Page 3 girl Rhian Sugden bares all in London to protest government corruption. British politicians have been accused of "dipping into money that should have been allocated to schools and hospitals in order to furnish their homes and clean their moats." In fact one member of politician used taxpayer money to build a house for his ducks. Newspaper pin up girl Rhian wants all of Great Britain's politicians to "expose" their expenses before the country elects members to represent them in the European Parliament next week. (And yes — it's more naked activism!)
Last week, in a frustrating turn of events, the European Union passed a law that bans the sale of any American wine with one of the following words on the labels:
Chateau, classic, clos, cream, crusted/crusting, fine, late bottled vintage, noble, ruby, superior, sur lie, tawny, vintage, vintage character
The legislation comes as a follow-up to a 2006 agreement that limited the American use of terms like "Champagne" or "Chablis." Because it preserved certain wine growing regions, this pact was widely accepted. However, the new stricter ban is not related to protecting a specific region. The law will affect American growers of port and sherry, and many large American wineries, like Washington's popular Chateau Ste. Michelle and Napa's famed Chateau Montelena, will no longer be able to sell wine in Europe.
Like many wine enthusiasts, I think this is an absurd regulation and hope that the Europeans will reconsider the terminology ban. How do you feel about it? Are you surprised to hear that Europe is prohibiting the sale of American wine?
Part of the stimulus bill could create between 1,000 and 9,000 new jobs . . . at the price of 65,000 existing ones! With the hope of creating jobs, the "Buy American" provision of the bill mandates that only US-made iron and steel be used in public works projects, but it could have unintended consequences.
Other countries would likely react to the provision by prohibiting the use of US products in their public works, resulting in the residual American job loss. The US does about $104 billion in export business for other countries' public works projects. Hoping to change the Senate's mind, the EU has issued a warning that the bill might violate a WTO treaty signed by the US, the EU, and Japan.
While the figures are startling, the Alliance for American Manufacturing says they're not accurate. That group generously estimates that 77,000 jobs will be created if only domestic steel can be used, thus making it a net gain in US jobs. In response, President Obama said last night that he would try to water down the provision.
Should the US go ahead and exclusively support US steel companies through its public works projects, despite the possibility of retaliation by other countries?
The United Nations is set to vote on a resolution that would call on all governments to decriminalize homosexuality. Yet almost 80 states that still criminalize homosexuality, as well as the Vatican, oppose the measure proposed by the European Union. Specifically the resolution would condemn the jailing and execution those found guilty of homosexuality, which happens in countries like Iran.
The Vatican argues that while the teachings of the Church forbid unjust discrimination, a UN resolution would put pressure on countries that do not recognize same-sex marriage. Still regardless of concerns about gay marriage, there may be good reason to pass the resolution — decriminalizing homosexuality would help fights AIDS by bringing treatment and prevention programs into the mainstream.
Are you surprised the Vatican would come out against this UN resolution?
In Brussels (the Belgian city, not the sprouts), EU officials have decided to lift the ban on crooked, bent, or twisted perfectly-edible fruit and vegetables. For the past 20 years, 100 pages of regulations have required that produce be uniform in appearance, and sold without any odd curves.
But not all fruit is exempt from standards of beauty — appearance regulations for apples, strawberries, citrus fruit, kiwi, lettuce, pears, peaches, nectarines, sweet peppers, table grapes, and tomatoes will still be on the books, although each country can decide whether they want to enforce them.
Produce sellers in a few countries, like Italy and France, worry that after the ban is gone, consumers will purchase less fruit and vegetables because they will be scared away by deformities. Even if you discriminate against ugly, yet edible, food, should the law be able to?
China has thrown its weight around in Europe, declaring that its relations with the 27-members of the European Union will be seriously damaged if a dissident, currently jailed by China, receives the EU's top human rights award. Hu Jia is one of three finalists for the Sakharov Prize, and has campaigned on behalf of Chinese democracy, environmental, and HIV/AIDS movements. He has been imprisoned since last December, and was sentenced to "inciting subversion of state power" this past April.
Writing a letter to the president of the EU assembly, China's ambassador said:
If the European Parliament should award this prize to Hu Jia, that would inevitably hurt the Chinese people once again and bring serious damage to China-EU relations. . . Not recognizing China's progress in human rights and insisting on confrontation will only deepen the misunderstanding between the two sides.
In addition to this letter, China may have an opportunity to exert some pressure during the EU-Asia summit in Beijing. Starting Friday, Nicolas Sarkozy, current EU president, will ask China to become a partner in saving the world's financial system. Can one country's criminal be another 27 countries' hero? Or is Hu Jia undeniably a hero for all humans?
Members of the European Union work together for Europe's common values such as democracy and social justice. In addition to solving the world's financial mess, there's at least one other common challenge the international body wants to confront: iPods. Today, the EU executive asked Europeans, especially children and youth, to turn that music down! — or risk long-term hearing damage or loss.
A report from EU scientists found that 2.5-10 million Europeans could suffer hearing loss, as a result of listening to MP3 players at over 89 decibels for at least one hour a day, for a five year period. Perhaps because the governments anticipate rising medical care costs as a result of the damage, the EU might impose a volume limit lower than the current 100 decibel maximum.
Should a supranational body be responsible for keeping MP3 players safe, or is a warning in the user's manual enough?
Rising civilian casualties from US and international attacks, the resurgence of the Taliban, the rising cost of food and gas, and the failure to engage Pakistan, Iran, and India make the situation in Afghanistan the worst since 2001, according to an experienced European diplomat.
Francesc Vendrell, a Spaniard who just stepped down as the EU envoy in Kabul, insisted yesterday that the Afghan government and other countries, too, must follow military actions against the Taliban with concrete humanitarian assistance. Only then, he said, will the local people get behind the government in Kabul and its Western backers.
Speaking at a conference of international ministers and military officers, Vendrell offered some more specific advice. To find out what that was, read more
Airlines and 34 countries vehemently oppose a plan to require fingerprints from foreigners leaving the US. Opponents, which include the European Union, worry about the privacy violation, as well as the fact that the plan pushes the burden of border security, usually a function of government, to private companies. The plan would require airlines and cruise liners to collect the fingerprints by August 2009.
The financially incapacitated airline industry claims that the plan will cost it $12.3 billion over 10 years, not the $3.5 billion estimated by the federal government. An alliance of domestic and international carriers claim that since September 11, they have spent $30 billion for often duplicative and bureaucratic security measures. The international opposition may spark a debate between Congress, and the Bush Administration who wants the program swiftly up and running.
Which do you find to be the most compelling argument — that collecting fingerprints poses a privacy risk, or that collecting fingerprints is an expensive bureaucratic burden that should be carried by the government not private companies? Would you travel to a country if you had to leave your fingerprints behind?
Americans hear a lot about immigration and warrantless wiretapping, thanks to this presidential election; but Europe deals with these issues as well.
Sweden, upon fresh approval from parliament, will now allow its intelligence agency to spy on internationally bound emails, phone calls, and faxes (people still fax?) without a warrant. Outraged critics compare Sweden's new plan to the actions of China, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.
Moving on to all of Europe, and its immigration problem, the EU just passed legislation that allows governments to detain undocumented migrants for as many as 18 months, and ban them from EU territory for five years upon release.
Despite the intention to find decent minimum standards for migrants while maintaining a tough-on-illegals image, human rights groups criticize the law as severely flawed. The EU had the difficult task of forming a united immigration policy. France's current detention limit is 32 days, Germany's 18 months, and still other members have no limit.
Do Sweden's actions suggest that governments have a need to spy without a warrant, or a sign that the world needs new moral leadership? Should EU standards be a compromise or an aspiration? Is it possible to compromise human rights?