The Global Note: South Pole Rescue…Wheldon Reaction…Euro Mess…Van Gogh Mystery

By Tom Nagorski

Oct 17, 2011 10:59am

SOUTH POLE RESCUE

Late tonight, New Zealand time, Renee Douceur landed in Christchurch, New Zealand, after a two-leg, 3225-mile rescue journey from her Antarctic research station. We obtained an interview with Douceur — recorded just after she landed.  “I was worried about…whether it could do some more serious damage…or a stroke or who knows what else. They kept the plane at very low altitudes so the aircrew knew what to do if there was something that had happened to me,” Douceur said. She also said that the first response she received from officials with the company that operates the site, Raytheon, seemed sympathetic to her plight, despite the highly dangerous flight conditions at this time of year. “The Denver people had told me, ‘We’ll get you out as soon as possible, within a couple weeks.’ Then, all of a sudden…it’s like, ‘Oh no, she’s just going to go out on a regular scheduled flight,’” she said. She was evacuated seven weeks after suffering what might have been a stroke at the research facility. Raytheon operates the site for the National Science Foundation and Douceur said she was stunned when the company told her no special flight would be scheduled for her evacuation because of dangerous flight conditions. “As far as going for medical services…I’m saying a person who had a stroke and needs an MRI and every other testing…is that just a convenience? I don’t think so.” Douceur is now expected to undergo a number of medical tests in New Zealand — if she clears those she may be headed for home (New Hampshire) as soon as Tuesday.

RACING DEATH REACTION — OVERSEAS

From Dimitrije STEJIC in London: The crash and death of British driver Dan Wheldon is in the headlines here. The most interesting reaction was from former Formula 1 and IndyCar driver Mark Blundell who was critical of the safety conditions at the Las Vegas Indy 300. Blundell tells Radio 4′s Today program that the track in Las Vegas was unsuitable for cars of the power and speed used in Indy 300…a recipe for disaster.  Some suggest the amount and the inexperience of the drivers may have lead to the crash.

OCCUPY WALL STREET — OVERSEAS

Hundreds of “Occupy” demonstrators — whose aim is the London Stock Exchange — are still camped on steps of St Paul’s in London. They say they wanted to make some sort of gesture to city workers as they arrive for work.  Meanwhile, in Rome, police are conducting a crackdown on suspected anarchists following riots that marred a weekend march against Wall Street greed. Phoebe NATANSON reports that Italians are still trying to analyze why Saturday’s demonstration turned so violent in Rome — and not in any of the other countries where similar ‘indignati’ demonstrations were being held. La Repubblica quoted an unidentified rioter as saying anarchists had trained in Greece in urban guerrilla tactics.

EURO-MESS

-CRITICAL WEEK…The pressure is on and the stakes are high. The Financial Times reports that France and Germany have less than a week of frantic negotiation ahead to resolve key differences on a “comprehensive plan” to end the eurozone sovereign debt crisis after the world’s leading finance ministers put the ball firmly in their court over the weekend.  The G20 told the eurozone that by the European summit next Sunday it should: agree on the losses the private sector should take on Greek debt, arrange a credible plan for the recapitalization of Europe’s banks; and install a firewall to protect other countries from Greece’s woes. If investors aren’t satisfied – we could see a swift market backlash follow Sunday’s plan.

-EYES ON GREECE — AGAIN…Investors will be closely watching for a decision on a new Greek bailout, one of the plan’s key pillars. Without it, Greece will almost surely tumble into a chaotic default. At the same time, reports the Wall Street Journal, the currency union needs to show financial markets that it can prevent the woes of its peripheral nations from destabilizing the region’s banks, and that it can stop what has happened to Greece from happening to Italy—the biggest threat of all.

-GREEK PROTESTS…Greek unions are lashing out at the government with protests, strikes and ministry building sit-ins, ahead of a key vote on new austerity measures and as other eurozone countries sought a more lasting solution to the country’s debt crisis. Protesting civil servants continued occupations Monday of the finance and labor ministry buildings, while tax collectors and customs officers walked off the job, head off a 48-hour general strike on Wednesday and Thursday.

AFGHAN WAR

-ROBOTS OFFER PROTECTION…USA Today reports that the military is rushing robots and other cutting-edge equipment to Afghanistan in an effort to protect troops on foot patrol who have been the target of a record number of attacks this year. The equipment includes small robots that can be tossed over walls and through windows into homes, allowing troops to look for bombs in areas they cannot see. The robots transmit images to troops waiting at a safe distance. The military is sending 650 of the small robots, called Recon Scouts, to Afghanistan at a cost of about $13.4 million. Some have already arrived.

-TENSIONS FLARE AMONG US TROOPS…Meanwhile, the New York Times’ C.J. Chivers reports that an increase in rocket fire into Afghanistan from Pakistani territory has fed suspicion and resentment among American troops. Ground-to-ground rockets fired within Pakistan have landed on or near American military outposts in one Afghan border province at least 55 times since May, according to interviews with multiple American officers and data released in the past week. Last year, during the same period, there were two such attacks. 

THE SHALIT SWAP

Quite an “exchange rate”, as the Economist writes, of the complex and unbalanced 1,027-prisoners-for-one-soldier swap Israel will execute with Hamas beginning Tuesday. Our Alex MARQUARDT reports: We expect the Shalit swap to happen in the next 24 hours — this after mediators finalized the details of the controversial exchange to free Palestinian prisoners for Israeli Sgt. Gilad Shalit. It will be a complex and carefully choreographed event; Sgt. Shalit freed through the Gaza border with Egypt; the Palestinians — for the most part — returning to homes in Gaza and the West Bank. With the identities of the Palestinians now known — many Israelis are furious over what their country is giving up to free Shalit. Still — and although the deal is expected to bolster the prestige of Hamas – the Wall Street Journal cites that 69% of the Israeli public supports the swap, according to a survey last week by Israel’s Channel 10 television. Another survey by the Dahaf Institute found that 79% of Israelis supported the swap – only 14% opposed the deal.

ARAB SPRING

-LIBYA: GADHAFI COMPOUND TO BECOME A PARK…It has been almost two months since Tripoli fell to Libya’s revolutionary forces but ousted ruler Gadhafi remains at large. There’s no shortage of speculation about his whereabouts, but there is a dearth of credible information.  Meanwhile, on Sunday, Libyan revolutionary forces bulldozed the walls surrounding Gadhafi’s main Tripoli compound, saying it was time “to tear down this symbol of tyranny.” Ahmad Ghargory, commander of a revolutionary brigade, said the area will become a public park, the Associated Press reported.

-ARAB LEAGUE KEEPS SYRIA IN…Gulf countries seeking to suspend Syria’s membership to the Arab League over its bloody crackdown on protesters failed to gain enough support Sunday to push the measure through, reflecting deep divisions among the body’s 22 nations.

-YEMEN CLASHES…Troops loyal to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and forces opposed to his rule were engaged in heavy fighting across much of the capital Sanaa on Monday, with rockets, mortars and heavy machine-guns being used. The fighting began shortly after midnight and intensified around 3 a.m. local time, with the sound of explosions rocking many parts of the city.

PAKISTAN’S POLIO CONSPIRACY

The LA Times writes an interesting piece about the Polio epidemic thanks to the deep mistrust of doctors fueled by fundamentalist imams who denounce polio vaccination as a Western plot. As of last week, 111 cases of polio had been recorded this year in Pakistan — second only to the African nation of Chad, where 114 cases have been reported this year. Last year, Pakistan logged 144 cases of polio. Also today, in the category of foreign travel gone bad – as many as 32 people are feared dead after a boat carrying mostly students capsized on a Punjab canal.

SAUDI KING ABDULLAH TO GET SURGERY

The 87 year-old Saudi King has been hospitalized in Riyadh for back surgery following two similar surgeries last year in the US. 

IRAN

-KHAMENEI WARNS U.S….Iran’s supreme leader warned the United States on Sunday that any measures taken against Tehran over an alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington would elicit a “resolute” response. “If U.S. officials have some delusions, (they must) know that any unsuitable act, whether political or security, will meet a resolute response from the Iranian nation,” state TV quoted Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as saying.

-RENEWED PROXY WAR?…Rising tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran are raising concerns that a renewed proxy war between the two powers could break out in Iraq, where the expected withdrawal of at least some U.S. military troops at the end of the year is expected to leave a new vacuum of power.  As the Wall Street Journal notes, one of the side effects of the Arab Spring uprisings has been an upending of the regional equilibrium between Saudi-backed and Iranian-backed governments and political actors. 

MATTERHORN DEATH

Swiss police say a 42 year old Italian mountaineer has died and another was seriously injured in an attempt to climb the north face of the Matterhorn. The pair slipped on an icy incline at an altitude of 12,140 feet. Switzerland’s iconic 14,692-feet Matterhorn is a favorite destination for alpinists from around the world.

VAN GOGH WAS SHOT?

Vincent Van Gogh did not kill himself, the authors of new biography Van Gogh: The Life have claimed. The BBC reports that that contrary to popular belief, the authors say it was more likely he was shot accidentally by two boys he knew who had “a malfunctioning gun”. Dutch master Van Gogh died in Auvers-sur-Oise, France, in 1890 aged 37.

WORLD FOOD DAY

The theme of the day: Food Prices – From Crisis to Stability. World Food Day, marking the 1945 launch of the FAO, was yesterday – but celebrations continue today. The worldwide event was designed to increase awareness, understanding and informed,  year-around action to alleviate hunger.  NPR reports that speculators in the agricultural commodities markets are forcing grocery prices to rise too quickly and erratically, while critics say food should not be traded like gold or stocks, purely for financial gain. Today, hunger remains the world’s No. 1 health risk, killing more people than diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. FAO reports that about 925 million people do not have enough to eat, with the worst problems being concentrated in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

DUCK AND COVER, AGAIN

We’re gearing up for another – bigger – falling satellite. Gina SUNSERI reports that Germany’s ROSAT X-ray astronomy satellite is going to plunge back to Earth later this month, likely between October 20th and 25th.  It is smaller than UARS but will be a bigger threat – experts say up to 3,750 pounds of the satellite could survive re-entry.  

CENTRAL AMERICA FLOODS

Central American authorities said on Sunday that at least 66 people had died in six days of heavy rains that caused landslides, floods and bridge failures throughout the region. Officials ordered evacuations as the rain was expected to continue, possibly through Wednesday.

CHEERLEADER FALLS IN POOL 

As Molly HUNTER writes, Splash! 2,4,6,8 and she’s in the pool. A cheerleader at the Pan Am Games danced herself a little too close to the edge of the pool during her team’s routine on Saturday. We give her a “10″ for her recovery, finishing the dance soaking wet.

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