Merkel vows to restore Germans’ confidence in government
By GEIR MOULSON and FRANK JORDANS
Monday, October 15
BERLIN (AP) — Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed Monday to do more to restore Germans’ confidence in her unhappy coalition after a battering for both of her governing partners in Bavaria’s state election added to tensions in the alliance.
Sunday’s vote stripped Merkel’s conservative allies in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union, of their absolute majority in the state legislature for only the second time in 56 years. The center-left Social Democrats, Merkel’s other federal partner, slumped to a humiliating fifth-place finish in the wealthy state.
Both parties pinned much of the blame on the national government’s constant public infighting over migration and other issues since it took office in March.
“(The election) showed that even with the best economic data, with near-full employment in almost all parts of Bavaria, that isn’t enough for people when something is missing that is so important — confidence,” Merkel said.
Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party wasn’t on the ballot Sunday, but an electoral challenge looms in two weeks as it defends its 19-year-hold on the governor’s office in Hesse, a central state that includes Frankfurt, on Oct. 28.
“My lesson from yesterday is that I, as chancellor of this ‘grand coalition,’ must do more to ensure that this confidence is there and that the results of our work are visible,” Merkel said. “And I will do that emphatically.”
The Social Democrats hope to win back Hesse but polls show them trailing and support for both parties is weak.
Sunday’s outcome rekindled speculation about whether the Social Democrats will leave Merkel’s federal government before its term ends in 2021. They only reluctantly joined Merkel’s coalition in March after a national election debacle last year.
Social Democrat leader Andrea Nahles brushed aside questions Monday about her party’s pain barrier.
“I don’t think that defining red lines is appropriate at this point,” she said. “Above all, we have an election in Hesse in two weeks in which we are now investing all our power. We are not going to waste our strength and time now on internal debates.”
As for the national government, “it is obvious that the whole style of our work together must change, and that hopefully was a message from this Bavarian election,” Nahles said.
Much of the blame for the squabbling has been pinned on the CSU leader, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who has continued a three-year feud over migration with Merkel. He nearly brought down the ruling coalition in June with a demand to turn back small numbers of asylum-seekers at the German-Austrian border.
Those tactics turned off Bavarian voters on both the right and left, and polls suggested that migration was some way down on voters’ list of priorities.
Seehofer appeared to have no intention of stepping down after his party received 37.2 percent of the vote, down from 47.7 percent five years ago, for its worst showing in Bavaria since 1950.
“I won’t hold a discussion about my position,” the 69-year-old said, insisting that his party still has “a special role in Germany’s political landscape.”
The big winners in Bavaria on Sunday were smaller parties. The environmentalist Greens came second while the far-right Alternative for Germany for the first time entered its 15th of Germany’s 16 state parliaments. A regional conservative party, the Free Voters, will likely become the CSU’s coalition partner in Bavaria.
“What’s happened in Bavaria is something that’s been the case in the rest of the country for some time: the weakening of major parties due to changes in society,” said Juergen Falter, a political science professor at the University of Mainz.
Bavaria has become more secular, weakening the CSU, while workers no longer automatically choose the Social Democrats, he said.
The CSU is likely to become “a bit tamer” in the national government because it has seen that constant infighting doesn’t help, Falter said. However, he expects the Social Democrats to try and make more of a mark — and possibly use a planned midterm evaluation next year to leave the federal government.
If that happens, Merkel, 64, could try to revive efforts aborted last year to form a government with the Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats, or Germany could head toward a new early election.
Merkel, Germany’s chancellor since 2005 and the leader of the CDU since 2000, has seen her authority weakened over recent months, but has indicated that she plans to seek another two-year term as party leader at a gathering in December.
A bad performance in Hesse could complicate those plans, but there’s no sign yet of a credible challenger.
“Merkel has no serious rivals,” Falter said. “None of those who might pose a risk to her have come out of cover.”
The truth about fetal alcohol spectrum disorder
October 10, 2018
Carly McMorris, Catherine Lebel
Assistant Professor of Radiology, University of Calgary
MSc student in School and Applied Child Psychology, University of Calgary
Carly McMorris and Catherine Lebel receive funding from the Mental Health and Addiction Strategic Clinical Network Grant, through Alberta Health Services.
Chantel Ritter does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
University of Calgary provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation CA.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is often overlooked and understudied. Caused by prenatal alcohol exposure, it is sometimes referred to as an “invisible disorder.”
But FASD is the most common preventable cause of developmental disability. Many who have it experience lifelong behavioural, intellectual, neurological and mental health difficulties.
Individuals with FASD and their families also face persistent stigma, negative stereotypes and harmful biases, due to public misunderstandings.
Negative public attitudes are detrimental to people living with FASD, impacting their self-esteem and beliefs in their own capabilities. Research shows that with the right supports, individuals with FASD can live productive and successful lives. However a common, and often inaccurate, misconception is that these individuals are destined to be lifelong “burdens” on health and social systems.
As FASD researchers, we want to dispel common misunderstandings about children and youth with FASD, and offer some evidence-based truths.
More common than autism
FASD is alarmingly common, with an estimated four per cent of Canadians having the disorder, far more than previously thought. Affecting approximately 1.5 million Canadians, this means it is 2.5 times more prevalent than autism spectrum disorder.
FASD affects children and youth across all races, ethnicities, cultures and socioeconomic status. In Canada, women of all ages and backgrounds consume alcohol.
Despite recent prevention efforts, approximately 11 per cent of Canadians mothers report consuming alcohol during pregnancy, with more than three per cent reporting alcohol binges during pregnancy. This is probably an under-representation, as some mothers deny drinking during pregnancy due to negative stigma.
You also can’t necessarily tell that someone has FASD by how they look. Less than 10 per cent of individuals with FASD have the associated facial features — short palpebral fissures, smooth philtrum and thin upper lip.
For most individuals living with FASD, the invisibility of the disorder is problematic because it acts as a barrier to early identification and treatment, both of which are important for long-term outcomes.
Vulnerable to depression and abuse
Many children and youth with FASD also experience secondary conditions. Mental health disorders are seen in over 90 per cent of individuals with FASD, compared to 20 per cent of the general population. Depression and anxiety are among the most common. One study showed that depression affected 45-50 per cent of a small group of individuals with FASD; another study showed anxiety to impact 20-40 per cent.
Prenatal alcohol exposure does not cause all of the secondary issues seen in FASD. This is because prenatal alcohol exposure rarely occurs in isolation. Children with FASD frequently experience other adverse childhood events, such as maltreatment, neglect or trauma.
In one study, 34 per cent of individuals exposed to alcohol prenatally were physically abused, and 24 per cent were sexually abused.
It is often difficult to disentangle what child outcomes are related to alcohol exposure and what result from other adverse experiences.
Verbal, artistic and friendly
Intelligence and thinking abilities vary in children and youth with FASD, due to variability in the types and frequency of their mothers’ drinking during pregnancy, as well as genetics and environmental factors.
Executive functioning difficulties, memory problems, language delays, visuospatial difficulties, attention problems and reduced IQ are common in this population. However, FASD differentially affects every individual, resulting in unique areas of strengths and difficulties.
While many children and youth with FASD have average IQs, these areas of strength may be overlooked or overshadowed by behavioural problems.
All kids have strengths, and children with FASD are no exception. Many are highly verbal, artistic, outgoing and friendly.
FASD does not disappear over time. It is a lifelong, pervasive disorder that requires a lifetime of supports. Issues associated with FASD may actually worsen over time. Research shows that individuals with FASD may be at risk for substance use issues and other co-occurring mental health disorders well into adulthood.
We must ditch our stereotypes
Despite this, early diagnosis and intervention may reduce some of the challenges faced by kids with FASD. While there is no cure, some interventions have shown effectiveness in improving common difficulties.
For example, recent research that has focused on improving self-regulation and attentional control in children with FASD show improvements in lots of areas. This is evident through parent and caregiver reports, neuropsychological testing and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.
To best meet the needs of children and youth with FASD, it is essential to try to understand the whole child in their context, all their experiences and their individual strengths and differences.
To maximize the best outcomes for these children, we also need to be aware of our own biases and stereotypes. These can be harmful to the very children and families who need our support the most.
While I was aware that there was some positive treatment/therapies to improve the outcome for children with FASD, I was not aware of improvements being measurable with MRI. Thank you for this article, I just hope TC put it up on the Australian site.
Anita Spinks is a Friend of The Conversation
I’m curious about the impact of a mother who continues to drink large quantities (in my estimation) while breastfeeding. Could this translate into the likely dependence on alcohol further down the track?
I think our acceptance of alcohol as a social lubricant really worries me as possible ramifications on babies and children are carried throughout their lives.
Syria’s 2 key border crossings reopen, with Jordan, Golan
By ALBERT AJI and OMAR AKOUR
Monday, October 15
QUNEITRA, Syria (AP) — Two key Syrian border crossings reopened on Monday after years of war and violence — one with Jordan for commercial traffic and the other with the Israeli-held Golan Heights for U.N. peacekeepers — in a major boost to President Bashar Assad’s government.
The crossing with Jordan brought a promise of restoring trade and movement between the two countries. At the crossing with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, U.N. observers were finally able to return, four years after they left the area because of fighting.
The simultaneous reopening was highly symbolic, reinforcing the Syrian government’s message that it is slowly emerging victorious from the seven-year conflict. It also restores a commercial lifeline to the outside world, via Jordan.
“We are now reaping the fruits of the beginnings of victory,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said of the reopenings, adding that the real victory will come when Syria recaptures its territory in full, citing areas in northern Syria including Idlib, still outside government control.
Al-Moallem’s Iraqi counterpart, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, underscored the need to boost relations between the two neighbors and said Syria must find its way back to the Arab fold. The two spoke at a joint press conference in Damascus.
“No one can marginalize Syria, and I raised the necessity of (Syria’s) return to the Arab League,” al-Jaafari said.
The 22-member Arab League froze Syria’s membership after the civil war erupted in 2011, followed by sanctions and the severing of diplomatic ties between the League and Damascus.
Nearly 450,000 Syrians have been killed in the war, and the country has been devastated by the violence that drew the involvement of foreign militaries of regional and international powers, as well as foreign militias and militants.
With crucial military assistance from Russia and Iran, the Syrian military has clawed its way back and recaptured key territory, including major cities, from the Syrian opposition in the past two years.
Al-Moallem vowed to move on remaining parts of Syria outside of government control, saying it is “impossible’ for his government to give up on the oil-rich part of eastern Syria, where U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces are in control.
He said the eastern banks of the Euphrates river will be his government’s next target after it resolves the situation in the rebel-held northwestern Idlib province.
A Russia-Turkey deal for Idlib has been reached last month, setting a demilitarized zone and a cease-fire in the province home to 3 million people. Al-Moallem said his country will give its ally Russia time to assess whether Turkey and the Syrian armed opposition have fulfilled their part of the cease-fire deal.
On Monday, the Syrian flag was raised at the Quneitra crossing between Syria and the Israeli-held Golan at a ceremony Monday.
U.N. observers and local notables from the Druze community, the predominant population in the area, gathered near the crossing. The U.N. observers had left the Quneitra crossing in 2014 for the first time since deploying there in 1974 to monitor a cease-fire and a demilitarized zone. Israel occupied the Golan Heights in 1967.
“It is a day of victory,” Youssef Jarbou, a Druze leader, told the Syrian Al-Ikhbariya TV from Quneitra.
Syrian forces recaptured the Quneitra area in July. Russian military police deployed in the area, including on the edge of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, setting up checkpoints in the area. Moscow said it planned to work closely with the U.N. force.
Meanwhile, at the Naseeb crossing between Syria and Jordan, dozens of private cars lined up to cross from Jordan. Security personnel and dogs searched the vehicles.
“Today is a feast, a feast for the whole Arab and Islamic nations and for the whole World, this crossing is vital for the whole Arab countries,” said Mohammed Khalil, the first Syrian in line waiting to cross back into his country.
Naseeb’s reopening would bring major financial relief to Assad’s government by restoring a much-needed gateway for Syrian exports to Arab countries. The resumption of commercial trade through the crossing will also be a diplomatic victory for Assad, whose government has been isolated from its Arab neighbors since the war began in 2011.
Arab countries have boycotted the Syrian government since the early days of the war, freezing its membership in the 22-member state Arab League.
“The Naseeb crossing is a vital lifeline for trade between the two brotherly countries Jordan and Syria through them to other Arab countries,” Jordan government spokeswoman Jumana Ghunaimat said.
Syrian rebels seized the crossing in 2015, disrupting a major trade route between Syria and Jordan, Lebanon and oil-rich Gulf countries.
Syrian government troops recaptured it in July, after rebels reached an agreement with Russian mediators to end the violence in the southern province of Daraa and surrender the crossing.
The crossing is also vital for Syria’s neighbor Lebanon, providing its agricultural products a route to foreign markets.
The recapture of Naseeb marked a major victory for Assad’s forces, which have been on a winning streak since 2015 when Russia threw its military weight behind Damascus. The victory in southern Syria signaled the return of his forces to Daraa province where the uprising against him began seven years ago.
Akour contributed from the crossing in Jordan.
Pennsylvania AG: Cardinal faces no penalties by resigning
By CLAUDIA LAUER, NICOLE WINFIELD and DAVID CRARY
Saturday, October 13
NORRISTOWN, Pennsylvania (AP) — Amid unfolding sex-abuse scandals, Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl as archbishop of Washington. But the pope’s gentle words and lack of condemnation angered those who feel top Catholic leaders continue to shirk responsibility for the global crisis.
Among those frustrated by the pope’s announcement Friday was Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who oversaw a grand jury report issued in August on rampant sex abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses. The report accused Wuerl of helping to protect some child-molesting priests while he was bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006.
“It is unacceptable that then-Bishop Wuerl … oversaw and participated in the systematic cover-up that he did when leading the Pittsburgh Diocese and that he is now able to retire seemingly with no consequences for his actions,” Shapiro said. “We can’t rely on the church to fix itself.”
Shapiro spoke at a news conference after urging the state Senate to pass legislation allowing sex-abuse victims to sue in old cases they now can’t pursue because of the statute of limitations.
Wuerl had offered his resignation as archbishop in late 2015, after he turned 75. Pope Francis accepted the offer Friday, but asked Wuerl to stay on temporarily until a replacement is found and suggested he had unfairly become a scapegoat and victim of the mounting outrage over the abuse scandal.
“You have sufficient elements to justify your actions and distinguish between what it means to cover up crimes or not to deal with problems, and to commit some mistakes,” Francis wrote to Wuerl. “However, your nobility has led you not to choose this way of defense. Of this I am proud and thank you.”
Wuerl, who turns 78 in November, initially played down the grand jury report and defended his own record, but eventually concluded he should no longer lead the archdiocese.
“The Holy Father’s decision to provide new leadership to the archdiocese can allow all of the faithful, clergy, religious and lay, to focus on healing and the future,” Wuerl said in a statement Friday. “Once again for any past errors in judgment I apologize and ask for pardon.”
With the resignation, Wuerl becomes the most prominent Catholic head to roll since his predecessor as Washington archbishop, Theodore McCarrick, was forced to resign as cardinal this year over allegations he sexually abused at least two minors and adult seminarians.
Wuerl, even as he drew criticism in the grand jury report, also faced widespread skepticism over his insistence that he knew nothing about years of alleged sexual misconduct by McCarrick.
Wuerl was named prominently in the 11-page denunciation of an aleged McCarrick cover-up that was written by the Vatican’s former ambassador to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano. He accused a long line of U.S. and Vatican churchmen of turning a blind eye to McCarrick’s penchant for sleeping with seminarians.
Francis’ praise for Wuerl alarmed advocates for abuse survivors, who said it was evidence of the clerical culture Francis himself denounces in which the church hierarchy consistently protects its own.
The pope “needs to fire and publicly admonish any bishop that has enabled perpetrators by concealing their crimes from law enforcement and the public,” said Becky Ianni of SNAP, a network of abuse survivors.
She said Francis should turn over all Vatican records on child sex crimes to secular authorities, and also demand that every cardinal and bishop post the names of all the accused clergy on diocesan websites.
Patty Fortney-Julius, one of five sisters from central Pennsylvania who have accused their now-dead parish priest of sexually abusing them as children, also voiced frustrations.
“If the pope truly wants a pure faith and Catholics that can walk in on Sunday morning with their head held high … then they will open up every secret archive in the world, and that’s the bottom line,” she said at Josh Shapiro’s news conference. “You can’t speak out of both sides of your mouth. Scripture doesn’t teach that, so the Catholic Church shouldn’t teach that, especially from the pope’s pulpit.”
Wuerl has not been charged with any wrongdoing but was named numerous times in the grand jury report, which details instances in which he allowed priests accused of misconduct to be reassigned or reinstated.
In one case cited in the report, Wuerl — acting on a doctor’s recommendation — enabled the Rev. William O’Malley to return to active ministry in 1998 despite allegations of abuse lodged against him in the past and his own admission that he was sexually interested in adolescents. Years later, according to the report, six more people alleged that they were sexually assaulted by O’Malley, in some cases after he had been reinstated.
In another case, Wuerl returned a priest to active ministry in 1995 despite having received multiple complaints that the priest, the Rev. George Zirwas, had molested boys in the late 1980s.
Wuerl’s defenders have cited a case that surfaced in 1988, when a 19-year-old former seminarian, Tim Bendig, filed a lawsuit accusing a priest, Anthony Cipolla, of molesting him. Wuerl initially questioned Bendig’s account but later accepted it and moved to oust Cipolla from the priesthood. The Vatican’s highest court ordered Wuerl to restore Cipolla to priestly ministry, but Wuerl resisted and, after two years of legal procedures, prevailed in preventing Cipolla’s return.
Wuerl’s archdiocese issued a series of plaudits Friday, coinciding with the Vatican announcement. They included a letter from the archdiocesan chancellor, Kim Vitti Fiorentino, who lamented that Wuerl’s “pioneering leadership in the enhancement, implementation and enforcement of historically innovative child protection policies was overshadowed by the (Pennsylvania grand jury) report’s flaws and its interpretation by the media.”
In a letter to the Washington faithful, which Wuerl asked to be read aloud at Mass this weekend, the cardinal addressed survivors of abuse.
“I am sorry and ask for healing for all those who were so deeply wounded at the hands of the church’s ministers,” he wrote. “I also beg forgiveness on behalf of church leadership from the victims who were again wounded when they saw these priests and bishops both moved and promoted.”
That message failed to impress one of Wuerl’s conservative critics, Michael Hitchborn of the Lepanto Institute.
The letter “apologizes for the actions of others, but offers not even a shred of ownership of the pain, humiliation, and horror inflicted upon those he was responsible for,” Hitchborn said.
A more nuanced response came from John Gehring, the Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, a Washington-based clergy network.
“Cardinal Wuerl did many good things over the years. He also made mistakes and failed,” Gehring tweeted. “But it was the right decision to resign. DC Catholics need a fresh start.”
Wuerl was born in Pittsburgh, attended Catholic University in Washington and received a doctorate in theology from the University of Saint Thomas in Rome. He joined the priesthood in 1966, was ordained a bishop by Pope John Paul II in 1986, and served briefly as auxiliary bishop in Seattle before going to Pittsburgh.
Winfield reported from Rome. Crary reported from New York.