Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

from Raw Japan:

Obama bowing to convention

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OBAMA-JAPAN/

The depth or angle of U.S. President Barack Obama's bow -- and handshake -- with Japan's Emperor Akihito has become a heated on-line topic, with sides arching into political camps on whether the greeting went too far -- literally -- or was appropriate based on customs and culture.

I don't pretend to be an expert on bowing in Japan, but a few basic rules of thumb, or backbone, are: the more important a person you are greeting, the deeper and longer you bow, with hands generally at one's sides; and multiple purposes can be served by this act including greeting as well as displays of respect, recognition, apology or gratitude.

While no one called the president's bow an expression of apology or thanks, a number of blogs examined his and other U.S. leaders' historical bent in stooping to diplomatically conquer, with a few labelling the U.S. commander-in-chief "O-Bow-Ma".

The Fox network and the Los Angeles Times blog offered details of Obama's and other official U.S. greetings with the imperial family, including a photo of Vice President Dick Cheney shaking Akihito's hand, and one posted a comment that bowing and handshaking should not be done simultaneously.

New SPD leader has tough job: saving his party

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Two years ago Sigmar Gabriel came into the Reuters office in Berlin for an interview about climate change, the environment, renewable energy policies and the state of his Social Democrats.

The burly minister, who was elected leader of Germany’s struggling centre-left SPD party on Friday, had clearly lost weight on his summer holiday that had just ended so, while my colleagues were still streaming into the conference room, I asked: “You’ve lost some weight, haven’t you?”

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan and Afghanistan: “the bad guys don’t stay in their lanes”

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Given the debate about whether the United States should refocus its strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan more narrowly on hunting down al Qaeda, it's worth looking at what happened immediately after 9/11 when it did precisely that.   In a new book about his years fighting terrorism, former French investigating magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguiere casts fresh light on those early years after 9/11. At the time, he says, the Bush administration was so keen to get Pakistan's help in defeating al Qaeda that it was willing to turn a blind eye to Pakistani support for militant groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, nurtured by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency to fight India in Kashmir.   Basing his information on testimony given by jailed Frenchman Willy Brigitte, who spent 2-1/2 months in a Lashkar training camp in 2001/2002, he writes that the Pakistan Army once ran those camps, with the apparent knowledge of the CIA. The instructors in the camp in Pakistan's Punjab province were soldiers on detachment, he says, and the army dropped supplies by helicopter. Brigitte's handler, he says, appeared to have been a senior army officer who was treated deferentially by other soldiers.   CIA officers even inspected the camp four times, he writes, to make sure that Pakistan was keeping to a promise that only Pakistani fighters would be trained there. Foreigners like Brigitte were tipped off in advance and told to hide up in the hills to avoid being caught.   Reluctant to destabilise Pakistan, then under former president Pervez Musharraf, the United States turned a blind eye to the training camps and poured money into the country. In return, Pakistan hunted down al Qaeda leaders -- among them alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, captured in 2003. "For the Bush administration, the priority was al Qaeda," writes Bruguiere. "The Pakistan Army and the ISI would focus on this - external - objective, which would not destabilise the fragile political balance in Pakistan."   Pakistan denies that it gave military support to the Lashkar-e-Taiba and has banned the organisation. But India at the time accused western countries of double standards in tolerating Pakistani support for Kashmir-focused organisations while pushing it to tackle groups like al Qaeda which threatened Western interests. Diplomats say that attitude has since changed, particularly after bombings in London in 2005 highlighted the risks of "home-grown terrorism" in Britain linked to Kashmir-oriented militant groups based in Pakistan's Punjab province.   Last year's attack on Mumbai, blamed on the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and more recently the arrest in Chicago of David Headley, linked to the Lashkar-e-Taiba and accused of planning attacks in Denmark and India (pdf document), has underlined international concern about the threat posed by the group.   But for Bruguiere, one of the major lessons was that Islamist militants can't be separated into "good guys and bad guys", since they were all inter-linked.    "You should take into account, this is crucial, very, very important," Bruguiere told me in an interview. "Lashkar-e-Taiba is no longer a Pakistan movement with only a Kashmir political or military agenda. Lashkar-e-Taiba is a member of al Qaeda. Lashkar-e-Taiba has decided to expand the violence worldwide."   Bruguiere said he became aware of the changing nature of international terrorism while investigating attacks in Paris in the mid-1990s by the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA). These included an attempt to hijack a plane from Algiers to Paris in 1994 and crash it into the Eiffel Tower -- a forerunner of the 9/11 attacks. The plane was diverted to Marseilles and stormed by French security forces.

This new style of international terrorism was quite unlike militant groups he had investigated in the past, with their pyramidal structures. "After 1994/1995, like viruses, all the groups have been spreading on a very large scale all over the world, in a horizontal way and even a random way," he said. "All the groups are scattered, very polymorphous and even mutant."

Gone were the political objectives which drove terrorism before, he writes, to be replaced with a nihilistic aim of spreading chaos in order to create the conditions for an Islamic caliphate. For the hijackers on the Algiers-Paris flight, their demands seemed almost incidental. "We realised we faced the language of hatred and a total determination to see it through."

from Raw Japan:

Friends with issues

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They may be on first-name terms, but Barack's discussions with Yukio during his 24-hour stay in Tokyo have left unresolved a feud over a U.S. military base and deeper questions about the future.

They agreed to review the five decade-old U.S.-Japan alliance as both countries adapt to China's rising regional and global clout, and they agreed to resolve as soon as possible a dispute over the U.S. Marines Futenma airbase on Japan's southern island of Okinawa.

The little coup that could, in Honduras

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Honduras seems trapped in the past. Radio stations play aging hits from Mexican crooner Jose Jose and cumbia dance numbers from the mid-’80s. Women’s fashions are out-of-date and guards nestling big rifles guard beauty salons and pharmacies as they have for decades.

Politics are also mired in the past in this deeply conservative country of 7 million people. While elsewhere in Latin America a new generation of leftists has taken power, putting business leaders on the defensive to some extent and to varying degrees, Honduras’ business elite flexed its muscles when a leftist prsident hinted he wanted to extend presidential term limits.

Is swine flu getting worse?

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No, says the U.S. federal government, but officials finally have enough data to give a good picture of the pandemic and it isn’t pretty. The CDC estimates that 22 million Americans caught swine flu in the first six months of the pandemic and 3,900 people died.

This includes 540 children.

So why the big jump in numbers? In a country of 300 million people, it takes some time to do a count. The US doesn’t have an organized public health system and states and cities lack enough staff to crunch the numbers in real-time. So the CDC takes a representative, detailed sampling from 10 states and then extrapolates this to the total US population. The latest figures are the first to give a good estimate of how extensive the pandemic is so far.

from Summit Notebook:

Swine flu sales: windfall or hard work?

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Swine flu is turning out to be a sales bonanza for drug companies - just don't call it a windfall, says GlaxoSmithKline.

As one of the world's top suppliers of both vaccines and antiviral medicine, CEO Andrew Witty resents the implication that billions of dollars of business simply fell into his company's lap when the World Health Organisation declared H1N1 a pandemic in June.

from The Great Debate UK:

Shining a light on China’s secret “Black Jails”

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- Phelim Kine is an Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch. The opinions expressed are her own. -

When 15-year-old Wang Xiaomei made the long trip from Gansu province to Beijing last year, she hoped to find justice for her family. Instead, she met with abuse.

from Afghan Journal:

Afghanistan: neither Vietnam nor Iraq, but closer home perhaps

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[Women at a cemetery in Kabul, picture by Reuters' Ahmad Masood]

As U.S. President Barack Obama makes up his mind on comitting more troops to Afghanistan, the search for analogies continues. Clearly, Afghanistan cannot be compared with Vietnam or Iraq  beyond a point. The history, geography, the culture and the politics are just too different.

The best analogy to Afghanistan may well the very area in dispute - the rugged Pashtun lands straddling the border with Pakistan and where  the Pakistani army is in the middle of an offensive, argues William Tobey in a piece for Foreign Policy.

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