Women Front and Center in MENA Protests

Many cultures in the MENA region are well-known for their horrible treatment of women. We see practices like honor killings, genital mutilation, and taking child brides. One of the offshoots of the Arab Spring has been the central role of women looking for broader participation in their countries.

Just as we in the United States are experiencing a political/fundamentalist Christian backlash that has turned into a war on the rights of women, the protests movements associated with the Jasmine Revolutions and their related political change have brought out a wave of political/fundamentalist Muslim backlash. There are several signs of hope in a region experiencing lots of social unrest. First, we’ve become aware of a large number of feminist leaders. Second, we’ve seen that many women are putting their lives on the line to ensure that the social change includes improving the lives and status of women. While oppression of women is frequently attached to fundamentalist religious followers, the roles of traditional tribal cultures and their dominance in places that are underdeveloped and rural–like Alabama or Uganda–cannot be underestimated.  Here’s some stories that have made headlines recently that show the global struggle for women’s rights–like the US struggle for women’s rights–is still an uphill battle.

The most recent and outrageous example of oppression of women protestors has been in Egypt over the ‘Blue bra girl’ which has led to a wave of rallies led by women.  The resultant outrage has created a tipping point in Egypt which many say has not seen activism on this level for women’s right since 1919. 

In response, thousands of women — and men — marched Tuesday in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Observers say it was the largest demonstration of women in Egypt in decades. Not since 1919, when women mobilized under the leadership of feminist Hoda Sha’rawi in anti-colonial demonstrations against the British have so many Egyptian women taken to the streets. (After representing Egyptian women at the International Women Suffrage Alliance in Rome in 1923, Sha’rawi returned to Cairo and very publicly removed her veil.)

Women have played an important role in Egypt’s modern revolution but have struggled to translate their activism into a political role in the new, emerging system. They have been excluded from important decision-making bodies, and the military leadership declined to continue a Mubarak-era quota for women that ensured them at least 64 seats in parliament. Based on early election results, it appears that few women will win a place in the new government.

Nevertheless, one intrepid woman, Bothaina Kamel, is breaking ground with her candidacy for president. The campaign of Kamel, a well-known television presenter, at first was shocking, and certainly quixotic, with polls indicating her support is less than 1%. But her persistence has gained her credibility. While she has little chance of winning, she is helping to normalize the idea of women in politics — an idea that is deeply contested in Egyptian society. Leaders of Salafi parties, which gained a surprising 20% of the vote in the first rounds of elections, have spoken out against women running for office.

The recent women’s protest may breathe life into a movement that desperately needs new energy. In the early weeks of the revolution, women activists tried to bring attention to women’s issues but never succeeded in getting the masses behind them.

Tunisian women are also concerned about women’s rights since the country’s recent elections.  The picture up top is from that country.  Newly elected leaders have had to promise to recommit their country to modernization and democratic principals that include increased roles of women.

“We are all the women of Tunisia,” stated Professor Khalid Kshir of Tunis University in conversation with the author of this article. Professor Kshir is a member of the Democratic Modernist Pole, a coalition of leftist parties. He fears that the Ennahda party will push the country back instead of moving it forward.

Just a year ago, literally weeks before the start of the uprising in the country, Tunisians had joked that theirs was a country of free women and happy men. No other Arab nation had ever granted so many rights to women, fixed de jure and de facto, than Tunisia. That was something of which Tunisians were proud, and even boasted about. Today, many people in Tunisia fear that the country’s achievements on the road to becoming a modern society will be brought to nought.

”We need to focus all our efforts in the sphere of politics and culture on women’s rights, because women form half of our society and any infringement on their rights will be harmful to all of us,” Professor Kshir went on to say.

Strange as it may seem, the issue of women’s rights was also on the agenda of a conference on promoting tourism which took place in Tunisia early in November, shortly before the final election results were announced. The conference was organized by the Ennahda party, which decided not to wait for the National Constituent Assembly to convene and the government to be formed before holding a series of meetings with representatives of Tunisia’s major industries in order to lay out the priorities for getting the national economy out of its post-revolution stupor. The discussion on the prospects for yourism was among the first meetings to be held, along with a conference on the financial market, co-sponsored by Tunisia’s Brokers’ Association.

The party leader’s comforting assurance came in response to concerns expressed by travel agencies, tour operators, hoteliers and bankers at the meeting, who voiced questions such as, “What will be Tunisia’s international image following your electoral victory? What will happen to women’s rights? How will European tourists feel in Tunisia, and do they have a reason to fear Islamists?”

What started as a discussion on the prospects of tourism eventually escalated into a broader deliberation on Tunisia’s prospective path of development. There are strong reasons for such an interconnection: tourism accounts for six per cent of Tunisia’s GDP and makes up 60 per cent of the national trade deficit. The industry employs 12 per cent of the country’s working population, while one in eight Tunisian families live off tourism, one way or another. During the revolutionary turmoil which rocked the country between January and September 2011, tourism revenues in Tunisia plunged by 38.5 per cent compared to a similar period in 2010, while the overall number of tourists coming to Tunisia sank by 34.4 per cent.

That is why at present Ennahda is ready for dialogue and compromise. “We guarantee freedom in food, drink and clothes,” Hamadi Jebali said.

He emphasized that his party would respect democratic principles and that Tunisian society would retain its progressive nature. According to Jebali, the revolution took place in the name of improving the lives of Tunisian citizens and moving the country forward rather than hindering its development.

Many of those present at the conference believed the words of the Ennahda leader – or said that they did. “I believe Jebali. I am an optimist but only on condition that the rights of women won’t be violated and if we don’t follow the path of Saudi Arabia where a woman can do business but is forbidden to drive a car,” Sihem Zaiem, a member of the Federation of Tourist Agencies, said after the conference.

Delegates applauded her when she demanded that the Ennahda secretary-general explain Tunisia’s true face to the world as soon as possible, and demonstrate Islamists’ attitude to women’s rights. Jebali promised that nothing would change in the arena of women’s rights. His speech was very convincing.

A mother in Bahrain has gone to jail for playing revolutionary music and participating in protests.

Fadhila Al Mubarak, a 38-year-old mother of a 9-year-old boy, is still in jail after she was sentenced in an unfair military trial for charges related directly to exercising her right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. She was detained and prosecuted in a military court for playing revolutionary music in her car, trying to save her son and nieces, participating in peaceful protests in Pearl Roundabout and writing a poem to her son about the revolution, freedom and fighting for his future. The information available on the conditions of her detention is very worrying and her family has raised concerns over her health.

Fadhila, who was living with her husband and her son in the area of Aali, was arrested on 27 March 2011, just a few days after the National Safety Law was imposed on 15 March 2011. She was arrested at a checkpoint because there was an audio recording of revolutionary songs playing in her car. She was asked to pull over her car and step out. They insulted her, called her names and cursed her. While security officers at the checkpoint were talking to her, a man in civilian clothing tried to get into her car. In fear over the safety of the children, her son (9), nieces (14 – 15), she pulled him away thinking he was a thug who would kidnap or hurt them. Later, she found out he was a police officer.

Her family asked about her at police stations close to the checkpoint where she was arrested only to find out after four days that she was held in Riffa police station. She was later transferred to Isa Town women’s prison. During the period of her detention, her family had no contact with her and was not allowed to visit or talk to her over phone. Family members tried to appoint her a lawyer, a request that was rejected by the military court.

Women in the region can take heart from the post revolutionary experience of Indonesia’s women who have managed to get many advances since their repression by former president Soeharto following a 1965 tragedy. Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim majority democracy.  As with all countries,  religious fundamentalists obsessed with old testament prohibitions continue to seek  repression of women. However, Indonesian laws continue to reflect the country’s will to improve conditions for women. The current president seems to be backsliding on reforms gained during the tenure of Indonesia’s previous PM.

Of course, like the feminists have suggested, the Reform Era in 1998 has given women opportunities to revive the real spirit of Kartini. However, as Mariana suggested, the Reform Era was nothing but “a short-term honeymoon” moment for women’s movement.

When the late former president Abdurrahman Wahid changed the name of the ministry of women affairs into the ministry of women’s empowerment, for example, feminists felt very confident about their cause. In addition to that, the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) was given full support to continue its investigation into the May 1998 tragedy, where many Chinese women were sexually abused.

“During Megawati’s era, we were more enthusiastic because the first woman was finally installed as a president amid opposition from some religious leaders,” Mariana said. “Megawati then also succeeded in passing the law on domestic violence.”

Celebrating women’s achievement even more, she added, was the policy of granting women a 30 percent quota of seats in the Parliament.

However, this celebration of women’s movement had to end in 2005, when Susilo Bambang Yu-dhoyono won his first presidential term.

“The year marked the introduction of the pornography bill, which was mentioned by President SBY during his first [presidential] speech,” said Mariana. “He even took the opportunity to comment about women’s belly buttons!”

And from that moment on, she went on, the women’s movement in Indonesia started to lose its ground. While battling against the criminalization of women, feminists have been labeled as “Western devilish agents”, gaining a bad reputation in society.

It seems that vigilance of women over their rights in all democracies is important.  That is why it is important that women officials with high public profiles–like US SOS Hillary Clinton–continue to keep their focus on the rights of women and also GLBT rights aound the world.  The world’s religious fundamentalists continue to press for backsliding.  Religious fanatics push for edicts that can run the gambit from defining an egg as a person to hold women’s bodies hostage to narrow religious views of ‘life’ as in seen in Arkansas recently. There are also the many Sub-Saharan African nations–like Nigeria and Uganda–where laws  ignore or encourage violence against GLBT because of both Muslim and Christian extremists in the regions. The latter example has been funded for and encouraged by US fundamentalist Christians which is even a more outrageous intervention than just resurrecting or perpetuating native tribal traditions like the child bride tradition which is also a problem in places like highly Christian Guatemala as well as Western African countries.

SOS Clinton strongly condemned the treatment of women protestors by Egyptian security forces this week. It is heartening to see her speak out for women’s full participation in democratic movements and governance.

In unusually strong language, the US secretary of state accused Egypt’s new leaders of mistreatment of women both on the street and in politics since the street revolt nearly a year ago that overthrew leader Hosni Mubarak.

“This systematic degradation of Egyptian women dishonours the revolution, disgraces the state and its uniform and is not worthy of a great people,” Mrs Clinton said in a speech at Georgetown University.

In images widely seen over YouTube, helmeted troops were shown beating a veiled woman after having ripped her clothes off to reveal her bra and stomach.

Other pictures circulating on social media networks that have enraged protesters include one of a military policeman looming over a sobbing elderly woman with his truncheon.

“Recent events in Egypt have been particularly shocking. Women are being beaten and humiliated in the same streets where they risked their lives for the revolution only a few short months ago,” Mrs Clinton said.

Here is the PBS NEWSHOUR coverage of the Egyptian Women’s protests and an interview with participant May Nabil.  It has some interesting narrative of the march in that many woman spontaneously joined the march and weren’t just drawn to it via internet.  Additionally, there were many supportive Egyptian men in attendance.


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!! Does anyone have a remedy for the sleepies? I recently finished a semester of teaching, and the last couple of days I’ve been extremely groggy. Yesterday I even slept until 10:30AM! It doesn’t help that we haven’t seen the sun in the Boston area for at least a week–it’s dark, dank, and raw out there. It seems a lot more like November than late May. On top of all that my Spring allergies are the worst I’ve ever experienced. So please forgive me if this post makes no sense. On to the news of the day.

Disgraced IMF honcho Dominque Strauss-Kahn’s accuser testified before a New York grand jury today. Immediately following her testimony, Strauss-Kahn’s attorneys announced their determination to spring their client from his cell at Rikers Island Jail.

His lawyers initially proposed a $1 million bail package that was rejected by the court.

Today a new offer that was said to add a private monitoring firm, an electronic bracelet and a guard to the package was put together. The cash component of the bail package remained at $1 million dollars, but the deal now included a guarantee that Strauss-Kahn would remain confined in New York City and not leave his residence except for visits to his doctor or lawyers. His passports and travel documents have already been taken from him.

According to ABC News, police are testing body fluids found in Strauss-Kahn’s hotel room for DNA.

ABC News has confirmed that police cut a swath of carpet to test for DNA and swabbed one of the suite’s sinks under a black light that indicated there was potential DNA evidence there.

Apparently Strauss-Kahn’s attorneys plan to claim that their client’s sexual encounter with a hotel maid was “consensual,” but there is a serious problem with that theory in addition to the maid’s testimony.

Investigators also say information downloaded from the suite door’s electronic card reader indicates the maid entered the room and never closed the door. The hotel policy requires maids to leave the door open when cleaning. The open door, they say, is proof that the women entered the room to work, not to engage in consensual sex.

I won’t dwell on this sordid story much longer, but I did want to call your attention to this piece in Time Magazine, which details a number of previous accusations against Strauss-Kahn–along with rumors –gossip about his abusive behavior toward women–that were hushed up until now. How predictable these guys are!

Joseph Cannon’s latest post is a must-read, along with the New Yorker article by Jane Mayer on which the Cannon comments. It’s about the domestic spying by the NSA that went on under Bush and the Obama administration’s heavy handed prosecution of whistleblowers while at the same time protecting the Bush administration criminals. (Minkoff Minx also mentioned Mayer’s article in her morning post yesterday.) Here’s an introduction to the piece by Cannon:

This humble blog spent a lot of time talking about NSA overreach during the controversies over Russell Tice and FISA. Meyer’s piece confirms a long-held suspicion that the real problem wasn’t eavesdropping on telephone calls but automated data-mining of all forms of electronic communication.

Two competing computer systems were designed to take us into this brave new world: ThinThread and Trailblazer. (The system in place now is called Turbulence. Someone at NSA has a strange affection for the letter T — which is also the first letter in totalitarian.) Trailblazer turned out to be a costly boondoggle. ThinThread worked. Originally, it had provisions built in to protect the privacy of American citizens; NSA Director Haybed tossed out those barriers.

Meyer focuses on an NSA whistleblower named Thomas Drake, who tried to blow the whistle on the Trailblazer fiasco — and on the abuses of privacy — to a staffer on the House Intelligence Committee. Unfortunately, the Committee was headed, at the time, by Porter Goss — and by Nancy Pelosi. They both seemed deaf to what Drake had to say.

Why is Obama so obsessed with prosecuting whistleblowers–even to the point of dusting off the Espionage Act? Jane Mayer writes:

When President Barack Obama took office, in 2009, he championed the cause of government transparency, and spoke admiringly of whistle-blowers, whom he described as “often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government.” But the Obama Administration has pursued leak prosecutions with a surprising relentlessness. Including the Drake case, it has been using the Espionage Act to press criminal charges in five alleged instances of national-security leaks—more such prosecutions than have occurred in all previous Administrations combined. The Drake case is one of two that Obama’s Justice Department has carried over from the Bush years.

Gabriel Schoenfeld, a conservative political scientist at the Hudson Institute, who, in his book “Necessary Secrets” (2010), argues for more stringent protection of classified information, says, “Ironically, Obama has presided over the most draconian crackdown on leaks in our history—even more so than Nixon.”

Mayer asked Drake about it:

Sitting at a Formica table at the Tastee Diner, in Bethesda, Drake—who is a registered Republican—groaned and thrust his head into his hands. “I actually had hopes for Obama,” he said. He had not only expected the President to roll back the prosecutions launched by the Bush Administration; he had thought that Bush Administration officials would be investigated for overstepping the law in the “war on terror.”

“But power is incredibly destructive,” Drake said. “It’s a weird, pathological thing. I also think the intelligence community coöpted Obama, because he’s rather naïve about national security. He’s accepted the fear and secrecy. We’re in a scary space in this country.”

Check out her article if you can. She’s one of the best investigative reporters we have.

You may have missed Dakinikat’s late night post on Tuesday–the one about exploding watermelons. I thought this story deserved a little more emphasis, because it shows what can happen when there are no government regulations on agriculture–and industry in general (and that is what the Republicans would love to make happen). From Raw Story:

A bizarre wave of exploding watermelons — possibly due to farmers’ abuse of a growth-boosting chemical — has once again spotlighted safety fears plaguing China’s poorly regulated food sector.

State media has said nearly 50 hectares (120 acres) of watermelon crops in the eastern city of Danyang have been ruined by the phenomenon this month after some growers doused them with the growth accelerator forchlorfenuron.

“On May 7, I came out and counted 80 (exploded watermelons), but by the afternoon it was 100,” farmer Liu Mingsuo told state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) in a report that aired Tuesday. He said he had sprayed them with the chemical just a day before.

Remind me to never buy any food produce in China!!

Have you heard that the Obama campaign is selling T-shirts and coffee cups that mock the “birthers?”

President Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign today started selling “Made in the USA” t-shirts featuring images of both President Obama and the long-form birth certificate he released copies of last month.

Wear your support for this campaign with an official Made in the USA T-shirt,” his website advertises. Donate $25 or more today and we’ll send you your limited-edition shirt.

Coffee-mugs are also available.

“Remember ‘fight the smears’ from the 2008 campaign?” asked campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt. “This is the mobile version of it.”

Quite frankly, I think this is a little bit tacky….but that’s just me. And speaking of tasteless behavior, the Catholic Church is attempting to blame the ’60s counterculture for the behavior pedophile priests. From the Guardian UK:

The investigation commissioned by Catholic bishops said that the peak incidence of sexual abuse by priests in the 1960s and 70s reflected the increased level of other deviant behaviours in American society in the period, including “drug use and crime, as well as social changes, such as an increase in premarital sex and divorce.”

Researchers at John Jay College of Criminal Justice said most of the abusive priests were ordained in the 1940s and 50s and were not properly trained to confront the social upheavals of the 1960s.

David O’Brien, a historian of American Catholicism at the University of Dayton, said the report, Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010, was dangerous because it seemed to exonerate bishops.

The study also ignores the long history of sexual abuse of children by the Catholic clergy. Methinks these “researchers” told the Catholic Bishops what they wanted to hear rather than do any serious research.

Finally, President Obama plans to give another “most amazing speech evah” tomorrow. This one is on the Middle East and North Africa. According to Voice of America:

The speech will be broad in scope, as Mr. Obama focuses on the peaceful democratic movements for change that have swept the region, discusses implications for U.S. policy, and offers what administration officials call some concrete policy proposals.

He will give his assessment of the impact of popular uprisings that have led to political changes in Egypt and Tunisia, and which continue in places like Syria, Libya and Yemen.

Senior administration officials say Mr. Obama will speak of a moment of opportunity, after a decade of great tensions and divisions, in which people of the region and U.S. policy can begin to turn the page toward a more positive and hopeful future.

The stalemated Israel-Palestinian peace process will be an important element. However, Mr. Obama is expected to frame it as part of a wider picture and say that leaders on both sides of that conflict should seize an opportunity for peace.

Whatever….I think I’ll arrange to be busy while he’s speechifying. Anyway, what are you reading and blogging about today?


Sunday Reads: Did you ever see an elephant fly?

Morning everyone, my computer is in its final death throes.  It is amazing how much of our lives are on those things. I have some links for you, but since the computer is kaput, I am writing these reads earlier than I usually do. So you may have seen some of these already…I apologize for that. And since my computer has crashed, taking everything with it, I am using a different computer and on borrowed time…Therefore, I don’t have time to write as much as I would like.

In Japan, it seems there is another leak at Fukushima.  How this thing is going to end?  One thing is for certain,  it will not be for a long time.

Japan nuclear commission fails to send experts to Fukushima – The Mainichi Daily News

TOKYO (Kyodo) — The Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan has failed to send designated experts to Fukushima Prefecture to look into the crisis at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant even though a national disaster-preparedness plan requires it to do so, many of the experts said Saturday.

A commission spokesperson said problems following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami such as blackouts had discouraged it from sending any experts to Fukushima Prefecture, but many of the specialists and government officials questioned the claim.

NHK WORLD English

Wastewater level at Fukushima reactor rising

The operator of the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant says the level of highly radioactive water in an underground tunnel for one of the reactors is rising.

Contaminated water in the plant’s facilities is hampering efforts to restore the reactor’s cooling systems. Leakages of contaminated water into the ocean and the ground are also raising concerns.

Tokyo Electric Power Company says as of 6 PM Friday, the level of contaminated water in the tunnel had risen 4.5 centimeters even after part of the water was moved to a condenser in a turbine building on Wednesday.

TEPCO says work earlier this month to fix the leakage of highly radioactive water into the ocean may have caused water from the reactor to accumulate in the tunnel.

TEPCO hopes to begin transferring highly radioactive water to a waste-processing facility by the end of next week so that work to fully restore the cooling systems can resume.

Highly radioactive water may also be leaking underground. TEPCO says it will monitor underground water 3 times a week, instead of only once a week.

A survey conducted by TEPCO on Wednesday showed radiation levels in underground water in storage facilities for the Number 1 and 2 reactors were up 38 times the levels observed a week earlier.

Saturday, April 16, 2011 23:54 +0900 (JST)

NHK WORLD English

Radiactivity rises again in sea near No.2 reactor

The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant says levels of radioactive substances in seawater have risen again near the water intake of its No.2 reactor.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company, known as TEPCO, says it detected 260 becquerels of iodine-131 per cubic centimeter in samples taken on Friday. That is 6,500 times the legal limit.

In the same area, levels of iodine-131 had been declining since April 2nd when 7.5 million times the limit was detected. On Thursday, the level was 1,100 times the safety limit.

TEPCO says the level of radioactive cesium-137 was also up in the same area. It detected 130 becquerels per cubic centimeter, 1,400 times the legal limit.
The firm says radioactive densities are leveling off or falling in most other areas.

TEPCO has installed underwater barriers and metal boards near the intake to prevent contaminated water from leaking into the sea.

The power company says the rise in the levels of radioactivity may have been caused by the installation work, but no new sources of leakage have been found.

Saturday, April 16, 2011 23:55 +0900 (JST)

Possible new leak at nuclear plant in Japan – MarketWatch

Radiation levels have spiked again in seawater near the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in northern Japan in an indication of possible new leaks at the complex, the government said Saturday, According to reports.

NHK WORLD English

TEPCO to step up discharged water monitoring

The operator of the troubled Fukushima nuclear power plant says it will step up monitoring to assess the environmental impact of radioactive water discharged into the ocean from the plant.

Tokyo Electric Power Company says it will measure radiation levels in seawater in 4 locations 3 kilometers off the coast, and 2 locations 8 kilometers off the coast.

This is in addition to the existing monitoring locations along the shore and 15 kilometers offshore.

The increased monitoring is in response to an instruction by the government’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. The result of the investigation will be reported to the agency by May 2nd.

Here is some news from Bahrain and Gaza:

Bahrain ‘arrests rights lawyer and doctors’ – Middle East – Al Jazeera English

Bahrain has detained a human rights lawyer and at least two doctors as part of a crackdown on pro-democracy protestors in the Gulf Arab kingdom, campaigners have said.

Security forces arrested lawyer Mohammed al-Tajer on Saturday, the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights and Wefaq, the biggest opposition party, said.

In Gaza this week:

Why Did Jihadists Kill My Friend? | Mother Jones

The jihadist militants in Gaza who kidnapped and murdered Italian journalist and human rights activist Vittorio Arrigoni could not have killed a more steadfast champion of freedom and justice for Palestinians.

I met Vittorio, known to his friends as Vik, during my first week of freelance reporting in Gaza last year for publications including The Nation, GlobalPost, and Jerusalem Post Magazine. Vik graciously offered to show me around. The first time we met, he recounted the Israeli army assaults that he’d witnessed, and advised me on humanitarian stories that I might cover in Gaza. He brought along his laptop, and offered to let me use his pictures and videos. He took deep puffs from his pipe as he told me about the things he’d seen, including the time he saw a friend of his killed in an Israeli airstrike. I remember feeling awed by his determination to perservere despite his grief.

Candlelight vigil held for Italian activist – Middle East – Al Jazeera English

There has been an outrage over the cold-blooded killing of the Italian peace activist [Reuters]

Hundreds of mourners have rallied and many have held a candlelight vigil in the Hamas-governed Palestinian enclave of Gaza for Vittorio Arrigoni, an Italian activist who was killed on Friday.

And in the West Bank, which is run by Fatah, Hamas’s rival, around 100 people, most of them foreigners, marched on Saturday through Ramallah to a house of mourning in El Bireh, an AFP correspondent said.

Vittorio Arrigoni, 36, who was working with the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement (ISM), was found dead by the security forces in a house in northern Gaza early on Friday.

He had been hanged, Hamas security officials said.

Hamas officials said two people had been arrested on suspicion of involvement in the kidnapping and said they were hunting further accomplices.

Ihab al-Ghussein, a Hamas spokesman, called it a “heinous crime which has nothing to do with our values, our religion, our customs and traditions”.

“The other members of the group will be hunted down,” he said.

There has been an outrage over the cold-blooded killing of the Italian.

“I was about to cry when I heard the news. That man quit his family for us, for Gaza, and now Gazans killed him. That was so bad,” Abu Ahmed, a supermarket owner, said.

This week marked the anniversary of the BP spill. Warning the pictures are a bit alarming…I had posted in the comments sometime this week about the release of BP emails discussing ways to manipulate the scientist research. These articles touch on that as well.

BP anniversary: Toxicity, suffering and death – Features – Al Jazeera English

Medical and toxicology experts have told Al Jazeera that the oil spill has triggered environmental and human health disasters that will likely span decades [Erika Blumenfeld/Al Jazeera]

April 20, 2011 marks the one-year anniversary of BP’s catastrophic oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. On this day in 2010 the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, causing oil to gush from 5,000 feet below the surface into the ninth largest body of water on the planet.

At least 4.9 million barrels of BP’s oil would eventually be released into the Gulf of Mexico before the well was capped 87 days later.

It is, to date, the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. BP has used at least 1.9 million gallons of toxic dispersants to sink the oil, in an effort the oil giant claimed was aimed at keeping the oil from reaching shore.

Critics believe the chemical dispersants were used simply to hide the oil and minimise BP’s responsibility for environmental fines.

Earlier this month Transocean Ltd, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon, gave its top executives bonuses for achieving what it described as the “best year in safety performance in our company’s history”. Transocean CEO Steve Newman’s bonus was $374,062.

BP has plans to restart deepwater drilling on 10 wells in the Gulf of Mexico this summer after being granted permission by US regulators.

Meanwhile, marine and wildlife biologists, toxicologists, and medical doctors have described the impact of the disaster upon the environment and human health as “catastrophic,” and have told Al Jazeera that this is only the beginning of that what they expect to be an environmental and human health crisis that will likely span decades.

Guest Post: No, The Gulf Oil Spill Is NOT Old News « naked capitalism

While the Japanese nuclear crisis might upstage the Gulf crisis, it hasn’t gone away.

As the Wall Street Journal notes today:

Vladimir Uiba, head of Russia’s Federal Medical-Biological Agency… compared the contamination of seawater by the Fukushima complex with an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico by BP PLC last year, and said, “The BP oil spill has caused far more serious impact on the environment than the Fukushima accident” ….

Gulf residents are still getting sick, the number of dolphins and whales killed by the spill appears to be many times higher than officials previously believed. Dead turtles are washing up in Mississippi. And see these photos from my favorite photographer, Julie Dermansky:

A few updates on Monsanto and Mortgage Fraud:

The United States of Monsanto | Emptywheel

WikiLeaks had revealed that our diplomats had proposed a “military-style trade war” to force Europeans to adopt Monsanto’s controversial products.

A Slap on the Wrist for Mortgage Fraud

On Wednesday, three federal regulators — the Federal Reserve, the Office of Thrift Supervision, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency — released an enforcement order against 14 of the nation’s largest banks and two third-party service providers for persistent irregularities and outright fraud in the way they process mortgages. These regulators are, respectively, the gang that missed the housing bubble, American International Group’s overseer (whose colossal lapses caused it to be disbanded in last year’s financial-regulatory law), and an entity most recently headed by a former bank lobbyist. The product of their deliberations, then, is no surprise: a toothless federal consent decree that essentially lets the offending banks off the hook and puts them in charge of their own prosecution.

Some updates on illegal actions of state governments and an interesting article about WWED….What Would Einstein Do?

Michigan’s Governor Exercises “Emergency Powers” to Break Union Contracts | Crooks and Liars

Benton, Michigan’s city government was shut down yesterday by the state Emergency Financial Manager. Elected officials in that city are now limited to calling a meeting, adjourning a meeting, and approving minutes of a meeting. Beyond that, they can do nothing.

Eclectablog:

This is a complete disenfranchisement of an entire community, an entire large city in my state. The voters are now denied the ability to be governed by the people they elected in a democratic election.

This is nothing short of an abridgment of democracy in raw form.

ThinkProgress » TN State Rep. Argues Einstein Would Teach Creationism

Armed with fantasy and lies, Tennessee legislators are attempting to dismantle science education in their state’s public schools. Last week, the Tennessee House voted by an overwhelming 70-23 margin in favor of a radical bill to teach the “controversy” about scientific subjects “including, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.” During the debate on HB 368, introduced by Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville), anti-science conservative Rep. Frank Nicely (R-Strawberry Plains) argued that the “critical thinker” Albert Einstein would have wanted public schools to teach creationism alongside the science of biological evolution:

I think that if there’s one thing that everyone in this room could agree on, that would be that Albert Einstein was a critical thinker. He was a scientist. I think that we probably could agree that Albert Einstein was smarter than any of our science teachers in our high schools or colleges. And Albert Einstein said that a little knowledge would turn your head toward atheism, while a broader knowledge would turn your head toward Christianity.

All I can say to that Einstein link, is ugh….

Mink’s Missing Link File:   This next one is a whopper that I think you all would really find maddening. I expect the comments will be full of venom from this link from Historiann…be sure to click the link so that you can read the full story.

Seminal developments: entitled sexist a$holes divide surgeons’ group : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

This would actually be a pretty funny story for The Onion, if it weren’t in fact true (h/t to my horrified physician friend KV):

A Valentine’s Day editorial in the official newspaper of the American College of Surgeons has set off a firestorm of controversy that has divided the largest professional organization of surgeons in the country and raised questions about the current leadership and its attitudes toward women and gay and lesbian members.

The editorial, written by Dr. Lazar J. Greenfield, an emeritus professor of surgery at the University of Michigan School of Medicine and president-elect of the American College of Surgeons, extols the mood-enhancing effects of semen on women. It begins with a reference to the mating behaviors of fruit flies, then goes on to discuss studies on the menstrual cycles of heterosexual and lesbian women who live together. Citing the research of evolutionary psychologists at the State University of New York, it describes how female college students who had been exposed to semen were less depressed than their peers who had not, concluding: “So there’s a deeper bond between men and women than St. Valentine would have suspected, and now we know there’s a better gift for that day than chocolates.”

.       .       .       .       .       .       .       .      

The organization has more than 75,000 members (I am one). Roughly 10 percent are women. There are five women on the organization’s 22-member governing board; this month, they issued a letter requesting that Dr. Greenfield step down as president-elect. The entire board is set to vote on the issue on Sunday.

Seriously.  Re-read those paragraphs again.  Especially the part about how this was published in the official newspaper of the American College of Surgeons.And click on the link, too, to be informed by the headline “Sexism charges divide surgeons’ group.”  That’s right:  sexism charges are dividing the group, not the disgusting sexist behavior itself.

Easy Like Sunday Morning Link of the Week:  Okay, no artsy fartsy link this week. Here is one to get you talking as well, I wonder…the President has a similar problem that this little girl did. Ears that stick out a bit more than “normal.”  I just think it is ironic that Obama pushed that anti-bully campaign, this little girl is a victim of bullying, and they both have protruding ears…

Bullying Pushes 7-year Old To Opt For Plastic Surgery On Her Ears

A 7-year old South Dakota girl, who has been a victim of bullying because her ears stick out, underwent an otoplasty – plastic surgery to reshape and pin back the outer ear. Samantha Roselle’s mother told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that the surgical procedure was chosen as a preventative measure, to stop the bullying.

Cami Roselles, Samantha’s mom, said “Kids are mean. That’s just how they are.”

The operation, which lasted two-and-a-half hours, was successful, according to Dr. Steven Pearlman, the surgeon who performed the operation. He told ABC “Her ears look great!”

The link above has a medical description of the procedure. Here is the ABC link: Cosmetic Surgery to Stop School Bullying: Plastic Surgery for Children Increases 30 Percent in a Decade – ABC News

Samantha Shaw will soon be able to enjoy putting her hair up and wearing earrings, two things she never wanted to do a week ago.

Samantha just had otoplasty, commonly known as “pinning back” the ears. Before her surgery, her protruding ears made her the target of lots of hurtful questions by both children and adults.

Dr. Steven Pearlman, Samantha’s New York City-based plastic surgeon, said the two-and-a-half hour surgery went very well.

There are some residual black and blue marks near the incisions, but that’s to be expected, Pearlman said. For the next few months, Samantha will have to wear a headband to protect her ears.

“Her ears look great,” said Pearlman. “Throughout the checkup after surgery and when she got the bandages off, there wasn’t a peep or a tear out of her.”

Her mother, Cami Roselles, said it was a nerve-racking experience, since Samantha had never had surgery before. The anesthesia, she said, made her daughter sick.

But all that was forgotten as the bandages came off and Samantha got a glimpse of her new ears for the first time.

She was asked how they looked. “Good,” she said.

Samantha is just one of an increasing number of children having cosmetic surgery. That number, in fact, has gone up nearly 30 percent over the past decade, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

I don’t know how I feel about this…maybe you can help me work it out in the comments?

So what are you reading about today, share your links!


The Changing Face of the MENA Region (Breaking News)

The WSJ reports that Yemeni President Saleh is working out a deal that will let him resign. The country’s leading general will also resign. The details will be released on Saturday.

“Both sides have agreed on the main points of departure, and Saturday is expected to be the day that Saleh and General Ahmar both step down,” according to a senior official familiar with the negotiations.

It couldn’t be determined which individuals were being considered as candidates for any transitional authority as talks continued late Thursday between the two leaders.

The support for mainstream opposition party leaders is unclear across the rugged and largely conservative country. Meanwhile, traditional tribal leaders who have great social standing would face problems exerting authority over rival tribes.

The Pentagon is currently holding a presser and has announced that they’re no longer ‘detecting’ Libyan planes in the air. NATO and the UN are expected to make an announcement shortly that NATO will be taking over the No-fly efforts. I just read some interesting analysis at Juan Cole’s Informed Consent on the Top Ten Accomplishments of the UN’s no-fly zone efforts. Cole says the French have also verified that Gadhafi’s air attacks have stopped and that his planes are grounded.  There is also this tidbit.

The participation of the Muslim world in the United Nations no-fly zone over Libya has been underlined. The measure was called for by the Arab League, which has not in fact changed its mind about its desirability. Qatar is expected to be flying missions over Libya by this weekend. Other Arab League countries will give logistical support.

It is significant that the Arab League is supporting this action.  The GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council)–an organization that is an essential part of my research on trade–is also trying to curb problems in Bahrain. This is significant because it shows that region is actively trying to create situations to jointly improve the conditions in the region.

Meanwhile, the people of Syria may be closer to the goals of their mostly peaceful protests. Syria is one of the most repressed countries in the region and has been under martial law for 50 years.  Clashes between protesters and the government have increased recently.

President Bashar al-Assad made a rare public pledge to look into granting Syrians greater freedom on Thursday as anger mounted following attacks by security forces on protesters that left at least 37 dead.

Syrian opposition figures said the promises did not meet the aspirations of the people and were similar to those repeated at regular Baath Party conferences, where committees would be formed to study reforms that do not see the light of day.

“The leadership is trying to absorb the rage of the streets. We want to see reform on the ground,” said a protester in the southern city of Deraa.

A hospital official said at least 37 people had been killed in the southern city of Deraa on Wednesday when security forces opened fire on demonstrators inspired by uprisings across the Arab world that have shaken authoritarian leaders.

While an aide said Assad would study a possible end to 48 years of emergency rule, a human rights group said a leading pro-democracy activist, Mazen Darwish, had been arrested.

It’s exciting to watch the move to democracy and modernity in a region known for strongmen dictators, kings, and harsh political oppression.  This will be an interesting situation to watch. I only hope that the people get what they are hoping for and that modernity and better treatment of women are part of the equation.  Some of the states–like Qatar and the UAE–are further along in this pursuit than others.  Yemen and Syria are perhaps the most dangerous parts of the equation.  The Shia-Sunni dynamic is present and that always makes for a delicate situation.

Also, SOS Hillary Clinton will be making a statement shortly.  We will try to keep you updated and give you interesting links as these new developments unfold.


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

I’m teaching a Psychology of Personality course this semester, and yesterday I started lecturing about Freud and psychoanalytic theory. I was explaining Freud’s notion of the three parts of the personality–the id, the ego, and the superego. You’re probably familiar with those terms, but basically the id is there when we are born–it is completely self-centered, doesn’t know the difference between fantasy and reality, all it cares about is pleasure. It wants what it wants when it wants it. Sometime during infancy, we develop an ego that gets the id under some control, and around age 4-6 we develop a superego–basically like a conscience, that tells us which behaviors are right or wrong or socially acceptable.

Anyway, after class I was thinking about Muammar Gaddafi and his bizarre behavior–the way he has insisted for weeks that there is no opposition and that he isn’t attacking Libyan citizens. No, he would never do that. It occurred to me that Gaddafi is pretty much acting from his id all the time. Of course his ego keeps him somewhat connected to reality so he can function in the world, but mostly he just cares about his own needs.

I wonder if that is what happens to all leaders who gain absolute control. Does the quote “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” really mean that power causes people to regress to an earlier stage of development?

It sounds peculiar, but think about how powerful people get so many of their needs met by others. Obama doesn’t have to worry about paying for things, getting food or clothing, even getting information. It is all provided by other people. In many ways, it’s a kind of childlike, dependent state. So if the leader doesn’t have a strong character (ego), he can end up behaving in a narcissistic, childlike way.

OK, well that’s my not-very-deep thought for today.

So what’s happening in the news? As has often been the case in recent weeks, much of the big news is coming from outside the U.S.

On Libya, there has been more criticism of the UN resolution and how it is being carried out. I posted quite a few examples of the criticism in my post last night. Most of the objections are based on the fact that Libya is not at all important to the U.S. strategically.

Today I want to recommend a couple of articles that explain why the intervention in Libya, while troubling in many ways, was probably the right thing to do–even for U.S. interests. The first is by Mark Lynch at the Foreign Policy blog. Lynch uses the name “abuardvark” on twitter. His post is headlined Libya in its Arab Context Although Lynch has misgivings about the intervention and has written about them, he still thinks what the U.S. is doing is the right thing–both for the Arab world and for advancing our interests. Here’s his basic argument:

Libya matters to the United States not for its oil or intrinsic importance, but because it has been a key part of the rapidly evolving transformation of the Arab world. For Arab protestors and regimes alike, Gaddafi’s bloody response to the emerging Libyan protest movement had become a litmus test for the future of the Arab revolution. If Gaddafi succeeded in snuffing out the challenge by force without a meaningful response from the United States, Europe and the international community then that would have been interpreted as a green light for all other leaders to employ similar tactics. The strong international response, first with the tough targeted sanctions package brokered by the United States at the United Nations and now with the military intervention, has the potential to restrain those regimes from unleashing the hounds of war and to encourage the energized citizenry of the region to redouble their efforts to bring about change. This regional context may not be enough to justify the Libya intervention, but I believe it is essential for understanding the logic and stakes of the intervention by the U.S. and its allies.

Libya’s degeneration from protest movement into civil war has been at the center of the Arab public sphere for the last month. It is not an invention of the Obama administration, David Cameron or Nicholas Sarkozy. Al-Jazeera has been covering events in Libya extremely closely, even before it tragically lost one of its veteran cameramen to Qaddafi’s forces, and has placed it at the center of the evolving narrative of Arab uprisings. Over the last month I have heard personally or read comments from an enormous number of Arab activists and protest organizers and intellectuals from across the region that events in Libya would directly affect their own willingness to challenge their regimes. The centrality of Libya to the Arab transformation undermines arguments that Libya is not particularly important to the U.S. (it is, because it affects the entire region) or that Libya doesn’t matter more than, say, Cote D’Ivoire (which is also horrible but lacks the broader regional impact).

Lynch is still worried about what could go wrong:

I continue to have many, many reservations about the military intervention, especially about the risk that it will degenerate into an extended civil war which will require troops regardless of promises made today. But as I noted on Twitter over the weekend, for all those reservations I keep remembering how I felt at the world’s and America’s failure in Bosnia and Rwanda. And I can’t ignore the powerful place which Libya occupies in the emerging Arab transformations, and how the outcome there could shape the region’s future. Failure to act would have damned Obama in the eyes of the emerging empowered Arab public, would have emboldened brutality across the region, and would have left Qaddafi in place to wreak great harm. I would have preferred a non-military response — as, I am quite sure, the Obama administration would have preferred. But Qaddafi’s military advances and the failure of the sanctions to split his regime left Obama and his allies with few choices. The intervention did not come out of nowhere. It came out of an intense international focus on the Arab transformations and a conviction that what happens now could shape the region for decades.

At CNN, Peter Bergen tries to explain Why Libya 2011 is not Iraq 2003 I recommend checking it out.

Another article worth reading is by Robert Fisk at The Independent: Right across the Arab world, freedom is now a prospect

In the Middle East, Yemen may be close to ousting President Ali Abdullah Saleh. From the Guardian:

A military showdown is looming in Yemen after the defence minister announced that the army would defend the president against any “coup against democracy”. His statement came hours after 12 military commanders, including a senior general, defected from the regime and promised to protect anti-government protesters in the capital, Sana’a.

[….]

Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, suffered a significant blow when General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, his longtime confidant and head of the Yemeni army in the north-west, announced that he would support “the peaceful revolution” by sending soldiers under his command to protect the thousands gathered in the capital to demand that Saleh step down.

“According to what I’m feeling, and according to the feelings of my partner commanders and soldiers … I announce our support and our peaceful backing to the youth revolution,” Ali Mohsen said.

Minutes after his defection, tanks belonging to the republican guards, an elite force led by Ahmed Ali, the president’s son, rolled into the streets of Sana’a, setting the stage for a confrontation between defectors and loyalists.

At Bloomberg: U.S. Faces Loss of Key Ally Against Al-Qaeda in Yemen

…Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh appears unlikely to weather a popular uprising and defections among his ruling elite, former U.S. officials said.

“It’s clear at this point that Saleh will have to step down,” Barbara Bodine, a former U.S. ambassador to Yemen, said in an interview yesterday. With the “mounting numbers of senior people in his administration resigning, we know it’s over. The terms of his departure, I think, are still being negotiated.”

The March 18 killing of at least 46 protesters allegedly by police and pro-regime gunmen — which drew condemnation from Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and prompted the defection of key military, tribal and government officials — may well be the tipping point.

Protests are continuing to escalate in Syria as well.

In Deraa, hundreds of black-uniformed security forces wielding AK-47 assault rifles lined the streets but did not confront thousands of mourners who marched at the funeral of 23-year-old Raed al-Kerad, a protester killed in Deraa.

“God, Syria, freedom. The people want the overthrow of corruption,” they chanted. The slogan is a play on the words “the people want the overthrow of the regime,” the rallying cry of revolutions that overthrew the veteran rulers of Tunisia and Egypt.

Security forces opened fire last Friday on civilians taking part in a peaceful protest in Deraa to demand the release of 15 children detained for writing protest graffiti.

Authorities released the children on Monday in a sign they were hoping to defuse tension in the border town, which witnessed more protests after Friday’s crackdown.

And there is a lot happening in Bahrain too. This article is worth a read: Libya burns but Bahrain can shake the world

While the world attention remains glued to the fires in Libya potential stakes in Bahrain are actually a hundred times higher. Safaniya Oil Field, the largest oil field in the world, is less than 200 miles from Manama. The Strait of Hormuz, through which passes 20 percent of world oil shipments and 40 percent of the world’s sea-borne oil shipments, is within a 400-mile radius.

More importantly, United States Fifth Fleet, with a forward deployed Carrier Strike Group, Combat Command force, Anti-Terrorism force, Sea Stallion helicopters, Amphibious Force and Patrol and Reconnaissance Force, is headquartered at Naval Support Activity Bahrain (or NSA Bahrain). In essence, Bahrain is home to America’s military might that reigns over the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and the Arabian Sea-all put together.

On March 14, around 2,000 soldiers of the Saudi-led, US-backed Peninsula Shield Force, in their armored carriers and tanks, invaded Bahrain. The stated purpose of the invasion is: to crush an unarmed civilian uprising.

On March 15, King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa of Mamlakat al Bahrayn declared martial law under which the Bahrain Defence Force (BDF), numbering around 10,000 personnel, was “empowered to take whatever actions it deems appropriate in dealing with the predominately Shiite-driven unrest.”

I recommend clicking on the link and reading the rest to learn how Iran could get involved in the Bahrain conflict. Yikes!

In Japan workers are still trying to get the Fukushima nuclear plant under control. We keep hearing that things are improving, but it’s kind of hard for me to trust what I hear from governments and corporations these days. After Iraq, Katrina, the BP oil spill, and on and on, I honestly believe just about everyone in government and private business lies their asses off. The biggest fear at the moment is the radiation that is turning up in food and water. Of course the authorities claim that’s nothing to worry about, but why should we believe them?

Away from the plant, mounting evidence of radiation in vegetables, water and milk stirred concerns among Japanese and abroad despite assurances from Japanese officials that the levels were not dangerous.

TEPCO said radiation was found in the Pacific ocean nearby , not surprising given rain and the hosing of reactors with seawater. Some experts said it was unclear where the used seawater was ultimately being disposed.

Radioactive iodine in the sea samples was 126.7 times the allowed limit, while cesium was 24.8 times over, Kyodo said. That still posed no immediate danger, TEPCO said.

“It would have to be drunk for a whole year in order to accumulate to one millisievert,” a TEPCO official said, referring to the standard radiation measurement unit. People are generally exposed to about 1 to 10 millisieverts each year from background radiation caused by substances in the air and soil.

Whatever. I wouldn’t want to drink from the tap or swim in the radioactive ocean water.

Back in the USA, Wisconsin Asks Appeals Court to Block Order Halting Union Bargaining Law

Wisconsin’s attorney general asked an appeals court to block a state judge’s order that temporarily halted a law curbing government employee unions’ collective- bargaining power.

State Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen today also asked the Wisconsin Court of Appeals for permission to file an appeal seeking to overturn the ruling by Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi.

“Contrary to established case law, the trial court injected itself into the legislative process and enjoined a legislative act,” Van Hollen said in court papers filed today in Madison. “There is absolutely no authority for the broad, overreaching step taken.”

Sumi on March 18 granted a temporary restraining order blocking publication of the measure signed into law by Governor Scott Walker on March 11, after a hearing in Madison, the state’s capital city. Publication gives the law full force and effect.

I’ll end on a lighter note. If you’re as old as I am, you might remember a guy named Owsley “Bear” Stanley: “the Sixties hero who ‘turned on’ a generation.” Stanley died a few days ago in a car crash at the age of 76.

Stanley, who died in a car crash in Australia on Sunday, fuelled the “flower power” counter-culture that took root in California in the mid-1960s, supplying it with acid that he manufactured after stumbling across a recipe in a chemistry journal.

He also worked with the psychedelic rock band Grateful Dead, who wrote their song “Alice D Millionaire” about him after a newspaper described him as an “LSD millionaire”. One batch of his drugs reputedly inspired Jimi Hendrix’s song “Purple Haze”, and he provided LSD for the notorious “Acid Test” parties hosted by the American writer Ken Kesey, which featured in books by Tom Wolfe and Hunter S Thompson.

News of Stanley’s death – his car swerved off a road and slammed into a tree near his home in north Queensland – elicited tributes, but also surprise. Despite a youth so misspent that his name became slang for good acid, Stanley had made it to the age of 76. He was even a great-grandfather. In a statement yesterday, his family mourned him as “our beloved patriarch”.

Supposedly, a batch of Owsley’s acid inspired Jimi Hendrix’s first big hit, Purple Haze. Rest in peace, Owsley. I am one “casualty” of the ’60s who did learn something significant from my experiences with LSD. One thing I eventually learned is that I don’t need drugs to “get high.”

I guess that’s another not-so-deep thought, but hey, I’m OK with that. What are you reading and blogging about today?


Sunday Reads: Tyrants and Tsunamis

Good Morning or for you later birds…Good Afternoon! Lately the news has been so bad that we usually end with something “light” but today I want to start with something funny to sort of get you all in a laughing mood, at least for a moment until the reality hits… so here is a video from The Tonight Show, featuring Hillary Clinton and Nicolas Sarkozy:

Hillary Clinton knows how to work the French. Watch her in Paris with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Okay…on with the show. The world seems to be going to hell lately. Don’t you agree? How can you argue with that assessment when you hear something like this on the news:

Physicist Michio Kaku joined Studio B to talk about the efforts underway to cool the nuclear reactors in Japan.

The part to listen for is around 1:33, where Dr. Kaku says, “Look, we’re gonna lose a good chunk of Northern Japan…” Imagine, an entire half of a country like Japan….completely inhabitable. What are these poor people going to do? What are they thinking about? The emotional despair is truly incomprehensible. Maybe he is on to something…perhaps dumping sand and cement over the entire plant is the right thing to do. (I know that some of you may have seen this link already, but I just thought it illustrated the whole “going to hell” pretty accurately.)

There have been other news reports which reveals TEPCO wanted to pull all their operators out of the Fukushima Nuclear Plant three days after the Earthquake struck. TEPCO was willing to let the Japanese Self-Defense Force and US Military sort things out. This was met with an obvious “hell no” from Japan’s Prime Minster Kan.

TEPCO wanted to withdraw all nuclear plant workers 3 days after quake – The Mainichi Daily News

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) told the government on March 14 that it wanted to withdraw all of its workers from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, it has been learned.

TEPCO’s suggestion came two days after a cooling system failure caused by the March 11 quake and tsunami triggered a hydrogen blast at the plant’s No. 1 reactor. Though Prime Minister Naoto Kan rejected the proposal, the finding suggests that the power company was aware from an early stage that damage at the plant could develop into a nuclear disaster exposing workers to high levels of radiation. It is believed that TEPCO was prepared to let Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military handle the situation.

Out of Fukushima, into new uncertainty – CNN.com

Tears suddenly welled up in his eyes as the middle-aged Japanese man recalled the longest drive home in his life a little over a week ago.

“Daiichi … my house … six hours,” he said in broken English.

Through an interpreter, he explained that, when a 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck northeastern Japan on March 11, he lost all contact with his family and it took him six hours on damaged roads to reach home, located 50 kilometers (30 miles) away from his workplace inside Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

Extending his arms as if to hug someone, he relived the moment of relief and excitement when he finally saw his wife and children after fearing the worst.

[…]

The Japanese government has evacuated more than 200,000 residents within a 20-kilometer (12-mile) radius of the Daiichi plant and advised people living between the 20- and 30-kilometer zones to stay indoors.

He decided not to take chances and brought his family to Kashiwazaki, where local authorities have turned community centers into temporary shelters for several hundred Fukushima residents — including employees of the power plant.

“They all say on TV that they give us all the facts, but I have my doubts,” he said of officials from Tokyo Electric Power Company, operator of the stricken Daiichi plant. “I want things to get better but I don’t think it’s going to be easy.”

It does look like there is some stabilization over at the Fukushima plant as electricity is partially restored:  Workers see some success at nuclear plant as cooling efforts continue – CNN.com

Workers began to see some success in their battle to cool down reactors at the quake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant Sunday, but Japanese officials said they may need to release additional radioactive gas into the air.

The plant’s owner, Tokyo Electric Power Co., said electricity was being supplied to reactor No. 2 , Kyodo News reported. But officials said they were monitoring reactor No. 3 to determine whether to release gas to reduce mounting pressure in the containment vessel — the steel and concrete shell that insulates radioactive material inside.

Pressure Stabilizes at Japanese Nuclear Reactor, Operator Says – NYTimes.com

At an afternoon news conference, officials from the Tokyo Electric Power Company said venting from Reactor No. 3 at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station would not be needed.

For the latest info on Japan remember these websites:

Kyodo News

Reuters

NHK World News

NHK Live News Stream

On to Libya. Operation “Odyssey Dawn” is in full swing, and as Boston Boomer observed yesterday…why do they always come up with such cheesy names for any military action? Personally this one sounds like a stripper name…in line with “Misty Delta Dream” and “Sugar Velvet.”  (Sorry, my defense mechanisms have been switched on…and I have to joke about all these horrible events to be able to comprehend the real violence and tragedy we are witnessing this week.)
Read the rest of this entry »


TGIFriday Reads

I can’t believe it’s Friday already.  It just seems like my recent bout with the flu put me in some other time zone.  There is so much going on right now my head is spinning from all the news.  We have a nuclear melt down, another war with another madman, and congress nitpicking over little line items in the budget when there’s a sustained high rate of unemployment.  What’s next?

The WSJ reports that Egypt is arming the Libyan Rebels and that the White House knows this.  This is a clear indication that Libya’s neighbors want Gadhafi gone.

The shipments—mostly small arms such as assault rifles and ammunition—appear to be the first confirmed case of an outside government arming the rebel fighters. Those fighters have been losing ground for days in the face of a steady westward advance by forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

The Egyptian shipments are the strongest indication to date that some Arab countries are heeding Western calls to take a lead in efforts to intervene on behalf of pro-democracy rebels in their fight against Mr. Gadhafi in Libya. Washington and other Western countries have long voiced frustration with Arab states’ unwillingness to help resolve crises in their own region, even as they criticized Western powers for attempting to do so.

The shipments also follow an unusually robust diplomatic response from Arab states. There have been rare public calls for foreign military intervention in an Arab country, including a vote by the 23-member Arab League last week urging the U.N. to impose a no-fly zone over Libya.

SOS Hillary Clinton believes that the No-fly zone will require bombing. This has been indicated by some retired generals who have done similar actions in other UN actions like Bosnia.  Clinton is in Tunisia and has been traveling in the region.

“A no-fly zone requires certain actions taken to protect the planes and the pilots, including bombing targets like the Libyan defense systems,” Clinton said in Tunis, her last stop on a trip that also took her to Cairo and Paris.

In all her stops, Clinton’s done a mix of stressing the need for democracy in post-revolution Tunisia and Egypt, and pushing for international cooperation in responding to the crisis in Libya. On Thursday, her only full day in Tunisia, Clinton promised that the United States “will stand with you as you make the transition to democracy, prosperity and a better future.”

Democrats are finally pushing back on the Republican canard that Social Security is bankrupt.  Harry Reid also took on the falsehood that Social Security is some how related to the Federal Deficit.  It’s about time.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) appeared on MSNBC last night, where he strongly rejected the idea that Social Security cuts should be on the table during current budget talks. “I’ve said clearly and as many times as I can, leave Social Security alone. Social Security has not added a single penny, not a dime, a nickel, a dollar to the budget problems we have. Never has. And for the next 30 years, it won’t do that,” Reid said. “Two decades from now, I am willing to take a look at it. I am not willing to take a look at it now.”

House Republicans, meanwhile, have stated their intention to suggest “bold reforms” for Social Security in their 2012 budget, which House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) plans to release during the first week of April. At Politico’s “Playbook Breakfast” today, which Wonk Room attended, Ryan was asked about Reid’s position. Ryan said that Reid’s stance “just boggles my mind,” before later admitting that Social Security is “not a driver of our debt”

Politico reports that Republicans are trying to roll back financial reform.

Republicans clearly want to strike at the heart of banking reform with legislation attacking new regulations on derivatives, credit rating agencies and private equity firms. But their piecemeal approach suggests they are trying to do so without appearing to favor Wall Street over Main Street.

And for a party so vigilant on its messaging, the GOP doesn’t intend to swing the door wide-open for Democrats to go on the offensive in ways they couldn’t during the repeal debate over the far less popular health care law.

“There’s no question they didn’t like financial reform,” Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), one of the law’s namesakes and top Democrat on the committee said of Republicans. “But they’re more respectful of the public appeal of this and are going about this at the edges.”

Obama held a presser yesterday and announced that he had ordered a review of  safety at US nuclear facilities.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has conducted an “exhaustive study” of U.S. plants and they have been “declared safe for any number of extreme contingencies,” Obama said at the White House. Still, he said, a review should be conducted based on what is learned from the damage at the Japanese facility.

The president said the administration will keep the public informed about the nuclear crisis and sought to allay any health concerns in the U.S.

“We do not expect harmful levels of radiation to reach the United States,” including Hawaii, Alaska and territories in the Pacific, he said.

Obama’s remarks reinforced statements earlier today by NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko that the government continually reviews safety and standards and will do so based on what is learned from the situation in Japan. There is no immediate need for special inspections of U.S. nuclear plants, he said.

Meanwhile, the EPA has proposed tougher air pollution standards for US power plants.

Newly proposed national standards for mercury, arsenic and other toxic air pollutants from power plants could prevent as many as 17,000 premature deaths and 11,000 heart attacks a year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The proposed standards, released Wednesday by the EPA in response to a court deadline, could also prevent 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and 11,000 cases of acute bronchitis among children each year; avert more than 12,000 emergency room visits and hospital admissions annually; and lead to 850,000 fewer days of work missed due to health problems.

Under the proposal, many power plants would be required to install proven pollution control technologies to reduce harmful emissions of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases, the EPA said.

Opposition leaders in Bahrain have been arrested following a crackdown on protests.

Several opposition leaders and activists have been arrested in Bahrain following a violent crackdown on anti-government protests in the Gulf kingdom.

State television said “leaders of the civil strife” had been arrested for communicating with foreign countries and inciting murder and destruction of property.

Among those arrested were Hassan Mushaima, who had returned last month from self-imposed exile in the UK after Bahraini authorities dropped charges against him, and Ibrahim Sharif, head of the Waad political society, a secular group comprising mostly Sunni members.

Also taken into custody early on Thursday was Abdul Jalil al-Singace, a leader of the Haq movement, who was jailed last August but was freed in late February as part of concessions by the Khalifa royal family to protesters.

Al Jazeera’s correspondent, reporting from the capital, Manama, said a crackdown on the opposition’s main voices was under way.

“Significant members of the opposition were arrested overnight, including some prominent activists. Soldiers broke into the houses of these figures early in the morning and made these arrests,” he said.

Later in the day, protesters ignored warnings to stay at home and gathered in Dair and Jidhaf just outside Manama.

What a world!

One last article from Politico on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the role she played in getting the world to take on Gadhafi.  Also, some more hints on her future plans.

Clinton has made similar “I’m not here forever” comments before – but it was the timing of her remarks to CNN on Wednesday that raised eyebrows, coming at a critical moment in her fierce internal battle to push President Barack Obama to join the fight to liberate Libya from Muammar Qadhafi.

Clinton’s position was vindicated early Thursday evening when the United Nations Security Council – at the urging of the United States – approved a resolution authorizing “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians, including a no-fly zone. U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters that such a move could involve direct attacks on pro-Qadhafi forces now bearing down on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in eastern Libya.

Clinton’s persistence in the anti-Qadhafi cause has been such a constant in the White House in recent days that Obama, according to reports, joked about Clinton lobbing rocks through his window during his remarks at Saturday night’s Gridiron dinner.

“Stay tuned,” said one Clinton friend when asked if the secretary would ultimately prevail.

Two Clinton friends, who speak with her regularly, told POLITICO she wasn’t trying to send any message to Obama with her interview with Wolf Blitzer Wednesday and she has no plans to leave earlier than the end of the president’s first term.

Whats on your reading and blogging list today?