labor MP told the Kelly inquiry that Downing Street's controversial arms dossier on Iraq had failed to provide enough evidence to justify action against Saddam Hussein. Ann Taylor, the former cabinet minister who was handpicked by Tony Blair to chair the parliamentary security and intelligence committee after the last election, outlined her reservations in an email to Downing Street six days before the dossier was published in 2002. Taylor's reservations, written on September 18 2002 after she was given a briefing on the document, provide further confirmation of the deep unease among senior Labor figures that the arms dossier had failed to provide concrete evidence that Saddam Hussein presented an imminent threat. Jonathan Powell, the Downing Street chief of staff, wrote in an email on September 17 2002 that it failed to prove an imminent threat. Taylor underlined her irritation with Downing Street when she accused it of attempting to use her committee to announce that an unnamed scientist - later identified as Dr David Kelly - had confirmed that he had met Andrew Gilligan, the BBC reporter. She said her colleagues had turned down a request to make the announcement about the scientist in a letter to the committee. Taylor also undermined one of Downing Street's main lines of defense over the outing of Kelly - that to have said nothing about the scientist would have prompted charges of a cover-up. She said that naming Kelly was relevant but not necessarily central to her committee.

The United States will remain the main driver of global growth but the eurozone will continue to struggle, according to the IMF Global Outlook. Leaked drafts of the IMF's twice-yearly world economic outlook show upward revisions to US growth predictions and a sharp downgrading of growth prospects in the eurozone. According to the leaks, the IMF is set to trim its forecast for eurozone growth in 2003 from 1.1% to 0.7%. The reports also said that its global growth forecast had been reduced from 3.2% to 3.1% for 2003. The IMF is also set to trim its forecast for growth in the eurozone for 2004, down to 1.9%, compared with an earlier forecast of 2.3%. The IMF was reported to have delivered an especially gloomy outlook for Germany, cutting its forecast for GDP growth to zero in 2003 from an April forecast of 0.5%. The IMF report is expected to say that, while fiscal stimulus has played a role in keeping the US economy going, the administration has no strategy for returning public finances to balance in the medium term. The IMF is also sceptical that the recovery in the Japanese economy can be sustained, deciding against an upward revision of its lacklustre forecast of 1% for growth in 2004. The IMF said that growth in Asian countries outside Japan has held up well, although it criticized them for building massive dollar reserves that are well beyond the levels needed to back fixed or managed exchange rate systems.

British tourists have come a very close second to the Germans in a survey to find the rudest nation of tourists. As many as 22% of overseas hotel and catering staff thought the British were the rudest customers they had encountered, according to the survey by Caterer and Hotelkeeper magazine. Only the Germans came out worse, with 23% of 1,000 staff interviewed finding them the least bearable. Many British tourists were described as being drunk and uncivilized with frequent displays of arrogance and ignorance when on vacation abroad. It was even alleged that Britons had a habit of demanding compensation for meals they had already eaten but claimed not to enjoy. Some accused the British of insulting staff and spitting at them, while one waiter claimed to have been threatened with a gun by an unhappy British customer. The survey also carried the claim that Germans always found something to complain about no matter how high the standard of service. One hotelier working in the Caribbean reported a German customer taking service staff to task for refusing to massage suntan oil into her back. After the Germans and the British, the Americans and French were considered the next rudest nations, each with 18% of the votes, followed by the Italians with 17%.

Worrying uncertainty has arisen in laboratory work aimed at deciding whether a mystery Canadian outbreak is related to SARS or not. The World Health Organization, as well as the authorities in British Columbia, say the outbreak is not SARS and has no international public health implications. But there is still a troubling lack of explanation for why several of the patients tested positive for the SARS virus. The northern hemisphere is entering the flu season and thousands of people with respiratory infections will have to be tested to ensure SARS does not make a comeback. Confusing test results would make this hard. The National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) in Winnipeg says the virus that killed six people in British Columbia may be a cross between the SARS virus and a less dangerous relative. But the NML's findings are disputed by another leading Canadian laboratory. In July 2003, residents and staff at a nursing home in Surrey, near Vancouver, started getting what looked like a cold. Ten elderly residents developed pneumonia, and six died. Such deaths are not particularly unusual, and the symptoms of the victims were not typical of SARS. But tests were still run as a precaution. In eight of the patients, using the PCR technique for amplifying fragments of genes, the NML found a sequence of 235 base pairs identical to one in the "M" gene of the TOR2 strain of the SARS virus that was responsible for the outbreak in Toronto earlier in 2003. In another sample, they found a 589 base-pair sequence identical to one in the "N" gene of SARS, including a sequence not known in any other virus. The NML team also found that antibodies from recovering patients in Surrey bound strongly to SARS proteins. But recently the Genome Sciences Centre in Vancouver, the lab that first sequenced the SARS virus, announced it could find no gene sequences similar to SARS in the patients. Caroline Astell, at the GSC, said that the lab found about 1000 base pairs in three separate fragments which were 97% identical to regions of the N and M genes of OC43, a virus that causes colds in people and belongs to the coronavirus family most closely related to the SARS virus. The British Columbia Center for Disease Control in Vancouver also saw traces of OC43, but not SARS, and also found no SARS antibodies. The different results could be explained if the patients were infected by both viruses, says Tim Booth, head of viral diseases at the NML, or a viral hybrid of SARS and OC43. Another possibility is that the mystery virus is a previously unknown relative of both SARS and OC43. Evidence that SARS may indeed have many previously unknown relatives was announced by WHO in Beijing. Chinese scientists have discovered viruses in many birds and animals that test positive for SARS, by both PCR and antibody methods. Usually one virus does not infect many different hosts, so these could represent a whole range of SARS-like viruses. If this is the case, great care will be needed to monitor them, warns Booth. But this will be difficult without reliable tests. Astell says she cannot yet explain why her lab and the NML got different results. The two labs used different fragments of viral genes - "primers" - to get their PCR results, and are only now starting to exchange information that will allow them to try to replicate each others' results. It is not even clear yet if the conflicting tests came from the same patients. If the NML is merely getting false positives, this could change our understanding of how the SARS virus behaves, as the NML was also the only lab to find evidence of the virus in people who did not develop the full-blown SARS during the epidemic. If it really has uncovered a virus that does not cause SARS, but can test positive for it, then surveillance for true SARS will be much harder.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

The Italian and German governments have risked a public outcry by proposing that people should work, and make pension contributions, for up to five years longer to help pay for their ever-growing number of pensioners. The proposals come as countries across Europe struggle to defuse the demographic timebomb of falling birthrates and rising life expectancy. The Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, said Italians should retire at 62, five years later than the average. The welfare minister, Roberto Maroni, tried to improve the situation by suggesting that rather than being forced to keep working, Italians should be enticed with a 30% cut in pension contributions over the last five years. But the idea has not gone down well with Italian labor unions and Berlusconi's rightwing coalition allies Gianfranco Fini and Umberto Bossi have expressed concern about the plan. In Germany a government commission has recommended raising the average retirement age to 67 and increasing pension contributions by 2.5%. It also suggested that no one should be allowed to retire before the age of 64. Italy and Germany are under growing pressure to overhaul their pensions systems in an effort to meet EU budget deficit regulations. Both had more deaths than births in 2002, and their national workforces are unable to pay for the growing numbers of pensioners. Italy has one of the oldest populations in the world, together with Greece and Japan, and one of the lowest birthrates, second only to Spain's. Pensions cost Italy about 15% of its GDP and have been a growing strain on the struggling economy for the past decade. But when Berlusconi last tried to talk Italians into working longer - during his fleeting first government in 1994 - it was met by a million protesters on the streets, and it contributed to the collapse of his coalition government after less than eight months. The German recommendations put further pressure on the government, implying that its attempt to reform the pension scheme in 2001 has been a flop. But having watched France being brought to a halt by huge strikes against similar pension reform proposals earlier in 2003, German politicians are wary. Germany's problem is exacerbated by the fact that school hours are so short that mothers are forced to stay at home rather than work. German children spend four and half hours a day at school.

The problem with Bush's high-spend, low-tax strategy.

America's administrator in Iraq has warned that the country will need tens of billions of dollars to rebuild its shattered infrastructure. Paul Bremer said it was almost impossible to exaggerate the country's economic needs. The bill to overhaul essential services like electricity and water - running intermittently in many areas at present - would reach almost $30bn, Bremer said. The economic bill comes on top of the estimated one billion dollars per week the United States already spends on its forces in Iraq as well as a spiralling budget deficit at home. Bremer said in an interview for the Washington Post that it would take $2bn to restore the Iraqi national electricity grid by the summer of 2004 and about $13bn over five years to overhaul it completely. Supplying clean water nationwide would cost an additional $16bn over four years. The spiralling cost of involvement in Iraq will put the United States in debt by almost half a trillion dollars in 2004. The Congressional Budget Office figures mark a new record in dollar terms and suggest a near-$1.4 trillion deficit in the 10 years to 2013 where a surplus of $891bn had been previously foreseen.

Belfast's nationalist Mayor is facing a censure motion against him, following his boycott of events involving a British government minister. Democratic Unionists on Belfast City Council confirmed that they had tabled a motion that condemns SDLP Mayor Martin Morgan for announcing that he was snubbing all public functions involving the north of Ireland Office Minister John Spellar. The SDLP Mayor of Derry, Shaun Gallagher, has also declared his intention to boycott events involving Spellar, in a dispute over the British army's refusal to dismiss two Scots Guards convicted of killing Belfast teenager Peter McBride in 1992. Spellar is being singled out because he sat on an army board which retained Guardsmen James Fisher and Mark Wright. The DUP motion is expected to be supported by the Ulster Unionists and by councillors connected to loyalist terrorist groups. However, its success will hinge on the votes of three Alliance Party councillors who hold the balance of power on the council. While it would not result in any penalty against the mayor, unionists believe it would be a severe embarrassment for him to lose the vote. On assuming office earlier in 2003 Morgan said that he wanted to represent both communities in Belfast and he vowed to work in partnership with all the political parties within City Hall. Peter McBride was shot in the back after he was stopped by a British army patrol in the New Lodge area of Belfast in 1992. Guardsmen Fisher and Wright said they believed at the time that he was carrying a bomb, but no device was found. The pair were jailed in 1995 for life for his murder but were released three years later and were allowed to rejoin their regiment. Recently, the Court of Appeal in Belfast ruled that the guardsmen should not have been allowed back, but stopped short of ordering the British army to dismiss them. McBride's family and nationalists have contrasted the treatment of the Scots Guardsmen to that of Major Charles Ingram, who was kicked out of the British army for cheating on the ITV quiz show, Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Israeli Outlaws in America.

The Israeli Left, US Empire and the End of the Two-State Solution.

Collective Punishment on the West Bank.

Greenpeace is warning against raised hopes of the full closure of Sellafield. They say their information is that BNFL is planning to close only one of its reprocessing plants - 14 years earlier than planned. Greenpeace Nuclear campaigner Jean McSorley said that they still have full term plans for the plants which discharge most of the nuclear waste into the Irish Sea.

The United States will be in debt by almost half a trillion dollars in 2004 thanks largely to the spiralling cost of involvement in Iraq, according to a non-partisan government report. In its twice-yearly Budget Outlook, the Congressional Budget Office says the US will run up a deficit of $480bn in 2004, following a $401bn deficit in 2003. The figures - a new record in dollar terms - are markedly worse than the CBO predicted in March 2003, when this year's number was seen at $246bn. They suggest a near-$1.4 trillion deficit in the 10 years to 2013 where they had previously foreseen an $891bn surplus.

Monday, August 25, 2003

The Bush team has now created the very monster that it conjured up to alarm Americans into backing a war on Iraq.

US rode willingly into an Arabian nightmare.

As British Prime Minister Tony Blair prepares to testify in an independent inquiry into the death of a weapons expert, a new opinion poll showed growing voter dissatisfaction on several matters, including Iraq. An ICM poll for the Sunday Telegraph newspaper found that two-thirds of Britons believe that they were deceived by public statements made by Blair's government about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs. 58% said they trusted Blair less as a result of the controversy surrounding the death of Ministry of Defense (MoD) weapons adviser David Kelly, while 56% said the British government carries at least some responsibility for Kelly's apparent suicide. Kelly was the anonymous source behind a BBC report alleging that the British government exaggerated the case for war. The scientist later came forward to his MoD bosses and after his name was leaked to the press, he received widespread media attention and was called to testify in front of a House of Commons committee. He was found dead near his home in rural Oxfordshire, west of London, three days later. The Sunday Telegraph poll found that Blair has even lost support among backers of his own party. The newspaper reported that 52% of Labor Party voters said that they have now lost trust in Blair.

Tariq Ali on Bush's war in Iraq.

Thousands of angry Shi'ite Muslims, many vowing revenge, thronged the streets of the Iraqi holy city of Najaf for the funerals of three men killed in a bomb attack that wounded a top cleric. Ayatollah Mohammed Saeed al-Hakim, who was slightly injured in the bombing, is the uncle of the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), criticized by some Shi'ites for cooperating with the U.S.-led occupation. SCIRI said its movement was the target of the attack, which blew a hole in the side of Hakim's office and killed three bodyguards. Some supporters blamed a rival cleric who has condemned the presence of foreign troops in strong terms. Power struggles in Najaf are key to the future of Iraq, whose 60% Shi'ite majority is eager for a taste of power long denied them under repressive Sunni Muslim rule. Many leaders returned from exile after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Faction-fighting among Shi'ites is unwelcome for U.S. forces grappling with an insurgency that they blame on Saddam's loyalists. And it is also unwelcome for President Bush, whose approval ratings are slipping ahead of an election year when he will hope to present his Iraq campaign as a success. Washington is keen to rein in more radical Shi'ite leaders who favor a theocratic Islamic republic for Iraq similar to that of their neighbors in Shi'ite Iran. The bomb followed days of ethnic violence between Kurds and Turkmen in the north, which killed at least 12, and the killing of three British soldiers in Basra in the south. In a sign of increasing security fears, the International Committee of the Red Cross has announced that it was cutting its Baghdad staff after the recent truck bomb which killed 24 people at the United Nations' headquarters in the city. In Najaf, many in the crowd of at least 2,000 blamed the attack on supporters of rival leader Moqtada al-Sadr who has condemned the U.S. occupation. His group has denied involvement.

More Americans say that they would oppose President George Bush's re-election in 2004 than support a second term, according to a new poll that showed mounting pessimism over the US military presence in Iraq. As attacks on coalition forces continue to inflict casualties, a Newsweek poll found that the human and economic costs of occupation were eroding the president's support at an accelerating rate. 69% of those asked were concerned that the US would be bogged down for many years in Iraq with little to show for it in improved security for Americans; 49% said they were very concerned. At the same time Bush's approval rating has dropped to 53%, down 18% since April 2003, and his lowest rating since before the September 11 attacks turned him from the victor of a disputed election presiding over a worsening economy into a wartime leader. Some 49% of Americans questioned in the poll said that they did not want him re-elected, against only 44% who were prepared to give him a second term. The corresponding figures in April were 52% backing re-election with 38% opposed. The change over four months represents a serious haemorrhage in support, reflecting a combination of long-term but spreading disenchantment with the president's economic stewardship and new doubts over where he is taking the country in his open-ended war on terror. In April, 74% of the country supported his handling of the situation in Iraq. Now that figure is 54%. Americans are split between those who believe the administration's line that the invasion has undermined terrorist groups such as al-Qaida (45%) and those who think the opposite - that it has inspired a new generation of Islamist radicals to take up arms against America and its allies.

Was August 19, 2003 the Day of the Terrorist?

The World Health Organization is studying new research that points to rattus rattus - the common black rat - as a key agent in the massive spread of SARS at Amoy Gardens, the Hong Kong apartment complex where 329 people contracted the deadly virus earlier in 2003. The research by Dr Stephen Ng, published in The Lancet, the respected British medical journal, contradicts the official WHO account of the Amoy Gardens outbreak, which blames exhaust fans and plumbing. Ng further suggested that rats - which are eaten as a delicacy in southern China - could be the ultimate source of the disease, which killed 916 people worldwide, about one third of them in Hong Kong. The findings highlight the unresolved questions over the cause of the Amoy Gardens infections, the largest single outbreak of the disease. The debate over the issue in Hong Kong also reflects public concern about the city's handling of the original outbreak and its vulnerability to a fresh bout during the winter flu season. Early speculation that cockroaches helped spread the disease in Amoy Gardens was quelled by WHO and government investigations, which pointed to an unusual combination of plumbing and ventilation conditions as the cause of the virus' rapid spread. Many researchers believe that SARS originated in wild animals and that these would be the likely source of any new outbreak. Evidence points to the civet cat, a member of the mongoose family, that is also enjoyed as a delicacy in southern China, but no species has been conclusively identified. An international team of experts has criticized a decision by China to lift a ban on the trade in civet cats and other wild animals.

Friday, August 22, 2003

The White House told lawmakers that it will appoint a Harvard-trained academic described by some as anti-Muslim to a federally funded think tank during Congress' recess. Jim Manley, a spokesman for Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, said the White House had informed his office that Daniel Pipes' appointment to the board of the U.S. Institute of Peace would occur during the August 2003 congressional recess. Kennedy is top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee and it is this committee which will have jurisdiction over the appointment. The appointment of the Middle East scholar could spark a backlash from some Muslim-Americans and Democrats in Congress who object to his statements and writings defending racial and religious profiling and his suggestions that mosques in America should be targets of police surveillance. Pipes sparked criticism when he launched an organization that collects complaints against professors and academic institutions deemed to be biased in favor of Islam, Muslims and Palestinians. In a statement, Kennedy said that he was disappointed with Bush's decision.

Will there be sustainable economic growth in Japan?

Parallel Universes.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

President George W. Bush’s job performance rating has slipped to 52% positive, 48% negative, according to a poll of 1,011 likely U.S. voters by Zogby International. From a post-September 11th peak of 82%, his rating has slipped steadily with the exception of a slight increase following the official end of the war in Iraq. The down trend is also seen in the percent of likely voters who say it’s time for someone new in the White House (48%), compared to 45% who said the President deserves to be re-elected. Nearly three in five (58%) respondents say they have a favorable opinion of the President as a person, while 40% say their opinion is unfavorable. In July 2003 polling, his rating was 57% favorable, 42% unfavorable. Just over two in five (43%) likely voters say they would choose President Bush over a Democratic candidate, and a like number (43%) preferred a Democrat if the election were held today, compared to July polling by Zogby International where 48% would choose Bush and 43% would favor any Democrat.

The economic decline of France.

Residents of Dublin have the second-highest purchasing power of any city in the European Union, according to a survey by the Swiss financial services group UBS. The survey of 70 cities worldwide found that Luxembourg was the only EU city where people had a higher purchasing power than Dubliners. Purchasing power is a measure of the amount of money people have left to spend on leisure and savings after paying for necessary goods and services. The UBS survey also found that wage levels in Dublin were the 10th highest of all EU cities surveyed, while prices were the eighth highest.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has said that the British economy was in an anemic state in the first half of 2003, and signs have yet to indicate any material recovery in activity. In its latest quarterly economic projections, the CBI lowered its forecast for British GDP growth in 2003 to 1.8% from 2.1% in the previous quarterly projection in May. This is notably lower than the official British Treasury forecast of 2.0-2.5% growth for 2003. For 2004, the CBI has predicted 2.4% GDP growth, compared with 2.5% in the previous forecast. This compares with the British Treasury's forecast of 3.0-3.5% GDP growth for 2004. The British Treasury will update its forecasts in the pre-budget report in November. In the first quarter, British GDP growth was at its lowest in nearly 11 years. In the second quarter, growth remained well below trend.

An outbreak of pneumonia, which tests so far indicate may be caused by the SARS virus, appears to be spreading in British Columbia, Canada. The virus had already infected over 150 people and killed six at a nursing home near Vancouver, and now appears to have infected a second nursing home nearby. Researchers have announced that several genetic sequences from the virus are identical to the virus that causes SARS. But, confusingly, the symptoms shown in the new outbreak have been much milder. The apparent end to the global SARS outbreak in July 2003 raised hopes that transmission in humans was broken, and that the virus might therefore die out. However, any persistence of the SARS virus could lead to a re-emergence of the severe pneumonia characteristic of the infection. The global SARS epidemic began in China in the autumn of 2002 and killed over 800 people worldwide, including 44 in Canada. The new outbreak struck the Kinsmen Place Lodge in Surrey, British Columbia, in early July 2003. Most of those infected had runny noses and sore throats - few had the fever typical of SARS. Ten of the elderly residents developed pneumonia. But Roland Guasperini, chief medical officer for the local Fraser Health Authority, told journalists that those cases were typical pneumonia, without the generalised lung damage and acute respiratory distress syndrome that killed most victims of SARS. Nonetheless, when the patients initially tested negative for influenza, samples were sent to Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg to test for SARS as a precaution. Half came back positive, and the test is not always positive even in confirmed SARS cases. Now nine residents at another, unidentified nursing home in the region are reported to have the same symptoms. The Fraser Health Authority administers both nursing homes, as well as the Surrey Memorial Hospital that treated two probable SARS cases earlier in 2003. The nursing homes and hospital are reported to share staff. Efforts to culture the mystery virus have so far been unsuccessful. But Frank Plummer, director of the Winnipeg lab, told reporters that some 800 base pairs in four of its gene regions had sequences identical to the SARS virus in seven out of eight samples. In the eighth, the sequence differed by only one base pair. The SARS virus has nearly 30,000 base pairs in total. David Patrick, of the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, told the same press conference that the new outbreak could be caused by a weakened, mutated form of the SARS virus, with a deletion in a gene that has not yet been sequenced. But Plummer believes that the outbreak could be explained by the SARS virus causing milder symptoms in some instances. Plummer previously got positive tests for SARS in people in Ontario who did not develop the serious symptoms used to define the illness, as did scientists in Britain.

Brian Feeney on Iraq and the north of Ireland.

White supremacists and loyalist terrorists in the north of Ireland.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Fish and depression.

Of lice and men.

A World Health Organization researcher has met with Canadian health officials who are puzzled by a new virus that looks like it is linked to SARS but does not act like the deadly illness. The new virus was discovered at a Vancouver-area nursing home that was struck by a cold-like illness in July 2003. Three people died of respiratory problems during the outbreak, but most who fell ill suffered only mild symptoms. The genetic sequences of the virus that have been mapped so far have matched a virus linked to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, according to Kelly Keith, spokeswoman for the Canadian Science Center for Human and Animal Health. Researchers were still working on a complete map of the new virus's genome sequence. Canadian officials do not believe that the illness at Kinsmen Place Lodge was SARS, because none of the cases fit the established definition of the disease that struck Asia and Toronto. Toronto's death toll from SARS totaled 44, after the disease spread out from southern China. A WHO virologist was scheduled to spend several days reviewing the preliminary test results with scientists at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The WHO is not treating the nursing home incident as a new SARS outbreak, according to health officials in British Columbia.

The French economy has shrunk by 0.3% during the April to June 2003 period. France's economy, the second largest in the eurozone, steadily weakened during 2002. However, marginally more upbeat figures in the first three months of 2003 had raised hopes of an improvement. But the latest contraction will dash hopes of a turnaround and is likely to weigh heavily on investor sentiment. Earlier in August, both Germany and Italy announced that they had fallen into recession after recording two consecutive quarters of contraction. The unexpected contraction spells trouble for the French government, which desperately needs growth to generate more tax revenues in order to try to rein in the public sector deficit. Amongst France's economic difficulties, exports dropped by 0.6% and consumer spending eased by 0.2%.

Why do Unionists ignore Loyalist violence?

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

More than half of Americans favor a law barring gay marriage and specifying that wedlock should be between a man and a woman, an Associated Press poll has found. The survey also found that presidential candidates could face a backlash if they support gay marriage or civil unions, which provide gay couples with the legal rights and benefits of marriage. The poll, conducted for the AP by ICR-International Communications Research of Media, Pa., found that 52% favor a law banning gay marriages, while 41% oppose it. About four in 10 — 41% — support allowing civil unions, roughly the same level found in an AP poll in 2000. But 53% now say that they oppose civil unions, up from 46% in the earlier survey. The increase came largely from people who previously were undecided, the polls suggested. Close to half those surveyed said that they would be less likely to support a presidential candidate who backs civil unions (44%) or gay marriage (49%), while only around 10% said that they would be more likely. The issue poses a challenge for the Democratic presidential candidates in the 2004 election. The six leading candidates say that they oppose gay marriage but are sharply critical of efforts to legally ban it, either with a law or by amending the Constitution. In the AP poll, about one-third of people who identified themselves as Democrats and independents said that they would be less likely to support a candidate who backs civil unions. Twice as many Republicans said they felt that way.

Germany has suffered its worst quarterly job loss since being reunified in 1990, according to official figures. In the three months to the end of June 2003, total employment shrank by 646,000 to 38.07 million, the federal statistics office has reported. The manufacturing sector has shed 267,000 jobs - a 3.2% rise from a year ago - while employment in the construction industry fell by 149,000, or 6.1%. The dismal figures starkly underlined Germany's grim economic state. Once Europe's powerhouse, it is now the continent's sick man. Recent data showed that the country had slipped into its second recession in two years.

The scale of the task facing Tony Blair in trying to rebuild public trust in his administration is dramatically underlined by new figures showing that only 6% of voters trust the British government more than the BBC to tell the truth. Half the electorate also believes that the British government deliberately embellished its dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction in an attempt to make its case for war stronger, according to the August Guardian/ICM survey. And the vast majority - 68% - believes that the British government was unfair in its treatment of David Kelly, the biological weapons expert who apparently killed himself after being named by the Ministry of Defence as the source of a BBC story. Just 8% believe the government's treatment of the MoD scientist was fair. The current poll is supported by recent polls which also suggest that Blair's once much-touted reputation for honesty has been irreversibly tarnished. A Populus poll, earlier in August 2003, found that 52% trusted him very little or not at all.

The US Army in Iraq.

Microsoft Word documents can provide readers with more information than the writers intended.

Monday, August 18, 2003

A study suggests that humans started wearing clothes 70,000 years ago. The genetic study of lice strongly suggests that clothing arose soon after modern homo sapiens began moving out of Africa. Lice provide a unique insight into the development of clothing since only humans carry a particular species of louse, which lays its eggs in clothing. According to molecular anthropologist Mark Stoneking, the body louse arose when humans started to make frequent use of clothing. Experts are eager to know when people first started to wear clothes. But while stones, tools and other evidence of human behavior survive for millenniums, clothing does not. Stoneking thought of a way to figure it out when he realized that head lice could only be transmitted from one human to another and could only survive for short periods of time away from the human body. Three species of louse infect humans - head lice, body lice and crabs or pubic lice. Experts agree that body lice are a subspecies of head lice and that body lice probably evolved when people started to wear clothing. Stoneking's team used a molecular clock to find out when body lice evolved. They looked at the DNA found in the mitochondria of cells. This DNA is inherited virtually intact from the mother, with any changes happening through mutation alone. The rate of mutation can be calculated, with a certain number of changes expected with each generation. By comparing the mitochondrial DNA of body lice to that of a cousin - chimpanzee lice - the researchers were able to date it back to around 70,000 years ago. This, Stoneking said, fits in with growing evidence that modern humans evolved in Africa and migrated out around 100,000 years ago. Stoneking and his colleagues Ralf Kittler and Manfred Kayser, all of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, report their findings in the journal Current Biology.

The dossier on which British Prime Minister Tony Blair based his case for war against Iraq contained no proof of any threat from Baghdad, according to an e-mail from a top aide. The e-mail is the first public sign of questioning within Blair's inner circle about the strength of intelligence used to justify a war that most Britons opposed. The email came from Blair's chief of staff and long-time confidant Jonathan Powell and was addressed to a senior intelligence official. Powell's email, revealed in an inquiry into the suicide of weapons expert David Kelly, casts further doubt on Blair's own claim in the foreword to the dossier that Iraq's biological and chemical weapons program posed a serious and current threat. A recent poll showed that 41% of the British public blame the government for Kelly's death and 68% think the British government was dishonest over the Iraq war.

Germany is set to breach the EU Stability and Growth Pact in 2004 if the German Government proceeds with its plan to borrow to fund planned tax cuts, according to the Bundesbank. While the tax cuts are in principle welcome, they could at the same time be regrettable because the 3% of GDP limit would be exceeded, the German central bank said in its August 2003 report. It said that if Germany wants to cut taxes and avoid breaching the pact for a third straight year, then it must increase its efforts to find money elsewhere. The German Government needs to find an extra E7bn to pay for tax cuts it wants to introduce on 1 January 2004. It has that said it will generate some E2bn through privatizations and around E1bn from scrapping state subsidies, with the remainder to be financed through extra borrowing. EU economic and monetary affairs commissioner Pedro Solbes said that the Commission will recommend imposing fiscal sanctions on Germany if it breaches the pact. A spokesperson for the Commission said that Solbes' warning also applies to France. The Bundesbank said that Germany's public deficit will certainly breach the 3% of GDP limit in 2003 by a significant margin, after it hit 3.6% in 2002.

Belfast Lord Mayor Martin Morgan has vowed to boycott all public functions attended by British government minister John Spellar. The move is a protest against Spellar's decision to allow two British soldiers convicted of murdering a Belfast teenager to remain in the British army. Spellar sat on an army board which decided to allow James Fisher and Mark Wright to return to the Scots Guard regiment after serving just three years of their life sentences. Recently, Spellar rejected a request from the family of the victim to kick the two convicted murderers out of the British army. Wright and Fisher were convicted of murdering Peter McBride, an 18-year-old father-of-two, as he ran away from British soldiers in north Belfast in 1992. The court rejected the pair's claim that they only opened fire because they thought McBride was carrying a coffee-jar bomb. A Court of Appeal in the north of Ireland ruled in June 2003 that the army board which Spellar sat on had not produced the exceptional circumstances needed to justify the soldiers' retention in the British army following their release in 1998. McBride's mother, Jean, met Spellar recently to discuss the ruling, but she walked out of the meeting when it became clear that he would not take action against Wright and Fisher.

Schwarzenegger and the MacBride Principles.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Road map or road block?

Concerned that an Israeli measure on marriage and citizenship will adversely affect family life, an expert United Nations panel on anti-discrimination has urged the Knesset to revoke the law, which effectively bars Palestinians married to Israelis from living with their spouses in Israel. The call for Israel's Parliament to reconsider the measure came as the Geneva-based UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) met in emergency session to discuss the country's Temporary Suspension Order, which became law on July 31, 2003 and suspends the possibility of family reunification in the cases of marriages between an Israeli citizen and a person residing in the West Bank and Gaza. The law is renewable for one-year periods. The 18-member Committee - which monitors governments' efforts to uphold treaty obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination - issued a decision expressing its concern about the order, noting that it has already adversely affected many families and marriages. It said that Israel, a State Party to the Convention, should revoke this law and reconsider its policy, with a view to facilitating family unification on a non-discriminatory basis. The emergency meeting was called at the mid-way point of the Committee's twenty-third session, underway in Geneva since August 4th. Stressing that the Temporary Order raises serious issues under the Convention, the Committee requested Israel to provide detailed information on the matter in its next periodic report on national anti-discrimination efforts.

Yugoslavia and Iraq.

Feuding loyalist terrorists were behind a bomb attack on a house in Derry in the north of Ireland. Five people escaped injury when the device exploded at the rear of the property in Bond's Place. The pipe bomb attack, which caused minor damage, followed a row at a pub in the area. Sources said the dispute was linked to simmering divisions between Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) factions. As security was heightened amid fears of reprisal attacks, it emerged that one of the five people who were in the house has fled the city. It is understood he was in the bar when trouble broke out after the annual Apprentice Boys' parade through the city. Police have confirmed that the pipe bomb was similar to devices used by loyalist terrorists in attacks across the Six Counties.

The eurozone economy posted zero growth in the second quarter of 2003 as the stronger euro impacted on demand for exports. Eurozone GDP was unchanged in the second quarter from the first quarter after rising just 0.1% in the previous three months, statistics office Eurostat said in its provisional estimate. On a year-on-year basis, growth in the eurozone averaged 0.4%. The German economy, the largest in the eurozone, is currently in the midst of its second recession in two years, after contracting in each of the last three quarters, while Italy, the number three economy, is also in a recession. The rise of the euro played a large factor in hindering growth in the quarter, according to the German and Italian statistics offices. Both noted a slump in exports in the second quarter as the stronger euro made eurozone goods more expensive abroad. The European Commission has maintained its forecast for eurozone GDP growth in the third quarter to a range of between zero and 0.4%. It also said that it expects fourth quarter growth of 0.2-0.6%.

Germany is officially in recession, after recording a 0.1% economic contraction in the three months to June 2003. The figure combines with a 0.2% fall in the previous quarter to produce six straight months of shrinkage which is the technical definition of a recession. The German economy has effectively been at a standstill for a year, after seeming to recover from a modest recession at the end of 2001. Germany's three years of below-par growth have held back the whole eurozone, which is likely to grind to an economic halt this year.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Thousands of Shi'ite Muslims have poured into the streets of a Baghdad neighborhood to denounce U.S. troops who they said had defiled a religious school by flying low in a helicopter, which struck its flag. The protesters flooded the streets of a sprawling suburb populated mainly by poor Shi'ites, who form a long-oppressed majority of Iraq's population. Arab television aired film showing a U.S. helicopter flying low over a tower where a black flag was flying. Its wheel appeared to touch the religious banner. A military spokesman said he knew of no incidents in the area. A Shi'ite cleric in the neighborhood said U.S. troops had defiled a sacred place, and demanded that they stay away. The area was known as Saddam City under Saddam Hussein, who maintained a tradition of oppressing the Shi'ite majority, but locals now call it Sadr City after a prominent late cleric. Most leaders of Iraq's Shi'ites, who account for about 60% of Iraq's 26 million people, have largely avoided confrontation with their country's occupiers, and some work with a U.S.-appointed council aimed at forming an Iraqi government. Washington has made clear, however, that it disapproves of suggestions by some Shi'ite clerics that Iraq should follow the theocratic style of government adopted by Shi'ite Iran. Shi'ites form an overwhelming majority in southern Iraq, where violent protests directed against British occupying forces have disrupted the second city of Basra.

Alexander Cockburn on anti-Semitism.

The Irish economy could grow by 3.5-4% in 2004 as the global economic recovery kicks in, according to two separate reports. Bank of Ireland Treasury, in its August Outlook, forecast GNP to rise to 4% in 2004 as investment and exports pick up on the back of stronger world demand. However, Bloxham Stockbrokers' quarterly Economic Review was more cautious, tipping GNP expansion in 2004 at a more modest 3.5%. Regarding unemployment, Bank of Ireland sees it peaking at 5% in 2004, while Bloxham has forecast 5.3% in 2004. Bloxham economist Alan McQuaid said Ireland could lose its ten-year record as the fastest-growing economy in the eurozone, under the EU measure of total output (GDP). McQuaid said that on the assumption of a pick-up in world activity, GDP growth in 2004 should come close to 3%, before rising back to over 4% in 2005. Bank of Ireland's Dan McLaughlin said the worst could also be over for the eurozone, with Germany beginning to show some signs of improvement.

The cult of Genghis Khan.

Arab countries cannot recognise the legitimacy of the US-appointed Interim Governing Council (IGC) in Iraq, Egyptian Foreign minister Ahmed Maher has said. Maher's remarks followed a meeting in Cairo with the Saudi and Syrian foreign ministers. But Maher said Arab states remained ready to meet members of the council on the same basis as they would meet members of any Iraqi political group. Earlier, after meeting the US Assistant Secretary of State, William Burns, Maher reiterated that Cairo would like to see the United Nations play an active part in Iraq. The IGC recently opted for a nine-member rotating presidency made up of representatives of the country's ethnic groups. The first president is Ibrahim Jafari, spokesman for the Shia Muslim Dawa party. The council can appoint cabinet ministers, formulate economic policies and is charged with producing a process to write a constitution that would pave the way for a general election.

Scientists in Australia think that they may have solved one of the world's oldest murder mysteries - a 5,000-year-old old Ice Age hunter whose body revealed he had been brutally shot in the back with an arrow. Researchers at the University of Queensland have used DNA analysis to piece together the final hours of the man - whose frozen body was discovered in a remote Italian Alpine pass. And their studies suggest he died as a result of warfare rather than murder - which may close the longest criminal case in human history. Oetzi's discovery created both scientific and psychological interest, with many experts theorizing that his fate could prove to be the first recorded case of murder. But Dr Ian Findlay of the Australian Genome Research Facility in Brisbane analyzed samples, scrapings from the knife, the axe and from Oetzi's jacket and found that the blood samples were actually from several different individuals. There was also the blood of two people on an arrowhead found alongside Oetzi's body. This suggests he was not murdered, but instead strayed into another tribe's territory and got involved in a fight. Dr Tom Loy, director of Queensland University's Institute of Molecular Bioscience, said that Oetzi gave as good as he got, firing his arrow into two of his enemies, pulling his precious weapon out of their bodies each time. But Oetzi was finally overcome and struck by an enemy arrow himself. Oetzi's body was discovered by hikers in the Schnalstal glacier high in the Italian Alps in 1991. He was initially thought to be a modern climber - until an axe and a quiver of arrows were found nearby.

Loyalist terrorists have been linked to a pipe bomb attack on a family in Derry in the north of Ireland. The device exploded at the rear of a house in Bond's Place. A family-of-five who were in the house at the time escaped injury. A second device left outside the home of another family member a short time later turned out to be an elaborate hoax. The woman picked it up after finding it on the doorstep of her home at Church Meadows in the nearby Kilfennan area of the city. It is understood both incidents are being linked to a dispute between a family member and a loyalist terrorist. Inspector Brian Hume said the pipe bomb was similar to those used by loyalist terrorists. He said the device had been designed to kill or cause serious injury. Police say they have no doubt the attack was carried out by loyalist terrorists and have appealed for witnesses to come forward.

The United States and wars of democratic imperialism.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Teenagers and low-carb diets.

Highland Myths.

Weapons expert David Kelly believed that Iraq posed only a minimal military threat and accused the British government of overplaying the risk to justify war. Kelly committed suicide in July 2003 after being named as the source for a BBC report that a British government dossier on Iraq's weapons was embellished at the behest of British Prime Minister Tony Blair's communications chief, Alastair Campbell. Andrew Gilligan, the BBC defense correspondent whose report has plunged Blair's government into crisis, told a judicial inquiry into the suicide that Kelly told him most British intelligence experts were unhappy with the weapons dossier. Nearly five months after U.S. and British forces invaded Iraq to topple Saddam no weapons of mass destruction have been found, undermining public trust in Blair. Gilligan said that Kelly blamed Blair's communications chief Alastair Campbell for changing the pre-war intelligence dossier to highlight a claim Iraq could deploy chemical or biological arms at 45 minutes notice.

Monday, August 11, 2003

What next for the Anglican Church?

Conservative Anglicans predict the death of their church.

Niall Stanage on the Colombia Three.

What were three Irish men doing in Colombia?

The conviction of Michael McKevitt.

Jude Collins on the quality of the British media.

Thousands of people have taken part in a demonstration in Belfast against British security force collusion with British Loyalist terrorists. It is the first event of its kind in a growing campaign to learn the truth over the murders of indigenous Irish Catholics in the north of Ireland. Marchers rallied to Belfast City Hall and demanded to know the exact role of the British government and the security forces in collusion with loyalist terrorists in the murders of indigenous Irish Catholics. Addressing the crowd, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said it was important for the peace process that the issue was dealt with honestly. Recently, Britain's most senior police officer said that rogue elements within the police and army in the north of Ireland helped loyalist terrorists to murder indigenous Irish Catholics. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner's report into collusion between the British security forces and loyalist terrorists also found that British military intelligence was also involved.

Europe's punishing heatwave has claimed 50 lives in Paris in recent days. Patrick Pelloux, head of France's emergency doctors' association, attacked French Government officials for classifying the deaths as natural. Temperatures in the French capital have been above 35C (95F) for more than a week, and on August 10, 2003 set a record night-time high of 25.5C (77.9F). Across Europe, at least 40 other people have died from the effects of the heat and in fires. As the heatwave continues to bite, parts of Europe are facing the threat of power blackouts amid soaring demand for power in the summer heatwave. Temperatures have continued to set new records across the continent. Fresh fires were burning in Portugal, already devastated by some of the worst fires in Europe. Hundreds of firefighters were battling a blaze, in the southern Monchique mountains, as around 300 people were moved from their homes. In Italy, firefighters battled to put out a fire burning for several days near Udine in the north-east of the country. Forecasters say Spain, Germany and France have at least a few more days of intense heat, while Italy is expected to sizzle until September. Many farmers say their crops have been devastated.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

End of Anglican orthodoxy?

A man from west Belfast has been released on bail after being arrested by Israeli security forces in the West Bank. Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Movement member Terry McNeill was arrested with another 53 people in the town of Mash'a near Jenin. The group had been demonstrating against the building of a wall separating Palestinians and Israelis. McNeill said he was considering an appeal against deportation. He said the protesters were forcibly removed. Recently, McNeill was slightly injured after he was shot with a rubber bullet by Israeli forces.

A Jewish State, Or State of Jews?

US military leaders in Iraq appear to be considering a change of strategy as two American soldiers were killed and others injured in the most recent attacks on US troops. The commander of the US-led forces in Iraq General Ricardo Sanchez has suggested his troops' iron-fisted approach to hunting Iraqi suspects was alienating the wider Iraqi public and provoking retaliation. The cycle of strikes against US forces and ongoing American raids and arrests in the hunt for ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his loyalists continues on an almost daily basis. General Sanchez has said the scale of raids in Iraq would now be reduced because they damaged Iraqis' dignity and self-respect and prompted some to acts of revenge. Sanchez said the new military approach would concentrate more on co-operation with Iraqi political and religious leaders in an attempt to improve intelligence so that future searches could be more precisely targeted.

Celts in Turkey.

The Anglican church in Britain and across the world was convulsed by the decision of the American church to appoint an openly gay man as a bishop. Gene Robinson reached the upper echelons of the US Episcopal church after a 62-45 vote, despite warning of a schism among Anglicanism's 80 million followers worldwide and claims from traditionalists that his appointment would be a heresy. The morning after the historic decision left Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, with the headache of how to hold the progressive and traditionalist wings of the church together. The Dean of Southwark, Colin Slee, said the election of Canon Robinson as Anglicanism's first openly gay bishop was a decision solely for the US church. He said those opposed to gay bishops wanted to ruin the church if they did not get their own way. The US church has been more radical than other branches, leading the way in other emotionally loaded issues such as the ordination of women priests. Richard Kirker, of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement in London, called on Rowan Williams to give a lead by welcoming the move. Andrew Carey, son of the former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey and member of Anglican Mainstream, a group set up to oppose the attempted appointment of Canon Jeffrey John as bishop of Reading, said he believed Canon Robinson was committing a sin by being in a relationship with a man for the past 13 years. Opponents of Canon Robinson's appointment as bishop of New Hampshire will meet in Texas in October 2003 to co-ordinate their opposition. But the biggest problem for Rowan Willians may not be in Britain but among Anglicans in developing countries where homosexuality is barely tolerated. Both Bishop Lim Cheng Ean, leader of the Anglican church of West Malaysia and Mouneer Anis, Bishop of Egypt, North Africa and the Horn of Africa, have spoken out against Robinson's appointment.

Brian Feeney on Unionist prejudice.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

The United Nations development agency has called for immediate action to address the needs of Palestinian communities affected by Israel's Separation Wall, launching an appeal for $18 million in emergency assistance to address job needs and improve vital social, municipal and agricultural infrastructure requirements. The proposals, by the UN Development Program of Assistance to the Palestinian people, seek to generate over 200,000 employment opportunities and includes land reclamation projects, new agricultural roads and improved water infrastructure. They also aim to revamp health care and education and build the capacity of the municipalities and village councils. Israel began building the barrier in 2002 with a complex series of walls, barriers, trenches, and fences within the occupied West Bank in what it said was a security operation to keep out suicide bombers. The wall has encircled and isolated many Palestinian cities and villages. When completed, this first phase will cut across roads and water networks and will form a barrier between Palestinians living on each side and their agricultural lands, water wells, urban markets and public services. The impact on agriculture is of particular concern in the governorates of Jenin, Tulkarm and Qalqilya, where the first phase is being constructed. The wall could severely constrain the delivery of basic social services and commercial exchange, especially the movements of agricultural products, Palestinian officials have said.

The Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign has condemned the arrest of an Irish peace activist by the Israeli military. Terry McNeill and 40 other workers with the International Solidarity Movement were detained while trying to block the demolition of a Palestinian family's home near the West Bank village of Mas'ha. The Israeli military wanted to demolish part of the house because it was on the route of a massive wall being built to separate Israel from the West Bank. Recently, McNeill was also hit by a rubber bullet fired by Israeli soldiers. He and his colleagues are currently being held in Ariel Prison, in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

The Bush administration is threatening to impose severe financial sanctions on Israel if it persists in pushing its security fence and wall in the West Bank deep into Palestinian territory. The administration would tell Israel soon that it was considering reducing its loan guarantees by the amount Ariel Sharon's government spends on building the fence. Israel needs the guarantees to borrow money from American banks to revive its ailing economy. The 220-mile wall and fence, which will nearly double in length if Sharon extends it along the Jordan Valley, is estimated to cost over $1m a mile. The proposal for sanctions comes from the the state department. Officials said the secretary of state, Colin Powell, was frustrated by Sharon portraying his recent visit to Washington as a victory over the Palestinian attempt to persuade President George Bush to press Israel to stop building the barrier. Western officials said the Israelis had tacitly acknowledged that they would have to drop a plan to build the fence about 20 miles into the West Bank to cover the largest Jewish settlement, Ariel, because of the pressure from Washington. Congress recently approved $9bn in loan guarantees for Israel, with the proviso that amounts equivalent to the spending on Jewish settlements and other intrusions into Palestinian territory would be deducted.

The Anglican Church is facing civil war with conservatives against liberals and potentially ripping the global congregation apart after its affiliate U.S. Episcopal Church appointed an openly gay bishop. Evangelicals roared in outrage and threatened to split after U.S. Episcopalian bishops voted to appoint Canon Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. But liberals welcomed the move and called for calm, leaving Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams with one of the biggest crises of his eight-month tenure as the head of the world's estimated 70 million Anglicans. The Anglican church in Kenya was up in arms, following the lead already given by Nigeria recently over the thwarted move to appoint celibate gay priest Jeffrey John as bishop of Reading in England. After an outcry, John declined the post. Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, has described the Robinson vote as catastrophic, while David Phillips of the Church Society in England called on the Anglican movement worldwide to shun the U.S. Episcopal Church. But Richard Kirker of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement in London welcomed the vote, praising the Episcopal Church which he said had led the way on issues such as the ordination of women and on condemning racial segregation.

A new Bollywood film about the Indian independence fighter Subhash Chandra Bose is being shot in Germany. The film traces the last five years in the life of Subhash Chandra Bose, or Netaji, who set up the Indian National Army in exile to fight against British rule during the Second World War. The film is being directed by Shyam Benegal, considered the father of new wave Indian cinema, and stars Sachin Khedekar. It is the first time that a major Bollywood film has been shot in Germany. Netaji: The Last Hero is expected to be a blockbuster when it opens in India early in 2004 and the producers are also hoping for success in other countries. Netaji didn't believe in Gandhi's methods of achieving independence for India through non-violence. Instead he went into exile and set up the Indian National Army. He travelled to Germany during the Second World War where he met Hitler who was apparently impressed with his cause and promised to help him. He raised an army of 80,000 men to fight against British rule. His troops marched into India to fight against the British from Burma, but Netaji died in 1945 - he never lived to see Indian independence.

Europe continues to suffer a heatwave which has sent temperatures soaring right across the region. At least 30 people have died in the blistering heat and in fires across the continent which are stretching emergency services to breaking point. The death toll in Portugal rose to 14 after a couple were found dead in the aftermath of one blaze, as firefighters appeared to have brought most fires in the country under control. But temperatures are continuing to reach 40C and with no sign of respite and it is feared that they could climb as high as 42C. The Portuguese Government has asked NATO to provide water-carrying helicopters and equipment to help hundreds of firefighters still battling to control the blazes. However, Nato spokesman Yves Brodeur said that there was little chance of the request being granted. In neighboring Spain, temperatures in the southern cities of Seville and Cordoba topped 41C. Three elderly women in the region died from the effects of the heat, bringing the country's total to 14.

The umeployment rate in Germany has risen an unadjusted 94,500 in July from June (2003) to a total of 4.352m, the Labor Office has said. It said the unadjusted jobless rate in July was 10.4%, up from 10.2% in June. In west Germany the unadjusted number of jobless rose 71,400 in July to 2.734m, giving a jobless rate of 8.3%. In east Germany the unadjusted number rose 23,100 to 1.618m, giving a jobless rate of 18.5%, according to the Labor Office. The increase, coupled with recent downwardly revised forecasts for German growth, will add to pressure on the European Central Bank (ECB) to cut rates at its next meeting. Germany, the eurozone's largest economy, has been heading towards recession for the past year and although slight economic growth is forecast for 2003, many analysts expect it to fall into recession over the coming 12 months.

The Irish Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, has welcomed the latest assessment by the Board of the International Monetary Fund of the Irish economy’s performance and prospects, following the Board’s discussion of the IMF Staff Report for the 2003 Article IV Consultation. The Board of the IMF commended the Irish authorities for their exemplary track record of sound economic policies, which have resulted in a dynamic, open, and robust economy – with growth notably above the EU average over the past decade – and resilience to external shocks. However, the Directors considered that the likelihood of sustained slower growth in the period ahead calls for a sharper policy focus, among other things, on improving competitiveness and securing the medium-term fiscal position, in line with the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP). The Fund staff forecast GNP growth to pick up speed from 1.5% in 2003 to about 3% in 2004. The Board expects activity to pick up with the recovery in world demand towards the end of 2003 and to accelerate thereafter to a sustainable rate. However, the Board cautions that global recovery could be more anaemic than expected and the euro may continue to appreciate, adversely affecting competitiveness and employment, particularly in indigenous, employment-intensive industries.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Police in the north of Ireland are investigating the possibility that an independent nationalist councillor whose body was found in a lake 29 years ago was murdered by soldiers from the Ulster Defence Regiment. 33-year-old Patrick Kelly, a councillor in Omagh, Co Tyrone, disappeared in the village of Trillick on July 25, 1974. Three weeks later, his body floated to the surface of Lough Eyes near Lisbellaw, Co Fermanagh. He had been shot a number of times and dumped in the lake with weights attached to his body. The PSNI/RUC announced plans to reopen the investigation into the murder in July and detectives have now asked to speak to anyone who may have been present when a former UDR soldier allegedly admitted witnessing the killing. In January 1999, Kelly's family said that they had been told that David Jordan, who has since died, broke down in a bar and confessed to his involvement. They said that he had also named the other soldiers involved.

Sinn Féin MP Pat Doherty has called on the British Government to end its patronage of the Ulster Unionist Party. Doherty claimed the move was necessary to help overcome the current impasse in the peace process. He said Britain should set a date for Assembly elections which were scheduled for May 2003, but cancelled amid predictions that the UUP was set to be overtaken by the anti-agreement Democratic Unionist Party.

More than 40 people have been arrested for trying to stop Israel's construction of a security fence in the West Bank. The activists - most of them foreigners - had camped in front of the home of a Palestinian family they said would be isolated by the fence near the town of Qalqilya. The arrests came a day after unnamed US officials said Washington may consider cutting loan guarantees to Israel as a penalty for building the barrier. Proponents of the project say the fence is a necessary defense against Palestinian militants infiltrating into Israel, while opponents say it is an attempt to define borders unilaterally. Foreign activists of the International Solidarity Movement were among those detained. An Israeli police spokesman said three demonstrators - an Italian, an Israeli and a Palestinian - are accused of assaulting a soldier. The others were detained for refusing to leave what Israel called a closed military area. The police are reported to be considering deporting the foreigners. US officials said the Bush administration was debating whether the construction of the 600 kilometre-long (370-mile) barrier is related to Jewish settlements. Congress is authorized to cut US aid to Israel by the amount Israel spends on settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. At issue is the $9bn in loan guarantees approved by the US Congress in March 2003, and $1bn in military assistance. The planned fence reaches deep into the West Bank in some parts, to include Israeli settlements. Recently, Israel announced that the first 145-kilometer (90-mile) section had been completed. The rest is still in the planning stages. US and Palestinian officials fear it may serves as a political border that would hinder plans to set up a Palestinian state.

Europe and the killer heatwave.

A new study shows that women who want to lose weight should forget gyms and diets and take up housework instead. Research shows that 50 years ago, British women burned up three times as many calories, as their modern counterparts. This is because all the washing, ironing, and walking that housewives engaged in were extremely effective ways of losing weight. A survey by Prima magazine found that women of the 1950s would spend three hours a day doing household chores - and would walk an hour a day when buying groceries and other family items. They also ate healthy meals with big helpings of vegetables. In contrast, not only are modern women able to rely on technology to take much of the physical effort out of housework, they are also much more likely to eat an unhealthy diet of convienience and junk food. Modern women eat on average 2,178 calories a day - and can expect their lifestyle to burn off 556. In 1952, however, the average woman ate 1,818 calories a day - and burned off 1,512. Modern woman is much more likely to work out at the gym, or to take up faddy diets - both of which were almost unheard of in mid-20th century Britain. But this is leading seven out of 10 to the spurious conclusion that they take better care of themselves than British women of previous generations. In fact, levels of obesity and heart disease have soared over the last 50 years. In 2003, 32% of women in Britain are overweight, and 21% are obese.

Monday, August 04, 2003

A Y-chromosome analysis of the British population.

Israeli expansionism in the West Bank.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) is leading Labor in the first significant opinion poll since the last Scottish election. NFO System Three's survey puts the SNP level with Labor on first vote intentions for the Scottish Parliament and ahead by a point in the second vote. John Swinney, the troubled SNP leader, appears to be gaining some relief because of Labor's dwindling appeal to voters disillusioned with Tony Blair's performance over Iraq. The poll comes after recent findings by NFO System Three that 75% of Scots believe that the Labor government was partly responsible for the presumed suicide of David Kelly. It is also in line with recent polls in England showing that Tony Blair's personal standing has been damaged by Iraq, with Labor's popularity sliding in the wake of the war and the row over alleged duplicity by No 10 in justifying it.

Diplomatic pressure is mounting on the Colombian authorities to release the three Irishmen accused of aiding FARC guerrillas. The final stages of the case have been marred by a series of irregularities, including spurious suggestions that a senior Irish official perjured herself, and culminating in an apparent attempt by Colombia's top general to prejudice the trial. Dublin MEP Niall Andrews has already written to the president of the European Parliament, Pat Cox, urging him to intervene with the Colombian government. Irish officials, while making no public comment on the trial, are said to be privately incensed about the slur on the reputation of one of their most respected and popular colleagues. Andrews is one of a team of international experts and observers at the trial in Bogota who are deeply unhappy about the fairness of the trial. In his letter to Cox he insisted that, from the moment of the men's arrest, high-ranking officials in the Colombian armed forces had repeatedly made well-publicized statements prejudging them as guilty. In one case, General Fernandez Tapias made a series of statements to the US Congress that were shown during the trial to be false. Andrews was particularly outraged by an incident after the completion of the closing arguments by the prosecutor, when General Enrique Mora, head of the Colombian armed forces, issued a public statement vehemently calling for the three defendants' convictions. Those attending the case say the prosecution was unable to produce any evidence to back up its claim that the men trained left-wing guerrillas, and the case was on the point of collapse. The main witnesses for the prosecution, an informer, was exposed when Sile Maguire, First Secretary at the Irish Embassy in Mexico City, testified that she was with one of the defendants, Niall Connolly, at a diplomatic reception in Cuba at a time the informer claimed to have seen him with FARC. In closing remarks that bore the hallmarks of desperation, the prosecution lawyer implied that Maguire had lied under oath, accusing her of selective memory and suggesting that there was no proof the dinner had taken place. Jim O'Keeffe TD and Madeleine Taylor-Quinn of Fine Gael, as well as Fianna Fail's Ben Briscoe, also attended the Havana function.

Portugal has declared a national disaster after forest fires killed nine people as a heatwave fanned blazes across Europe. The fires in Portugal, the worst in a generation, have come amid a heatwave stretching from Russia to the Iberian Peninsula which has killed at least 12 people in Spain and Germany and threatens to break national temperature records in France and Britain. Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso said the declaration of a national disaster, approved by the cabinet, would free aid for those hit by the fires. The measure makes available more than 100 million euros ($113 million) in disaster aid. Durao Barroso said Portugal would also seek disaster relief funding from the European Union. Fires in Spain's Extremadura region, which borders Portugal, have forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes. In Spain's southern region of Andalucia, seven people have died from the heatwave. Temperatures in the upper 90 degrees Fahrenheit caused five deaths in the northern German town of Holzminden. Western and southwestern Germany are expected to see temperatures hit 100 F. In France, temperatures are expected to near the national record 111.2 F reached on Aug. 8, 1923. In Britain, temperatures are threatening to top the 98.8 F all-time high.

The problems of an aging Europe.

President Bush's quagmire in Iraq.

Genetics and the First Americans.