Good News Blog

Politics

Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2006

A prayer is often needed and let’s not be so hasty to judge

While I fully support the separation of church and state that has long granted all Americans the freedom to honor and observe their own religious traditions, I also believe strongly in the power of prayer. And I am not afraid to admit that or to ask my God for help.

My less than stellar choices and the twists and turns of life have often landed me in a prayerful mode with my higher power, and I continue to be blessed in ways too countless to list.

When I heard this week that our governor was asking for prayer for rain and an end to the heat and drought gripping the state, I was first surprised and maybe taken aback a bit and then pleased to join in what I hope has been a collective chorus to the heavens seeking divine intervention in breaking this spell of horrific heat and dryness.

Gov. Mike Rounds did not order citizens to pray nor did he impose any penalties on those who choose not to pray. Therefore, I don’t really think it such a big deal to ask for some prayer and reflection.

It seems that we have become very defensive and quick to offend on religious issues and other moral topics, and anything that smacks of something to which we do not ascribe is immediately to be fought.

I fear that some of this stems from the abortion debate still raging in our state and nation. There has been some blurring of the lines between church and state in many situations, and some people have been unfairly labeled and condemned on both sides of this highly charged issue. Some have felt God was on their side in this argument and in others.

Look at the conflict in the Middle East. Which god is right in that ancient battle? To whom should an Israeli child pray? And the Palestinian or Lebanese mother? Whose prayers will be answered?

Surely one child’s life is as precious as the next. Each has a right to life, do they not?

But is that really the same philosophical mystery we face when we hear our governor ask for prayer? I don’t know for sure, but I suspect it’s a bit different.

My colleague argues that the governor should worry less about prayer and worry more about getting some aid for drought stricken farmers and ranchers. Not a bad idea, but the two courses of action are not mutually exclusive, nor did I hear anywhere that Gov. Rounds would simply pray for rain.

It’s easy to make a target out of a governor or any other official who speaks from the heart. I believe Rounds spoke from the heart when he asked for some healing rain from the heavens.

Is asking for prayer really so bad? And did Rounds cross the line when he proclaimed a special week for prayer?

Some of the same people who are objecting to this call for prayer are supporting a buffer zone around the state park at Bear Butte largely because of its sacred status to Native Americans. The butte is a sacred site for prayer. Should we forbid that prayer on state maintained property?

I don’t know how one can hold a view supporting that sort of public protection of religious tradition and then chastise Rounds for his low-key call for prayer. Just who does it hurt?

When I first learned much about Gov. Rounds he was simply an alternative candidate in a Republican primary that had become quite nasty between the frontrunner and the most financially well backed opponent. Rounds was far behind in the polls.

But South Dakota voters rejected the negativity and the aggression that marked the communications between those candidates and chose Rounds. That was a loud message.

We want our governor to reflect the best that we are. And with his call for some prayer, I think this governor was attempting to honor just one avenue for hope and for intervention.

Let’s not beat up on him for this. In fact, how about if we say a prayer for him every now and then?

I will hope the governor spends a few moments every day seeking heavenly guidance for the challenges he faces daily. That would be reassuring to me.

I see the proclamation for prayer as a huge step up for the Rounds administration from a previous summer’s proclamation of a G. Gordon Liddy Day (of Watergate fame) in South Dakota. That proclamation was apparently signed in error and ultimately withdrawn. I see no need for any similar course this time.

It’s no mistake to seek help from the heavens where ultimately the healing balm of rain will come. Money from Washington will not solve every drought-related hurt.

Coach Borden Wins One for America

In a ruling that has national implications for every athletic department in the country, a federal judge has declared that a coach has the right to take part in the age-old practice of “taking a knee.”

On July 25, 2006, U.S. District Judge Dennis Cavanaugh ruled that officials at East Brunswick High School in East Brunswick, N.J., may not prohibit their head football coach Marcus Borden from exercising his First Amendment right to respectfully participate in his players’ voluntary, student-led prayers by silently bowing his head and taking a knee as the prayers are said.

Pre-game, student-led prayer has been a regular part of the game of football since before Coach Borden started leading the team in 1983. In fact, East Brunswick High’s practice of player-initiated, pre-game prayer has been in effect for over 25 years, with more than 2,000 former East Brunswick football players opting to voluntarily pray before taking the field on game days.

The prayers are a simple, solemn request for safety and honor on the field. But the practice quickly became a target for official school censure after some parents complained about a prayer that was offered at a pre-game pasta dinner. Quick to jump on the “thou-shalt-not-offend bandwagon,” school officials passed a policy in October 2005 prohibiting representatives of the school district from participating in student-initiated prayer. This policy effectively barred Coach Borden from bowing his head during team prayers. But school officials went so far as to order Borden, who also teaches Spanish and has held a post at East Brunswick High for 23 years, to stand still rather than bending a knee and bowing his head while his players recited pre-game prayers. The penalty for disobeying was disciplinary action, including the loss of his job as a coach and tenured teacher.

School officials justified their actions by insisting that while student athletes have the constitutionally protected right to pray, that privilege does not extend to coaches, who are public employees and whose participation would violate the “separation of church and state.” Borden responded to the prohibition by tendering his resignation in protest. But after thinking further about the matter, he changed his mind, rescinding his resignation so that he could continue coaching. At the same time, believing that he was taking “a stand for every high school football coach in America,” he also filed a lawsuit asking the courts to review the school’s prayer policy.

After making headlines, Borden’s case was watched closely by athletic directors all over the country who had been instructed to cease praying with their players. The impact was felt nationwide. According to Grant Teaff, executive director of the American Football Coaches Association, more than 50 percent of high school football coaches nationwide engage in team prayer.

Although school officials in this instance were lacking in common sense, U.S. District Judge Dennis Cavanaugh was not. In siding with Coach Borden, Judge Cavanaugh ruled that the school district had violated Borden’s constitutional rights to free speech, freedom of association and academic freedom when they prohibited him from silently bowing his head and “taking a knee” with his players while they engaged in student-initiated, student-led, nonsectarian pre-game prayers.

And what were these prayers that have caused school officials so much anguish? According to Borden, prayers typically followed along the lines of: “Dear Lord, please guide us today in our quest in our game, our championship…Please let us represent our families and our communities well. Lastly, please guide our players and opponents so that they can come out of this game unscathed, no one is hurt.”

In the big picture, the school’s attempt to forbid the small gestures of respect that Coach Borden wanted to show his football team is part of a national trend in which school and other government officials use the First Amendment Establishment Clause (or the so-called “separation of church and state” clause) as a justification for suppressing the rights of individuals whenever matters of faith are involved.

Religion is often treated like a four-letter word, especially by those in the public schools. This ruling sends school officials a clear message that there is a time and place when religious expression is both appropriate and constitutionally sound—and it’s okay if representatives of the school such as teachers and coaches want to acknowledge it.

After all, when you consider all the negative influences that surround our young people—drugs, alcohol, premarital sex, violence, etc.—wouldn’t you breathe a little easier knowing that they had at least one role model to look up to who understands the importance of teamwork, responsibility and concern for one’s fellow human beings?

I know I would.

Thursday, Apr. 6, 2006

Missouri House backs constitutional amendment on school prayer

Missouri House members overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment Wednesday night intended to ensure students can pray privately and voluntarily at public schools.

Supporters say the amendment generally would uphold court precedents about prayer in school. But they insist a specific, state constitutional protection is needed to safeguard the freedom of religious expression found in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The amendment received first-round House approval by 134-17 vote.

“I think faith is under constant attack,” said House Speaker Pro Tem Carl Bearden, R-St. Charles, the lead sponsor of amendment.

The proposal would go before Missouri voters in November if it clears a final House vote and also passes the Senate before the legislative session ends May 12.

The Missouri Constitution has since 1875 declared people have “a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences.”

The newly proposed amendment would add prohibitions against the establishment of an official religion, similar to what is in the U.S. Constitution, while declaring “a citizen’s right to pray or to express his or her religious beliefs shall not be infringed.”

While prohibiting state-composed or coerced prayer, the amendment says the state “shall ensure public school students their right to free exercise of religious expression without interference, as long as the prayer or other expression is private and voluntary … and in a manner that is not disruptive nor in violation of other policies, rules or standards.”

Prayer at school also would have to abide by the same parameters placed on any other free speech.

Some Democrats questioned the need for the amendment, since courts have upheld private, voluntary prayer at school, as well as the right of religious groups to use school buildings after hours just as other clubs can do.

“I have taught for 22 years. Never in my time in the classroom, being a teacher or observer or a school board member, has anyone prevented Muslims, Jews or Christians from praying,” said Rep. Barbara Fraser, D-St. Louis, who voted against the amendment.

“This is a political issue – not a moral one,” Fraser said. “It is an effort that is clearly intended to get out the vote” of religious conservatives, presumed to be more inclined to vote for Republicans.

Republican House members denied such accusations. They also defeated a Democratic attempt to refer the measure to the August political primary ballot, where voter turnout is typically lower than the November general election. Democrats argued that if the issue was important, it should be settled as soon as possible.

House Speaker Rod Jetton said the constitutional amendment is necessary because “there are people who are trying as hard as they can to keep people from being able to pray voluntarily in public.”

Jetton, R-Marble Hill, said his own daughter had wrongly gotten the impression from a teacher while in third grade that she wasn’t allowed to pray in school – even privately before eating her lunch.

The proposed constitutional amendment also requires public schools to conspicuously display the text of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Sunday, Oct. 23, 2005

Depression of citizens of world’s largest exporter addressed in upbeat TV spots

ALL you mutterers with knitted brows, listen: it’s time to get happy. We’re talking $35 million worth of feel-good, throw-your-shoulders-back giddiness. The future is yours, don’t despair, things might be in the dumps but this is the land of Beethoven, Einstein and all those giggling little garden gnomes.

Perk up.

Such is the message trilling through Germany’s largest-ever public service campaign. The aim is to lift the country out of its funk with a blitz of inspirational TV messages from famous soccer players, actors, figure skaters and various wild-haired geniuses. It’s a sappy endeavour whose background music is not Bach or Brahms but a jingle from Forrest Gump.

This nation seems less in need of platitudes than a collective Prozac. Unemployment is high, consumer confidence is low, the government came together only after weeks of public bickering. Germans have a high quality of life and their country is the world’s leading exporter but they’ve been unable to shake off a deepening national gloom.

“Germans, in general, are heavy thinkers and not so relaxed about their lives and the future and all that stuff,” said Oliver Voss, an advertising executive working on the campaign. “But these are hard economic times and we’re still suffering from the cost of reunification. All this leads to mental depression. What we’re trying to do is reinforce confidence that Germans themselves can change things.”

The campaign motto is “Du bist Deutschland” (You are Germany). Appearing until January in cinemas, magazines and on television, the ads tell Germans they are pugilist Max Schmeling, race car driver Michael Schumacher, Olympic figure skater Katarina Witt and many other famous and not-so-famous citizens, living and dead. Germans are also asked to picture themselves as butterflies and Porsches.

“Achieve what you are capable of achieving,” says conductor Justus Frantz in the crusade sponsored by 25 media companies, who have donated about $35 million.

Oliver Kahn, goalkeeper of the national soccer team, shares his own tonic: “I’ve experienced many heavy defeats as a sportsman that sometimes sapped my courage. But, again and again, I told myself to go on and not give up.”

Harald Jaehner isn’t buying it. An editor at the Berliner Zeitung newspaper, Jaehner wrote the other day that the ads are “self-intoxication” that trivialise the country’s underlying economic and political problems.

“It’s awful the way Germans wrestle with themselves. Worse still when they suddenly stop,” he says.

“Anyone who has unwittingly fallen prey to the new campaign Du bist Deutschland will have been reminded of this bit of folk wisdom. There you are sleepily sprawled in front of the telly, all ready to hit the hay and then it comes: ‘You are the miracle of Germany,’ the screen blares and yes it does mean you and me . . . I, Germany, will not be duped by such tricks.”

The campaign has spawned a number of website satires in a country that might brood but is certainly suspicious of public pop-psychology. “You are what you eat,” says one. “Do you think after all those decades people of other nations would not identify you according to what you eat? Forget it. You are a Kraut. You are a potato. You are Germany.”

One internet missive pictures fascist architecture with Adolf Hitler imagery: “You are Germania. Do you have dreams? Do you have aims? Do you have energy? Then do not give up. Believe in yourself. Triumph of the Will. You are Germans.”

But the ads have inspired. “I really got goose bumps. With each second of the spot I had more and more the feeling that my prayers have been heard and someone expresses exactly what I feel,” Maike Kraeft-Schlechtweg, from the hard-pressed northern town of Kiel, wrote to campaign sponsors. “Thank you for this manifesto, for the magic of hope and the belief that we’re not stuck in a dead end.”

Monday, Oct. 3, 2005

Hero politician plays down rescue

A Tory MP turned lifesaver when he helped rescue a drowning man as he returned from a night out.

Lichfield MP Michael Fabricant and architecture student Jack Shelley teamed up to drag the wet and shivering man out of a city centre beauty spot.

Eighteen-year-old Jack was walking home in the early hours when he heard a man crying out from Minster Pool in the centre of Lichfield.

He saw the man, who later identified himself only as Ian from Birmingham, clinging on to the side of the pool and ran for help where he found Mr Fabricant getting out of a taxi.

The pair dragged the middle aged man out of the water and kept him warm until police and paramedics arrived. The man was conscious but suffered severe hypothermia.

The MP played down the rescue and said that anyone would have done the same. “We ran down and dragged him out from the bank, we went a bit into the water but we did not have to wade in.

“It was then just a question of calming him down, trying to keep him warm. Anybody would have done it in my position,” said the MP.

Mr Shelley, of Nether Beacon in the town, said he was on his way home from a night out with friends when he heard the cries for help.

The student said: “He was intoxicated, he was incapacitated almost. It wasn’t the the cold, it was the alcohol that was keeping him from climbing out.

“But he was too big for me to pull out on my own so I tried to find someone to give me a hand. The first person I happened to see was Michael Fabricant, which everyone seems to find really funny. I didn’t even recognise it was him at first.”

Friday, Sep. 23, 2005

Man enrols dog for NZ election

It was almost inevitable New Zealand’s election would turn into a dog fight when you look at one of the country’s 2.83 million voters – Toby the Jack Russell terrier.

Toby became a registered voter when his owner, Peter Rhodes of Queenstown, completed an enrolment form in the dog’s name, giving his occupation as “rodent exterminator” and his age as 28.

He signed the form with a squiggle and Toby’s paw print before returning it to the Electoral Enrolment Centre, the Otago Daily Times reported.

Rhodes, an aviation safety specialist who said he was making a humorous point about local government bureaucracy, was shocked to receive written confirmation of Toby’s enrolment in the Otago electorate on New Zealand’s South Island.

Voting is not compulsory in New Zealand and Rhodes said Toby had elected not to vote.

“The only roll he’s interested in is a dog roll, not the electoral roll,” Rhodes told the paper.

Electoral Enrolment Centre manager Murray Wicks was more angry than amused that an application filed by a dog had slipped through the centre’s checking system.

“It’s an offence, and whoever’s done it will be in the hands of the police,” he said.

Wicks said Rhodes could be charged with misleading a registrar of electors, making a fraudulent enrolment and making a false declaration, “to name a few” possible charges.

The outcome of the election remained in the balance Friday. The ruling Labour Party holds a one-seat, election-night majority over the opposition National Party pending coalition talks and the counting of absentee ballots, but neither of the major parties has an outright majority.

Friday, Sep. 16, 2005

Support for new UN emergency fund

Six countries have pledged almost US$150m (£80m) to a proposed new United Nations emergency fund.

The fund would allow the UN to respond to natural disasters and other emergencies within a matter of days rather than weeks it can take now.

The British government has promised almost half of the total sum.

The pledges came during the World Summit in New York, and the proposed fund will be debated by the United Nations later in the year.

Fighting ‘fires’

“When a crisis comes, it is to the United Nations that we look,” the UK’s International Development Secretary Hilary Benn told reporters.

“The UN presses the fire alarm; but in order to get the engine out of the station, it has to pass round the hat to put petrol in the tank and water in the hoses.”

The proposed new fund, known as the Central Emergency Response Fund, would replace a current arrangement under which the UN can give loans for emergency operations with one which disburses grants.

The total envisaged is US$500m (£280m) per year, 10 times the sum available now.

At the World Summit, six countries pledged a total of US$145m to the fund’s first year; Britain’s share is US$70m (£40m), and Sweden’s US$40m (£20m).

The other partners are Norway, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Luxembourg.

Swift and certain

Jan Egeland, the UN’s Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, welcomed the move.

“Our responses are very uneven,” he said, “and it often takes time for us to get money to teams in Niger, to anti-locust teams, to Darfur before mortality goes up.

“Now we will be able to say ‘let’s go’ in three to four days rather than three to four weeks.”

Mr Egeland also said it would enable the UN to deal with crises which are currently beyond its capabilities.

The six countries anticipate further pledges of support before the end of the World Summit, possibly from African nations.

The proposal, which relates to a clause in the World Summit draft outcome document to improve “the timeliness and predictability of humanitarian funding”, will go to the UN General Assembly for approval in November.

Friday, Aug. 5, 2005

Mayor rescues lemonade stand from sour foes

Here’s a lemon law with a sweet taste to it.

Salem Mayor Stanley J. Usovicz, together with Ryan Decker, 8, Dominic Serino, 11, and the owner of Classy Chassis sausage stand, signed a resolution yesterday that would allow the two boys to operate a lemonade stand at Salem Common.

“First and foremost, it seems to me that it is an American right for a kid to open up a lemonade stand and there was a way that common sense could in fact prevail in this situation,” Usovicz said yesterday.

Decker and Serino were ordered by police Saturday to shut down their lemonade stand for lack of a sales permit, after an employee of Classy Chassis complained the two were infringing upon his customer base.

Under the new resolution, the boys became subcontractors for the sausage vendor and will operate their stand with a legal permit.

“It wasn’t so much a compromise as it was a corporate merger. I think there were a number of hurt feelings on both sides, but the boys were completely thrilled,” Usovicz said.

A clause within the permit states that it is only applicable during the months of July and August, so as not to interfere with school hours that will resume in the fall.

“I think this really represents Salem’s commitment to small business at any level,” Usovicz added.

Sunday, Jun. 12, 2005

Finally, 1 million really good reasons to get out and vote

I have a million really good reasons for 100 percent of us to vote in 2006, but before I tell you what they are, we should dispense with the holier-than-thou notion that using money as an incentive to get citizens to participate in a democracy is a disgrace and an abomination.

If former gubernatorial candidate Mark Osterloh has his way, one lucky voter in the 2006 general election will become a millionaire. A group called Arizonans for Voter Rewards is collecting signatures to have the initiative placed on the ballot. If approved, the new law would “establish a voter reward random drawing every two years with a first prize of one million dollars or more.”

As far as I’m concerned, such a program would only be a disgrace and an abomination if I did not personally win the million.

Osterloh tried this idea in 2003 but failed. This time he claims to have the financial backing needed to get the 122,612 valid signatures to make the ballot.

Even better, he said that the new law would apply to the very election in which it is decided. In other words, if the voters of Arizona approve it in 2006, then one of them will become an instant millionaire.

Me, preferably.

But only if opponents don’t convince conscientious citizens that such a program is undignified and would encourage people to vote for “the wrong reasons.”

Heck, a survey of our elected officials easily proves that the majority of those who vote in our lovely state already go to the polls for the wrong reasons.

“We spend millions of dollars every year on failed ‘Get Out the Vote’ drives,” Osterloh said. “Here we can spend one million and get everybody.”

He said that those wanting to sign initiative petitions should look for signature collectors at local libraries or state Motor Vehicle Division offices. Or they can contact the group at P.O. Box 35037, Tucson, AZ 85740. Petitions don’t have to be turned in to the secretary of state until July 6, 2006.

But what of those who say that voting is an honor, a privilege and a duty? I asked.

“I’m not trying to create saints,” Osterloh said. “I’m trying to create voters. I’m not trying to create the perfect patriot; I’m trying to get people to the polls. When you do that, you get closer to what democracy is supposed to be about.”

More than 2 million Arizonans voted in the last presidential election, a record 77 percent of eligible voters. Osterloh says that his plan will create more new voters and bring out even more of those who already are registered.

Each of us won the lottery when we were born in the United States, of course. We are the grand-prize winners in an international DNA lottery. The children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who risked everything to come to America. In a perfect world, that would be more than enough incentive for anyone to vote. But it turns out that the United States, while great, is not part of a perfect world.

The prize money and administrative costs for the drawing would be taken from unclaimed state lottery winnings under the initiative’s plan.

The lottery itself would hold the drawing, Osterloh said, adding, “They have the expertise. It’s simple and effective.”

Osterloh also doesn’t expect the federal government to try to prevent the law from taking effect because, he said, “It isn’t buying or selling votes. We could care less about party affiliation or philosophy. There are no exclusions, no discrimination.”

As we all know, the only Americans currently in a position to accept large amounts of cash in exchange for votes are politicians. Why should they have all the fun?

Friday, Jun. 3, 2005

Geldof’s magic million rally hope

Live 8 organiser Bob Geldof has repeated his desire for a million people to descend on Edinburgh for a rally against poverty.

Geldof had urged protesters to go to Edinburgh for the rally on 6 July to coincide with the G8 summit.

But police chiefs raised concerns about the appeal and how the city could cope.

Geldof told the BBC it was “a fantastic figure” and people should travel to Scotland even if they do not visit the Scottish capital.

He said Edinburgh was “sophisticated” enough to handle large numbers of people.

Geldof conceded he “hasn’t a clue” how many people will respond to his plea.

Asked whether he wanted a million people to gather in Edinburgh, he said: “I would love that and I think it’s a fantastic number.

“Martin Luther King changed his country with it and the anti-apartheid marchers throughout the world often had that sort of figure.

“Edinburgh gets those sorts of numbers every year at the Edinburgh Festival. They don’t all have to be in Edinburgh, there’s great festivals happening around that.”

Celebratory theme

On Thursday, Edinburgh’s deputy lord provost Steve Cardownie accused Geldof of being irresponsible and senior police officers have expressed concern about the impact on resources.

Lothian and Borders assistant chief constable Ian Dickinson said a million people in the Scottish capital was not a possibility.

However, Geldof said that during meetings with First Minister Jack McConnell and senior police officers he had stressed the event would have a celebratory theme.

He said it would be similar to street music festivals in Ireland.

“It’s going to be the day, the week when this country actually did do something beyond phenomenal and that is to stop people dying on our television screens every night for ever,” said the musician.

“Edinburgh is a highly sophisticated city and is able to take in large amounts of people and marshal them. It’s going to be fantastic.

“We’re going to Edinburgh to celebrate the day that this country actually did lead the world on behalf of the poorest people on the planet.”

On Thursday, fellow Live 8 organiser Midge Ure urged people not to panic about the numbers expected at the gathering.

He said: “Bob could have said 10 million, he could have said a billion, Mars is going to crash into Scotland, it doesn’t matter. It was a symbolic call for people to stand up and be counted.”

During a briefing in Edinburgh on Friday, Chancellor Gordon Brown said the G8 summit offered the UK a chance to help the poverty-stricken.

He said: “This year, the year of the UN special summit, as well as Britain’s presidency of the G8 summit in Gleneagles, is our chance to reverse the fortunes of a continent and it’s an opportunity to transform the lives of millions.”

The Church of Scotland urged people to remember the message behind the Make Poverty History coalition march on 2 July.

The Right Reverend David Lacy, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said: “The march and rally on 2 July are about ensuring that people in poor countries can choose the best solutions to end poverty and protect the environment.

“They are about asking the UK Government to enact laws to stop big business from profiting at the expense of people and the environment.”

Saturday, May. 7, 2005

Grateful Amsterdam Honors Canadian Liberators

As a young private from Gaspe, Que., Charles Bouchard wasn’t aware just how big a piece of history he was watching unfold on May 5, 1945, when he stood guard outside the brick hotel where the Germans surrendered Holland to a Canadian general.

But on Thursday, as he stood outside the De Wereld Hotel and watched more than 100,000 Dutch residents turn out for a military parade to mark Liberation Day, the significance of that brief meeting was everywhere.

“The streets were empty, but we had guards at each end,” recalled Bouchard, 80, who served with the Royal 22nd Regiment.

“I remember the Germans seemed to be quite nervous, that’s the impression I had.”

Bouchard said he hoped Gen. Johannes Blaskowitz, German commander-in-chief in the Netherlands, would surrender and the war would be over, but he was kept out of the loop.

“We didn’t know what was happening, we didn’t know we were in the process of helping make history. I only realized it several years later when I learned that it was here that the surrender was worked out.”

But that meeting in the hotel’s dining room, in this town about 100 kilometres southeast of Amsterdam, led Blaskowitz to agree to the terms of a surrender, ending five years of Nazi occupation in Holland that killed more than 230,000.

Bouchard had witnessed the hardships first-hand, crossing back and forth the enemy line to deliver food in the weeks before victory in Europe was declared May 8.

Thursday, it was a vibrant, healthy and grateful Dutch population that welcomed Bouchard and veterans from several Allied ranks represented in the parade.

Thirteen Canadian veterans officially attended the event, which was preceded by a private service attended by Dutch Prince William Alexander, but several others marched under banners such as the Royal Canadian Legion and the Canadian Liberation 60 Band.

The crowd applauded long and loud, hanging out windows, waving, and jumping off the sidewalk to snap photos.

Red, white and blue confetti rained onto aging veterans as they proudly marched, their arms swinging and heads held high.

One veteran insisted on abandoning his wheelchair for a few hundred metres, gripping a uniformed friend’s hand tightly for support before eventually returning to the chair.

Marike Bakker, a 35-year-old homemaker, was one of several people to secure their curb-side positions a full eight hours early.

“I feel very emotional,” said Bakker, a camera draped around her neck.

“I think these veterans are going to die soon, so we as younger people must understand what happened in the Second World War.”

One Canadian watching the day’s events unfold from his Edmonton home was the translator at the armistice table.

Dr. George Molnar, who landed the job in his intelligence role with the 1st Canadian Division, recalls the mood in the room as somewhat sombre.

“They (Germans) behaved as the professional soldiers they were,” Molnar, 82, told The Canadian Press in a telephone interview.

“They were downhearted, but everyone had known what was coming.”

Molnar was unable to attend the VE-Day ceremonies in the Netherlands, a week-long series of events involving some 1,500 veterans from Canada.

Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson, who attended the event, said this week of commemoration in Holland and the degree of respect for Canada is understandable given the circumstances the Dutch were facing.

“To suddenly see themselves being relieved by young and good-looking troops, that’s what keeps the memory alive,” Clarkson told reporters before the parade.

“When they say ‘Thank you Canada,’ they’re saying thank you to the spirit of Canada.”

Veterans Affairs Minister Albina Guarnieri, who had returned to Canada after greeting the veterans at the airport due to fears about a non-confidence vote in the Commons, flew back to the Netherlands on Thursday and caught up with the veterans at a military tattoo.

She will be joined by Prime Minister Paul Martin, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, NDP Leader Jack Layton and Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe on Monday, when they put their political bickering aside to spend a few hours with the veterans before they head back to Canada on Tuesday.

Monday, Mar. 21, 2005

New voting equipment helps citizens with vision, hearing problems

Breakthrough technology allows voters with vision and hearing impairments to cast ballots without assistance.

AutoMARK Voter Assist Terminal is a touchscreen machine using large print, synthetic speech, function keys marked with braille, earphones.
Such sleek, computerized equipment provides a privacy for impaired voters that has been missing.

“It’s an issue of respect,” Cerro Gordo County auditor Ken Kline said today while a machine was demonstrated.

“They can use this machine without assistance and their ballots cannot be discerned from any other voter,” he said.

AutoMARK is programmed in seven different languages, does not allow an over-vote, and has provision for write-in ballots on a keyboard screen.

“This machine even allows a quadraplegic, using a wand or a sip/puff device to mark their ballot,” said Dan Erker of Election System & Software.

When finished, the machine prints out a paper ballot “so these votes will be counted with all the other ballots from that precinct,” Erker said.

Federal law mandates that, by January 2006, every voting precinct in the country have at least one terminal that allows hearing and visually impaired voters to cast ballots without help.

Cerro Gordo County needs one of the terminals for each of the 26 precincts “and at least one for a back up,” Kline said, putting the price tag at about $135,000.

Thursday, Jan. 6, 2005

Over 40,000 Angolan Refugees Returned Home

Some 4,350.00 Angolan citizens who as refugees in DR Congo and Zambia were last year repatriated to the eastern Province of Moxico by the UNHCR and the Government, said Wednesday the provincial director of the Ministry of Welfare and Social Reintegration (Minars), Alberto Calumbi.

In the same period, said the source, about 184 returned home voluntarily through the bordering municipalities of Luau, Alto-Zambeze and Bundas.

He also informed that the voluntary repatriation process, which was interrupted in November due to the rains befalling this region, will resume in the dry season.

Without mentioning numbers, Alberto Calumbi said that in the referred two neighbouring countries there are a lot of Angolans who have manifested the will to come home.

In the current year, the Ministry of Welfare and Social Reintegration will continue to support the returnees and other vulnerable groups.

Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2004

School with Two Pupils Saved

A school which has only two pupils will be allowed to stay open, it was announced today.

Shetland Council threw out proposals to close five rural primary schools and one secondary school at a meeting in Lerwick today.

Among those was Scotland’s smallest secondary school which sits on one of the islands of Skerries.

Parents and children gathered at Lerwick Town Hall this morning to state their opposition to the school closure plans.

The islands of Skerries lie 24 miles north east of Lerwick and represent a fishing community with a population of 70.

Shetland councillor Drew Ratter said: “There was a proposal to stop providing secondary education at Skerries School and they decided on a narrow vote to carry on providing secondary education at Skerries.”

He said that although the provision of secondary education at Skerries had hung in the balance, at no time was the primary part of the school ever under threat of closure.

The local authority currently delivers its education service through a network of 34 schools but said this is no longer financially viable.

Thursday, Oct. 14, 2004

Disaster relief approved for farmers hammered by drought, floods

In a fighting Life rays of hope are countables.

Today I will count my Rays of Hope.

Congress approved $14.4 billion in disaster relief for farmers and others who suffered losses from this year’s hurricanes and for farmers hurt by drought, floods or natural disasters in 2003 or 2004.

The legislation, which was attached to the annual military construction bill, sends $11.5 billion in aid to businesses, farms, individuals and government installations damaged by hurricanes and storms in Florida and other East Coast states. It also provides $2.9 billion for farmers hurt by droughts, floods and other weather-related problems in other areas.

Like the disaster bill passed in 2003, farmers must have lost at least 35 percent of their crop to drought, flood or other natural disaster either in 2003 or 2004. Benefits will be in addition to proceeds from federal crop insurance claims.

Funding will be provided through the Crop Disaster Program, Quality Loss Program and Livestock Assistance Program. Growers cannot collect more than 95 percent of what they would have earned from an average crop on the payments, which are expected to being reaching farmers by the end of the year.

Sunday, Oct. 10, 2004

Unified House OKs storm relief

The House yesterday unanimously approved $14.5 billion for hurricane victims and struggling farmers as Congress moved a step closer to showering money on Florida and other pivotal states in the upcoming elections.

After weeks of delay over everything from budget cuts to milk subsidies, House-Senate bargainers added the natural-disaster aid to a $10 billion military-construction measure. With both chambers holding rare weekend sessions to clear bills before Election Day on Nov. 2, the House passed the measure 374-0. Senate passage is possible as early as today.

“No section of Florida was spared,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W. Bill Young, Florida Republican, said of the four hurricanes that battered his state and the South this summer. “It’s difficult for me to express gratitude as effectively as I should.”

The legislation underscored the heightened political sensitivities of the run-up to next month’s voting.

Both parties were eager to quickly ship aid to vote-rich Florida. President Bush never proposed aid for drought, floods and other agriculture emergencies, but the White House and members of both parties were itching to send assistance to Midwestern states that are election battlegrounds.

Saturday, Oct. 9, 2004

Bush adds $887m in disaster relief

The White House agreed to tack on $887 million in hurricane aid for Florida and the Southeast as Congress worked yesterday to put the final touches on a multibillion-dollar storm and drought disaster package.

The package would now include $11.9 billion for hurricane relief and $2.9 billion to assist farmers in the drought-plagued Plains. Congress previously approved $2 billion to help Florida and neighboring states recover from four devastating hurricanes.

The House may have taken up the aid package, if a deal was reached, before its scheduled recess yesterday, and the Senate may today.

The additional $887 million would go part way toward satisfying Florida lawmakers who have stressed that the level of federal aid is not enough to cope with one of the worst natural disasters to hit the state in decades.

In a letter to congressional leaders, Joshua Bolten, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said the new money included $348 million for Agriculture Department forestry and watershed protection programs, $402 million for highway repairs, and $117 million for US Army Corps of Engineers projects to restore navigation channels and rehabilitate beaches.

The $11 billion in the original package is divided among the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Highway Administration, the Small Business Administration, and others involved in recovery efforts in Florida and other Southeast states. It also includes $100 million to help Grenada, Jamaica, Haiti, and the other Caribbean nations that suffered heavy damage from the storms.

Finally, there’s $2.9 billion for farmers, primarily in the Great Plains, who are enduring a prolonged drought. Lawmakers from those states argued that disaster relief should not go primarily to Florida, a key battleground state in the November election. But unlike the hurricane money, which will add to the federal deficit, House leaders insisted that the drought money be paid for, in this case by cuts in a conservation program.

To better the odds that the emergency package would be approved before lawmakers go home to campaign, it was attached to a must-pass $32 billion spending bill for the Homeland Security Department.

But even then, there were several complications Thursday.

Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, a strong supporter of the conservation program, threatened to filibuster the final bill if he did not get a vote on the cutbacks, a move that could force the Senate to reconvene next week.

The House and Senate conferees also agreed to restore language in the homeland security bill, defying a White House veto threat, that would bar the Homeland Security Department from privatizing immigration personnel. Democrats unsuccessfully tried to increase the $32 billion budget for homeland security, which includes $4 billion for first-responder programs and $5.1 billion for the Transportation Security Administration

Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2004

644 Liberian children reunited with families

Six-hundred-and forty-four Liberian children separated from their parents since the Liberian civil war ended in August 2003 have been reunited with their families, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Wednesday.

It said 229 children were repatriated from Guinea, 199 from Sierra Leone, 12 from Ivory Coast and 199 were traced in Liberia itself.

“Since July, the humanitarian organisation has also repatriated 19 foreign children from Liberia to their homes in neighbouring countries,” the statement added.

Last April, the ICRC launched its fourth poster campaign with pictures of nearly 500 children. The posters were displayed in public places throughout Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast.

“If a family member recognises a child on a photo, we use a regional database to carefully cross check the information with that gathered from separated children registered in West Africa,” an ICRC representative, Roland Hunziker, said.

The ICRC is presently dealing with about 1 500 cases of separated Liberian children in West Africa. An average of 15 children are being returned to their families per week.

In a separate development, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) opened seven new offices in Liberia.

Speaking at a ceremony in the port city of Buchanan, about 145km east of Monrovia, WFP representative Justin Bagarisha said the agency has received more than $5-million out of $6-million needed to feed Liberian children until December.

Monday, Oct. 4, 2004

Tax relief for America’s families

Recently, the House passed the Working Families Tax Relief Act, legislation that ensures that 93 million American taxpayers and their families don’t wake up to a major tax hike on Jan. 1, 2005, as a result of a sunset provision in previous tax legislation.

The legislation that we approved extends family-friendly tax provisions previously passed by Congress. The marriage-penalty relief is extended through 2010, preventing a tax hike on the approximately 27 million taxpaying couples; the expanded 10 percent income tax bracket is extended; and the $1,000 child tax credit is also extended. Without action, America’s families will face a $109 billion tax increase over the next 10 years – an average increase of $565 per person next year.

The legislation also provides critical assistance to military families in combat zones – a particularly appropriate measure given the times in which we live. The bill increases the child credit for military families and increases the Earned Income Credit, giving them the option to include combat pay.

This legislation also provides long-overdue uniformity in the definition of child for tax purposes – something that is critical for many elements of the code, among them the child credit, dependency exemption and head of household filing status.

The bill also extends relief from the Alternative Minimum Tax through 2005 – without this provision, more middle-income folks will be pushed into paying this tax.

Finally, this bill extends several other annual expiring tax provisions, including things like the research and development tax credit, thereby providing $13 billion of tax relief over the next 10 years.

Any time we can establish fairer and lower taxes on working families, then we are assisting the national economy, creating jobs and increasing opportunity across the country. The recent announcement that America’s Gross Domestic Product, which measures the rate of production in the United States, rose at an annual rate of 3.3 percent for the second quarter is a solid indicator of economic health, and further evidence that previous tax relief measures are working.

When we lower the tax burden on America’s families, it encourages investment, savings and general entrepreneurship, rather than exacting a price on productivity. It is both unwise and unfair to punish hard-working Americans for their industriousness.

Following House passage, this legislation moves to the Senate, which is expected to take up the measure in the near future. President Bush has already indicated that he will sign it into law, which is good news for America’s families.

Joy as Ugandan abductees return

Dozens of people who had been abducted by a Ugandan rebel group have flown home from Sudan to be reunited with their families.

On arrival in northern Uganda, a girl on crutches was greeted by her sister whom she had not seen for seven years.

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has no clear political objective and is almost entirely made up of abducted children.

Religious leaders and music greeted the returnees when they arrived at Gulu airport on board a large Sudanese jet.

Recent military pressure has enabled hundreds to escape and return home.

Friday, Oct. 1, 2004

IMF extends HIPC debt relief scheme for poor nations

The International Monetary Fund agreed to extend the global debt relief program for poor countries by two years to 2006, the global lender said late on Thursday.

The move increases momentum for erasing debts that are blamed for stifling development in impoverished nations, most of them in Africa. It also comes as rich industrialized nations like the United States and Britain look at ways of possibly writing off all of the debt of some nations.

The IMF’s board of shareholder governments said in a statement it agreed to prolong the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative, launched by the IMF and World Bank in 1996, to give more countries time to qualify for the scheme.

“(IMF) directors agreed with the objective of bringing within the HIPC initiative all poor countries with current unsustainable debts, while preventing the initiative from becoming a permanent facility,” the IMF said in a statement.

Twenty-seven countries have qualified for HIPC, of which 14 have received maximum permitted debt relief and 13 others have started to receive some debt write-off.

Earlier on Thursday, U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow proposed up to 100 percent forgiveness of some debts, the first time a Bush administration official has suggested writing off all the debts of some countries.

IMF Managing Director Rodrigo Rato also said on Thursday more aid was needed for poor countries, including debt relief.

He also said he was willing to analyze a British proposal to revalue the IMF’s huge gold stocks as a means to raise money for added debt relief.

The IMF board expressed concern about keeping open the list of countries eligible for HIPC debt relief, given the limits on financing.

USAID gives $465-m boost to hurricane relief

The Jamaican Office of National Reconstruction (ONR) has received $1.36 billion in cash and commitments in the two weeks it has been set up to lead the restoration and relief initiative in the wake of Hurricane Ivan, which battered the island three weeks ago.

The latest donation to the ONR was made yesterday by the United States Agency for International Aid (USAID) – a donation of $465 million (US$7.5 million) to assist in the reconstruction of homes in western and southwestern Jamaica hard hit by the deadly hurricane.

But yesterday, Danville Walker, the managing director of the ONR, said the agency needs far more funds as damage assessed so far appears far worse than what was initially estimated.

“It is hard to say (how much we need) now because the assessment is now taking place but if we had $3 billion it would not be difficult to allocate; I mean we could spend that easily,” Walker told the Observer yesterday after a press conference organised by the Land and Environment Ministry to give an update on the relief and restoration programme.

Said Walker: “With the $3 billion we would be able to get people back to where they were and above that you’re making improvements.”

In the meantime, the ONR head said the agency will be giving priority to agriculture and education. He said direct payments will be made to contractors who effected repairs to schools that were damaged by the hurricane.

In the meanwhile, director of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) Dr Barbara Carby said all shelters currently being housed at schools will be closed next week.

Up to yesterday, more than 1,000 persons were still housed in schools that were used as public shelters during the onslaught of the hurricane.

“We have asked parish officers to identify other locations like community centres or we will (issue) tents to each family to pitch on their own land,” said Dr Carby.

To date, evaluations for over 50,000 houses – 70 per cent of those damaged during Hurricane Ivan – have been completed. Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security Alvin McIntosh said all evaluations will be completed before December.

“We don’t want to overlook anybody so those affected should get in contact with the Labour and Social Security offices in their parish,” he urged.

At the same time, the land and environment minister, Dean Peart, announced that the Ministry of Labour and Social Security has disbursed over $18 million in relief supplies to approximately 70,000 families.

He said Prime Minister PJ Patterson had ordered a rapid response mechanism be instituted to accelerate assistance to affected persons.

“I have instructed a team to investigate the most urgent needs of Southern St Elizabeth, Old Harbour and Rocky Point, which were some of the hardest hit areas and I am to get a report by next week,” Peart told journalists.

The land and environment minister also announced that Ministry of Health mobile clinics will be visiting hurricane-ravaged communities over the next six weeks, while islandwide fogging to control mosquito breeding should be completed by the end of this month.

Tuesday, Sep. 28, 2004

Italy celebrates hostages’ return

Two female Italian aid workers freed after being held hostage in Iraq for three weeks have arrived back in Italy.

They were handed over to the Red Cross in Baghdad before flying to Rome, where they were reunited with their families.

Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, who were seized in their Baghdad office on 7 September, appeared in good health.

Meanwhile, a French negotiator says he has reached a deal with kidnappers to free two French hostages in Iraq, according to Arabic television.

The envoy, Philippe Brett, told al-Arabiya TV he had seen Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot, who were kidnapped on 21 August, and they would be released soon.

However, the French foreign ministry said it had no knowledge of any deal to free the hostages and that Mr Brett was not part of any official efforts to secure their release.

Separately, an Egyptian telecoms company said four of its six workers who had been held hostage in Iraq have been set free.

There is, however, no news of UK hostage Ken Bigley, who has been threatened with beheading.

On Monday, an Iranian diplomat kidnapped nearly two months ago was freed.

About 30 other foreigners, including several from Arab countries, are still being held.

‘Thanks’

Arabic television station al-Jazeera broadcast footage of the two Italian women, aged 29, being released.

It showed them in an open field, wearing black veils over their faces, which they later lifted, smiling and chatting as they were met by three men.

“Shukran, shukran gesilan, ma salama [Thanks, thanks a million, good-bye],” said one of the women.

Two Iraqi aid workers – Raad Ali Aziz and Mahnaz Bassam – seized with the two women were also freed.

The aid workers arrived at a military airport in Rome at 2300 (2100 GMT) on Tuesday night.

Looking tired but overjoyed and wearing white and pink robes, they stepped off the plane into the arms of waiting friends and relatives.

They smiled for the press before going into the airport, where they were welcomed by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Asked by reporters how she felt, Ms Pari said simply: “Good.”

Mr Berlusconi described the release of the two women as a “moment of joy”.

Pope John Paul II expressed his “great joy” at news of the release.

Mr Berlusconi has denied rumours that $1m ransom has been paid to bring about the release, but correspondents say question marks still remain.

Family Joy

The families reacted swiftly to news of the release.

“I’m so happy, overwhelmingly happy,” said Ms Pari’s father, Luciano, from his home in Rimini on the Adriatic coast. “This was the news I had been hoping for.

“I wish to take this opportunity to thank you and to thank the entire Arab world, who proved their friendship to us and to Italy, especially at these difficult times,” he told al-Jazeera.

The two women were working for the aid agency A Bridge to Baghdad and had been involved in school and water projects.

The fate of both aid workers captured the hearts of Italians this month and over the last week itself there has been a rollercoaster of emotions, says the BBC’s Guto Harri in Rome.

Pictures of the two were hung on Rome’s Capitol building, while tens of thousands of Italians took part in candle-lit vigils and sent messages of solidarity to their families.

Iraq: Negotiator tells of ‘days of hope’

A clergyman intimately involved in the bid to free Simona Pari and Simona Torretta has told BBC News Online how Iraqi sources revealed days ago that the pair were to be freed.

Canon Andrew White – head of a group working to free Iraq’s foreign hostages – said contacts with a network of tribal and religious leaders had turned up the information just days after internet claims that the pair had been killed.

The likelihood was that the Italian women had not been “sold up the chain” to al-Qaeda militants and this was a key factor in securing their release, Canon White said.

“Over the last few days we were getting information saying that they would be released. But you can never be certain of anything – you never know if you are getting the truth.”

Criminal gang

Simona Pari and Simona Torretta were the first foreign women to be kidnapped in Iraq – in a shocking abduction that took place in broad daylight in central Baghdad.

No video of them was ever released by their hostage takers and there was speculation that they had been taken by a criminal gang trying to sell them on to a militant group.

After the beheading of two American hostages last week, two separate claims appeared on the internet saying the women had been killed because Italy had failed to pull its troops out of Iraq.

But Canon White said: “There was no evidence that they had fallen into the hands of the really bad guys and this gave us hope.”

He added: “We are delighted with the result. We have been working very closely with our contacts and the Italian embassy – it is hugely encouraging.”

Spate of kidnapping

The release of the women coincided with a visit to Baghdad by an Italian Muslim leader who came trying to secure their safe return.

It also came amid unconfirmed reports that at least part of a $1m ransom demanded by the kidnappers had been paid that, if true, suggests the kidnappers were not politically motivated.

Canon White, who spent three weeks each month in Iraq until leaving in August for his own safety, said he could not give more intimate details of the negotiation process for fear of jeopardising ongoing actions.

But he said the Italian authorities had asked his group – the Iraqi Centre for Dialogue, Reconciliation and Peace – to get involved in helping to secure the releases after working with them earlier in the year.

Since the spate of foreign hostage-taking began in April, eight Italians have been kidnapped in Iraq; five have been freed and three killed, said Canon White.

Hope

The clergyman added: “This is not a job finished. We are still working on more than 30 cases.

“[British hostage] Kenneth Bigley is now our number one priority. We always have hope whilst we believe someone is alive, and we have had no information that suggests he is not alive.”

Mr Bigley, 62, a civil engineer from Liverpool, was captured at gunpoint in Baghdad on 16 September with two American colleagues, who have both since been beheaded.

He is apparently being held by the Tawhid and Jihad Group headed by al-Qaeda suspect Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Canon White said the example of 30-year-old Nabil George Yaacub Razzuq, an Israeli Arab aid-worker taken hostage by “pretty nasty” militants in April but freed after 16 days, also showed there was hope for Mr Bigley.

City Council creates relief fund for businesses

Richmond businesses still struggling because of damage inflicted by the remnants of Tropical Storm Gaston are now eligible for city grants of up to $10,000 each.

City Council created a $300,000 Gaston relief fund Monday night.

To get the money, businesses must be located in the city’s enterprise zones and meet certain criteria.

They will be able to spend the money on repairing or replacing equipment, removing debris and rehabilitating buildings. Businesses will also be eligible for up to $3,000 to relocate within the city.

The city’s economic-development department will accept grant applications until Oct. 4 at 5 p.m.

Council members also discussed the possibility of creating an additional $2 million relief fund for Shockoe Bottom, which bore the brunt of storm damage.

Saturday, Sep. 25, 2004

Brown outlines debt relief for world’s poorest

Britain plans to spend an extra 100 million pounds a year on debt relief for some of the world’s poorest countries, the Guardian has reported.

The government says the money will go to more than 30 countries to help them repay debts to the World Bank and African Development Bank.

“We intend to lead by example,” Chancellor Gordon Brown will say in a speech on Sunday, the Guardian has reported.

Brown will call on the world’s biggest donors to do the same when he attends the annual meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) next month.

Brown, who chairs the IMF’s top policy-setting group, will repeat his longstanding call for IMF gold reserves to be revalued to release cash for debt relief.

Under a 1971 agreement, most IMF gold is valued at just $40 an ounce, or one-tenth of current market prices.

The IMF holds 103.4 million ounces of gold, one of the biggest gold stocks in the world, which is valued on its balance sheet at $8.5 billion (4.7 billion pounds).

“We cannot bury the hopes of half of humanity in the lifeless vaults of gold,” Brown will say ahead of the Labour Party’s annual conference, which opens on Sunday.

World Bank President James Wolfensohn said on Friday the U.S. government had discussed with him a plan to cancel poor countries’ debt to global institutions.

According to one estimate by the Jubilee Debt Campaign, a London-based pressure group, poor countries around the world owe more than $200 billion.

Labor’s $112m cancer cure

Cancer patients will be given individual case managers to help co-ordinate treatments with different specialists, under a new Labor plan.

A Labor government would pay for conferences involving patients, surgeons, radiologists, chemotherapy specialists and nurses to develop a treatment plan for cancer sufferers.

Many cancer sufferers have complained that they are passed from one specialist to another for different forms of treatment without any overall co-ordination.

Opposition Leader Mark Latham said a team-based approach would help to guide patients and their families through the cancer treatment system.

“Great advances have been made in early diagnosis and treatment,” Mr Latham said.

“But a diagnosis of cancer instantly pitches the patient and their family and friends into a new, and often intimidating, world with a range of services that are difficult to manage.”

Mr Latham is promising to spend $36 million to fund 120,000 team consultations for cancer

patients over the next four years.

He said the case manager or support person for cancer patients would generally be an oncology nurse.

Mr Latham said multi-disciplinary conferences rarely happened outside of the public hospital system because of inadequate funding for private specialists.

Labor has also promised an extra $12 million for clinical trials to develop better information about cancer treatments and patient care.

Altogether, the ALP has earmarked $112 million towards the battle against cancer. (Australia)

Chen lauds girls’ charity

A local charity group’s recent success in a regional competition for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has increased the exposure of Taiwan’s NGOs on the international stage, President Chen Shui-bian said yesterday.

The Garden of Hope, an advocacy group for abused and at-risk girls and mothers, set a tremendous example for Taiwanese NGOs after being named “NGO of the Year” at the inaugural Asia-Pacific NGO Awards in Manila on Sept.16, Chen and foundation representatives said during a press conference in Taipei.

The awards, organized by Citigroup and the British nonprofit group Resource Alliance, recognized outstanding regional philanthropic associations for quality of operations, delivery of service and transparency in administration. The Garden of Hope beat 75 other NGOs to take first place. It was the only Taiwanese NGO among the eight finalists.

“Winning this award is proof of everybody’s efforts at the Garden of Hope. It means that the hard work of Taiwan’s NGOs has received recognition in the international arena,” Chen said.

“NGOs are a powerful instrument for change in Taiwan’s society. A just society needs more cooperation between NGOs and the government to educate and guide people. Together, we can build a peaceful, healthy space where our youth can grow,” he said.

The Garden of Hope said it was planning to share the US$10,000 prize money equally among five areas of concern: the work of the women’s group Samaritana in the Philippines, the establishment of a Garden of Hope branch on Kinmen, the Hope Basketball Project in Nantou County, the New York branch of the Garden of Hope, and building a women’s service center in Taitung.

“We hope the money can act as a base to multiply the benefits throughout the community,” foundation executive director Chi Hui-jung said.

All organizations in the competition were singled out for their potential and worthiness, Chi said.

The foundation used yester-day’s press conference to present its new logo and identify five goals for local NGOs in the coming five years.

These included increasing cooperation between NGOs to bring about social change and empowerment, increasing international exposure for local NGOs, establishing a common resource base for all organizations and promoting the ISO 9001 management system to increase the groups’ efficiency.
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Thursday, Sep. 23, 2004

Global fund shrinks technology gap

A global fund designed to shrink the technology gap between rich and poor nations is to be launched in November, said one of its key advocates.

President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal said it would seek voluntary donations.

Technology is seen by many as a way of helping developing nations educate their people, make them healthier and escape poverty.

But richer countries rejected the idea of compulsory donations at a UN summit in Geneva in December 2003.

Hi-tech contributions

President Wade has been one of the chief proponents of a so-called digital solidarity fund for developing nations.

He led efforts at the Geneva summit for firm financial commitments from the industrialised nations.

But there were no pledges for cash to bankroll technology-related projects at the meeting.

The fund announced by President Wade at a news conference in Geneva is a far cry from the original idea.

It is due to be launched in Geneva on 17 November.

The Senegalese leader said it would be based on voluntary contributions from the buyers of hi-tech goods in wealthy nations.

Exactly how this would work has yet to be explained.

But President Wade argued the fund would benefit industrialised countries, as millions of dollars would be used to buy computers, mobiles and other equipment from them.

2005 follow-up

Nations like Senegal see technology as a way of promoting economic growth and improve the life of its people.

The World Summit on the Information Society held in December was the first UN summit which looked at the impact of technologies like the internet and mobile phones.

It brought together more than 10,000 politicians, business representatives, development workers and technology experts for three days in Geneva.

The summit ended with agreement on the great potential of technologies like the internet and the need to extend its benefits to all, without going into specifics.

A follow-up summit is due to be held in Tunisia in 2005.

Tuesday, Sep. 21, 2004

Mandela’s Letters Returned after 30 Years

A former apartheid policeman who helped jail Nelson Mandela more than 30 years ago today returned to him two notebooks of letters written in prison.

At the opening of the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory and Commemoration, retired policemen Donald Card told the former South African president he had waited more than three decades to return the notebooks in which Mandela wrote drafts of prison letters between February 1969 and April 1971.

Thirty-three years have flown by since 1971 when I put these two notebooks on my wardrobe,” said Card in Johannesburg.

Card had testified against Mandela and his co-accused in their sabotage trial. All were sentenced to life in prison in June 1964. Mandela was released in February 1990 and was elected South Africa’s first black president in 1994. Now 86, Mandela said earlier this year he had retired from public life.

What you have just witnessed could be described as one old man giving another old man two old notebooks,” quipped Mandela, dressed in a shirt emblazoned with his old prison number, 46664. He thanked Card for returning the notebooks rather than keeping them or selling them to a collector.

The centre is an archive of Mandela’s papers and records.

The history of our country is characterised by too much forgetting,” said Mandela, drawing laughter when he noted that at his age, he is “forced to make friends with forgetting.

One of our challenges as we build and extend democracy is the need to ensure that our youth know where we come from, what we have done to break the shackles of our oppression, and how we have pursued the journey to freedom and dignity for all,” he said.

In the early years of his imprisonment, Mandela was allowed to write and receive only one 500 word letter every six months. Since letters were heavily censored by prison officials, he painstakingly drafted most of his correspondence in notebooks before putting them on paper to be mailed.

Letters were the lifeblood connecting prisoners and their families,” said Amhed Kathrada, who was jailed with Mandela.

Card said he once helped authorities read the letters, looking for “coded messages” in them.

I decided against returning the letters to authorities,” the ex-policeman said. “I decided that these were very valuable documents that could be lost or destroyed.

An exhibition called A Prisoner Working in the Garden was opened at the centre, which is at the offices of the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg

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