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Friday, June 05, 2009

Michael's Morning 7 - 5 June

Over the course of centuries, weak governments fail, strong ones survive and become more powerful. This is evidently happening today. China leads the world in liquidity and has already established world wide trade relationships that will allow continued growth. Every major metropolitan area of the globe has dozens if not hundreds of outlets for Chinese merchandize. The main driver is cheap labor. India is not far behind and could very well emerge as the major international automobile manufacturer, forcing Japan and South Korea to rethink their strategies. Russia, hard hit by the financial distress is coming out of it faster, probably because of a relatively small population plus the determined leadership of President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin. Both of these statesmen (one proved and the other rapidly learning the ropes) discovered early on that control of energy was the key to control of power. With Gazprom as its principal instrument, Russia forges ahead to replace existing production and develop new reserves even those located in hostile Arctic climes. The European Union (EU), while distressed is blessed with having a functional central bank. If the EU can maintain its grip on its members, forcing them to stay within financial guidelines which protect the buying power of the euro, chances are good that the group as an entity will survive the deluge. Another blessing of the EU is that the members can still remember the visitation of war. None wish to repeat that disastrous episode that began in 1914 and ended some few years after 1945. Africa, as always, with nothing to steer it but clusters of inefficient governments, will remain in the doldrums for another century, perhaps longer. Foreign companies will extract its minerals and control most of its external commerce. As for the United States and the United Kingdom, predictions are difficult. Clearly in the UK, signs emerge that the people may wrest control of the government away from the functionaries but success is far from certain. The exact same situation exists in the U.S. and the remedy will have to be the same.

Ever since the Italian media began peering into Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's personal life — and found a host of attractive young women — his supporters have been furiously trying to get them to change the subject. Among the supporters is a small group with a big plan: to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize. The group contends Mr Berlusconi, operating behind the scenes and using his close friendship with Russia's Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, helped end the conflict between Russia and Georgia last northern summer. Ever since his wife, Veronica Lario, unleashed a torrent of tabloid coverage when she asked for a divorce last month, angry that Mr Berlusconi had attended the 18th birthday party of Noemi Letizia, a pretty blonde, the country has gone crazy with speculation over the nature of their relationship. Appearing on national television this week, Mr Berlusconi dismissed the controversy and any notion it might lead to early elections. He said he had a "duty and the responsibility" to continue governing Italy. The Berlusconi-for-Nobel website, designed like a slick American advertisement, features six young people giving the thumbs up.

Some problems are good ones to have. After facing a shortage of prison cells in the ’90s, Holland is now running out of criminals. Last week, the Justice Ministry announced a plan to close eight prisons because a declining crime rate has left nearly 2,000 cells empty. The ministry currently has a capacity to house 14,000 adult prisoners, but only has 12,000 detainees. Meanwhile, Deputy Justice Minister Nebahat Albayrak has told the Dutch parliament that the ministry estimates the decline in crime rates will continue for some time. Not everyone is pleased, since the closures will also see 1,200 jobs slashed. Both the right-wing Dutch Freedom Party and left-wing Socialist Party oppose the job cuts and dispute the idea of a prison overcapacity—and say they would like to see more criminals spend time in jail. Some respite for the prison workers could come through a deal worth almost $47 million to temporarily place 500 criminals from neighbouring Belgium behind Dutch bars. Albayrak has confirmed interest in renovating Dutch prisons to help Cyprus deal with its illegal immigration problems and political asylum seekers.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Markos Kyprianou, invited by the press today to refer to the issue of illegal immigration to Cyprus in relation to the illegal routes between Syria and the Turkish occupied areas, stated the following: “The issue of the sea route between Latakia and the occupied port of Famagusta, which I stress is not continuous, is an issue that is always on the agenda of our contacts with the Syrian government. The Syrian government stresses that its position regarding the non-recognition of the pseudostate and the non-upgrading of its relations with it has not changed at all and that it recognises only the Republic of Cyprus and abides by the resolutions of the Security Council. This route, however, apart from the political problems it creates, which we raise before the Syrian government, is also a source of illegal immigration. On this point, the Syrian government has expressed its full readiness to cooperate with us. This is an
issue we have discussed. There will also be a meeting, soon, on the level of experts - on the part of Cyprus it will be the Cyprus police - to discuss practical measures so as to prevent illegal immigration via or from Syria to the Turkish occupied areas and consequently to the Government-controlled areas”.

European Union interior ministers agreed Thursday to share information on former inmates from the Guantánamo Bay detention center before they are accepted by any of the bloc’s member nations. Ministers meeting in Luxembourg said the decision was aimed at allaying the security concerns of union members, most of whom have been reluctant to accept any former detainees even though dozens have been cleared for release by United States authorities. Under the terms of the accord, any European Union country that agrees to take former detainees must inform other member states and then share the information it receives from the United States before it makes a final decision. Countries would not be able to veto another member’s decision, but they could press it to reverse course. European countries are wary because once detainees are accepted by a union nation within the Schengen area — in which there are no internal border controls — most detainees will have the freedom to travel unhindered among those countries. Ireland, Britain, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania do not belong to the Schengen area; the other 22 members do.

Geert Wilders' anti-Islam party PVV emerged as the big winner in the European elections in the Netherlands on Thursday, taking some 15% of the vote. The result means the PVV is set to take four of the 25 Dutch seats in the European parliament.

CFC has learned the recent death of four young Christians who were kept in an underground dungeon at Assab for nearly six years.  In addition, four others who were kept in the dark hold of one of the many underground prisons for months went blind following their sudden exposure to Assab’s piercing sunlight. The port city of Assab is located in the Southern Red Sea Region on the west coast of the Red Sea.  It is reputed for being one of the hottest places year-round anywhere in the world with the temperature soaring to 120°F during the dry season.  National Geography describes the place as the “cruelest place on earth” and that “it's hard to imagine a more brutal landscape.” While well-documented systematic religious persecution throughout Eritrea has been an established policy of the autocratic regime - particularly since May, 2002 – the situation in Assab has been most disturbing in its extent as well as the sheer cruelty of the torture of
the men and women of the armed forces who profess their Christian faith. According to our eye-witness sources, there are several holes dug in this unforgivable and hostile desert where varying numbers of Christians are kept. They receive a daily ration of three pieces of bread, a cup of tea in the morning and only three cups of water.  The group of five men who were held in one such hole in the ground was allowed to come out for 15 minutes a day.  Another group of four prisoners who were considered “unrepentant” were not at all allowed to see daylight during much of the five years of their imprisonment.  They just wasted away in the filthy dungeon. A few months ago, for some inexplicable reason, they were taken out of the dark hole in the ground.  With sudden exposure to the glare of the sun’s rays, all four of them went completely and permanently blind. ICFC has learned that the express reason for such cruelty is to break the will of the prisoners and force them to sign confessions recanting their faith.  Former prisoners who were held in similar underground cells in some of the hundreds of similar places throughout Eritrea report similar efforts by sadistic officers and guards. Eritrea is one of 8 countries listed by the US State Department as CPC (Countries of Particular Concern) for its flagrant abuse and persecution of Christians.  Evangelical and Charismatic churches have been ordered closed since May 2002.  Nearly 3500 Christians are languishing in prisons.  Tens of thousands have fled the country.  Scores of church leaders, including the Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church and priests, remain in prison.