The rug

Daryl Cagle


'Shame and sorrow'

Cartoon by Rayma Suprani

Vatican expresses 'shame and sorrow' over abuse of 1,000 children by more than 300 priests in Pennsylvania

The Independent: The Vatican has expressed "shame and sorrow" in its first response to a groundbreaking US Grand Jury report detailing decades of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

The report accuses over 300 "predator" priests throughout Pennsylvania of abusing nearly 1,000 children — and the Church of conducting a systematic cover-up. However, the actual number of total abuses in those dioceses since 1947 may be far higher than the reported figure. "We believe that the real number of children whose records were lost or who were afraid ever to come forward is in the thousands," the grand jury noted in its lengthy report.

In the Vatican's response, Pope Francis said he understands how "these crimes can shake the faith and spirit of believers," vowing to "root out this tragic horror."

"Regarding the report made public in Pennsylvania this week, there are two words that can express the feelings faced with these horrible crimes: shame and sorrow," said Greg Burke, director of the Vatican's Press Office. "The Holy See treats with great seriousness the work of the Investigating Grand Jury of Pennsylvania and the lengthy Interim Report it has produced. The Holy See condemns unequivocally the sexual abuse of minors."

The report includes harrowing details about the abuses priests allegedly carried out over the years. It also says the priests shared photos with each other of their sexual abuse victims.

"Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades," the report said.

Most of the accusations detailed in the new report are “too old to be prosecuted,” according to the grand jury, which found the majority had occurred before 2002.

That was the year US Catholic Bishops implemented new guidelines surrounding sexual abuse, which included removing accused clergy from office almost immediately and reporting allegations to the police.

"By finding almost no cases after 2002, the Grand Jury's conclusions are consistent with previous studies showing that Catholic Church reforms in the United States drastically reduced the incidence of clergy child abuse," the statement continued.

Still, the Vatican said it "encourages continued reform and vigilance at all levels of the Catholic Church, to help ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults from harm."

"Victims should know that the Pope is on their side," the statement continued. "Those who have suffered are his priority, and the Church wants to listen to them to root out this tragic horror that destroys the lives of the innocent."

Here's Your Problem

New Yorker Cartoon

Impact of social media on children’s mental health a 'real tragedy for our time', says new private schools chief 

The Telegraph: Performing is in Shaun Fenton’s blood. He may be the new leader of Britain’s top private schools, but he is also the son of 1970s rock star Alvin Stardust, his mother was a dancer and his brother is an award-winning DJ and record producer.

“The advantage my dad always had was that people had chosen to turn up by buying a ticket. The disadvantage for teachers is the students haven’t any choice. That’s why teaching is a performance art,” he explained, sitting in his study in Reigate grammar school where he is head teacher.

“You have a different audience seven times a day that you have to enthral, inspire, engage and help to learn as well as enjoy your lesson.”

It is a vocation that has taken him from PPE at Oxford University (the first in his family to stay on at school beyond 15) to a career in a state comprehensive (the Ridings was then seen as the toughest in Britain), state grammar, state academy and now chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistress’ Conference (HMC), overseeing schools from Eton and Harrow to Manchester and Reigate.

No previous chairman has had such a breadth of school experience to draw on to articulate a vision for HMC. In an interview to open his year in charge, he outlined that vision: it will focus on tackling the rise in child mental ill health, helping children cope with social media and ensuring HMC schools play a key part in helping disadvantaged pupils.

Social media, he believes, is contributing to a mental health crisis among children that is “a real tragedy for our time”. He said emerging evidence pointed to the constant pressure to be online and incessant stream of negative information damaging children’s mental health.

“The tragedies in the world, the problems in conflict areas, the disease, issues causing mass migration are in the consciousness of young people more than ever before,” he said.

“They are now on their phone feed constantly, every 10 seconds. Those complexities are very different to what they have been for young people before.

“The technology also chases children into what were private spaces in their family homes and can create new opportunities for anxiety, bullying and destruction.”

Endorsing The Daily Telegraph’s campaign for a statutory duty of care on the industry, he said it was time for social media firms to do more to provide “a safe and managed” environment online for children which could include “healthy” time limits.

He also backed new laws to rein in the firms, saying our relationship with social media needed to be “recalibrated.” “The platform providers have a part to play and I am sure there is a role for regulation,” he said.

He was, however, concerned mental ill health, unlike physical illness, was still shrouded in stigma which meant children found it difficult to tell parents, teachers or carers they were suffering. “We need to normalise it to encourage people to come forward and get support,” he said.

Education – and in particular “character education” – was critical in helping children develop mental resilience to handle crises, he said. For social media, they also needed a “tool kit” of tips such as no phones in bedrooms to ensure a “healthy” approach.

“Part of the ethos of an independent school is helping children to embrace first match nerves, rise to the challenge of speaking in front of 100 people, or having stickability on a hike in November for a Duke of Edinburgh award,” said Mr Fenton >>>

Heinous acts of violence

Cartoon by Mikail Çiftçi

Hold to account those who regard heinous acts of violence against children as acceptable

Kevin Watkins
Chief Executive, Save the Children UK

The Saudi Emirati-led coalition’s decision to investigate the attack in Yemen’s Sa’ada province which left dozens of children dead lacks credibility (“Saudi-led coalition to probe deadly Yemen strike”, August 10). Both the scale and the circumstances of the tragedy, a missile strike on a school bus in a crowded market, demand the independent investigation called for by the UN secretary-general.

None of the parties to the conflict in Yemen have honoured their responsibility to protect civilians. But last week’s strike plumbed new depths — as did the coalition’s response. Senior military and political leaders have variously maintained that the air strike “conformed to international and humanitarian law”, and that the civilian victims constituted “collateral damage” in pursuit of a “legitimate military operation”.

All of which raises some fundamental questions. Are the coalition’s political and military leaders familiar with the Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statutes which define their responsibilities to protect civilians, and prosecute those who commit potential war crimes? Or do they feel they can violate international laws with impunity, safe in the knowledge their arms suppliers and political allies will turn a blind eye?

There is a legal term that any investigation into this latest tragedy should consider. “Depraved indifference”, in the US legal codes, refers to acts that are so callous, wantonly reckless and lacking in moral concern for the welfare or safety of others as to warrant investigation for criminal liability. The Saudi-led coalition’s consistent failure to protect Yemeni children since the conflict escalated in 2015 would certainly appear to meet the depraved indifference test. What needs to be established now is whether a possible war crime has been committed.

What is happening in Yemen is part of a wider culture of impunity surrounding the perpetrators of heinous acts of violence against children in armed conflict — a culture on display from Syria and Iraq to the Rohingya crisis and South Sudan. It is time for those who believe in international law to stand up and hold to account those who see children as targets or as acceptable “collateral damage”.

Iran's share

Behnam Mohammadi

Iran's share from Caspian Sea

EU and Trump’s sanctions

Cartoon by Paresh Nath

European Failure to Safeguard Iran Deal Shows EU is Still a Paper Tiger 

Atlantic Council: Just a few weeks ago, it seemed that the Iran nuclear deal could be saved. Now, it is highly likely that, even if the agreement is not formally cancelled, it will soon become a façade without any real meaning.

President Donald Trump’s recent threats to block any companies still engaging with Iran from business in the US are a clear and serious incentive for foreign firms to leave Iran as soon as possible. Despite European Union (EU) efforts to protect companies and neutralize US threats, major European businesses have already announced their departures.

A sad conclusion is that the EU, despite its promises, is unable to negate punitive US actions. Again, the EU has failed to achieve anything spectacular, even though the Joint Comprehensive Pan of Action (JCPOA) was supposed to be a flagship achievement of the EU’s common foreign policy and a symbol of the organization’s growing strength. In fact, recent developments clearly show that the EU is still just a paper tiger. It is doubtful that European companies will heed a so-called blocking statute or that the EU will implement provisions penalizing firms for abiding by US secondary sanctions.

Despite the blocking statute and strong EU political support for the JCPOA, many large firms have already left Iran. Total has already announced that it will not develop the South Pars gas field. Maersk and Peugeot have also quit Iran. It was also recently reported that many German companies, including truck and auto manufacturer Daimler, are suspending Iran ventures despite receiving an export credit guarantee, or so-called Hermes cover, from the government in Berlin.

It is not difficult to understand the calculations made by large companies – the Iranian market is tempting but, at the same time, difficult, hard to comprehend and, above all, unpredictable. Even if European companies decided to ignore US warnings and do business with Iran anyway, what could they gain? Investing in Iran is extremely risky – nobody can guarantee European businesses that their investments in Iran are safe and will not be nationalized. Average Iranians are now not even sure whether their economy is on the brink of collapse or whether the country is descending into civil war. Why would anybody want to invest in such a challenging economy, especially when compared to the much larger, richer and investor-friendly US economy? For instance, German exports to the US are worth $110 billion per month, while, in the whole of 2017, Germany sold goods worth just $3 billion to Iran.

So, if large, international giants are now afraid to have economic ties with the Islamic Republic, maybe smaller ones could fill the gap? That seems to be the Plan B for EU decision makers.

Central and Eastern Europe have many local companies that are not present in the US market, meaning they have no reason to fear US secondary sanctions. But, even for them, any business with Iran is a challenge. A good friend of this author, based in Warsaw, works for a local, medium-sized company, which found a reliable partner in Tehran keen to import Polish medical equipment. The price had already been discussed and agreed. The next step was to pay for the goods but the company has been unable to find any bank in Poland (most of them are foreign-owned) or nearby that would handle the transaction. This is so even though the sale of medicine and medical equipment to Iran has never been sanctioned. Banks are not willing to get involved because their potential profit would be too low while the potential risk remains high.

Countries such as Poland had also hoped that, thanks to Iranian oil, they would be able to trade with Iran and increase their energy security and decrease their dependence on Russia. But Central and Eastern European countries remain dependent on the security provided by US troops against Russia. Therefore, they weigh the question about whether to persist with the JCPOA and participate in some small-scale business ventures with Iran against the possibility of angering the Trump administration and seeing the withdrawal of the US military umbrella. The decision is easy to make.

What would have to happen to save the JCPOA? The Trump administration says that is ready to meet Iranians and negotiate a new more comprehensive deal. The Iranian government, for now, appears to have ruled out such talks. But many ideas once considered dreams have, at some point, become a political reality.

Robert Czulda is an Assistant Professor at the University of Lodz, Poland and a former visiting professor at Islamic Azad University in Iran, the University of Maryland and National Cheng-chi University in Taiwan. He is the author of "Iran 1925 – 2014: From Pahlavis to Rouhani."

Erasing Caspian

Behnam Mohammadi

Blog about this  latest Islamist fascist kowtowing to Putin here.

Time to back Canada

Cartooon by Sabir Nazar

Time to back Canada


The Guardian: It is famously hard to pick a fight with Canadians, but Saudi Arabia’s forceful crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is not a man to be held back by what others think. That trait has led to both reforms (allowing women to drive) and a crackdown on those advocating them (arresting women who campaigned for the right). When Ottawa responded by calling for the immediate release of peaceful activists, including Samar Badawi, who has family in Canada, Riyadh lashed out at what it called reprehensible interference in its internal affairs. It expelled the Canadian ambassador, cancelled flights to Canada, froze new trade and investment, and is reportedly selling Canadian assets. Some measures – withdrawing students, and transferring home patients currently undergoing treatment – seem more damaging to those Saudi citizens than their hosts.

This absurd overreaction reflects the bullishness of the man who led the charge to war in Yemen and the blockade which has failed to bring Qatar to its knees as planned. But he has surely been emboldened by Donald Trump’s embrace, and the US president’s own attacks on Canada. It was little surprise when the state department said it would stay out of this row; more disappointing is the reticence of others. The UK has merely urged restraint on its two “close partners” and said it regularly raises rights concerns, including recent arrests.

Riyadh is sending a message to others, and while these measures are harsh, they are not entirely unprecedented: German businesses have reportedly paid for Berlin’s criticism of Riyadh’s role in Lebanese politics last year. It is in European countries’ own interests to stand together and tell the crown prince that such actions are not cost-free for Saudi Arabia. Like his anti-corruption coup, they are unlikely to reassure potential partners; and his mission to modernise the kingdom will require foreign support.

Load up

Sanctions Gloom

Cartoon by Stephane Peray

Iranians Sink Back Into Economic Gloom as U.S. Sanctions Return

TIME: On a stifling hot morning almost four years ago, Alireza Mowlapasandi headed to Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport to fly to the small desert town of Tabas in eastern Iran, a trip he made regularly as an engineer. The plane to be used on the route was a locally built Antonov — not built for Iran’s searing summer temperatures, but usually reliable enough. Not this time, however; shortly after takeoff, the pilot realized one of the two turboprop engines had stopped, and despite his best efforts the remaining engine was just not powerful enough for the plane to return. Sephan Airlines Flight 5915 crashed a short distance away from Mehrabad Airport and all but 9 passengers perished. Alireza, sitting at the front, never stood a chance.

His brother Akbar was told by one of Alireza’s colleagues he was missing. “We didn’t know if he was among the wounded or the dead, so some of his colleagues and I divided into teams and started checking the hospitals where the wounded had been taken to,” Akbar, now 35, said. “It was late afternoon when it became increasingly obvious my brother hadn’t made it.”

Alireza Mowlapasandi was just one of nearly 2,000 Iranians to have lost their lives in aviation accidents, many of which were, to a great degree, due to a decades-old U.S. sanction on sale of aircraft and spare parts to Iran, making the Islamic Republic’s civil aviation fleet one of the oldest and least reliable in the world.

The lifting of this particular sanction in the wake of the 2015 nuclear deal forged between Iran and six world powers was one of the agreement’s more tangible results. Within months Iranian airlines had signed contracts or made agreements to purchase more than 300 planes from Airbus and Boeing, among others.

But when President Donald Trump announced in May the U.S. would withdraw from the nuclear deal, those plans quickly collapsed. By the time the first round of sanctions were re-imposed on Aug.6, which included the sale of airplanes and parts, Iran had only received 16 new planes.

The renewal of Iran’s creaking commercial air fleet is just one victim of the U.S. U-turn on the nuclear deal. When the U.S. President declared he would make good on his campaign promise to tear up the agreement, the already wobbly Iranian economy went into freefall. The rial fell to a third of its original value at the beginning of 2018, and draconian fiscal policies implemented by the government to arrest its fall made things worse. And that was before the first round of sanctions, which also restricted the purchase of U.S. dollars and precious materials, were restored.

For Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who staked his political future on the promised benefits of a nuclear deal, things could scarcely have gone worse. Yet despite Trump’s offer of talks without preconditions, Islamic Republic statesmen, from the western educated foreign minister Javad Zarif, to the nominally moderate president, to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all matters of foreign affairs, are all adamant that there can be no talks with the Trump administration in the present circumstances.

Within hours of Trump signing the sanctions back into effect, Rouhani went on state TV on Tuesday to explain to Iranians why he believes the offer of talks without preconditions is not sincere. “How can someone re-impose sanctions and claim they want to negotiate at the same time?” he said. “You can’t stick a knife into someone’s arm and claim you want to talk with them.”

The faltering economy, under pressure both from sanctions and unpopular attempts to rescue it, has driven some Iranians to the streets to demonstrate. But others still believe renewed negotiations with the U.S. could prove fruitful. “Trump needs a foreign policy success now, so Iran should try get the U.S. back into the nuclear deal, with the offer of also talking on regional influence and its missile program should it do so, all within national interests of course” said Soheil Fadaie, a 37 year old electric engineer.

In truth, there are few alternatives available to Iran’s leaders. The U.S. has promised to bring in even more severe sanctions in November targeting Iran’s oil exports, and has warned its allies anyone doing business with the Islamic Republic will suffer too. Iran might yet respond by closing access to the Straits of Hormuz, the waterway through which 30% of the world’s seaborne oil supply passes every year. But such an action would certainly cause a global energy crisis, and could even provoke a military response by the U.S.

Fadaie believes if the worst comes to the worst the Islamic Republic should consider some sort of dialogue, even if it’s just to wait out the current administration. “If the situation becomes uncontrollable,” he said, “then the government should sit down to talks with Trump, even if it’s just to stretch it on till another U.S. administration takes over or the situation changes for the better. Who knows,” he added, “maybe Trump will turn out to be much more reasonable when you speak to him directly.”

That appears to be a vanishing possibility. Trump’s aggressive actions have forced Rouhani to swing to the right to accommodate hardliners who see the reimposition of sanctions as proof they were right all along to distrust the United States. Speaking to a gathering of Iranian ambassadors last month, Rouhani — once known as the “diplomat sheikh” — didn’t mince his words. “Today, negotiating with America is paramount to capitulation.”

His change of stance did not go unnoticed inside Iran. The Revolutionary Guards’ most famous general and the head of its extraterritorial Quds Force, Qasem Soelimani, sent him a letter lauding him for his return to the revolutionary fold. Even as the economy begins to disintegrate, Iran’s moderates and revolutionary stalwarts are more united than they have been in years.