15 August 2010

This plague-spot of civilization...

…that worst outcrop of herd life, the military system, which I abhor... This plague-spot of civilization ought to be abolished with all possible speed. Heroism on command, senseless violence, and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism -- how passionately I hate them!
-Albert Einstein

US helps Russia tackle wildfires
The first US air force planes have arrived in Russia loaded with equipment to help tackle wildfires that have been raging across vast areas of the country for weeks.

Valery Shuikov, the deputy head of the international department of the Russian emergencies ministry, welcomed the assistance. "We will always remember this gesture, this arm that was extended to us at a very difficult time," Shuikov said.

Obama mosque dispute: In backing plans, he parts with many Americans
"Ground zero is, indeed, hallowed ground," Obama told attendees at the second annual White House Ramadan dinner Friday night. "But let me be clear: As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable."

While Obama and George W. Bush before him have urged Americans to distinguish between Islam and violent jihadism and to step carefully around Muslim sensitivities, the Cordoba House represents for many Americans less a religious-liberties issue and more a lack of respect for those who died on 9/11.

Prayer hall or provocation?
The project is popularly called the "Ground Zero mosque", perhaps a slight misnomer on two counts. It will not be located at Ground Zero, but rather at 45-47 Park Place, two city blocks (200 metres) north of the World Trade Centre site. The buildings currently at that location were damaged during the September 11 attacks.

Nor is it only a mosque: Planners will spend up to $100 million to build an Islamic community centre called Cordoba House, which will house a mosque, an auditorium, a swimming pool and a bookstore.

Critics say it would be inappropriate to build a mosque on the "hallowed ground" of Ground Zero. Yet there is already a mosque two blocks north of the Cordoba House site, Masjid Manhattan, which has been open since 1970. As several commentators have pointed out, there is also a strip club - New York Dolls - just one block north of the mosque site. No one has complained about that profaning of the sacred.

"My job is not to vet clergy in this city," Bloomberg said. "Everyone has a right to their opinions. You don't have to worship there... [this country] is not built around only those religions or clergy people that we agree with. It's built around freedom."

Russia to finish Iran nuclear plant but won't deliver missiles
Russia's state nuclear agency, Rosatom, announced that in one week's time it will load nuclear fuel into Bushehr's Russian-made reactor, which is the first step to making it fully operational. "The fuel will be charged in the reactor on 21 August. From this moment, Bushehr will be considered a nuclear installation," said Rosatom spokesman Sergei Novikov, in a terse announcement. "This will be an irreversible step."

In recent months, Kremlin insiders who favor better relations with the United States and a more Westernized course for Russian foreign policy have gained the upper hand, analysts say.

Russia's acceptance of the new sanctions compels it to shelve a lucrative contract to provide advanced S-300 air defense systems, roughly comparable to the US Patriot missile, under an $800-million contract that was signed between Moscow and Tehran in 2005, but repeatedly delayed by the Kremlin for apparently diplomatic reasons.

Obama signs $600m US-Mexico border bill
US President Barack Obama has signed into law a $600m bill providing increased security along the US-Mexico border. The funds will mostly be directed to activities on the south-west border, such as hiring 1,000 border patrol agents. Money will also pay for surveillance technology, including unmanned drones. A further 250 immigration and customs enforcement agents will also be funded by the bill.

Some Republicans appear unsatisfied though, with Senator Jeff Sessions calling the bill "a small measure" which "if it is not followed by strong, sustained action, it is yet another gesture without consequence".

The $600m will be paid for by raising fees on some foreign work visas.

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