Compared to their American counterparts in Baghdad, British troops in semi-peaceful Basra have had it, if you ignore 68 deaths, easy. Earlier this week, Washington asked 10 Downing Street to consider moving troops to some higher risk areas where the US needs help. Prime Minister Tony Blair's cabinet approved the move Thursday, but said the redeployment would likely last weeks rather than months. The soldiers are expected to cover US troops that may be planning an assault on rebel stronghold Falluja. Charles Kennedy of the opposition Liberal Democrats warned that Blair should be planning a pull-out rather than an expansion of Britain's occupying force. (For a sampling of German opinions on Blair's latest move, read Thursday's Fishwrap column.) (6:02 p.m. CET)
There were no naked prisoners stacked in a human pyramid on Thursday, but there were some long faces following the conviction of Staff Sgt. Ivan "Chip" Frederick, who a US military court sentenced to eight years in prison for his role in torturing inmates at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The court found the Army reservist guilty on five counts of abusing prisoners and ordered his dishonorable discharge. Though Frederick confessed to the majority of the crimes, his attorneys said they would appeal what they thought was an overly stiff sentence.
In an interview with DER SPIEGEL prior to his conviction, Frederick recalled the fateful string of events that landed him in his current mess. You can read it here". (5:38 p.m. CET)
Exclusive: Bush, a Liar?
Former "Washington Post" editor Ben Bradlee, the man who helped bring down the Nixon White House, thinks so - at least when it comes to weapons of massive destruction in Iraq. He says US President George W. Bush is a "liar" and that newspaper editorial pages shouldn't be afraid to say so. Journalists should stop dancing around the issue and name Bush for what he is, the ever surly Bradlee says in a SPIEGEL ONLINE interview. Bradlee also bemoans a worsening Washington climate in which politicians regularly hide behind lies - his favorite being that they can't discuss an issue "on the grounds of national security." Nixon used that line, too, Brandlee says. Bradlee admonishes American reporters to get a backbone and to do more homework. Journalists today should not only question what politicians say but also their motivation, he says. He faults newspapers in general for not asking enough questions before the Iraq war broke out and for not investing enough time or money into researching tough-to-get stories. Calling Clinton a liar was easy, Bradlee says. With Bush, the trail is less transparent. (4:45 p.m. CET)
Signs the End is Near
Japan's deadliest storm in more than a decade, typhoon Tokage, whipped through the country Wednesday and Thursday, leaving more than 50 people dead and causing flash floods that transformed hilly landscapes into muddy rivers. With winds up to 229km/hour, the massive storm uprooted trees and blew away cars. It was so big (500 kilometers in radius) that almost the entire country was caught it its thrust before it veered east into the Pacific Ocean. Mammoth size is not the only unusual characteristic of Tokage, which means lizard in Japanese. Tokage is also Japan's record-setting 10th typhoon of the year. It flooded more than 7,000 homes and left 13,000 typhoon-weary people in shelters. (5:02 p.m. CET)
Back on the Assembly Line
Workers at Opel's plant in Bochum returned to work on Thursday morning after a seven-day walkout following US parent General Motors' announcement it would cut 12,000 jobs in Europe. Most of the clear-cutting will happen in Germany, which unfortunately stakes the claim of being the company's most expensive country for production in Europe. The strike ground assembly lines in Germany, Belgium and Britain to a halt as the supply of parts needed to build the cars ran dry. The work stoppage also meant that 6,500 cars didn't get produced, causing a painful revenue shortfall of at least 100 million ($126 million) according to SPIEGEL ONLINE's own back-of-the-envelope calculations. The company's management is currently negotiating with its worker's council over Opel's future. Both sides are seeking to improve working conditions for the employees who will remain after the axe falls and to get guarantees that the former German company's factories here will remain in business through 2010. Opel has been gushing red ink for years and General Motors announced last Thursday it would cut 10,000 jobs in Germany, including 4,000 at the company's factories in Bochum and Rüsselsheim near Frankfurt. (13:45 p.m. CET)
Is Germany a Swing State?
Less than two weeks before the Nov. 2 presidential elections in the United States, US voter groups in Germany are reporting considerable voting problems. "Many Americans still haven't received their absentee ballots," said Elsa Rassbach of the independent group American Voices Abroad. The reason? Election offices in US states have been flooded with registration requests from Americans living abroad and have been unable to keep up with demand. That's creating considerable problems given that most states required absentee voters to mail their ballots by Wednesday.
There are more than 200,000 Americans living in Germany, and their votes could be important for the election outcome -- especially in swing states like Florida and Ohio, where a small number of votes could determine the next White House tenant. Independent and party-affiliated organizations like American Voices Abroad, Overseas Vote 2004 and the Democrats Abroad are seeking to provide official substitute ballots on their Web sites for those who fail to receive their real ballots on time. And though around 70,000 of the expats living in Germany are members of the US military, and soldiers have traditionally voted Republican, disenchantment with the war in Iraq could push many in the other direction this time. (12:49 p.m. CET)
France is from Venus, America is from Mars
Dominique de Villepin, France's overly grandiloquent poet-politician has published a new book in which he explains the source of French-US clashes in the form of a fable. The book is called the "Shark and the Seagull" and de Villepin, the country's Interior Minister, makes it clear who is who. The shark, aka the Bush White House, is "a symbol of power, strength and the refusal to be halted by the complexity of the world...cutting through the sea and pouncing on its prey." The seagull, gentle and espousing tolerance and grace respresents Europe, particularly France. "The seagull is intoxicated with the sky. She turns, carried by the winds, with undulating wing, uttering from time to time her agonising peal of laughter. She watches, soars, comes closer, climbs, descends, turns suddenly. The straight line is rarely her course. She listens to the world." And so on for 260 pages. In the real world, the shark and the seagull do not fight, de Villepin says, because they exist in separate realms. World harmony, he insists, depends on a "reconciliation" of the two. (12:13 p.m. CET)
African Union Beefs Up Troops in Sudan
Two recent estimates on the number deaths in Darfur couldn't be farther apart. The United Nations believes at least 70,000 people have been killed since February 2003 in the region of west Sudan. But the Sudanese government says no more than 7,000 have died. One thing is clear: with food supply lines blocked in many areas, displaced people are still dying -- in droves. On Wednesday, the UN Security Council announced the African Union would increase its number of peacekeeping troops in the region from 390 to 3,320 soldiers and police. The figure also includes 450 unarmed military observers who will monitor a cease-fire agreement between the rebel groups and militias true to the government. The 178 million ($224.7 million), one-year mission is being financed by the European Union and the United States. The hope is that it will stabilize the situation before it gets any worse. (11:49 a.m. CET)
Get Me Out of Here!
Germany's most-anticipated returning hit show -- "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me out of Here" -- deposits a team of a washed-up stars in the Australian jungle, where they compete for airtime in acts of humiliation only a second-run celeb desperate for cash would submit to. The latest show pairs former Czech porno star Dolly Buster, who recently ran for the European Parliament, with Carsten Sprengmann, the host of Germany's version of the "Pop Idol" franchise. Last time around, fading stars had a choice: starve or collect food coupons for such degrading acts as bathing in a bathtub filled with thousands of cockroaches, dunking their heads in a tarantula tank or gathering ostrich eggs in a pen while aggressive and long-necked birds pecked at their feed-covered bodies. This year, worse horrors await them, and the tabloid Bild has run a leaked list of the worst:
* The Hell Ladder: Participants have to climb a ladder that is not only rusty, instable, sticky and slippery but also filled with scorpions. A steady rain of slime and cockroaches showers them from above.
* The Leech Bath: A half-naked celeb is forced to take a plunge in a stinky pool filled with a starving mass of bloodsucking lovelies.
* The Spider Walk: Twelve tarantulas are placed on the star's body. The longer the contestant can withstand the creepy crawlies, the more food the group gets. (10:53 a.m. CET)
Covering the Whole Harem
Great news for polygamists: at least those legally entitled to live and work in Germany. The Federal Health Ministry recently ruled that insurance policies in the state-run healthcare system policies apply not only to man, wife and children, but also to man, his many wives and their scores of children. The ministry's position means that the insurance policy of a man with multiple wives is valid for his entire family as long as those marriages were officiated in a country where polygamy is legally recognized. The government could not provide an estimate on how many families this might effect in Germany, where polygamy is illegal. Critics have also dismissed the position as political correctness at its extreme. "Marriage to more than one woman is not reconcilable with western values," said Volker Wissing of the opposition Free Democratic Party. "That's why the German government shouldn't support it indirectly through the social insurance system." (10:40 a.m. CET)
The Prussian Goose-Step: Still Big in England
Germans get a bad rap in Britain, where they're often called "Krauts," serve as the brunt of bad World Cup jokes or are pictured as goose-stepping fuddy duddys. Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer says this widespread negativity greatly contrasts with the deep political bond Berlin and London enjoy and that it's hurting relations. In an interview with the BBC on Thursday, Fischer lamented that Brits still think of Germany as the land of the "Prussian goose-step." Nearly 60 years after the close of World War II, Germany has indeed changed -- with close to 10 percent of the population comprised of immigrants. But its image is calcified in Britain, where a Goethe Institute survey a few years back found that for most Brits, Germany still evoked images of "beer drinking Bavarians, Nazis and car engineers." Apparently they haven't checked out Berlin lately, something Fischer suggested. Berlin is "fascinating" and is now in the same league as Paris and London, Fischer told British television viewers. He then blamed the British media for creating a caricature of German culture in the minds of average Brits. "When they (the Germans) watch Germany in some of the British media, they think this is a picture they have never seen in their whole lifetimes." (10:24 a.m. CET)
One More Reason to Buy a Weed Wacker
Humans have fewer genes than a weed. That is the startling news published by an international research team in the latest edition of Nature. While common weeds have close to 27,000 genes, humans lag behind with a mere 25,000, the International Human Genome Sequencing Corsortium reports. The team spent close to $300 million debunking the myth that humans have up to 40,000 genes and instead proved we are about as genetically complex as a pin worm. Clearly, the secret to humanity must derive from something other than genes. (10:15 a.m. CET)