news you should know about

newsmongering 02/09/12

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> Iraq has executed 65 prisoners in the first 40 days of 2012, putting it on track (if it continues in such a manner) to be right up there with China in executions per year. The state had outlawed capital punishment between 2003 and 2004, but with a rise in sectarian violence, the ban was put aside, apparently with gusto.

> North Korea’s famed Ryugyong Hotel – christened “the world’s ugliest building” by Esquire, who surely ought to know – is set to open this year, only twenty-three years behind schedule. It was originally planned to have 3,000 rooms, a bowling alley, nightclub, and five revolving restaurants; no word on how much of that has actually been accomplished. It will probably serve primarily tourists, which rather begs the question of who is expected to go to North Korea on vacation.

> Russia, as always, continues to be entertaining. Russian police are in the process of filing new tax evasion charges against lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in their custody two years ago. Hist former employer, Hermitage Capitol, is believes this to be the first posthumous prosecution in Russian legal history. From Foreign Policy:

Magnitsky’s original arrest on charges of tax evasion came shortly after he testified against two interior ministry officials, accusing them of embezzelement. See his business partner Jamison Firestone’s piece from last year for more background on the case. Hermitage CEO William Browder also wrote about Magnitsky shortly after his death in 2009.

Does anyone know of a precedent anywhere in the world for a posthumous prosecution? According to Hermitage, it’s never been done in Russia, even during the Soviet period. Even Adolph Hitler wasn’t posthumously prosecuted, though there was some discussion of the idea at Nuremburg. Oliver Cromwell was posthumously executed in 1661, three years after his death, but I can’t come up with any examples in modern times –particularly not for a crime like tax evasion.

The Russian justice system appears to have outdone itself.

In other news, an NPR report features a feminist punk group calling itself Pussy Riot as iconic of the new protest movement in Russia. Pussy Riot was arrested in mid-January after they performed an anti-Putin song (delicately titled “Putin Got Scared” – allegedly the lyrics are a bit ruder in Russian) in Moscow’s Red Square.

The collective is made up of about 10 performers, and about 15 people who handle the technical work of shooting and editing their videos. Members say all their decisions are collective and anonymous — Schumacher and her friend Kot won’t give their real names, and they insist on wearing their balaclavas during the interview.

They didn’t start as performers, says Kot, whose nickname means “Tomcat.” She says they were politically engaged women who figured punk protest music would energize people through their emotions.

Speaking of which, Foreign Policy believes Russia is facing its own “Russian Spring”:

The opposition may be multifaceted and poorly organized, but it has proved its ability to bring people to the streets and has united around a surprisingly cohesive agenda. The three mass demonstrations held on Dec. 10, Dec. 24, and Feb. 4 were the largest Russia has seen since 1991, and they broke the barrier of fear. The demonstrations were orderly, offering no excuse for violence by the police, who no longer seem capable of suppressing the opposition. As liberal opposition activist Andrei Piontkovsky writes, “Any resort to brute force to suppress demonstrations would finalize the regime’s loss of legitimacy.” In line with Russia’s post-Soviet history, the police would likely refuse to shoot unarmed demonstrators. So even if Putin aspires to be a stricter dictator, that option is probably closed.

> Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum – so often a voice of reason and civility in conservative politics – has recently compared the 9th circuit to the Soviet Union for being intolerant of the religious right and calling said religious right bigots when they were exercising their freedom to discriminate at will against people they found distasteful for loving the wrong people (this…apparently isn’t bigotry? Huh.). Speaking of slightly off-kilter historical references, Santorum would like you to know that Obama is on the path of decapitating religious people. Well, what he actually said was “When you marginalize faith in America, when you remove the pillar of God-given rights, then what’s left is the French Revolution. …What’s left in France became the guillotine,” which seems like a bit of leap from my perspective.

Actually, it’s like Mad Libs: “When you remove the pillar of _[noun]_, then what’s left is _[noun]_,” where you insert your own historical references that  are actually in no way related to the subject matter at hand. It’s like when you’re at a sporting event and the team you support wins and the guy next to you (also supporting the winning team) is like, “Dude! That was so Pearl Harbor!” and you’re like, “…I beg your pardon?”

Also, what’s with this misunderstanding of the word “tolerance”? You tolerate the tantrum being thrown by the toddler at the next table over. You tolerate your neighbor’s dog barking at four in the morning. You tolerate university wireless never actually working. So believe me, Mr. Santorum, we are tolerating you and your ilk. We’re not decapitating you any time soon (glitterbombing being of course something different altogether).

And actually, this whole thing is kind of hilarious in the light of Obama’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast (02/02/12), where he said:

And so when I talk about our financial institutions playing by the same rules as folks on Main Street, when I talk about making sure insurance companies aren’t discriminating against those who are already sick, or making sure that unscrupulous lenders aren’t taking advantage of the most vulnerable among us, I do so because I genuinely believe it will make the economy stronger for everybody. But I also do it because I know that far too many neighbors in our country have been hurt and treated unfairly over the last few years, and I believe in God’s command to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” I know the version of that Golden Rule is found in every major religion and every set of beliefs -– from Hinduism to Islam to Judaism to the writings of Plato.

And when I talk about shared responsibility, it’s because I genuinely believe that in a time when many folks are struggling, at a time when we have enormous deficits, it’s hard for me to ask seniors on a fixed income, or young people with student loans, or middle-class families who can barely pay the bills to shoulder the burden alone. And I think to myself, if I’m willing to give something up as somebody who’s been extraordinarily blessed, and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that’s going to make economic sense.

But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’s teaching that “for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.” It mirrors the Islamic belief that those who’ve been blessed have an obligation to use those blessings to help others, or the Jewish doctrine of moderation and consideration for others.

…I’m sorry, Mr. Santorum, is that what you were referring to when you spoke of Mr. Obama’s “overt hostility toward faith”?

> Gay marriage has passed the Washington senate, with the governor expected to sign it into law next week. So that’s cool!

Washington has allowed domestic partnerships since 2007. On January 19, Microsoft and five other corporations based on Washington, (Vulcan, NIKE, RealNetworks, Group Health Cooperative, and Concur) sent governor Chris Gregoire a letter noting their support for the marriage equality bills in the Washington legislature. Microsoft general counsel later posted a blog post (which is well worth reading, particularly so you can snorgle at the part where Smith says that “Inclusiveness is therefore a fundamental part of our values,” which is hilarious if you’ve ever tried to make a Microsoft product play nice with anything that’s not Microsoft) stating:

Despite progress made in recent years with domestic partnership rights, same-sex couples in Washington still hold a different status from their neighbors. Marriage equality in Washington would put employers here on an equal footing with employers in the six other states that already recognize the committed relationships of same-sex couples – Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont. This in turn will help us continue to compete for talent.

In case you’re still staggered by the concept that Bill Gates might have a soul, the New York Times reports that at a tech conference in Saudi Arabia, Gates told the audience that Saudi would not be a Top 10 country in the tech industry if they weren’t fully utilizing half the country’s talent (ie, women). When did Gates become not-evil? I’m so confused.

> For your daily dose of a) awesome, and b) not depressing (I try, guys, really I do), you can see President Obama at the White House Science Fair using an air cannon built by an eighth-grader to shoot a marshmallow across the room. The AFP has reported that the marshmallow “flew across the room before hitting the wall near the entrance to the Red Room, an elegant state parlor full of rare 19th-century French furniture.”


Written by whackanarwhal

February 9, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. […] So a few days ago, I linked to an  NPR piece about Pussy Riot, a Russian feminist punk protest band. Now, in a slightly similar vein, meet Schmekel, a […]

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