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.

Light Bulbs Saved But American Light Diminished

We can no longer call Congress a do-nothing farce.  In case you haven’t heard our esteemed legislators have ‘saved’ the incandescent light bulb from its 2012 banishment.  Which means incandescent hoarders can display their beloved bulbs in public, display them with pride and patriotism—let freedom shine–without the fear of neighborly condemnation or the riot police knocking down the door.

Let there be light!

If only.

Other things we might have considered saving in 2011:

The Middle Class; Death by Strangulation

This week we were gifted with the sobering statistic that 50% of the American public is now considered ‘low income.’  Of course, the naysayers are quick to point out that this is a gross exaggeration, that terms like ‘low-income’ and ‘poverty’ are relative terms.  Go to Africa, they say.  Perhaps, Haiti would do.  Or North Korea.  Then you’ll know the ‘real’ meaning of misery.

Sorry but this strained logic belies the fact that unlike the above examples the United States of America is a developed world power. We beat our chests and claim ‘exceptionalism’ on the world stage yet are willing to use third world comparisons to shrug off bad news?  Lame comparisons are simply an exercise in don’t believe your lying eyes and for God’s sake never distrust the status quo.  What are you?  Some sort of Commie!

A small factoid from the St. Louis Federal Reserve, Economic Research group: the average length of unemployment in the United States is now over 40 weeks. And another from the New America Foundation:

The share of middle-income jobs in the United States has fallen from 52% in 1980 to 42% in 2010.

Middle income jobs have been replaced by low-income jobs, which now make up 41% of the work force.

The American Economy; Bleeding Out While Doctors Look On

While average citizens lost wealth and continue to struggle with unemployment and underemployment, face prospects of social programs stripped down to nothing, we’ve been gifted once again with startling news. The Federal Reserve over a three-year period bailed out large banks and corporations, domestic and foreign, to the tune of 29 trillion dollars.

Twenty-nine trillion!  To put this in some perspective one trillion dollars could be imagined thusly:

If you were to count to one thousand, one number every second, it would take seventeen minutes. Counting to one million at the same rate would take twelve days (counting nonstop, btw, day and night).  Counting to one billion would take thirty-two years.

Now, drum roll please:  Counting to one trillion?  Would take 32,000 years.

Then multiply by 29.

Meanwhile, with the money spigots wide open spewing a gusher of magic money, small business loans [the sort that Main Street depends on to fuel growth and employment, loans of 1 million or less] dropped to a 12-year low. Why is this a problem?  Because despite the GOP’s drone that the top 1% of the population are the ‘job creators,’ businesses with fewer than 500 employees created 65 percent of the jobs between 1993 and 2009, according to the Small Business Administration.

Another withering fact: between 2001 to 2009, 42,000+ factories and manufacturing-related businesses closed for good.  And, of course, the jobs associated with those companies went bye-bye, moved off-shore to exploit lower wages and the nefarious environmental regulations that vulture capitalists love to hate.

In addition, our trade deficits with China [84 billion in 2001 to 278 billion in 2010] and other countries [oil imports represent over 60% of our current deficit] have bled and continue to bleed jobs and wealth from the US.  Trade deficits represent a countries’ imbalance in terms of importing to exporting and the rate at which a nation’s wealth is transferred into foreign markets.  As a country, we’re being bled to death, according to the AAM.

The impact of the trade deficit with China extends beyond U.S. jobs lost or displaced, according to the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM). Competition with China and countries like it has resulted in lower wages and less bargaining power for U.S. workers in manufacturing and for all workers with less than a four-year college degree.

And yet the trade deficits go on unabated.  A recent example was the passage of the trade deals with Panama, Columbia and S. Korea, heralded as a great deal for the United States.  But according to Dylan Ratigan, MSNBC:

The key question we have to face as a country is how we want to govern ourselves. From World War II until NAFTA, our trading policies were based on geopolitical needs and what would increase prosperity for America. Since NAFTA, however, the mantra of free trade has been warped to generate rights for international capital and nothing else. The agreements Congress and the President are pushing continue this unfortunate trend. What unfettered capital wants is to avoid taxes, regulations, or any state power whatsoever.

In regards to oil imports, the drumbeat for several years has been: Drill, Baby, Drill. It’s all about jobs and keeping America strong, our oil-financed legislators are likely to say.  The problem is regulation, they’ll add, and big government working against the blessings of the free market.   Really?  Not so, says Dylan Ratigan.

We do not have a free market for energy, because the actual cost of fossil fuel in our economy is not reflected at the pump; the military’s not in there, the environment’s not in there, and there’s a wide variety of differing fuel subsidies and tax treatments for all sorts of different fuel sources depending on their relation with our government. So, how can a marketplace decide the fuel source, when one fuel, particularly being gasoline and fossil fuels, have such a substantial comparative subsidy?”

The answer is: the marketplace cannot decide the cost of fossil fuel or entertain the cost-effectiveness of alternative sources because the game is rigged as it has been for a century+ where fossil fuels rule the day, pay off politicians and are willing to drive us into economic and environmental ruin for the sake of profit and power.

Vulture Capitalism writ large.

The American Homeowner; Death by Drowning

In the second quarter of 2011, 10.9 million Americans or 22.5% of homeowners were ‘underwater’ with their mortgages, namely they owed more on their mortgages than their houses were actually worth, a result of the real estate collapse of 2007-2008.  Although the Home Affordable Refinance Program [HARP] has fallen short to relieve homeowners from onerous, often ballooning mortgage payments and subsequent home foreclosure, the Obama Administration has attempted to remove the key barriers in the refinancing procedures. This is expected to expand mortgage refi at today’s lower interest rate to larger numbers of struggling homeowners, particularly those with little to no equity in their homes.

Will it work?

The jury is still out, but at best this expanded program will only be available to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac-backed loans.

In addition to providing relief, many citizens expected a thorough and public investigation into exactly what went wrong in the mortgage industry. We expected our own Pecora moment.

But that didn’t happen.

In fact the Administration has attempted to rush through settlements with major banks, requiring no admission of wrong doing and attaching immunity from civil or criminal liability to sweeten the deal. Countering this, several state Attorney Generals [five to date] have refused to accept the 50-state agreement and have proceeded with independent investigations of their own.  And just this past week, House Representative Tammy Baldwin [D-WI] introduced a resolution to block any agreement on the national foreclosure question, without proper and thorough investigation. Immunity from civil and/or criminal liability would be stripped and fraudulent practices prosecuted fully under the Rule of Law.

But still, for the 22.5% of American homeowners, the water level is already chin-high and rising fast.

Civil Liberties; Gutting of the Bill of Rights

Perhaps no other images brought home the dwindling nature of American civil liberties than the recent round up of Occupy Wall Street protesters.  We’ve watched young women pepper-sprayed, protesters manhandled and in one instance a young Iraqi veteran nearly killed by police who appeared ready for WWIII rather than crowd dispersal.  On several occasions over-zealous police action was caught on film not by the press but by protesters and onlookers.

In addition, we now know that drones developed for war applications have been deployed in country and that drone use is being marketed to police departments throughout the country.  Security is big business.

Obviously, the First Amendment’s guarantee to peaceable assembly is not.  And privacy?  Forget about it!

Add this to the Administration’s successful kill order on extremist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen operating in Yemen, a kill order without benefit of due process. Otherwise known as execution without trial.  We can argue about the threat of the man but there is no argument about the danger of precedent and the shredding of the Rule of Law.  And so, should we be surprised by the most recent outrage, the passage of an indefinite detention authority tucked inside the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act?  The bill codifies the right of the President to order the arrest and indefinite detention of US citizens suspected of terrorism.  No trial, no appeal.  You can now be ‘disappeared,’ lawfully.

One fight that did end well [at least temporarily] was the controversial and previously reported Stop Online Piracy Act [SOPA].  The discussions between legislators were abruptly adjourned after stiff condemnation by online biggies Google, Wikipedia and even computer scientist Vint Cerf , one of the founders of the Internet, who claimed that the bill’s passage would begin “a worldwide arms race of unprecedented censorship of the Web.”

Rights of Women; Assaults Continue

In the contradictory world of Far Right extremists, where individual liberty is celebrated and government intrusion condemned, the individual rights of women and their reproductive decisions are the lone exception.  Family planning, contraception, abortion, even ordinary ob/gyn screenings are suspect and thereby targets of defunding and all manner of attack.  Bills have littered the landscape calling for the elimination of all abortive measures, even when a woman’s life and/or future fertility is in jeopardy.  The heartbeat of the unborn is made sacred, while the lives of the fully realized female is continually denigrated, dismissed and derided.  Personhood resolutions have been raised in referendums [and thankfully voted down], where the fertilized egg would be designated as a person with full legal rights under the law.

Fertilized eggs and corporations.  Perfect together.

The insanity of these rigid, ridiculous demands from zealots are all too real and dangerous when applied to the actual world.  Miscarriage, for instance, a completely normal biological occurrence, would take on the aura of a criminal act, requiring an investigation.  By the egg or zygote police, I imagine. Or a woman who suffers an ectopic pregnancy could be left to bleed until doctors were convinced of the unborn ‘person’s’ lack of viability.  The woman’s health is secondary in this scenario.

The personhood resolutions would also deny women certain contraceptive measures.  For instance, the day after pill would be in violation.  And, in fact, Health and Human Services’ recently overruled the FDA’s recommendation on Plan B for young women under the age of 18 and refused to lift the emergency contraception’s restriction.

The assault on women’s rights have been unrelenting, not only in terms of reproductive decisions but in basic health services.  Planned Parenthood and their related clinics and facilities provide services to many poor to middle income women, offering important medical screenings, tests for cancer, diabetes, high-blood pressure, etc.  Only 3% of what Planned Parenthood does is related to abortion services.  And yet, the 90-year organization has become the Boogie Man for right-wing fundamentalists, who would deny many women the only health provider they have.

Sorry, the barefoot and pregnant dictum has no place in the 21st Century.

Our Children; Gross Neglect of Our Most Important Resource

A higher percentage of children today are living in poverty than was the case in 1975.  The rate of poverty has increased every year for the last four years, from 16.9 percent to nearly 22 percent as of 2010.  In the UK and France that number is under 10%.  The 2011 Child Well Being Index indicates that it is American children, the country’s future, who will bear the greatest damage by widening income disparities and proposed cuts to education, food stamps and health insurance programs.

Some sobering factoids:

Child homelessness has risen 33% in the last 3 years to 1.6 million

There are over eight million children in the United States today that are not covered by health insurance.

Today, one out of every seven Americans is on food stamps and one out of every four American children is on food stamps.

Nearly 20 million children participate in school lunch programs.

This is not what Democracy looks like.

The Poor, the Immigrant and/or Muslims; The Inadequacies of Scapegoating

Scapegoating has a long history, even Biblical references, where a goat is used as a vessel of purification.  The sins of the community are spiritually transferred to the animal after which Mr. Goat is banished to the wilderness.

Out of sight, out of mind.

In times of social unrest and/or economic distress, the act of scapegoating is often employed as a distraction, a way of diverting the public’s attention from the real problems and their causes . . . to something or someone else.  Scapegoating has been popular of late.

It’s the fault of the poor, the hangers on, the moochers.  Michelle Bachmann quoted Paul the Apostle:

“He who does not work, neither shall he eat.”

That would imply the poor are merely shirkers, those expecting a free lunch.  Tell that to the one in four children surviving on food stamps.  If Newt Gingrich and his ilk are to be taken seriously, the problem can be solved by revoking Child Labor Laws or having school children take on the school’s janitorial services.

Better yet, cut all safety nets.

Immigrants, too, have been cast as the country’s main economic problem.  Too many Latinos taking away American jobs.  We’ve all heard it. Only the number of illegal immigrants entering the country has been shrinking dramatically since the Great Slump, the biggest population decline in the last 20 years.

Unemployment, however, is still with us.

With the immigrant bashing, deportation and subsequent population shrinkage, Georgia and several other states had a difficult time harvesting their crop this year without their standard work force in place.

Be careful what you wish for.

Since 9/11, Muslims have been targeted as the root of all our problems, basically an evil agent working to undermine the country . Anti-Muslim sentiment has risen with irrational fears over Sharia Law dominating, perhaps even replacing the American Constitution.  Last week, hardware giant Lowe’s pulled ads from a reality show, ‘All American Muslim,’ in response to a conservative Christian group, that contended:

Clearly this program is attempting to manipulate Americans into ignoring the threat of jihad and to influence them to believe that being concerned about the jihad threat would somehow victimize these nice people in this show . . .

It’s disturbing to read something that ugly.  And it created a huge PR stink for Lowe’s, rightfully so.

Also important to note is that Muslim Americans represent approximately 6 million citizens, a quarter of whom are African American converts.  In a country of 311 million?  That’s a tiny, tiny percentage.

And on 9/11?  People of all faiths died, including Muslims.

Pointing fingers in all the wrong directions will not cure the country’s financial crisis, anymore than wishing for quick, easy solutions.  Saving what’s best about our country–our religious tolerance—is far more important.

There were many things worth saving in 2011.  But hey, at least we rescued the American incandescent light bulb.

I feel so much better.  How about you?

Saturday: Sailboats at Sunset

Escaping Dystopia 2011...

Morning, news junkies.

Chris Hedges ushered in 2011 by calling it a brave new dystopia. For a brief moment in time, the Egyptian and Wisconsin protests provided a glimmer of “there’s something happening here,” but then we were returned to our regularly scheduled dystopic nightmare. I don’t know about you, but lately I’m finding that the actual headlines these days sound more satirical than the ones in the Onion. They leave me either wanting to lolsob…or just sob. So, on that note…

Above, to the right… from National Geographic’s Intelligent Travel:

This photo of sailboats at sunset has us yearning for the sea, which makes it an Editors’ Pick for week one of our 2011 Traveler Photo Contest in the category of Outdoor Scenes. The photographer Ken Michael Jon Taarup writes, “Boracay has never ceased to amaze many people from all over the world. With its white crystal sand, pristine blue waters, and beautiful sunsets, this place still tops the list of the most visited and beautiful resorts in the Philippines.”

That’s so you have something calming to visualize while you read my Saturday picks.

Alright, grab your morning cuppa if you haven’t already, and read on.

Let’s just get the biggest distraction out of the way first…

Tornado aftermath: Pictures say a 1000 words

“Depressing women’s history news of the week”

Being pro-choice means understanding that self-determination for women regarding sex, sexuality, reproduction and motherhood is a fundamental precursor to womens’ ability to achieve their own educational, economic and familial aspirations, a fundamental precursor to the health and well-being of individuals and families, and a core condition of the long-term stability and health of society. It therefore also means understanding the profound connections for women–supported by more than ample evidence–between economic and educational status and unfettered access to comprehensive sexual health education, contraception, family planning services, and abortion care.

The War on Unions… now brought to you by Dems in MA?

The bill will take a month before coming to the state Senate, but the overwhelming vote in the House, and [Gov.] Patrick’s kinder, gentler rights-stripping plan, make it look like something’s going to happen in Massachusetts. Time to get out in the streets in another blue state.

“I’ve played at hundreds of protests and demonstrations, and this was really unique,” he said. “It was every segment of society. It was radical students and cops on the same side, and I’d never seen that before.”


  • The otherwise serious and reliable Laura Rozen overreacted a bit to Hillary taking a few days of Easter R&R time off with her family. There’s a reason Hill was dubbed the “Energizer Secretary.” The woman works non-stop. She has a personal life that she’s entitled to attend to and/or just recharge every few years or so.

Click to view HQ. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

When Bushies fight… Get out your popcorn

First of all, I didn’t have modest experience in management. Managing Stanford University is not so easy. But I don’t know what Don was trying to say, and it really doesn’t matter. Don can be a grumpy guy. We all know that.

As always, Black Agenda Report tells it like it is…

  • This is an instant classic! Please read and disseminate. Bruce A. Dixon’s Top Ten Answers To Excuses For Obama’s Betrayals and Failures. Note Number 9 — it’s for all the Obamaphiles who won’t accept that Obama is the third Bush-Cheney term. And, to quote a snippet from Numero Uno (Re: “It’s our fault the Obama presidency hasn’t kept its commitments. We need to ‘make him do it.’”):

You cannot make a US president do what he fundamentally doesn’t want to. Michelle Obama is nice to look at, but she is no Eleanor Roosevelt. Franklin Roosevelt used to publicly bask in the hatred of wealthy banksters. Barack Obama’s dream is mostly not to piss off rich people.

  • For more on the atrocities of Bush-Cheney III, give BAR’s April 25th podcast a listen. In the first segment BAR’s Glen Ford interviews Labor Notes editor Mark Brenner, who sees no growth and no jobs on the horizon and says:

“Absolute disaster for working folks. If we follow the Ryan plan or if we follow the Obama plan, none of it spells good news for the rest of us.”

  • In another segment, Clarence Thomas, former Local 10 union secretary-treasury, says what one needs to understand is that this is not simply an attack on public sector workers, it is also an attack on public services.” Thomas says the goal is to put labor back where it was before the New Deal, noting that it is a corporate and rightwing agenda in which “the Democratic party is complicit.”

The ongoing crackdown on dissidents: Syria, China

In response to the brutality of the crackdown, President Barack Obama signed an executive order today instituting sanctions against the Syrian intelligence agency and two of Assad’s brothers, a White House official confirmed. Meanwhile, the UN Human Rights Council voted in Geneva today to condemn the Syrian crackdown.

“The [Executive Order] is a watershed,” Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told The Envoy. “This is the first time an Assad has been designated by the [U.S. government], and the first time the USG has issued an EO on human rights in Syria. Until a few months ago Human Rights was a distant fifth on our list of issues with Syria. Now it’s emerged as the center of our policy.”

Ms. Cheng was arrested on what was supposed to have been her wedding day last fall for sending a single sarcastic Twitter message that included the words “charge, angry youth.” The government, lacking a sense of humor, sentenced her to a year in labor camp.

Timeout: Art break

We’re about halfway through, so click to read the rest… Read the rest of this entry »

Where is Iman al-Obeidi?

Iman al-Obeidi

The Libyan government claims she has been released and is staying with her sister in Tripoli. But al-Obeidi’s parents say she is still being held in Gaddafi’s private residence. Her mother also says that al-Obeidi has been offered a bribe to change her story.

The mother of Eman al-Obaidi said she received a call from an unidentified person purportedly representing the regime, the parents told Al Jazeera news.

The caller asked the family to tell Ms al-Obaidi to change the rape claim in return for her freedom and benefits, including a house or money, according to the victim’s mother.

According to the UK Telegraph,

Aisha Ahmad, who lives in the rebel-held eastern town of Tobruk, told The Washington Post she had passed on the request to her daughter, who had rejected it.

“I am very happy, very proud,” said Mrs Ahmed.

Iman al-Obaidi, a 26-year-old law student in Tobruk, was held last week after she burst into a Tripoli hotel where foreign journalists are staying and told them of the attack.

“Film me, film me, show the whole world what they did to me,” Miss Obaidi had screamed, as she was dragged off by security guards.

Musa Ibrahim, the Libyan government’s spokesman, said Miss Obaidi has been freed, “but the prosecution is still questioning her to determine the circumstances (of her claim).”

So if government agents are questioning her, are they doing it at Gaddafi’s palace or in her sister’s home? Is the sister al-Obeidi is supposedly staying with the same sister her was used by the Libyan government to smear her? <a href="“>From the Guardian story:

…a man claiming to be her cousin told Reuters that Obeidi was targeted by authorities after taking part in a protest in the west of the country during the initial days of the uprising against Gaddafi.

Wadad Omar said his cousin worked for a tourism company in Tripoli and was detained along with three other women who took part in the protest as they returned to the Libyan capital.

The government also used Obeidi’s sister to denounce her publicly, Omar said: “(Obeidi’s) sister went on television to say her sister is crazy. Muammar wants to prove to the world that she is insane. She (the sister) is certainly under pressure from the government.”

If it is the same sister, how can we be sure that al-Obeidi wants to be with her or that she is safe from further attacks or even torture?

There are reports that either four or five men have been arrested in the case, one of them the “son of a high-ranking official.”

Today protesters in Benghazi organized a rally in support of Iman al-Obeidi.

Following disturbing pictures of Ayman Al Abidi that hit the TV airwaves in Benghazi almost 24 hours after the alleged incident, there was outrage in this rebel capital. Men and women held a rally in support of her and marched towards the courthouse in Benghazi. “We are very sad for this and no will accept what happened,” said a Libyan protestor.Many people in Libya are concerned about her situation and they say that is just a glimpse of what they’ve been facing for decades.

Al-Jazeera reported:

Several doctors say they have found Viagra tablets and condoms in the pockets of dead pro-Gaddafi fighters, alleging that they were using rape as a weapon of war.

They say they have been treating female rape survivors who were allied with pro-democracy forces.

At the Financial Times, Charles Clover, one of the journalists who tried to help Iman al-Obeidi and was knocked down and kicked by Libyan security men for his trouble, writes about his experience:

Ms Obeidi said she had been arrested at a checkpoint on Salahidin Street in Tripoli “because I am from Benghazi”, and then held and repeatedly raped by 15 soldiers over two days.

Hearing the disturbance, a group of waiters and waitresses came over and tried at first to soothe her, then, when that did not work, to shut her up.

Suddenly a melee broke out between journalists and hotel staff. A group of athletic leather-jacketed men barrelled in and began throwing us around the room, chasing Ms Obeidi around the restaurant and finally putting a coat over her head. Many of the journalists at the Rixos jumped into the fray, trying to protect her, but it was a battle we were certain to lose.

Cameras were smashed and one journalist was punched in the face. I ended up wrestling for my Dictaphone, getting thrown down and kicked.

Clover has been told that he is “no longer welcome in Libya,” but he believes that the incident in which he was a bit player is a real tipping point.

All the careful efforts of the Libyan government to nurture their parallel reality were demolished that day. The hired mobs, the theatrical set pieces designed for foreign press consumption, and the alleged civilian casualties of the allied air campaign for which we have been shown little evidence – they all came crashing down, because of one woman’s bravery and desperation.

The questions remains: where is Iman al-Obeidi now? According to Anderson Cooper,

A group of lawyers and human rights activists tried to approach her sister’s house Monday, but were blocked by security forces. Al-Obeidy’s sister’s mobile phone has apparently been turned off, a source with the Lebanese opposition in Tripoli told CNN. And no one has seen the sister since the incident at the hotel.

Journalists and human rights activists much continue their demands to talk to al-Obeidi. She must not be disappeared by Gaddafi’s storm troopers. She is a living symbol of what Libyan rebels are fighting for–freedom of movement and association, freedom to speak truth to power, freedom to control one’s own body.

Yes, I know women are not treated equally in Arab cultures. Guess what? We aren’t treated equally here either. We need to stand up and fight for our rights just as this “lone, brave woman,” — as Charles Clover referred to her — fought for hers. And we must stand with her now and demand that she be freed and returned to her family.

New Assaults on Family Planning and Reproductive Rights (updated)

I’ve been trying to post this most of the day.  It seems WordPress had a dashboard outage. That outage made it impossible for us to get to any thing beyond what was already on the front page.  Earlier this evening, ability to comment completely disappeared.  I’ll try to get this out in short order.  Hopefully, we’ll be back to normal now.

South Dakota continues its assault on women. Fetus fetishists continue to believe that setting up any and all road blocks will discourage women from exercising their right to abortion.  Women in South Dakota must now wait 3 days prior to the procedure. The only thing this really does it make it extremely difficult for women in rural areas to get to clinics.  Some need to travel miles and don’t have resources to pay for places to stay for that number of days.  They also have to leave jobs and families to sit around and wait.

Women who want an abortion in South Dakota will face the longest waiting period in the nation — three days — and have to undergo counseling at pregnancy help centers that discourage abortions under a measure signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

Within minutes of Daugaard’s announcement that he had signed the measure, abortion rights groups said they plan to file a lawsuit challenging the measure, which one said could create particular hardships for women who live in rural areas hundreds of miles from the state’s only abortion clinic in Sioux Falls.

Daugaard, who gave no interviews after signing the bill, said in a written statement that he had conferred with state attorneys who will defend the law in court and a sponsor who has pledged to raise private money to finance the state’s court fight. Officials have said estimated the cost of defending the law at $1.7 million to $4.5 million.

This is nothing more than harassment. It’s hard to imagine any sane person wanting to live in a state that doesn’t believe you’re capable of making an adult decision without the state lecturing you, creating hurdles for exercising your constitutional rights, and inserting itself into your doctor’s ability to do the job.  This is outrageous.

Meanwhile, religious fanatics in Washington not only want to stop access or slow down access to abortion, they want to defund Title X family planning funds.  These funds have been in place since the Nixon years (1970) and are used to provide access to family plan, basic care, and birth control for poor women, men, and children. These funds allow state programs under Medicaid and private providers to get services to poor people.  The funding has been shown to help women off welfare.  Even some Republican Senators have been appalled by this attempt to force childbearing on any one without the means to fund pregnancy prevention. It also creates a public health issue because of the role these funds play in treating and prevent STDs.

House Republicans have sought to eliminate all federal grants and contracts with Planned Parenthood, some $300 million, because the agency provides abortion services. By law, none of the federal money can be used to pay for abortions, but abortion-rights opponents have argued that any financial support for Planned Parenthood frees up other money that could be used for abortions.

The argument comes as part of an ongoing budget fight: Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill have been unable to agree on a budget to fund the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year; Congress has recently passed two short-term stopgaps to allow more time to reach a long-term deal.

Racist, anti-choice propaganda has outraged many students at Princeton.  The Christian right stops at nothing to further its radical agenda to instill its narrow view on all peoples.

It has become the talk among African American students at the prestigious Princeton Theological Seminary — racially charged fliers and postings. All of it is apparently anti-abortion literature.

Among the fliers was one that displayed a noose and another with the words “in the new klan lynching is for amateurs.”

“I was shocked and appalled that someone would place something like that up at this particular institution,” seminary student Maurice Stinnett told CBS 2’s Derricke Dennis.

“There was a lot of devastation for me, psychological damage, injury, because I saw this as social bullying,” student Shirley Thomas said.

Student leaders at the seminary, which neighbors Princeton University but is not directly affiliated, said the fliers first appeared on campus last November then reappeared in February for Black History Month.

The fliers originate from various sources, pointing out the number of African American deaths by abortion.

Student Katherine Timpte called the fliers “appalling and tragic and upsetting at all levels.”

There is some good news. Religion may become extinct in 9 countries. These 9 go straight to the top of my get me out of this crazy place list.  It really amazes me that some many people in legislative positions have no problem forcing their superstitions on other people.  Interestingly enough, most of the countries come out on nearly all the top lists for highest standard of living and best living conditions.  They also rate well in education, low crime, and health and nutrition. The U.S. continues to score high on the superstition and nasty living standards lists. We certainly under assault by Christian Taliban in this country.  I really wish more moderate Christians would speak out against the actions of these radicals.

A study using census data from nine countries shows that religion there is set for extinction, say researchers.

The study found a steady rise in those claiming no religious affiliation.

The team’s mathematical model attempts to account for the interplay between the number of religious respondents and the social motives behind being one.

The result, reported at the American Physical Society meeting in Dallas, US, indicates that religion will all but die out altogether in those countries.

The team took census data stretching back as far as a century from countries in which the census queried religious affiliation: Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland.

Okay, well, that will give you a few things to chomp on while we catch up with all the stuff that went awry today.

Latest News:

Arizona Passes Anti-Abortion Bill To Send Doctors, Clinicians To Jail For Abortions Based On Race Or Gender

In the race to secure the most destructive state anti-abortion law, Arizona may leap ahead of South Dakota by seeking to tackle a problem that doesn’t exist. In a 41-18 vote last month, the House passed a bill to prohibit abortions sought because of the race or sex of the fetus or the race of the parent. Seeking to prevent “race- or sex-based discrimination against the unborn,” the bill would allow lawsuits and civil fines against “abortion providers who knowingly provide such abortions.”