German MPs back human rights activist to be next president

Sigmar Gabriel, Social Democrats + Joachim Gauck + Angela Merkel, Christian Democrats
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

Germany’s government and the two major opposition parties have said they will jointly nominate Joachim Gauck, a human rights activist originally from East Germany, to be the country’s next president.

Angela Merkel said her coalition government, and the centre-left opposition had rallied behind Gauck, 72, who was initially proposed by the opposition Social Democrats and Greens.

He is not a member of a political party.

“What moves me the most, is that a man who was still born during the gloomy, dark war, who grew up and lived 50 years in a dictatorship … is now called to become the head of state,” Gauck said. “This is of course a very special day in my life.”

Christian Wulff, 52, resigned as president on Friday after two months of allegations about receiving loans on favourable terms and hotel stays from friends when he was state governor of Lower Saxony. He was Merkel’s candidate when elected less than two years ago…

When Wulff resigned, Merkel immediately said she would work with the Social Democrats and Greens to find a consensus candidate to succeed him…

The chancellor said that clergymen such as Gauck – a former Lutheran priest – were at the forefront of the protests that eventually brought down the east German regime.

Claudia Roth, the Greens’ leader, said “Gauck will restore the respect for the office, will restore dignity,” to the presidency, which had become tainted by Wulff’s actions.

Isn’t it interesting how a nation which parallels so many of our circumstances in the United States figures out how to take different directions, grow and even prosper in hard times.

Now, a discredited politicians leaves office. The leftwing opposition proposes a replacement. The conservative government accepts he would be the best solution for country – and that’s what counts.

Anyone even imagine this happening in the United States with the clown show we have in Congress?

Why the United States is not a Christian nation

As America celebrates its birthday on July 4, the timeless words of Thomas Jefferson will surely be invoked to remind us of our founding ideals — that “All men are created equal” and are “endowed by their Creator” with the right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These phrases, a cherished part of our history, have rightly been called “American Scripture.”

But Jefferson penned another phrase, arguably his most famous after those from the Declaration of Independence. These far more contentious words — “a wall of separation between church and state” — lie at the heart of the ongoing debate between those who see America as a “Christian Nation” and those who see it as a secular republic, a debate that is hotter than a Washington Fourth of July…

While president in 1802, Jefferson wrote: “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State … ”

The idea was not Jefferson’s. Other 17th- and 18th-century Enlightenment writers had used a variant of it. Earlier still, religious dissident Roger Williams had written in a 1644 letter of a “hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world.”

Williams, who founded Rhode Island with a colonial charter that included religious freedom, knew intolerance firsthand. He and other religious dissenters, including Anne Hutchinson, had been banished from neighboring Massachusetts, the “shining city on a hill” where Catholics, Quakers and Baptists were banned under penalty of death.

Jefferson regarded this law so highly that he had his authorship of the statute made part of his epitaph, along with writing the Declaration and founding the University of Virginia. (Being president wasn’t worth a mention.)

RTFA. Re-examine the history that most Americans sorely have not understood – for the first time.

Christian revisionists of American history absolutely understand they are lying to support their ideology, they absolutely recognize their actions as counter to the spirit of history as understood by the Founding Fathers and Mothers – and they don’t care.

They assume their religious ideology supersedes the achievements of our Constitution and would rather return to the religious wars of the Crusades in exactly the same way their counterparts on the fringe of Islam would do. They are equally bereft of understanding, deserving of as little support and coddling as any poison in the gut of this modern world.

Pakistani printers busy cranking out fake Afghan voting cards

Peshawar: Printers in this city near the Afghan border say they have produced thousands of fake voter registration cards at the request of Afghan politicians for use in that country’s parliamentary elections on Saturday.

The cards, some shown to The Associated Press, add to evidence that fraud could undermine the elections and further destabilize the Western-backed government of President Hamid Karzai…

Regulation of voting has been improved, but an influx of fake cards raises the possibility of a person with multiple voter cards voting many times and could still cause problems in an insecure country where monitoring of polling stations will likely be spotty.

Three printers in a dimly lit section of Peshawar’s Storytellers’ Bazaar told the AP that Afghan election candidates had traveled to the walled heart of the ancient city about an hour from the border and provided them with samples of Afghan voter registration cards.

The printers said they had produced thousands of cards, along with plastic sheaths to laminate them, for roughly 23 cents apiece.

The fakes shown to the AP resembled genuine Afghan cards, but it was not clear if they would withstand close scrutiny.

Two of the printers spoke on condition of anonymity because the activity is illegal. Tariq Khan, a 32-year-old printer, told the AP that times were tough for printers in Peshawar, and he had accepted the registration card requests because it was more profitable than ordinary work.

”Several candidates from various parts of Afghanistan have purchased these cards,” he said. ”Now it is their headache how they use them.”

How long have we been in charge of nation-building over there?

I use the phrase “in charge” rhetorically. Of course.

Does money buy happiness?

You better believe I’m happy – or I’ll exterminate you!

The United States may be the richest nation on Earth, a new study indicates, but it’s not the happiest…

There are two major categories of happiness: overall life satisfaction; and more moment-to-moment enjoyment of life. And while overall satisfaction of life is strongly tied to income, meaning richer nations and individuals have more of this overall bliss, how much one enjoys life (by measures such as laughing and smiling) depends more on social and psychological needs being met. These include having social support and using one’s abilities, as opposed to sitting at a mind-numbing job.

The United States, which had the highest gross domestic product per capita, came in at No. 16 for overall well-being and No. 26 for enjoyment, referred to as positive feelings. The No. 1 spot for overall well-being went to Denmark, and New Zealand landed the No. 1 slot for positive feelings.

Everybody has been looking at just life satisfaction and income,” said study researcher Ed Diener of the University of Illinois and the Gallup Organization. “And while it is true that getting richer will make you more satisfied with your life, it may not have the big impact we thought on enjoying life…”

Overall satisfaction with life went up with both personal and national income, suggesting societal circumstances play an important role in happiness. But positive feelings, which were slightly higher in relation to higher income, were much more strongly tied to feeling respected, having autonomy and social support and working at a fulfilling job…

Some economists think money increases happiness at the low end of the pay scale as it helps people meet their basic needs, but doesn’t do much once a person is lifted out of poverty. This new study suggests the link between money and happiness goes beyond basic needs. While the steepest rise in overall well-being with money occurred in the poorer individuals and nations, there was still a bump in overall happiness at the higher socioeconomic status regions.

Of course, our politicians are happy enough just buying elections.

OK. More seriously, I have to come down on the side of lifestyle decisions which reflect satisfaction, choice, accomplishments measured by personal standards – not just the business scorecard of earnings.

I’ve lived my whole life that way and I’m a happier man for it.

“Obama Effect” is real around the world

Views of the US around the world have improved sharply over the past year, a BBC World Service poll suggests. For the first time since the annual poll began in 2005, America’s influence in the world is now seen as more positive than negative.

The improved scores for the US coincided with Barack Obama becoming president.

As in 2009, Germany is viewed most favourably while Iran and Pakistan are seen as the most negative influences.

Nearly 30,000 people in 28 countries were interviewed for the poll, between November 2009 and February 2010…

“People around the world today view the United States more positively than at any time since the second Iraq war,” said Doug Miller, chairman of international polling firm GlobeScan, which carried out the poll with the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland…

PIPA director Steven Kull noted: “After a year, it appears the ‘Obama effect’ is real…”

In only two of the 28 countries, Turkey and Pakistan, do more than 50% have a negative view of the US.

Germany is the most favourably viewed nation (an average of 59% positive), followed by Japan (53%), the United Kingdom (52%), Canada (51%), and France (49%). The European Union is viewed positively by 53%.

It is often a shock to Americans that many nations feel their citizens are responsible for the politics of their home country. Americans think we aren’t responsible for anything.

Brits use anti-terror laws in banking fight with Iceland. WTF!

Thousands of Icelanders are sending a message to Gordon Brown that they are not terrorists after the UK used terror laws to freeze their assets.

An online petition was launched this week following the UK government’s attempt to protect British savings in Iceland’s failed Landsbanki.

The petition has been signed by about 40,000 people and shows Icelanders with signs saying they are not terrorists.

Signatories to the petition have uploaded wry photographs of themselves in an attempt to show the absurdity of categorising an Icelandic bank as a terrorist organisation.

The photographs show ordinary Icelanders – including a fisherman, a baby and a man in a Father Christmas costume – holding up hand-written signs stating: “Mr, Brown, we are not terrorists.”

But despite the light-hearted tone of their protest, Icelanders are furious by what they see as the high-handed actions of the UK government, its implied slur on their national character and the dire consequences for the Icelandic economy.

Like most Americans, I imagine most Brits never paid attention to the crap “anti-terror” laws being enacted “on their behalf”. After all, if it’s against terrorists, it must be OK, right?

Wrong! The so-called Patriot Act in the United States has been used more often by local law enforcement to snoop and sniff around people the government doesn’t approve of – or just wants to nose around – than to actually bother someone interested in bringing down a democratic nation.

The clowns in government suits don’t need any help to do that on their own, thank you.

A pampered generation not so spoiled

AFP/Getty Images

Li Xueguang spent much of the summer standing in a Beijing square between historic towers, her blue Olympic-volunteer polo shirt a magnet for tourists in need of a map or translation.

“When I see someone go away happy, I feel proud,” said Li, a 23-year-old graduate student in chemical engineering whose “job” ended last week. “We’re not looking for a reward.”

China’s pampered, 20-something “little emperors” surprised the nation with their hard work during the Olympic Games and the earthquake that killed an estimated 87,500 people in May, showing that they may, after all, be capable of leading China to superpower status instead of just to the mall.

Since the 1980s, China’s rapidly developing economy and policies limiting many families to one child created a generation of 200 million young men and women with unprecedented wealth and opportunities. In a nation with a tradition of conformity and a recent history of political radicalism, the “balinghou” broke with both, spawning visions of adults obsessed with money, unable to stay married and negligent in caring for aging parents.

Given another 10 to 15 years, the country will be in their hands,” said Chen Xingdong, chief China economist at BNP Paribas in Beijing. “Are they perfect? No, but actually they are far better than people’s original perspective.”

Worthwhile article. This happens to be a personal area of study – and the article confirms what I’ve learned from lengthier, heavier tomes.

The premise is simple enough and goes back to Deng Xiaoping: maintain, don’t turn your back on socialist ideals for your nation – earn and learn how to do this in a national and global market economy.

Now, that’s pretty much shrinking several volumes of [fortunately] mostly readable non-fiction from British diplomats who spent decades in the Far East. The kind of dedication to knowledge in service to diplomacy we haven’t touched in the U.S. since the 1930’s and 40’s. Something else we might consider getting back to in the 21st Century.