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March 30, 2010
Preserving memories of terror and loss in Argentina

A woman walks along one of the slabs at the Memorial Parque to the disappeared in Buenos Aires. Photo: Peter Eisner

I was irritated some weeks ago by the comments of Jose Moya, a Barnard College professor, who said on Worldfocus that Argentinians have increasingly little memory of the “Dirty War” of the 1970s and 1980s. “Eventually it will become something like Franco in Spain that fewer and fewer people remember,” Moya said.

He was wrong about Argentina, and wrong about Spain. Both countries are doing much to make sure new generations remember the victims of state-sponsored murder.

The depth of my disagreement with Moya became clear recently during a visit in Buenos Aires to the Parque de la Memoria along the River Plate, which commemorates the deaths of at least 20,000, perhaps 30,000 people at the hands of Argentina’s military government. It reminded me in some way of the Vietnam Memorial, listing thousands of names on slabs of stone, giving substance to the names of mostly young people whose lives were swept away.

Strange thing about the place. It has the look of a monument that hasn’t been finished yet, although it was authorized to be built 12 years earlier.

A statue offshore, commemorates missing Argentinians during the
Dirty War. Their bodies were sometimes hurled into the waters of the River Plate. Photo: Peter Eisner

It is surrounded by barbed wire, empty spaces patrolled by lone guards, at first it seems no one has been there. And then, moving in on the names, I saw little yellow flowers crammed in the chinks. People have come to see the names and remember the loved ones who disappeared often without a trace. When I focused in on the names, I could see each was listed by year with their ages when they died. Most of those listed were very, very young.

From 1976 to 1983, the Argentinian military government practiced state terrorism. They dragged away supposed agitators and terrorists who most of the time where innocent teachers, students, union activists, philosophers, musicians, then tortured and killed them.

Beyond the windswept monument, I looked out to the broad, ocean-like River Plate. On a rock, just offshore, stands the statue of a person facing the waves, symbolizing the people whose bodies were dumped in the river and swept away.

“The list of names on this monument include the victims of state terrorism, those detained, disappeared and murdered, and those who died fighting for the very ideals of justice and fairness.”
Photo: Peter Eisner.

Argentinian writers still focus on the Dirty War, artists produce pictures and sculptures, filmmakers make movies, in order not to forget. In some cases, mothers and grandmothers still search for children who were taken in infancy, given fake names and adopted by the torturers of their parents.

In Spain, meanwhile, more than 70 years after the Spanish Civil War, family members are still hunting for mass graves of the victims of Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s regime. The Civil War still haunts Spanish society. In both countries, there are revisionist historians and extremists who try to minimize the brutality or rewrite history, as if the cause of the murders was somehow more justified with time. But monuments, journalism and art will protect and ensure the persistence of memory, and the accuracy of history.

– Peter Eisner

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March 29, 2010
U.S.-Pakistan strategic dialogue promotes mutual goals

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks with Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi. Photo: U.S. Department of State on Flickr

Ambassador S. Azmat Hassan is a former Ambassador of Pakistan to Malaysia, Syria and Morocco and Deputy Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations. He is currently a Visiting Professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister has just concluded a series of meetings in Washington with his American counterparts. Hillary Clinton dubbed these talks a “strategic dialogue” with a country with which the U.S. has had a decades-long up and down relationship.

As is often the case between a superpower and a much weaker country, the relationship brightens up when the former needs the latter in some capacity. It reverts to the doldrums when that requirement subsides.

Pakistan was a faithful Cold War ally reaping considerable U.S. assistance. The first shock to Pakistan came in the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war, when the U.S. remained neutral. It did not come to the aid of its ally against Soviet-leaning India.

That betrayal lingers today in Pakistani circles.

Pakistan’s value to the U.S. increased manifold when the Soviets foolishly invaded Afghanistan. Pakistan allowed itself to become the principal conduit of U.S. military and financial assistance to the Afghan Resistance.

After the defeat and departure of the Soviets from Afghanistan, the U.S. pulled up stakes. Pakistan was left alone to deal with the horrible mess in the region after 10 years of bloody conflict. Relations stood frozen once again. That was the second betrayal of Pakistan by its ally.

After 9/11 occurred, Pakistan once again sided with George Bush’s “war on terror”. For its frontline role, it gained U.S. assistance in the first decade of the 21st century, estimated at $15 billion. Most of it went to replenishing military hardware. Much less went to economic development.

Pakistan has paid a huge price in the effort to defeat violent extremism, which had permeated across its porous border from Afghanistan since the advent of al-Qaeda and the civil war in Afghanistan.

Admittedly, during the Musharraf era, some of the Pakistani leader’s actions were ambivalent. Pakistan found it difficult to abandon some of its homegrown militant outfits. This ambivalence earned it the ire and mistrust of the U.S.

On the other hand, the Pakistani leadership feels that the U.S. is a fairweather friend. Their fear is that after the U.S. forces exit Afghanistan, the U.S. will abandon its “major non-NATO ally” once again.

While the Foreign Minister was the ostensible leader of the large Pakistani contingent, all eyes were on General Ashfaq Kayani, the taciturn Army Chief.

Some observers have opined that following the Pakistan Army’s successes subduing the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) in the Tribal Areas, Kayani is calling the shots in Pakistan.

The civilian government in Pakistan has not been able to effectively tackle the alarming deterioration in Pakistan’s socioeconomic indicators. Inflation is running at 15% per annum. Electricity and water shortages have compounded the hardships of the people.

The Pakistani Taliban have retaliated through a spate of suicide attacks. The toll of civilians killed in the past few years through these attacks stands at around 10,000, while around 3,000 soldiers have died while conducting counterinsurgency operations against the TTP.

Those are heartrending figures. Regardless, the Pakistanis came to Washington with a long wish list.

They requested enhanced financial aid, access to the U.S. market for Pakistani textiles, acceptance of Pakistan’s status as a nuclear power just like that accorded by the U.S. to India, and disbursement of held-up funds under the Coalition Support Fund and the Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation. This list is indicative but not exhaustive.

Pakistan also pleaded strongly for the recognition by the U.S. of the former’s legitimate security interests in Afghanistan and for help in resolving the intractable Kashmir dispute with India.
The U.S. has pledged Pakistan its durable engagement and assistance, long after it has left Afghanistan.

The U.S. in turn wants Pakistan to extend its counterinsurgency operations into North Waziristan. It wants Pakistan to continue vigorously pursuing and apprehending Taliban and al-Qaeda elements hiding in Pakistan.

It is encouraging that such an in-depth dialogue took place. Both sides have laid out their wish lists and concerns.

Let’s hope that this renewed engagement helps both the US and Pakistan to achieve their mutual objectives. Above all, the relationship should not be allowed to founder, as in the past, on the shoals of indifference, inertia and mutual incomprehension.

– S. Azmat Hassan

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March 29, 2010
Air pollution worsens from world’s biggest emitter nation

A 2002 dust storm in Beijing. Photo: Flickr user NotLiz

Hsin-Yin Lee, a former associate producer at Worldfocus, is a news editor at the “China Times” in Taipei.

For a long while, I’ve known what it can cause — the retreat of glaciers, the extinction of animals, and the spread of diseases. But it was not until recently that I became fully aware how close the consequences of climate change are to my life.

This past winter I suffered from eye irritation. The situation got so bad that sometimes I had to ask for a day off. The doctors said because of abnormal weather patterns and increasing air pollution, my eyes became sensitive to the environment.

“I am afraid you’ll have to live with it — a disease of civilization,” they told me, adding that there is no cure.

However, the number of people with my symptoms surged by 20-30 percent since mid-March, since we had the worst-ever dust storms from mainland China. According to the Environment Protection Administration in Taiwan, concentrations of particulates have hit their highest level in 25 years, which made the air pollution index rise to 500 — the maximum possible.

Reports say that China’s desertification, overgrazing, population growth and poor resource management have exacerbated the problem of annual dust storms. As the storms pass over China’s industrial zones and pick up toxins, they become even more deadly each year.

This time, more than 270 million people in 16 provinces have been affected, according to Chinese state media.

Since the dust storms can blow across east Asia, China’s neighbors bear the brunt of the problem. In fact, South Korea and Japan have already blamed several deaths on the storms. The victims were mostly elderly people and those with respiratory problems.

Wondering whether I should postpone my trip to Japan for hanami, I was stunned to learn more upsetting news: there is no official forecast of when the cherry blossoms will open this year.

Japan’s Meteorological Agency decided to end its 55-year-old forecast, or “sakura frontline,” because they are no longer able to predict the timing of the blossoms due to climate change.

Many Japanese have lost faith in the sakura frontline. In recent years, people have complained that even though the flowers followed the schedule, their hanami trip often ended up with either unopened buds or fading flowers.

This series of incidents has made me rethink how much our planet has changed in such a short time. I used to think that the consequences of environmental damage were far from my life — and that as long as I hid myself in the developed world, the effects of climate change would never find me.

But I was wrong. I have now learned that our collective destiny is linked — and if we still want fresh air to breathe and beautiful flowers to watch, then it will be everyone’s responsibility to preserve our environment.

– Hsin-Yin Lee

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March 29, 2010
Cape Town makes strides in combating tuberculosis

Gladys Jaxa, a TB patient in Khayelitsha township.

March 24 was World Tuberculosis Day, so Worldfocus decided to take a deeper look at the disease that has long been a deadly threat.

Tonight’s Worldfocus special edition on deadly diseases includes a piece by Debra Daugherty about how one South African community has somewhat successfully combated the disease.

Despite advances, tuberculosis nevertheless remains a deadly threat around the globe. The New York Times describes the South African fight against tuberculosis:

South Africa, the richest country in the region, has poured money into building more space in hospitals for drug-resistant TB patients, but researchers say the number of new patients will grow faster than the country can add hospital beds…

It is hard to imagine a more ideal place than [Khayelitsha, a township outside Cape Town] for the spread of tuberculosis, a disease that hovers in the air. People here live at close quarters in overcrowded shacks that sprawl, like colorful jumbles of debris, as far as the eye can see. They go to work crammed into minibuses. They gather in the evening in the homes of friends who have televisions, or in small saloons…

The idea [of the new pilot program] is to show that such patients can be successfully treated in an impoverished community like Khayelitsha even while they are still infectious.

Tuberculosis is fueled in areas with rampant poverty, overcrowding, HIV and substance abuse and many factors. Cape Town suffers a high rate of TB but has managed to “achieve the best cure rate for the disease (almost 80%) compared to other metros in the country last year.” According to the city’s government:

Cape Town has an extremely high number of TB cases with 28,956 reported cases in 2009 and an incidence rate of 877 per 100,000 (compared with a national figure of about 500 per 100,000).

For its progress, Cape Town has been awarded by the United Nations for its efforts in the battle against TB. According to South African newspaper The Good News:

[Cape Town] received the award for its creative response to two different problems affecting poor communities in Cape Town. The first problem is that the incidence of TB has been rising consistently over the last 10 years while cure rates have remained static. This is partly because patients fail to complete the lengthy treatment or their response to treatment is not adequately documented, due to the intense pressure that nursing staff work under.

The second problem, though not directly a health issue, is the question of unemployment, especially for recently matriculated learners who are unable to find a foothold in the formal economy.

In response to these problems, city, provincial and TB/HIV Care Association health officials came up with the idea of employing unemployed school leavers as TB assistants and TB clerks to monitor and record TB treatment schedules.

After receiving the award in February 2010, the city published new targets for combating TB in 2010.

  • New smear positive TB cure rate per quarter: 78%
  • Slow the rate of increase of TB per 100 000 of Cape Town population: ≤1090
  • % TB patients tested for HIV: 90%
  • % HIV-positive TB patients who have a CD4 count: 95%

– Stephanie Savage

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March 23, 2010
Suicide attacks remain potent tool for Pakistani Taliban

A Pakistani soldier at the highest point in the Swat Valley. Photo: AlJazeeraEnglish

Ambassador S. Azmat Hassan is a former Ambassador of Pakistan to Malaysia, Syria and Morocco and Deputy Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations. He is currently a Visiting Professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

The recent suicide bombings in the heart of Pakistan’s cultural capital of Lahore demonstrate the continuing ability of the Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP) to spread death, destruction and fear amongst soldiers and civilians alike.

While the TTP has lost ground to the army in Swat and South Waziristan, the latest retaliatory attacks show that it is far from being a spent force.

One of its leaders had recently boasted that the TTP possesses a cadre of 3000 suicide bombers. Whether this is an exaggeration or not, state authorities had better take serious notice.

Suicide bombing was invented by the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka in 1980’s. Like a virus it spread to the Middle East. The tactic of suicide bombing was further refined during the needless wars engaged in by the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their predecessor in Afghanistan, the former Soviet Union, had also tasted the sting of this tactic.

The number of countries which have fallen victim to suicide bombing is on the increase. This is because suicide bombing is a horribly effective tactic in the armory of extremism.

If a person has been indoctrinated to kill others at the cost of his own life for a cause he believes in, there is not much any law enforcement authority can do to ward off the ensuing damage.

Pakistan has been the foremost victim of suicide bombings in the past three years. First, the Soviets and then the United States ignited the flames of war in Afghanistan. It was inevitable that their repercussions would be felt in Pakistan. What Cambodia faced because of the Vietnam War is being replicated in Pakistan because of the conflict in Afghanistan.

Pakistan is both a recipient and an abettor of terror. The Afghan Taliban demonstrated that suicide attacks made the Karzai regime and its Western backers look weak and impotent. Like-minded groups bent on creating independent fiefdoms in Pakistan’s tribal areas have copied these tactics.

Pakistan’s shadowy security agencies have also utilized these indoctrinated persons to pursue their agenda in disputed Kashmir.

The Mumbai attack was allegedly masterminded by elements of one of these banned groups. If the chickens have come home to roost in Pakistan, then the blame has to be shared by those in authority in Pakistan who mollycoddled them in the past couple of decades.

It has been a classic instance of blowback. The Talibanization of certain areas of Pakistan — particularly in southern Punjab — has been the baneful result.

There is no immediate riposte to suicide attacks. The vast majority of the Pakistani public, across the board, is against such attacks. Surprisingly however, civil society has yet to mobilize visibly in a sustained fashion against this menace. Here civil society seems to be behind the curve.

Violent extremism respects neither frontiers nor religious scruples. Its main purpose is to gain power by spreading fear and chaos through indiscriminate violence. Innocent civilians bear the brunt of the losses.

Pakistani civil society will have to visibly rally around the government’s counterterrorism efforts. Political, financial and moral space has to be denied to such anti-state elements. The government also has to acknowledge its past mistakes and commit to not playing both sides.

Hopefully the resilient people of Pakistan will unite to rid themselves of this modern day scourge.

They can take comfort from the fate of European anarchists who terrorized Europe in the 19th and earlier 20th centuries — but were eventually eliminated.

– S. Azmat Hassan

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March 18, 2010
Growing Indian influence in Afghanistan alarms Pakistan

The India-Pakistan border at Wagah. Photo: Dharmesh on Flickr

Ambassador S. Azmat Hassan is a former Ambassador of Pakistan to Malaysia, Syria and Morocco and Deputy Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations. He is currently a Visiting Professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

U.S. policymakers probably rue the day when the Bush Administration decided to broaden its intervention in Afghanistan. Eight and a half years after evicting the Taliban and installing the ineffectual Hamid Karzai as President, the U.S. finds itself bogged down in Afghanistan.

The Karzai government has failed to provide its war-weary countrymen a reasonable measure of peace or security. Suicide bombs kill foreigners and Afghans alike with disturbing frequency in the bigger cities, while guerrilla attacks by a resilient Taliban insurgency continues to take a toll of U.S. and NATO troops.

Corruption and drug-running is rampant. To remain in power, Karzai has had to consort with a number of unsavory warlords who are masters in their fiefdoms. Karzai’s brother, the overlord at Kandahar, has the reputation of being both a CIA agent and the province’s biggest drug dealer.

In the witches’ brew that is Afghanistan today, India and Pakistan are both jockeying for influence. The poor Afghans are caught in the middle of this zero-sum game.

India, seizing on Afghanistan’s travails, has pumped in over a billion dollars toward improving Afghanistan’s economic and social infrastructure. On the face of it, this magnanimity should be considered a praiseworthy gesture.

But the Pakistani ruling circles and especially its Armed Forces are alarmed at India’s burgeoning influence in Afghanistan. India’s economic largesse coupled with the opening of its consulates in Afghan provinces close to Pakistan’s border, have rung alarm bells in Islamabad.

Pakistan’s fears of Indian encirclement both from its eastern and now increasingly its western borders, would prevent regional cooperation in pacifying Afghanistan.

General McChrystal has alerted his superiors in Washington that Karzai’s pro-India orientation — plus India’s forward posture in Afghanistan by alienating Pakistan, a crucial ally — would adversely affect U.S. interests in Afghanistan.

It is not known whether McChrystal’s advice has been heeded by the Obama administration. However, a recent statement by General Petraeus suggests that he understands and perhaps supports Pakistan’s quest for gaining strategic depth in a friendly Afghanistan.

While the war in Afghanistan drags on, U.S.-Pakistani relations are currently facing a downward trajectory. The U.S. is unhappy that Pakistan is not going all out against some Afghan Taliban factions based in Pakistan who are battling U.S. and NATO troops.

The Pakistanis are unhappy about U.S. foot dragging on meeting its financial commitments to the Pakistani Army, which has made a significant contribution in the “war on terror” against the Taliban.

This level of mistrust between the two allies is troubling. A continuous dialogue at the political and military level is the only antidote to prevent a further erosion of this crucial alliance.

Hopefully, in his forthcoming visit to Washington, astute Pakistani Army Chief General Kayani will help clear the air. Both the U.S. and Pakistan need each other to get over the hump in Afghanistan. Pakistan needs U.S. assistance to appreciably increase its economic and social development indicators.

Without Pakistan’s support and cooperation, it is difficult to envisage the U.S. achieving its objectives in Afghanistan. This in turn might affect the exit strategy of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

The U.S. needs to become much more proactive in nudging Pakistan and India to resolve their disputes — the principal one, from Pakistan’s perspective, being Kashmir.

India does not want to engage Pakistan in a composite dialogue till Pakistan curbs terrorist attacks from its territory — like the Mumbai killings — by non-state actors. India thinks that some elements in Pakistan’s government encourage such attacks, to destabilize India. Better India-Pakistan relations could possibly help dampen their rivalry in Afghanistan.

The truth of the matter is that both India and Pakistan have been victims of violent extremism. Both are facing multiple insurgencies within their borders. Instead of playing the blame game, both should be prodded to work together in curbing this common menace.

The United States should pay much more attention to removing mutual mistrust between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. Being a neutral bystander issuing anodyne statements is not good enough in the current scenario.

A coordinated regional approach between Pakistan, India and the Karzai regime with active U.S. encouragement could possibly ameliorate the situation in Afghanistan. Then the U.S. can depart with a semblance of dignity and honor.

– S. Azmat Hassan

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March 15, 2010
Mongolia faces climate-driven humanitarian crisis

In one of the most sparsely populated regions of the world, the hardy inhabitants are fighting for survival.

Mongolia’s three million people and forty million animals are now being tested by a brutal winter that followed a drought last summer.

Tony Birtley of Al Jazeera English reports how grazing, the backbone of the country’s economy, is under threat.

Mongolia battles severe weather yearly, but this year, the UB Post reports that Mongolia is experiencing a “dzud,” which is a summer drought followed by an even harsher winter”

Before this winter (2009-2010), Mongolia had not experienced a dzud since early 2002. This winter, Mongolia is experiencing unusually cold weather with temperatures dropping well below minus 20 [-4 Fahrenheit] as early as mid-December. It is expected temperatures will fall to minus 48 [-54 Fahrenheit] as northerly weather brings bitter snow storms from Siberia.

Roughly 47% of Mongolia’s 2.7 million people rely heavily on herding livestock. A blog from the World Bank reports:

Around 35 percent of Mongolia’s work force is dependent on herding for a substantial part of their livelihoods and about 63 percent of rural household’s assets are livestock; livestock herding accounts for about a third of employment in Mongolia. Food security is also worsening, poverty levels are likely to rise and these factors may cause an increase in rural-to-urban migration. Compounding the problem is the poor condition of many pastures as a result of last year’s drought and overgrazing. In addition heavy snowfall started earlier than usual in October 2009.

According to AFP:

More than 3.5 million animals — cows, sheep, goats, yaks, horses and camels — have died so far, with 60 percent of the country still buried under deep snow.

Hundreds of thousands of livestock have perished due to lack of nourishment because the winter weather has made the ground infertile. Dead livestock in the region poses a potential threat for disease and has already directly impacted the economic and physical conditions of the Mongolian nomadic peoples.

The United Nations recently launched a campaign to provide funding to clear out dead livestock. In an effort to boost economic livelihood as well as to avoid further disaster, The Guardian reports that many Mongolian nomads are being paid to clear out the dead livestock in the affected regions.

The United Nations has launched a $4 million dollar carcass-clearing appeal for Mongolia as millions of camels, goats, yaks and horses perish across the steppe from a climate double whammy of summer drought and winter snow.

The international body will pay nomads to collect and bury dead livestock to ease the risks of disease, soil contamination and a worsening humanitarian disaster in a nation where one-third of the 2.7m population depends on animal husbandry.

As an initial step, [the United Nations Development Programme] has allocated $300,000 and will raise more fund to pay herders $4 a day to clean and bury carcasses. Eventually, it hopes to reach 60,000 of the worst affected families.

– Stephanie Savage

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March 11, 2010
Skater takes heat for not thanking China first

Zhou Yang. Photo: CCTV

Hsin-Yin Lee, a former associate producer at Worldfocus, is a news editor at the “China Times” in Taipei.

China’s 18-year-old Olympic champion has recently learned something — it’s OK to thank your parents for your success, but always remember to first thank your country.

Zhou Yang, who won a gold medal in the women’s 1,500 meters short-track speed skating during the Vancouver Winter Olympic, has come under fire — and been complimented — for mentioning her parents but failing to thank the country after the award ceremony.

When asked “What does this prize mean to you?” by the Chinese media, Zhou said, “The gold medal might bring a lot of changes. I will be more confident, and Dad and Mom’s life will be improved.”

Sports officials, however, have found Zhou’s candid words lacking. During a group discussion of the annual meeting of China’s legislature last Sunday, Yu Zaiqing, deputy director of the National Sports Bureau, expressed doubt about Zhou’s patriotism.

“It’s fine to thank your mom and dad, but you should still thank your country first and foremost,” he said. Yu also said the authorities should enhance the “moral education” for China’s athletes.

“While the Western way of expression is very good, there were things in (Zhou’s) heart that the kid didn’t fully express,” Yu said. “Don’t just talk about your parents.”

To fix her previous remarks, Zhou said in another interview on Monday that she is of course grateful for her country. “I thank the country for making us good enough to compete in the Olympic. I thank our supporters, thank my coach, thank the staff, and thank my parents.”

Chinese netizens have weighed in on the controversy.  “Zhou should say ‘I thank my country — I thank my country because it allows me to thank my parents after thanking it,'” wrote one commentator,

China’s athlete training programs have long been criticized as both inhumane and ineffective. Zhou’s story reminds me of the Australian Open earlier this year, when two Chinese players, Zheng Jie and Li Na, marched to the women’s semifinals. It was the first time the world’s most populous nation had advanced so far in a Grand Slam.

While the head of the Women’s Tennis Association lauded this as an example of  Chinese tennis coming of age, critics said a more flexible national athlete training system, in place since 2008,  played a key factor. Zheng and Li were among the four top tennis players in China who were granted unprecedented freedom in managing their careers. In other words, they are free to select their own schedules, coaches and teams. With less obligation to China’s national athletic development system, they are also able to pocket more prize money and give less to the Chinese Tennis Association — which surely raises the motivation to compete.

An article in Tennis magazine may have summed up many people’s feelings. Since the reform, it noted,  “(China’s tennis players) are no longer just Chinese players; they are professional tennis players from China.”

Should the current athletic system in China be further modified so that people like Zhou Yang can be both a happy player and a happy person? I think so. After all, sport is all about humanity, and only when a person’s mind is set free can he or she pursue greater physical strength.

– Hsin-Yin Lee

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March 9, 2010
A mistreated dog gets a new home in Amman

This is how Faith was found by representatives from the Humane Center the day of the puppy mill raid in north Jordan. Photo: Kristen Gillespie.

Worldfocus special correspondent Kristen Gillespie writes about a furry friend that she acquired while doing a Signature video on puppy mills in Amman, Jordan.

Faith got her name shortly after her rescue from a notorious puppy mill in rural north Jordan. Her muscles were atrophied, her body emaciated, her eyes infected, her teeth were broken, and yet, her spirit was intact — hence her name.

Not all of the 38 puppies and 32 dogs that were rescued made out so well. Some had gone crazy, others turned aggressive.

When I went to the Humane Center to work on this report, I began to notice Faith. She moved slowly, her eyes were still red and swollen and she was always quiet.

When the dogs would go outside to play every day after the shelter closed, Faith seemed more interested in getting attention from visitors than in running around. One day, the door to the shelter was slightly open and Faith slipped inside as the dogs sometimes do.

Usually, they run gleefully through the halls. But when I went in to retrieve Faith, I noticed she had gone back to her kennel and sat inside it, waiting for someone to come and close the gate.

“She’ll spend the rest of her life here at the Center,” said Margaret Ledger, the center’s director. “Months had passed since the rescue and no one had shown any interest in adopting her,” she added.

I started making excuses to go to the shelter and visit Faith. She seemed perfectly content, climbing up next to me on the bean bag in the shelter’s reception area and watching the world go by.

When I decided to adopt Faith, she spent much of the first several weeks at home sleeping and eating. Her eyes cleared up. The walks grew longer, her muscles developed and she turned into a happy, loving dog who learned how to play for the first time.

Faith enjoys her new life. Photo: Kristen Gillespie

While Faith and most of the rescued dogs and puppies found a happy ending in their new homes, the bigger picture in Jordan remains grim. In the weeks following the raid, the owner of the puppy mill demanded her dogs back, saying that she would sue for the $150,000 she claimed the dogs were worth.

By all indications, the law in Jordan would have granted her the dogs. The Worldfocus report on puppy mills, however, was enough to pressure the government into the exceptional act of producing a letter giving full custody of the confiscated dogs to the Humane Center and releasing them from legal limbo.

With no animal protection laws in Jordan, dogs are commonly stolen and sent into puppy mills or sold at the downtown market, with owners paying hundreds of dollars for their own dogs.

It’s not just puppy mills – people have begun breeding dogs to make money with almost no knowledge or hygiene standards. Puppies are often sick and sold far too young.

The government controls the stray animal population by regularly sending out armed teams to shoot stray dogs in the city streets at all hours of the day. Animal abuse on all levels goes unpunished, and the mills continue to operate unhindered.

I sometimes show people pictures of Faith and the 69 other dogs that were rescued that day on the personal authority of Princess Alia, a concerned member of Jordan’s royal family.

Recently while flipping through the pictures I looked more closely at one of Faith, chained to the side of the building with her muzzle covered in dust. The faraway look is one of deep sadness and despair.

Now when I look into her eyes, I know that Faith has truly come home.

– Kristen Gillespie

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March 9, 2010
Bumpy road ahead for renewed Middle East peace talks

The Israeli West Bank barrier. Photo Flickr user ChrisYunker

Palestinian leaders have agreed to a further round of indirect negotiations with Israel, more than a year after the last attempt to reach a settlement broke down in December 2008.

The planned negotiations, which do not yet have a timetable, will be mediated by the U.S., and special envoy George Mitchell will travel between the two delegations. Direct talks are not envisaged at this stage.

The Palestinian Liberation Organization has set a four-month limit on the process, and its leaders have said they do not expect results from the renewed talks, which have been endorsed by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, Israel and the U.S.

In a recent development that has strained the peace talk proposals, yesterday Israel has approved the construction of 112 new apartments in the West Bank settlement of Beitar Illit. Israeli officials say the approval was granted before a 10-month moratorium on new construction in Jewish settlements within the disputed territory.

Israel has also approved plans to build 1,600 homes in East Jerusalem, an area not included in the moratorium but which the international community considers occupied territory.

This is how some commentators and bloggers have reacted to the renewed dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian leaders:

From Tikum Olam, a liberal Jewish-American blog:

[A]las it’s all a charade. For all the “proximity” the two sides may have they are universes apart on virtually every major issue that divides them. No commentators I have noticed have remarked upon the fact that these talks are in fact a deep regression from previous rounds of talks which, during the Olmert government, were direct and without U.S. mediation. Those talks too were largely ineffectual. But at least the parties had enough trust in each other that they were willing to talk face to face.

From a Talking Points Memo blog:

Everybody knows the core issues between Israelis and Palestinians, except for the one that will matter the most and can be acted on immediately, before any comprehensive deal; the one where Israel’s concessions will not compromise its security but enhance it. I am speaking of Palestine’s economy, specifically, its private sector, the driver of civil society and spine of any future state. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks about “economic peace,” but seems to mean little more than giving Palestinian laborers more jobs in Israeli agriculture and construction projects. What Palestinians need, rather, are entrepreneurs, managers, and professionals with the freedom to build a growing node in an urban and global network. The latter have made a remarkable start, but the occupation is thwarting them in ways few outsiders appreciate.

From Beneath the Surface, commentary on the peace talks:

Most people saw through Netanyahu’s peace bluff in June, but for those who believed the “outstretched” arm he supposedly gave the Palestinians, he just went against his campaign promises. Does Israel want peace with Palestine? By the decisions made the last couple of days it doesn’t seem like it, it seems like Israel want Palestine to surrender to their terms. Netanyahu has been given credit by vice-president Joe Biden for his indirect initiative to peace negotiations, but in reality the prerequisites that he laid aground for these negotiations were a joke!

From an opinion article in Haaretz, an Israeli center-left newspaper:

Israel must talk to Hamas. Not secretly. Not indirectly. Not for a politician to rehabilitate himself on the way to taking over the leadership of a party, as Kadima’s Shaul Mofaz tried to do, but openly and seriously. Just as the United States regularly talks to the Israeli opposition, Israel should maintain a dialogue with the Palestinian opposition. The dialogue should cover all core issues including a final settlement.

View footage of a checkpoint outside of the Beitar Illit settlement, which has a majority ultra-Orthodox Jewish population:

– James Matthews

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