Clem’s Chronicles: Pirate Hijacking/Italian Quake/Taxing Sugary Soft Drinks

By Clem Lane

Apr 8, 2009 9:19pm

Clem Lane here with another Evening Editorial Note. Let’s get down to it—–

SOMALI PIRATES-Well if the pirates operating in waters off the coast of Somalia weren’t at the top of the “to deal with” list for the US, they’re a lot closer now. For the first time, pirates attacked an American ship. Martha Raddatz, filing for WORLD NEWS, has the details: “The container ship Alabama was steaming towards Kenya with food and relief supplies when it was first attacked yesterday. The crew, which does not carry weapons, managed to repel that attack…dousing the pirates with powerful firehoses. But today the pirates returned.” Their return today was more successful and four of the pirates were able to board the boat and round up the Alabama’s crew.  One of the Alabama’s crew had a cell phone and was able to relay information to the ship’s head office to say they were safe but being held hostage. The US Navy immediately sprung to action but their closest Navy destroyer was hundreds of miles away. The Alabama’s crew apparently was in no mood to wait for help. Raddatz tells us that “the crew…took matters into its own hands, using brute force to grab the pirates.” End of story? Unfortunately not. Raddatz: “The pirates managed to grab the ship’s captain Richard Phillips.” The Alabama’s crew took a pirate hostage and offered a swap of prisoners, the pirate for the captain. Crisis over? Nope. Raddatz: “the pirates did not hold up their end of the bargain. The hostage pirate was released. The captain was not.”

HOW TO FEND OFF A PIRATE ATTACK-Charlie Gibson noted their frequency on WORLD NEWS: “There have been more than 50 pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia this year, 6 of them just in the past week alone.”  That plethora of attacks by Somali pirates has not been lost on maritime teaching academies. Sharyn Alfonsi, filing for WORLD NEWS, tells us that “this year for the first time ever…cadets at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy are learning how to defend themselves and their ships…with deadly force.” Alfonsi notes that the pirates are carrying more than their grandfather’s saber. Alfonsi: “Pirates use high-powered speed boats equipped with GPS and satellite phones. They’re armed with automatic weapons, anti-tank rocket launchers, even grenades.” And while the merchant marines aren’t packing Terminator-style, they are being taught in simulators all across the country how to defend their ship and are learning hand-to-hand combat techniques. Alfonsi notes that “an industry that has always promised adventure…now changing course to assure the crew’s survival.”

ITALIAN QUAKE-The first funerals got underway today for victims of Monday’s devastating earthquake in Central Italy. The death toll stands at 272, including sixteen children. Rescue efforts continued for the 15 people still missing, but officials today began discussing rebuilding the region and reopening schools. They stressed it would take a month or two to have a clear idea of the extent of the damage. Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi said about 28,000 people remain homeless. Of the 28,000 people homeless, 17,700 were being housed in tent cities, spending much of their time standing in long lines  (waiting for food and to use the bathrooms).  After two days of largely clear skies, conditions were expected to worsen by Thursday, when rain and thunderstorms were forecast for the quake area. Also today Madonna pledged $500,000 in quake relief. Two of her grandparents are from the town of Pacentro – which was affected by the earthquake. Pope Benedict XVI said he would visit the area soon.  (thanks to Jason Volack for this entry)

DUDES-NOT MY MOUNTAIN DEW!-America has a growing (no pun intended) obesity problem and the authors of a commentary that appeared today in the New England Journal of Medicine seem to have a weapon to fight the fat: taxing sugar-sweetened drinks. As John Berman reported on WORLD NEWS, Americans are no strangers to sugar-laden soft drinks. Berman: “The average American drinks the equivalent of 50 cans of soda a month. And we drink more soda than bottled water, milk or coffee.” Kelly Brownell, the Rudd Center Director for Obesity at Yale University sees an upside to a sugar tax, telling Berman “A 1 penny per ounce tax-on sugared beverages could lead to a bout a 10 percent reduction in population consumption which could be a public health home run.” Before you scoff at Mr. Brownell (if you’re a scoffer), Berman reminds “there is historical precedent…look at cigarette taxes. Studies estimate a 10 percent hike in cigarette prices led to a 2 percent reduction in adult smoking rates and a 7 percent reduction in teen smoking.” Sounds pretty persuasive doesn’t it? The American Beverage Association may be the only ones not buying it, arguing that a soft drink is “just a fun beverage” and that “eating too much of something is the problem”. While those of us who get our caffeine from a sugar-laden cold beverage may not like it, Berman notes that “public health experts are sure something needs to be done to fight obesity…some believe soft drinks are a good place to start.”

MEXICAN DRUG WARS-Terry Moran was in Juarez, Mexico last week, seeing firsthand the results of the drug wars being waged across northern Mexico. Moran: “In Juarez, the army patrols the streets…in a city under siege from drug cartels. More than 2000 murders in the past 14 months…the police were thoroughly corrupted.” While it would be nice to think this a Mexican problem, a hit man and smuggler for the powerful Juarez cartel told Moran it was “all with the help of corrupt US law-enforcement officials….The drug cartels, he claimed, have many US officials on the payroll.” US officials don’t dispute the corruption charges.  Moran again: “The reason, law enforcement says: It’s getting harder to smuggle drugs, because of increased pressure from the Mexican government and more stringent US border security. But more border agents means more targets for bribes…and that means this war-now fought by the troops in Juarez is a long, long way from over."

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