Friday Reads: Sandy Aid, JFK, Real War on Women, and Fake War on Xmas

Good Morning!!

I hope everyone had a great day yesterday, regardless of how you spent your time.  My day was very quiet, because I had an upset stomach from some brussels sprouts I ate on Wednesday night.  My mom and I are going to have “thanksgiving” dinner at my sister’s place on Saturday, so we just hung out and relaxed.

It’s going to be a slow news day, obviously, but I’ll do my best to provide some interesting reading material.

The New York Times had a nice story about some help for Sandy victims that came from a surprising place–Rikers Island.

On the night that the storm roared into the city, Dora B. Schriro, the correction commissioner, slept on a couch in her office at the Rikers Island jail, bracing for flooding and reassuring inmates and employees that the island would weather the storm.

The next morning, the vast jailhouse complex was mostly unscathed, but Ms. Schriro was stunned by the devastation the storm had wrought elsewhere.

So she decided to put her jail, and those who call it home, to work. Inmates did 6,600 pounds of laundry for people in emergency shelters. The jail supplied generators and gas to fuel them to neighborhoods in the dark, and donated long underwear usually given to inmates. And officers with medical training provided emergency care to victims.

“There was a lot of loss,” said Ms. Schriro, who personally pitched in at food lines on the Rockaway Peninsula, in Queens. “It was our responsibility and opportunity to jump in and help.”

I was disappointed that the story doesn’t say anything about how the inmates felt about all this.

Jail officials did not make inmates available for interviews about the role they played in helping storm victims, but Ms. Schriro said, “I’m confident they knew what they were doing.”

I’m not sure what to think about that.

Somewhat lost in the shuffle of yesterday’s holiday was the fact that it was also the 49th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Journalist and assassination researcher Jefferson Morley wrote a piece about it at Huffington Post: JFK at 49: What We Know For Sure. Morley reports on new developments in the JFK story since the article he wrote in 2010 called The Kennedy Assassination: 47 Years Later, What Do We Really Know?

One nondevelopment is that “cultural elites” continue to deny any possibility that the official story of JFK’s murder could be flawed, despite new evidence that has been revealed in recent years. Morley writes that there is no real evidence of a CIA conspiracy to assassinate JFK, there is a great deal of evidence of “CIA negligence.” From the HuffPo link:

The truth is this: Lee Harvey Oswald was well known to a handful of top CIA officials shortly before JFK was killed.

Read this internal CIA cable (not declassified until 1993) and you will see that that accused assassin’s biography–his travels, politics, intentions, and state of mind–were known to top CIA officials as of October 10, 1963 six weeks before JFK went to Dallas for a political trip….

In the fall of 1963, Oswald, a 23-year old ex-Marine traveled from New Orleans to Mexico City. When he contacted the Soviet embassy to apply for a visa to travel to Cuba, a CIA surveillance team picked up his telephone calls. A tape recording indicated Oswald had been referred to a consular officer suspected of being a KGB assassination specialist.

Winston Scott, the respected chief of the CIA station in Mexico City, was concerned. He sent a query to CIA headquarters, asking who is this guy Oswald?

Oswald had been on the agency’s radar since 1959 when he defected to Russia, and they had a “fat file” on him; nevertheless, the CIA told Scott that Oswald had “matured” and there was nothing to worry about.

This optimistic assessment was personally read and endorsed by no less than five senior CIA officers. They are identified by name on the last page of the cable. Their names–Roman, Tom Karamessines, Bill Hood, John Whitten (identified by his pseudonym “Scelso”), and Betty Egeter–were kept from the American public for thirty years. Why? Because all five reported to deputy director Richard Helms or to Counterintelligence Chief James Angleton in late 1963. Because of “national security.”

Read much more at the HuffPo link. Not too many American still remember November 22, 1963 clearly, and as Morley says that dark day in Dallas “seems to be fading in America’s collective consciousness.”

It’s looking like once the final tallies from the presidential election are complete, Mitt Romney will have won about 47 percent of the vote.

The legacy of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign will be marked with by the number 47. Not only the 47 percent of voters that he notoriously dismissed during a fundraising event, but also by the 47 percent of voters who chose to support him. Analysts predict that Romney will have won under 47.5 percent of the popular vote when the final tallies come in, compared to President Barack Obama’s 51 percent.

Romney characterized 47 percent of American voters as dependent on big government and therefore sympathetic to the Democratic platform. Instead, the election proved that the conservative Republican platform could not make a strong enough appeal to the demographics outside of its own traditional backing.

What could be more appropriate?

This one is for Dakinikat: Why Black Friday Is a Behavioral Economist’s Nightmare. At New York Magazine, Kevin Roose writes:

The big problem with Black Friday, from a behavioral economist’s perspective, is that every incentive a consumer could possibly have to participate — the promise of “doorbuster” deals on big-ticket items like TVs and computers, the opportunity to get all your holiday shopping done at once — is either largely illusory or outweighed by a disincentive on the other side. It’s a nationwide experiment in consumer irrationality, dressed up as a cheerful holiday add-on.

As Dan Ariely explains in his book, Predictably Irrational, “We all make the same types of mistakes over and over, because of the basic wiring of our brains.”

This applies to shopping on the other 364 days of the year, too. But on Black Friday, our rational decision-making faculties are at their weakest, just as stores are trying their hardest to maximize your mistakes.

Read about all the potential shopping booby traps at the link.

Here’s a horrifying update in the global war on women: Saudi Arabia implements electronic tracking system for women

RIYADH — Denied the right to travel without consent from their male guardians and banned from driving, women in Saudi Arabia are now monitored by an electronic system that tracks any cross-border movements.

Since last week, Saudi women’s male guardians began receiving text messages on their phones informing them when women under their custody leave the country, even if they are travelling together.

Manal al-Sherif, who became the symbol of a campaign launched last year urging Saudi women to defy a driving ban, began spreading the information on Twitter, after she was alerted by a couple.

The husband, who was travelling with his wife, received a text message from the immigration authorities informing him that his wife had left the international airport in Riyadh.

“The authorities are using technology to monitor women,” said columnist Badriya al-Bishr, who criticised the “state of slavery under which women are held” in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

Women still have a very very long way to go, as we have learned here in the supposedly “advanced” U.S. over the past few years.

But never mind the serious problems that face humanity, the wingnuts at Fox News are focused on the supposed “war on xmas.” From TPM:

In the days before Thanksgiving, Fox filled its shows with dire, sometimes terrifying segments about all the threats surrounding the merriest season of the year. There’s the eradication of free speech by atheist “loons,” the possibility of choking on our food, the diseases spread on airplanes, and the endless depression that comes from Christmas commercials.

If we even make it to Christmas, that is. Fox’s morning man Bill Hemmer charted the possibility that the “apocalypse” would arrive on Dec. 22, and just how sad it will be when we all get wiped out, leaving all those unopened presents under the tree.

Here’s a mash-up of Fox coverage of the “war,” courtesy of TPM.

That’s all I’ve got for now. I hope you found something to your liking. Now what’s on your reading list for today.


Evening Reads: Night Owls and Great Whites

Good Evening…

I can not believe that Thanksgiving is this week, it has been one of those crazy fast years. You would think that with all the campaign crap we have been through, it would have seen like it was an eternity since those first horrible GOP debates. Can you believe a year has passed us by?

First take a look at these two articles, I want to get these out-of-the-way…Christian attorney indicted on federal child pornography charges

I actually did not want to include it in today’s post, but I could not help and think of the irony that once again a monster hides behind their religion. You should see the comments at the local newspaper that broke the story, it is disgusting.

This other article is from some right-wing Rabbi, and I warn you, it is f’d up. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: Jewish Values Are the Salvation of the Republican Party

A ‘malignant weapon.’ That was the phrase used by a friend of mine — a national TV host who inclines toward Republicans but this year voted Democrat — to describe how Republicans use religion. “Why has religion made Republicans harsh. Shouldn’t it give them a soft heart?”

The congressional campaign I ran was based on the idea that the economic malaise in America was due to a values erosion. So long as we obsess over abortion, gay marriage, and contraception to the exclusion of any other values, we cannot fix our problems. I ran to start the process of replacing the austerity of some of the Christian social values, which have defined the GOP for decades, with the positive and life-affirming values of Judaism.

So Rabbi goes on about the problem with the GOP obsession with sex. Fair enough, but then when he gets down to his advice it is the same sexist shit, only warmed over with a bit of kugel and a schmear of cream cheese.

Also, I have two articles on Walmart, one which argues for higher paying salaries and hourly wages for  Walmart and retail employees. Bob Herbert: Why Walmart and Big Retailers Should Pay Their Workers More

The other is from Cannonfire, who feels that we should have a Thanksgiving Day boycott of Walmart and other retail stores who are opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day. I agree, keep Black Friday on Black Friday.

Now for the fun stuff. Check this out….Great whites ‘not evolved from megashark’

A new fossil discovery has helped quell 150 years of debate over the origin of great white sharks.

Carcharodon hubbelli, which has been described by US scientists, shows intermediate features between the present-day predators and smaller, prehistoric mako sharks.

The find supports the theory that great white sharks did not evolve from huge megatooth sharks.

The research is published this week in the journal Palaeontology.

Look at these teeth:

Shark fossil

The new specimen (examined here by Dana Ehret) links Great Whites to the much smaller mako shark.

[...]

Modern day white sharks show similarities in the structure of their teeth with the extinct megatooth sharks.

As they both sport serrations on the cutting edges, early scientists working on the animals used this as evidence for the sharks being closely related.

Shark graphic

“But we actually see the evolution of serrations occurring many times in different lineages of sharks and if you look at the shape and size of the serrations in the two groups you see that they are actually very different from each other,” Professor Ehret told BBC News.

Are you all thinking what I am thinking? We need a bigger boat?

Megalodon
Megalodon had one of the most formidable bites known from the fossil record
[...]

“White sharks have very large, coarse serrations whereas megalodon had very fine serrations.”

Now, additional evidence from the newly described species shows both white shark-like teeth shape as well other features characteristic of broad-toothed mako sharks that feed on smaller fish rather than primarily seals and other large mammals.

“It looks like a gradation or a transition from broad-toothed makos to the modern white shark. It’s a transitional species, and you don’t see that a whole lot in the fossil record,” Professor Ehret said.

From fins to wings…well metaphorically speaking…Gene distinguishes early birds from night owls and helps predict time of death

Many of the body’s processes follow a natural daily rhythm or so-called circadian clock. There are certain times of the day when a person is most alert, when blood pressure is highest, and when the heart is most efficient. Several rare gene mutations have been found that can adjust this clock in humans, responsible for entire families in which people wake up at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. and cannot stay up much after 8 at night. Now new research has, for the first time, identified a common gene variant that affects virtually the entire population, and which is responsible for up to an hour a day of your tendency to be an early riser or night owl.

Back in my first year of college I did a thing for my biology class, where I took my temp and blood pressure/pulse rate every hour for 48 hours and what do you think, I had higher temps and heart rates later at night, between 9:30pm and 4am. (But I didn’t need to do that to know that I am a night owl.) I function way better in the evening hours.

Furthermore, this new discovery not only demonstrates this common polymorphism influences the rhythms of people’s day-to-day lives — it also finds this genetic variant helps determine the time of day a person is most likely to die.

The surprising findings, which appear in the November 2012 issue of the Annals of Neurology, could help with scheduling shift work and planning medical treatments, as well as in monitoring the conditions of vulnerable patients.

“The internal ‘biological clock’ regulates many aspects of human biology and behavior, such as preferred sleep times, times of peak cognitive performance, and the timing of many physiological processes. It also influences the timing of acute medical events like stroke and heart attack,” says first author Andrew Lim, MD, who conducted the work as a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC).

Give the rest of that article a read, and have a thought filled night. Me? Well, I am just getting started…this is an open thread.


Sunday Reads: Euro Collapse, US Pakistan Relations Fall Further and a Royal Auction

Good Morning!

It is a Sunday after a long…long…weekend. Some of you have traveled to visit family, or some may have stayed home and had a quiet Thanksgiving.  The one thing is certain, and that is for the next six weeks, the rush to celebrate the holidays will drive many of us crazy.

I know that the same is true over in Europe this time of year, and to add misery to a crappy situation, there is serious talks and plans in the works as Europe prepares for riots in euro collapse.

As the Italian government struggled to borrow and Spain considered seeking an international bail-out, British ministers privately warned that the break-up of the euro, once almost unthinkable, is now increasingly plausible.

Diplomats are preparing to help Britons abroad through a banking collapse and even riots arising from the debt crisis.

The Treasury confirmed earlier this month that contingency planning for a collapse is now under way.

A senior minister has now revealed the extent of the Government’s concern, saying that Britain is now planning on the basis that a euro collapse is now just a matter of time.

Recent Foreign and Commonwealth Office instructions to embassies and consulates request contingency planning for extreme scenarios including rioting and social unrest.

Of course they are expecting more outbreaks of demonstrations than Greece has seen in the past recent weeks.

Diplomats have also been told to prepare to help tens of thousands of British citizens in eurozone countries with the consequences of a financial collapse that would leave them unable to access bank accounts or even withdraw cash.

I can’t help but wonder what all this will mean for our economy…

In Pakistan, things are really getting worse. Dakinikat had a post up last night about it, but I wanted to bring you up to speed on new developments. US Vows Full Probe Into Pakistan Border Incident

The Obama administration on Saturday pledged a full investigation into a NATO attack that allegedly killed 24 Pakistani troops.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in a joint statement offered their “deepest condolences” for the loss of life in the cross-border incident in Pakistan. Clinton and Panetta also said they “support fully NATO’s intention to investigate immediately.”

Secretary Clinton, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. John Allen, commander of the NATO-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, each called their Pakistani counterparts as well, the statement said.

That is some big responses to this latest incident that has made relations even more tenuous.

“In their contacts, these US diplomatic and military leaders each stressed — in addition to their sympathies and a commitment to review the circumstances of the incident — the importance of the US-Pakistani partnership, which serves the mutual interests of our people,” the statement said.

“All these leaders pledged to remain in close contact with their Pakistani counterparts going forward as we work through this challenging time,” the statement concluded.

This is going to be a big problem…it seems like with the speed of US apologies, they know this attack is going to have huge consequences. Juan Cole shared some interesting numbers yesterday. Empire by the Numbers

Number of Pakistani troops killed at checkpoint Saturday by a US helicopter raid from Afghanistan: 25

Number of NATO supply trucks allowed to cross from Pakistan to Afghanistan Saturday: 0

Number of Afghan children killed near Qandahar Wednesday by a US air strike: 6

Take a look at the rest of his post, for more numbers that will surely give you something to think about. The report about the children being killed is disturbing.

I’m going to move on to Israel, and the latest attempt to remove Bedouin people from land they have lived on since Biblical times. Israeli desert plan would uproot 30,000 Bedouin

Bulldozed by Israel more than two dozen times, a village known by Bedouin Arabs as Al-Arakib is one of many ramshackle desert communities whose names have never appeared on any official map.

If Israel’s parliament adopts proposed new legislation, it never will.

The plan to demolish more Bedouin homes in the southern Negev region and move 30,000 people to government-authorized villages connected to power and water lines has been hailed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a “historic opportunity” to improve Bedouin lives.

But Israeli Arab leaders, who have long complained about discrimination against their community in the Jewish state, call it “ethnic cleansing,” and aim to thwart the project with protests, a general strike and appeals to the United Nations to intervene.

“I will never leave here, I intend to stay until I die,” said Abu-Madyam, 46, a farmer from al-Arakib.

He and his family of nine live in a makeshift plastic-sided shack in a cemetery near the ruins of their wooden home, razed by Israeli authorities last year.

This latest try at removing the Bedouin is being touted by Israelis as a move for their own good, but it looks more like it is in the Israelis best interest to kick the Bedu out of the Negev area in southern Israel. That area is prime real estate for military bases since it lies between Gaza and the occupied West Bank. This is why some Israelis feel the dominate population of Bedouin people in the area is a security risk.

For decades, Israeli governments have tried to attract Jewish Israelis to move to the Negev, offering mortgage and tax breaks, but the region has fewer opportunities for employment than in the heavily populated center of the country.

Only 20 percent of Israel’s Jewish population lives in the Negev, which covers more than 60 percent of the nation’s land area. Bedouin villages take up two percent of Negev land.

This month, Netanyahu sat down with Bedouin mayors at his office to urge them to accept the plan, which could take at least five years to implement at a cost of more than 1 billion shekels ($300 million) once legislation due to be introduced shortly becomes law.

“Our state is leaping toward the future and you need to be part of this future. We want to help you reach economic independence. This plan is designed to bring about development and prosperity,” Netanyahu told the Bedouin officials.

Now that condescending statement about forcing these people off their land for their own good is just ridiculous. The Bedouin know what is going on, and so do global human rights organizations. Amnesty International has this area of land as one of the highlights in their 2011 Annual Report on Human Rights. Amnesty International | Working to Protect Human Rights

Right to adequate housing – forced eviction

Inside Israel there was a marked increase in the demolition of Bedouin homes in the Negev (or Naqab) area in the south. Dozens of villages, home to tens of thousands of Bedouin who are Israeli citizens, are not formally recognized by the Israeli authorities. These villages lack basic services, and residents are under constant threat of destruction of their homes and eviction from the land.

  • The “unrecognized” Negev village of al-’Araqib, home to around 250 Bedouin, was destroyed eight times between 27 July and 23 December by the Israel Land Administration and police forces. After each demolition, villagers rebuilt makeshift shelters.

Back to the Reuters article:

Bedouin leaders in the Negev say Israel has long discriminated against their communities, denying them public funds and services, in a bid to make their inhabitants leave.

Many of them were built, the officials said, because Israel had failed in the past to offer other housing options.

In a 2008 report on Israel’s policy toward Bedouin in the Negev, Human Rights Watch said the government “appears intent on maximizing its control over Negev land and increasing the Jewish population in the area for strategic, economic and demographic reasons.”

“The state implements forced evictions, home demolitions and other punitive measures disproportionately against Bedouin as compared with actions taken regarding structures owned by Jewish Israelis that do not conform to planning law,” the New York-based group said.

One villager, Khalil Alamour, a 42-year-old schoolteacher, interviewed in the article is planning to attend a meeting with the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, that is being held later this month in Geneva. He says:

“We’ve been around for so many years, yet they treat us as little more than numbers on a map. It’s shameful,” he said.

Like most unauthorized Bedouin villages, Al-Sira is not hooked up to Israel’s electricity grid. Alamour and his neighbors have installed their own solar panels to generate electricity, supplementing the supply with power generators.

They have run their own pipes to hook up with a regional grid to provide running water for their homes.

In the ruins of al-Arakib, Abu-Madyam vowed to hang on to land which he said was once covered by lush grapevines and bought by his grandparents more than a century ago.

“I will seek justice until my last day. I don’t have any objections to Jews living here, too, but why must I give up my own rights?” he said.

Good question…what do you think?

In the Philippines, the situation is different. There is a group of people who are planning to build their own community, separate from those who are different from they are.  Philippines’ little people thinking big

People of small stature in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, have ambitions to build a new community – of small houses – on a greenfield site. It’s an unusual idea, but they are completely serious and determined to succeed.

Inspired by the books of JRR Tolkien, the Hobbit House is one of Manila’s best-known bars. There are illustrations from the Lord of the Rings on the wall, and you enter through a round wooden door, just as if you were arriving at Bilbo Baggins’ house.

But the illusion doesn’t stop there – the waiters are all under 4ft (1.2m) tall.

“Hobbit House is very unique – we only recruit little people,” says the proud manager, Pidoy Fetalino, 3ft 6in tall, who has been working at the bar for more than 30 years.

While some might question how politically correct it is, the reality is that a job at the Hobbit House is undoubtedly one of the best the staff can get.

The state does not provide much support for those who cannot find work. And with high unemployment and height restrictions…working at the Hobbit House is a good thing.

They have formed a group called the Little People’s Association of the Philippines, which meets most Saturday mornings in a ramshackle workshop at the back of a flat owned by the president, Perry Berry.

The most important item on their agenda is a radical proposal – for the entire group to move out of Manila and set up their own community.

A wealthy benefactor has donated a 6,000-square-metre (1.5-acre) piece of uncultivated land near the town of Montalban, and there they want to create a place called “Dwarf City”.

Mr Berry has a clear vision of what he wants this community to look like.

“Wow, if you can imagine it,” he says. “We’re creating a housing project designed for small people and we have to create something unique. We’re going to build houses like big mushrooms and big shoes.”

Their idea is to construct buildings tailored to their size, to represent certain themes, and they hope they will be able to earn at least part of their income through tourism.

It is interesting to compare the Bedouin and the Little People of the Philippines. The Bedu do not want to leave their home lands, they see the forced evictions as a form of ethnic cleansing. The Little People see their plan for a Drawf City as a way to build a normal life.

The little people of Manila don’t want to confine this new “Dwarf City” just to the 47 families who are current members of the association – they envisage a much bigger settlement.

“I believe that a lot of small people in other provinces have an inferiority complex, and don’t want to come out,” says Mr Berry.
“But if the existence of this community is well-known, I’m pretty sure they will come and join us. So this community will become bigger and bigger.”

Now for some US news…after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »


Saturday Reads: Taking Aim and Hitting the Target

Good Morning!

I have some juicy links for you this morning…so go get your cup of coffee, cause it’s gonna be a long post.

There is a lot going on in Egypt…Egypt new PM claims more powers than predecessor – Yahoo! News

 Egypt‘s military rulers picked a prime minister from ousted leader Hosni Mubarak‘s era to head the next government in a move quickly rejected by tens of thousands of protesters, while the United States ratcheted up pressure on the generals to quickly transfer power to a civilian leadership.

[…]

Kamal el-Ganzouri, 78, served as prime minister between 1996 and 1999 and was deputy prime minister and planning minister before that. He also was a provincial governor under the late President Anwar Sadat.

In a televised statement, he said the military has given him greater powers than his predecessor and he wouldn’t have accepted the job if he believed military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi had any intention of staying in power.

“The powers given to me exceed any similar mandates,” he said, looking uncomfortable, grasping for words and repeatedly pausing as he spoke. “I will take full authority so I’m able to serve my country.”

He also spoke about not being able to form a government in time for elections that were scheduled for Monday. The US issued a statement:

“We believe that Egypt’s transition to democracy must continue, with elections proceeding expeditiously, and all necessary measures taken to ensure security and prevent intimidation,” The White House said in a statement. “Most importantly, we believe that the full transfer of power to a civilian government must take place in a just and inclusive manner that responds to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people, as soon as possible.”

The stance is significant because the Egyptian military has over the past 30 years forged close relations with successive U.S. administrations, receiving $1.3 billion annually in aid.

El-Ganzouri’s appointment was announced by state TV following a meeting late Thursday between him and Tantawi. Tantawi was Mubarak’s defense minister of 20 years and served in el-Ganzouri’s earlier government.

Almost forty people have been killed in the last five days as protest turned violent against the military’s actions regarding a formation of a government. The generals apologized for the deaths, but their choice of prime minister angered the Egyptian people whose uprising earlier in the year brought about the ouster of dictator Hosni Muburak. Many believe that Egypt’s military has hijacked the revolution…by placing a member of Mubarak’s regime in control. Protestors have vowed not to leave Tahrir Square until the military resigns and is replaced by a civilian presidential council.

But not all of Egypt is angry at the military, it seems a bit like perfect timing. Egypt’s military leaders are bringing their own show of support.  Egypt Military Tries to Woo Wider Public Beyond Protesters – NYTimes.com

Some call it the silent majority. In Egypt these days, the preferred term is the Party of the Couch. And in that ill-defined constituency, sometimes more myth than reality, Egypt’s ruling military has staked its credibility as it seeks to fend off the greatest challenge yet from protesters seeking to force it from power.

Drawing on sentiments pronounced Friday in the grittier parts of Cairo, even just a few blocks from the protests in Tahrir Square, and in a defiantly nationalist rally near the Defense Ministry, the military is offering either a canny read of Egypt’s mood or yet another delusional estimation of its popularity, a mistake that has bedeviled so many autocrats. With a mix of bravado and disdain, it has hewed to a narrative first pronounced after it seized power from President Hosni Mubarak in February: It bears the mantle of Egypt’s revolution.

“Egypt is not Tahrir Square,” Maj. Gen. Mukhtar el-Mallah, a member of the 20-member military council ruling since February, said in a news conference this week. “If you take a walk on other streets in Egypt, you will find that everything is very normal.”

In much of Cairo, and elsewhere in Egypt, the military has found a receptive audience for that message in a country buckling under a stagnating economy and a lurking insecurity. Even as it promises to surrender power by June, it has deployed all the platitudes of authoritarian Arab governments: fear of foreign intervention, fear of chaos, and fear of the rabble. One doctor quipped Friday that the sole change since the revolution was an extra digit added this year to cellphone numbers.

The concern seems to fall on who will lead Egypt’s government,  if not the military…then who will it be.

“They think they can fill up a square?” asked Marwan Helmy, a 65-year-old high school teacher at a boisterous pro-military rally that convened Friday in Abassiya, a few miles from the far bigger antimilitary demonstration in Tahrir Square. “We will fill all the streets of Egypt and support the military. We can’t be silent any longer, the country is unraveling. Who gave them the right to represent us? Tahrir is not Egypt!”

Thousands turned out for the Abassiya rally, waving flags, chanting slogans more visceral than meditated and crowding overpasses and the square below. In its ardor, it seemed to manifest a militant nationalism that added a new wrinkle to all the divides in Egypt pitting Islamist against secular, rich against poor, and city against countryside.

It is going to get more contentious in the coming weeks. When Mona Eltahawy writes up her experiences being arrested and assaulted by the police and Ministry of the Interior…I am sure the truth will eventually come out.

Next up are some articles about present day slavery. First is a link to an Al Jazeera video report: The Al Jazeera slavery debate – Slavery: A 21st Century Evil – Al Jazeera English

Why, hundreds of years after it was legally abolished, does slavery persist? The last episode of Slavery: A 21st Century Evil is a televised debate in which this question, among others, was posed to a panel of those who direct or seek to influence government policies on slavery across the world.

The debate was held at Decatur House on Washington’s Lafayette Square – the site of the only remaining physical evidence that African Americans were once held in bondage within sight of the White House – as an iconic venue for the debate on a trade that refuses to die.

Moderator Rageh Omaar was joined by: Luis C d’Baca from the US State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons; Kevin Bales, the president of Free the Slaves; David Batstone, the president of Not for Sale; and Joy Ezeilo, the UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons.

This next link is to the State Department Blog, as it connects us to modern day slavery in a very personal way.  One Million Footprints on the Path to Freedom | U.S. Department of State Blog

Screenshot of Slavery Footprint website, as seen on November 22, 2011. [State Department image]

Ambassador-at-Large Luis CdeBaca directs the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

Two months ago, the Fairtrade Fund launched Slavery Footprint, a web- and mobile-based application that allows users to understand how their lives intersect with modern slavery. Through a grant from the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking, the Fairtrade Fund developed this tool to help more people understand the way their lifestyles and consumption habits fuel the demand for forced labor and sex trafficking.

The app works by asking users to complete a quick survey about where they live and what they buy and eat. That information is processed in an algorithm that analyzes the 400 most common consumer items and determines the likelihood that those items were tainted by modern slavery somewhere along the supply chain.

The goal announced at the time of the launch was to register 150,000 people having taken the survey by September 22, 2012, the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Twelve months to get 150,000 people engaged. What’s been revealed instead in the last two months is that people care about this issue, and aren’t going to wait on our timetable to join the modern abolitionist movement. On November 11 , only six weeks after the site launched, the millionth Slavery Footprint survey was completed. And it’s not just Americans — people from a hundred different countries have taken the quiz.

[…]

By taking the survey, they have learned that human trafficking doesn’t just affect people in faraway parts of the world. We touch this crime in the clothes we wear, the food we eat, and the technology upon which we rely — and we can do something about it. Slavery Footprint and its partners like MTV have made it possible to take action by letting companies and universities know that you care about modern slavery and that you hope they do as well.

The road to freedom is long and hard, but there are now millions of footprints on that path. I encourage you to visit www.slaveryfootprint.org, take the survey yourself, and join us as we seek to deliver on the promise of Emancipation.

I took the survey and here was my results:

That figure is shocking, my numbers were higher than an average single person because I included my two kids in the survey. This really puts the issue of slavery directly on me, and how my family is connected to the modern slave trade. I urge you to take the survey, it will make you think about things from a different perspective.

Moving on from slavery to the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Here is Hillary Clinton on the importance of eliminating violence against women.

Press Statement

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
November 25, 2011

Today, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, we are reminded of the horrific acts of violence against women that take place every day around the world and pledge to recommit ourselves to changing attitudes and ending all forms of violence against women and girls.

Gender-based violence is a global pandemic that cuts across all borders and impacts all peoples and societies – regardless of ethnicity, race, socio-economic status, or religion. One in three women around the world will experience some form of gender-based violence in her lifetime. The medical, security, and legal costs to countries are incalculable. It dampens economic development and tears at the fabric of societies. The health costs to women includes not only the detrimental impact on their physical well-being, such as increased susceptibility to HIV infection, but also mental health costs for both women and their children.

We need to improve our efforts to prevent and respond to this crisis. When women are afforded their rights and given the chance to pursue education, employment, and political participation, they drive social and economic progress. They lift up themselves, their families, communities, and their nations. But to build this future girls must be able to learn without fear and women must be able to make decisions about their own lives and the future of their families.

Prevention, protection and prosecution are essential to combating this violence. But we must add a fourth “P” as well – Priority. Empowering women and girls is already a priority of the United States, but we need more countries to step up and take on this challenge. The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the 16 days Campaign Against Gender-Based Violence is an opportunity to renew the commitment to free women and girls from the nightmare of violence, because the future safety and security of our world depends on it.

Geez, I can’t help but think just how much better off we would all be if she was in the White House.

You probably have to go get another cup of coffee, so go ahead…there is more after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »


Black Friday Reads

Welcome to the traditional start of the National Crass Consumerism Season!

It’s that time of year when every trip to a store is an overwhelming assault on all of your senses in an attempt to get you to buy stuff!  It was hard to avoid all the commercials yesterday, wasn’t it?  Robert Scheer has a great piece up on Truth Dig that puts this time of year in perspective.

On this Thanksgiving we have been cheated of the bounty of that harvest as the stakes have been pulled up on 50 million Americans who have lost or soon will lose their homes. The housing crisis haunts a majority of Americans, even those who own their homes outright but have lost their jobs and must now sell in a downward-swirling housing market.

Good public education on every level, from preschool through college, is now a matter of inherited privilege reserved for those who can pick and choose affluent neighborhood settings for their children’s schools. And the prospect of affording one of those settings is dim for most parents in a country where securing a good job is beyond the reach of so many highly motivated people.

How many folks from my generation are honestly sanguine about the economic future of their children and grandchildren? What I have heard constantly, and just this week from a former top investment banker addressing a college class I teach, is that our offspring probably will face a decade of lost opportunity. I thought back to my college days and how shocked any of us, even those from the most impoverished of circumstances, would have been to hear such a prediction.

As The New York Times editorialized this Thanksgiving, “One in three Americans—100 million people—is either poor or perilously close to it.”

There’s a movement afoot called Occupy Black Friday.

Occupy Black Friday, which is among the groups calling for people to spend locally rather than at chain stores, could not be reached for comment.

The anti-consumption spirit of the various scheduled Occupy events has a precedent in Buy Nothing Day, the yearly undertaking — always scheduled to fall on Black Friday — in which participants refrain from spending any money.

Buy Nothing Day was created some 20 years ago by advocates associated with the Vancouver magazine Adbusters, which also issued the original call for the movement that would become Occupy Wall Street. While it remains a red-letter date on the calendars of many social activists, its effects on retail sales have traditionally been less than earthshattering.

“They’re fragmentary, they’re ephemeral,” said Richard Hastings, a macro and consumer strategist at Global Hunter Securities, of Buy Nothing Day and similar campaigns that have attempted to build commercial headwinds on Black Friday. “To really be quite poetic about it, they’re evanescent.”

Hastings said that “the Occupy movement in the U.S. can only have some impact if it starts to do boycotts” — but added that he does not expect the anti-Black Friday forces to change many minds this year.

Here’s a great suggestion for celebrating the day after Thanksgiving from the Daily Show!  Prior to Abraham Lincoln making Thanksgiving a National Holiday, New York used to recognize Evacuation Day.  Massachusetts celebrates the day on March 17th which has been co-opted by Saint Patrick’s Day.  The days were set aside in the colony to celebrate the day when the British evacuated that colony after the Revolution. They celebrate the end of the rule of an occupying army.

There’s another great thing that happened on November 24, 1859.  That’s the publication date of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection by Charles Darwin.  Darwin’s epic release of his work changed our view of biology, botany, and creation myths. Scientists now accept this theory as a basis to the development of every living species even though many radical religionists still try to replace it with creation myths in classrooms in many states. Louisiana dingbat Governor Bobby Banana Republic Jindal gave religious myth equal footing with science this year in a case that’s law that’s bound to head to the supreme court.  He signed a “Louisiana Science Education Act” that sneaks religion into science classes. Scopes Monkey Trial any one?

Darwin had formulated his theory of natural selection by 1844, but he was wary to reveal his thesis to the public because it so obviously contradicted the biblical account of creation. In 1858, with Darwin still remaining silent about his findings, the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace independently published a paper that essentially summarized his theory. Darwin and Wallace gave a joint lecture on evolution before the Linnean Society of London in July 1858, and Darwin prepared On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection for publication.

Published on November 24, 1859, Origin of Species sold out immediately. Most scientists quickly embraced the theory that solved so many puzzles of biological science, but orthodox Christians condemned the work as heresy. Controversy over Darwin’s ideas deepened with the publication of The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871), in which he presented evidence of man’s evolution from apes.

By the time of Darwin’s death in 1882, his theory of evolution was generally accepted. In honor of his scientific work, he was buried in Westminster Abbey beside kings, queens, and other illustrious figures from British history. Subsequent developments in genetics and molecular biology led to modifications in accepted evolutionary theory, but Darwin’s ideas remain central to the field.

There is an astounding amount of evidence from the fields of genetics and molecular biology to now support Darwin’s basic ideas.  PBS maintains an Evolution Library that’s full of links to some of the most astounding new evidence that has made the theory even more developed and iron clad.  Here’s a great paper from the National Academy of Science on Science and Creationism.  This elucidates the difference between Darwin’s work and the modern theory of Evolution.

Contrary to popular opinion, neither the term nor the idea of biological evolution began with Charles Darwin and his foremost work, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859). Many scholars from the ancient Greek philosophers on had inferred that similar species were descended from a common ancestor. The word “evolution” first appeared in the English language in 1647 in a nonbiological connection, and it became widely used in English for all sorts of progressions from simpler beginnings. The term Darwin most often used to refer to biological evolution was “descent with modification,” which remains a good brief definition of the process today.

Darwin proposed that evolution could be explained by the differential survival of organisms following their naturally occurring variation—a process he termed “natural selection.” According to this view, the offspring of organisms differ from one another and from their parents in ways that are heritable—that is, they can pass on the differences genetically to their own offspring. Furthermore, organisms in nature typically produce more offspring than can survive and reproduce given the constraints of food, space, and other environmental resources.

Darwin proposed that evolution could be explained by the differential survival of organisms following their naturally occurring variation—a process he termed “natural selection.” According to this view, the offspring of organisms differ from one another and from their parents in ways that are heritable—that is, they can pass on the differences genetically to their own offspring. Furthermore, organisms in nature typically produce more offspring than can survive and reproduce given the constraints of food, space, and other environmental resources. If a particular off-spring has traits that give it an advantage in a particular environment, that organism will be more likely to survive and pass on those traits. As differences accumulate over generations, populations of organisms diverge from their ancestors.

Darwin’s original hypothesis has undergone extensive modification and expansion, but the central concepts stand firm. Studies in genetics and molecular biology—fields unknown in Darwin’s time—have explained the occurrence of the hereditary variations that are essential to natural selection. Genetic variations result from changes, or mutations, in the nucleotide sequence of DNA, the molecule that genes are made from. Such changes in DNA now can be detected and described with great precision.

Today in 2002, President George W. Bush signed the Homeland Security Act and named Tom Ridge it’s first Secretary.  The first two secretaries–Ridge and Michael Chertoff–have written books.  There’s an overview of each at the link above. Here’s some info on Ridge and the creation of the DHS.

Although Ridge was an early proponent of the creation of DHS, the White House initially was not supportive. As Ridge notes, President Bush’s focus was on strengthening the power of the executive branch that he felt over the years “had been improperly ceded to Congress” (p. 126). Hence, the White House wanted a strong cabinet around it. The real impetus for the creation of DHS came from Congress, which was increasingly frustrated by the lack of oversight of the billions of dollars over which Ridge had influence (but no real power). After the White House refused to allow Ridge to testify before Congress about his homeland security priorities, and after the legacy INS sent two visas to dead 9/11 hijackers to attend flight training school in Florida, DHS became a political inevitability. As Ridge recounts, Congress wanted him “unmuzzle[d]” and the White House realized “[i]t would be better for the administration to be the architect of the new department rather than allowing Congress to take the lead” (pp. 127, 129).
Although the White House eventually supported the creation of DHS – and asked him to lead it – Ridge describes how his vision of homeland security and that of the administration differed. As Ridge observes, “the silly prolonged debate with the White House over the design of the new department’s seal was as absurd as it was revealing” (p. 71). The Bush administration wanted an eagle emblem to hold arrows in both talons as if to say the key to victory over terrorism was through aggression, forward-leaning military, and counterterrorism action. Ridge countered: “We thought differently. There was far more to defeating the enemy than military action” (p. 71). To his credit, Ridge discusses in detail what else his vision of homeland security entailed, which can be summed up as creating an environment of trust and credibility with the public. As he explains: “Only disclosure and transparency would generate the confidence and trust needed by our government as it waged its war domestically” (p. 72).

There’s a few international stories that you probably should follow. First, Egypt is experiencing a huge amount of violence right before elections are to be held.
There have been massive protests in Tahir square, arrests, and assaults on journalists by the police.

A capital city convulsed with violence just days before the first democratic elections in decades might not seem ideal. But some voters think the demonstrations will keep the transition from stalling.

Abdul Rahman Mansour, a graphic designer in the capital, says the people on Tahrir Square are making sure their rights are respected and the country moves ahead.

American University in Cairo professor Said Sadek agrees, saying the protests serve as a wake-up call for the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. “After the end of Mubarak rule SCAF has no legitimacy except obeying and meeting the demands of the revolution. This is revolutionary legitimacy. So they have to follow what is happening,” he said.

International condemnation of Syria’s dictator is turning into action. The Arab League has asked for harsher sanctions and a possible fly over zone with help from the UN if al-Assad does not stop his violence against peaceful protestors.

In a special meeting in Cairo, the Arab League called on Syria to agree by Friday to admit a mission of 500 civilian and military observers to monitor the human rights situation and oversee efforts to carry out a peace plan that Syria agreed to on Nov. 2.

The Arab League suspended Syria this month after it failed to comply with the plan, under which it had pledged to withdraw all military units from the streets, stop killing protesters and allow the monitors to enter the country.

The league said that if Syria refused to admit the monitors, it would meet again on Saturday to discuss sanctions that could include the suspension of all trade except for essential humanitarian goods, a ban on flights to Syria, a travel ban on Syrian officials, and the freezing of all transactions with the central bank and of all Arab economic projects under way in Syria.

If enacted, the new penalties would deal a stinging blow to an economy already suffering under sanctions from the European Union and the United States. Syria’s two most vital sectors, oil and tourism, which account for more than a third of the government’s revenues, have all but come to a halt.

While there was no official response from the leadership in Damascus, Syrian state television said that the government would reject the deal as an infringement on its sovereignty.


In other news from the Arab spring uprisings, Yeman’s president has resigned.
However, protestors have problems with the succession.

A U.S.-backed deal for Yemen’s authoritarian president to step down fell far short of the demands of protesters who fought regime supporters on the streets of Sanaa Thursday in clashes that left five dead.

The agreement ending President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year rule provides for only the shallowest of changes at the top of the regime, something the U.S. administration likely favored to preserve a fragile alliance against one of the world’s most active al-Qaida branches based in Yemen.

The plan drawn up by Yemen’s oil-rich Gulf neighbors does not directly change the system Saleh put in place over three decades to serve his interests.

“It gives an opportunity for regime survival,” said Yemen expert Ibrahim Sharqieh at the Brookings Doha Center. “The only one we’ve seen changing here is the president, but the state institutions and everything else remain in place. Nothing else has changed.”

Saleh signed the agreement Wednesday in the Saudi capital Riyadh, transferring power to his vice president within 30 days. If it holds, he will be the fourth dictator pushed from power this year by the Arab Spring uprisings.

But the deal leaves much more of the old regime intact than the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya — something that will almost certainly translate into continued unrest. Protesters who have been in the millions for nearly 10 months were out again Thursday, rejecting a provision that gives Saleh immunity from prosecution.

Massive unrest around the world continues.  It is sad to see so much violence, but the spread of democracy into regions that have been ruled by harsh dictators and the fight to regain democracy in regions where corporatocracy has ruled is exciting in many ways.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?