Also today: Bin Laden tells Obama to listen up from Osama; Haitian quake toll exceeds 150,000 buried; Avatar sinks Titanic as biggest grossing movie of all-time; Former presidential candidate McCain accepts Supreme Court ruling on campaign funding, despite opposing principles; Japanese small-town mayoral election may see US kicked off Okinawa; Venezuela’s Chavez turns vanity into law; Netanyahu puts spoke in US attempts to talk peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Iranians to continue enriching uranium unless big powers play ball
Iran President Mahmud Ahmadinejad likes to play cat and mouse with big powers, re-iterating that his country will produce its own highly enriched uranium if the West doesn’t accept it’s counter-proposal to a UN deal worked out late last year. The Iranians change the goalposts every time an agreement is near over the enrichment of high-grade nuclear fuel that can be turned into nuclear weapons. This time round they’ve said they won’t wait a year to receive non-weapons grade fuel processed elsewhere to power electricity-producing civilian reactors, in return for giving up what the West believes are Iranian designs on a bomb. Ahmadinejad is seen as trying to appeal to Iran's sense of nationalism, with his rhetoric about the success of the country’s nuclear programme meant to divert attention away from the nation’s economic and political malaise. His government has brutally put down protests demanding greater democracy in past months, and the president must reckon he needs some political capital.
Bin Laden tells Obama to listen up from Osama
If it weren’t so deadly, it would be hilariously funny. News reports say Osama bin Laden gave the thumbs-up to the failed attempt to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 over Detroit on Christmas Day, and is now threatening new attacks against the US in “his” latest audio message. He even got into rhyme, or it could have been rap, directing his opening lines at President Barack Obama – "from Osama to Obama" – saying Americans will never have peace and security until the Palestinians get it. The thing about Osama’s statements is that they are usually completely generic, so when he talks about a plane being shot down a day ago, he says something like “the attack will make you infidel dogs take cover”, but in reality, such an event could have taken place at the time of the rinderpest. That aside, US officials reckon his latest statement (from the grave?) is aimed at showing he has direct command over all of al-Qaeda, wherever he and they may be. But the Americans also say he didn’t even know about the Nigerian-born would-be bomber’s pawn-like role in a plot dreamt up by a Yemen-based al-Qaeda franchise. How do they know that? Ask Homeland Security. This time Osama said that the message delivered through the plane of the heroic warrior Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab confirmed previous messages sent by the heroes of September 11. So we imagine that the CIA and others are frantically running a voice check. Would someone please confirm if Osama is dead or alive, or is it too much that the public actually has a right to know.
Haitian quake toll exceeds 150,000 buried
Haiti's mass graves now hold 150,000 earthquake victims according to government officials on the island. But that excludes those still buried under the rubble in the capital Port-au-Prince, or killed away from the epicentre. There are fears that the final toll could be 200,000 to 300,000, as aid workers struggle to provide food and water to all the survivors. US and Brazilian troops are trying to help an estimated 600,000 homeless people living in the streets of the capital, which is more than a quarter of the city’s two million population. Hundreds of thousands of others are thought to have sought shelter with friends and relatives in the countryside, away from the devastation, and a shortage of tents and aid money means that they will likely remain there.
James Cameron's "Avatar" has sunk “Titanic” at the box office. But, hey, that’s Cameron’s movie, too, so he should worry. Avatar has been in the number one spot for sixth straight weekends, drawing more than half-a-billion dollars at home in the US, and a worldwide total of $1.841 billion. By the time you read this, it’ll have surpassed the $1.843 billion that Titanic pulled in before hitting a box-office iceberg. Makers 20th Century Fox are over the moon about Avatar. The movie soared past "The Dark Knight" this weekend to become the second highest grossing film of all time, and now it seems it will just keep on going. Avatar won best drama and director trophies at the recent Golden Globes, and is considered among best-picture candidates for Oscar nominations in February. There’s just nothing to make the studio blue about this blue-skinned epic.
Failed presidential candidate, Republican Senator John McCain, says the US Supreme Court has had the last word on the constitutionality of political campaign funding by corporations. And it’s not what the Senator wanted. He sought to regulate commercial contributions through a landmark campaign finance law he wrote with Democratic Senator Russ Feingold, but last week big business was told by the nation’s highest court in an extraordinary ruling, that it could spend freely in support of candidates for president and Congress. McCain expects an eventual backlash from voters, as the issue that big money sets the US political agenda has always been a political hot potato. But for now, Coca-Cola can sell its product on the back of its political endorsements. How long will it be before America’s constitutional teeth start to rot?
A small-town Japanese politician won a crucial mayoral election this weekend that could see the main US airbase on Okinawa moved off the island. The US rejects this possibility, but after Susumu Inamine, an opponent of the base, defeated the incumbent mayor of Nago, who supports it as a source of jobs and investment, things may well change. Japan’s new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama will take until May to decide whether to support a 2006 deal that moves the Futenma Marine air station to Nago, or see it moved off Okinawa altogether. Okinawa is famous for being the springboard of the invasion of Japan at the end of the Second World War, but since then the main US long-term security presence in Japan has been moot. Japan is the biggest US ally in the Asia-Pacific region, but few communities on Okinawa want to host the vast base and its constantly flying hardware. A series of rapes of local women by US troops stationed on Okinawa over decades has added to the antipathy many feel for the American presence. But both the US and Japan are keen that the fate of the base doesn’t blow up into a full diplomatic row.
Venezuela’s Chavez turns vanity into law
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had made the nation’s airways a personal battleground in his quest for a one-party socialist state, by pulling a cable-television channel off air for ignoring new government regulations requiring it to televise some of his speeches. It’s an age-old fight everywhere that broadcasters give equality of air-time to political candidates and parties, but this is complicated by perceived size and scope of political influence and the willingness of state and privately-owned channels to air views opposed to their own. So now that Venezuelan cable and satellite TV providers have stopped transmitting Radio Caracas Television on the orders of the president, the next step will be a barney over free speech and freedom of association. There’re also questions over whether the Venezuelan state-run telecommunications agency has legal authority to give the service providers this order. Chavez pretty much runs the country by fiat, and while some of his opponents delight in smearing him on private TV and radio stations, the new rules that cable channels must carry government programming when officials deem it necessary is going to remain a very sore point.
Netanyahu puts spoke in US attempts to talk peace between Israelis and Palestinians
Hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's declaration of his country's permanent claim to parts of the West Bank is set to give US President Barack Obama a new headache. There’s not much new in the claim, as previous, more moderate leaders have also asserted Israel’s right to permanently keep settlements near Jerusalem, taken as the Jewish state asserted control in the region during numerous wars. But Obama’s envoy George Mitchell is trying to restart peace talks with Palestinians after Israel invaded Gaza early last year, so the statement by Netanyahu is likely to further complicate the possibility of Jews and Palestinians trading land for peace near where 300,000 settlers live. Netanyahu generally opposes ceding control of any of the West Bank settlements and backs their further expansion. And he’s only just come around to the idea of a Palestinian state after heavy US pressure to do so. Both Israelis and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital, so don’t expect any solution to the problem soon.