This is an Open Thread: Come as you are As you were
After a Son’s Death, a Shared Mission in Politics
In an instant, a world in which everything seemed right suddenly seemed all wrong. John and Elizabeth Edwards’s 16-year-old son, Wade, their first-born, was dead, with nothing to blame but the gust of wind that had flipped his car off a wide-open road.
As the couple walked down the aisle of the church for his funeral, they braced each other, friends recalled, as if they could not stand alone.
In the bleak months that followed, the Edwardses looked for ways to keep Wade’s name alive, taking comfort even in seeing it printed on credit-card offers that arrived in the mail. Determined to honor their son publicly and fill their life with meaning, they created a learning center named after him. They chose to have more children. And they decided Mr. Edwards would enter politics, a path that took him first to the United States Senate and now to his second run for the presidency.
Obama Tries New Tactics To Get Out Vote in Iowa
DES MOINES — In Sen. Barack Obama’s Iowa headquarters, young staff members sit at computers, analyzing online voter data and targeting potential backers. They zip one e-mail to an undecided voter and zap a different message to a firm supporter.
Depending on the voter, they follow with Facebook reminders, telephone calls, text messages and, most important, house visits. The effort will culminate in what state director Steve Hildebrand calls “the largest grass-roots volunteer operation that Iowa has ever seen.”
Iran’s inner and outer circles of influence and power
The power of Shiite Muslim clergy has eroded in favor of various competing groups within a unique religious, civil, social and bureaucratic framework.
BEIRUT — Iran’s supreme leader spoke not with the thunder of a man regarded in his country as God’s representative on Earth, but with the exasperated tone of a corporate manager chastising his employees.
Ali Khamenei had ordered his deputies to start privatizing state-owned businesses: the telephone company, three banks and dozens of small oil and petrochemical enterprises.
Jealously guarding their own sources of power and patronage, however, his underlings all but ignored him.
Months passed. Then Khamenei gathered the country’s elite for an extraordinary meeting. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Cabinet ministers were there, as were important clerics, the leader of parliament and provincial governors, and the heads of state broadcasting and the Iranian chamber of commerce.
Stranded Palestinians set fire to camps
EL-ARISH, Egypt – More than a thousand Palestinian pilgrims set fire on Monday to temporary camps set up by the Egyptian government to house them until a dispute over how they will return to the Gaza Strip is resolved.
The Palestinians arrived by bus at 11 temporary camps in the Sinai outside the Mediterranean coastal city of el-Arish on Sunday but refused to occupy them, protesting Egypt’s attempts to have them return to Gaza through the Israeli-controlled Aouja border crossing.
As they rampaged Monday, the pilgrims shouted angry slogans against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his government for not allowing them to cross into Gaza through Rafah, where Israel has no control.
Scores dead in Kenya poll clashes
At least 43 people have been killed in the western Kenyan town of Kisumu after violence blamed on the disputed presidential election.
A BBC reporter saw the bodies with gunshot wounds in a morgue in the opposition stronghold.
Witnesses say the police fired live bullets after protesters threw stones, claiming fraud in last week’s poll.
President Mwai Kibaki has been declared the winner but Raila Odinga says he was robbed of victory.
There have also been violent clashes in slums in the capital, Nairobi, and the resort town of Mombasa.
Reuters news agency reports that 15 bodies have been found in the Nairobi slum of Korogocho.
Zimbabweans rush to hand in expiring bank notes
HARARE (AFP) – Zimbabweans thronged banking halls Monday to beat a deadline to swap 200,000-dollar bills which become worthless when businesses close for the day.
The reserve bank of Zimbabwe phased out the 200,000 zimdollar (about eight US dollars) bank notes in a bid to snuff out a burgeoning currency parallel market and tackle cash shortages which saw many going to the Christmas holiday without withdrawing their salaries.
Depositors who had formed queues while waiting for banks on Samora Machel Avenue in central Harare to open, handed in small satchels of cash or wads of the expiring bearer cheques.
“It’s so frustrating because I was given these old banknotes when I made a withdrawal on Saturday and I am back here to deposit almost all of the money since many people are refusing to accept it,” said Douglas Chimwasa, a Harare resident.
“You can imagine how much time I lost in the queue waiting to withdraw this money and now I will waste at least another hour returning it.”
Moscow loses sweet slice of history
Famous Red October chocolate factory is to be converted into homes for rich Russians
Luke Harding Moscow
Monday December 31, 2007
The chocolate aroma is unmistakeable. The only person missing is Willy Wonka – or possibly Augustus Gloop.
For more than 130 years the Red October chocolate factory in Moscow has been churning out bars for sweet-toothed Russians. But next week the factory, one of the capital’s most recognisable central landmarks, is to close.
To the dismay of conservationists, the 19th-century redbrick building on the banks of the Moscow river, close to the Kremlin, is to be converted into luxury flats.
Evacuation over wartime bomb
More than 14,000 people, including 98 hospital patients, were evacuated yesterday from a one km square area in Hanover as munitions experts defused an unexploded World War Two bomb dropped by an American warplane.
The 1,000-pound bomb, seven metres below a supermarket parking lot in southwest Hanover, was discovered in early December by local authorities studying war-time aerial photos.
“The planning for this evacuation was complicated by the hospital and intensive care patients who had to be transported,” said fire brigade spokesman Alfred Falkenberg. “We waited for this week when there were fewer patients.”
Last year, 22,000 people were evacuated in another part of Hanover, 180 miles west of Berlin, while three unexploded British World War Two bombs were defused.
My heart bleeds for Pakistan. It deserves better than this grotesque feudal charade
By Tariq Ali, Pakistan-born writer, broadcaster and commentator
Published: 31 December 2007
Six hours before she was executed, Mary, Queen of Scots wrote to her brother-in-law, Henry III of France: “…As for my son, I commend him to you in so far as he deserves, for I cannot answer for him.” The year was 1587.
On 30 December 2007, a conclave of feudal potentates gathered in the home of the slain Benazir Bhutto to hear her last will and testament being read out and its contents subsequently announced to the world media. Where Mary was tentative, her modern-day equivalent left no room for doubt. She could certainly answer for her son.
A triumvirate consisting of her husband, Asif Zardari (one of the most venal and discredited politicians in the country and still facing corruption charges in three European courts) and two ciphers will run the party till Benazir’s 19-year-old son, Bilawal, comes of age. He will then become chairperson-for-life and, no doubt, pass it on to his children. The fact that this is now official does not make it any less grotesque. The Pakistan People’s Party is being treated as a family heirloom, a property to be disposed of at the will of its leader.
Fireworks capital of world has been lighting up the sky for 1,000 years
The sky above the town pops and crackles with intermittent explosions of fireworks over steep hillsides surrounded by bamboo forests.
Welcome to Liuyang, firework capital of the world. China manufactures 75 per cent of fireworks sold around the globe, and most come from an otherwise unremarkable town in the centre of the country. There is every likelihood that the Roman candles and sparklers of New Year’s Eve across Britain are made here.
The locals have been mixing gunpowder and designing fireworks for more than 1,000 years. Today Liuyang relies on fireworks for half of its economy and more than a third of all jobs. Xu Qiangguo, a master of fireworks performance and director of the local fireworks bureau, says that the town earned £340 million from pyrotechnics last year and expects to make £466 million this year.
He said: “You can say the people of Liuyang carry a fireworks gene in their blood. They are born knowing how to make fireworks.”
Colombia hostage mission delayed
An operation by Venezuelan helicopters to collect three hostages due to be released in Colombia by the Farc rebel group has been delayed for a third day.
Venezuelan officials said the group had not provided the co-ordinates for the handover and that there was not enough time to complete the mission on Sunday.
The rebels have promised to release the hostages as a humanitarian gesture to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Mr Chavez said on Saturday that he hoped they would be released by Monday.
“They are still waiting for the details to complete the operation,” he told Venezuelan state television.