FIVE days of attacks by criminal gangs on police stations and public buses in the state of Sao Paulo in Brazil have left 115 people dead. The violence subsided on Tuesday, but was a reminder of just how strong these gangs have become, and how weak public security forces have become.Outgunned and easily bribed by the wads of cash that these gangs commander, it is no wonder that the gangs are winning the war against the police. The New York Times has a good story on this violence today, and says that electoral politics may have been a factor in the acting governor of the state of Sao Paulo rejecting an offer of federal troops from President Luis Inacio ‘Lula’ da Silva. Former Sao Paulo Gov. Geraldo Alckmin recently stepped down to run in the presidential election next year. A rival of Lula’s, it seems that Alckmin advised against accepting federal troops for fear that it may be used against him during the election campaign.I think federal intervention is badly needed in Sao Paulo and in Rio de Janeiro, where notorious drug gangs regularly erupt into violence.Unfortunately, what is already emerging is a state within a state, with armed and dangerous criminals running the inner state.****THE Times of London has an alarming article today on how gay men are being targeted and killed by armed militias in Iraq (“Gays flee as religious militias sentence them to death”).According to one gay Iraqi, Ali Hili, a religious militia was luring gay men to their death by setting up meetings with them in online chat room and then killing them. He says he knows of at least 40 gay men killed in this fashion in recent months.Flamboyant gay men are cutting their hair short and going into hiding. Those lucky enough to escape from Iraq are going to Britain and other friendly countries to seek refuge. Hili also runs an Iraqi gay rights group that runs a network of safe houses to keep Iraqi gay men safe and help get them out of the country.But it is not only gay men who are being targeted in post-Saddam Iraq but also women who live alone and who refuse to cover up. They are perceived as being too liberated and too “loose”. Ironically, it seems that gay men and progressive women were safer then than they are today.****ASHARQ Alawsat has a scary article that says uncooperative AIDS patients in Saudi Arabia will be placed on a police list. The article is not clear on what they deem to be “uncooperative” behavior, and says that the names and home addresses of those found lacking in cooperation would be sent to the police. Once the person started to cooperate, their name would be removed from the list.It seems to me that the government is panicking because of the rising number of Saudis infected with the HIV-virus. According to official statistics, 1,111 individuals in the Kingdom contracted AIDS in 2005. Admittedly, many of these new infections happened to foreign workers living here. They are deported home once found to be infected, and are denied any anti-AIDS medication while awaiting deportation as the Saudi government believes that it should only pay for the medication of Saudis.Instead of threatening to punish AIDS sufferers, the government would do well to have a public information campaign on how Saudis can protect themselves from infection. Morality lectures are ineffective in curbing the actual sexual behavior of many Saudis that puts them at risk.****THE NYT has an excellent editorial today saying that many Americans find it strange that the United States is renewing full diplomatic relations with Libya, after years of direct Libyan involvement in terrorist attacks that killed Americans in Europe. Remember the downing of the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988? Or the bombing of nightclub in Berlin that killed some American servicemen? Libya has admitted responsibility for these attacks and paid millions of dollars to the families of the victims.I just find it strange that Libyan President Moamar Qaddafi just has to say “I want relations with America,” and kaboom, relations are restored. As the NYT notes, wouldn’t it benefit the US if it likewise had dialogue with Iran instead of trying to isolate it while branding it a pariah state? I couldn’t agree more!*****PHILIP Bowring has an excellent analysis of the current Philippine recovery in the International Herald Tribune. He says that despite the strength of the peso and a robust economic growth rate of 5 percent, there is an underlying malaise that threatens to undermine the progress of the country.Not least of all is the political instability of the Arroyo presidency, with continued calls for her to resign scaring away foreign investment. But the most worrying of all is his conclusion that wealthy Filipinos still don’t believe in their own country and continue to keep much of their wealth abroad.Bowring writes: “For the majority of the Philippine people, real incomes are static and still below 1988 levels. Income gains have largely gone to capital, not labor, to higher income groups and to those receiving remittances. Indeed, remittances have been the main factor in pushing growth above 4 percent.“Appropriate economic policies and more stable politics would both help to improve performance. But the bigger problems have little to do with economic technicalities or the pro and cons of democratic systems. The deeper malaise arises from social divides, reflected in the continued Communist insurgency and assassinations of leftist party activists, in the role of the church in obstructing family planning, and in an elite that prefers to consume conspicuously, or stash money in safe havens in the United States and Australia, rather than invest in the future of the Philippines.”Sad indeed!*****THE son of the late A.M. Rosenthal, Andrew Rosenthal, has a touching piece in the NYT today on what it was like to live in the shadow of the great New York Times editor.Andrew is now a reporter at the NYT, and he recounts how President George H.W. Bush was angry when he asked him a question at the White House. It seems that the father of the current President Bush was mad at something Andrew’s father had written and was taking it out on his son.****FINALLY, all of the news wires picked up the story yesterday of King Abdullah allegedly warning Saudi newspapers not to use pictures of Saudi women.His comments were broadcast on Saudi television, and were misinterpreted by news agencies. According to a Saudi colleague of mine, the king actually asked newspapers not to use provocative pictures of women in a tabloid fashion. He did not ban the use of pictures of Saudi women, but just cautioned that they should be used in good taste.For those who panicked and thought the “reformer”, as he is known, was backtracking on women’s rights were too quick to jump to conclusions.
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