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newsmongering 02/11

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> As seems to be in vogue these days, Iran appears to be limiting its people’s access to popular sites such as Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo email, and Facebook. Kabir News speculates that the blocking will continue “until Esfand, the next month in the Persian calendar, and the 33rd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.” Alternately, it’s entirely possible that the Iranian government could be setting up something akin to a nation-wide intranet, a somewhat more permanent option whereby users are limited to seeing only what their government wants them to see; CNET reports that the Islamic Republic News Agency had suggested last fall that such a move could happen any day. (A comment on Reddit indicates that this happens every year around this time in Iran; in other words, it’s business as usual.)

Relatedly, the UK Minister of State for Business has indicated that website blocking for copyright enfringment is “imminent.” I’m sure that’ll go over well. It’s not like Britain has a habit of abruptly taking to the streets or anything.

Oh, wait…

> So, Syria! The situation continues to deteriorate. The civilian death toll is believed to have reached 5,400 since March, and the Economist notes that:

With up to several hundred projectiles raining into Homs every hour, the nationwide casualty toll has surged from around 20 a day to more than 50. Transport and telephone links, along with power, water and fuel supplies have been severed to many of the stricken areas, which were poor to begin with and have seen their incomes shrivel during the long months of unrest. With thousands of civilians choosing to abandon their homes despite cold winter weather, Syria is likely soon to confront a grave internal refugee crisis within its sealed borders. “We ask for nothing from the world, except for coffins, since there are not enough of them here for our bodies,” declares a sarcastic tweet from Homs.

In a nationwide address on Friday, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah implicitly called out China and Russia for vetoing a Security Council resolution supporting an Arab League peace plan for Syria. The King’s exact phrasing was “We are going through scary days and unfortunately what happened at the United Nations is absolutely regrettable,” and the New York Times interprets:

King Abdullah did not single out Russia and China by name, but he was clearly referring to both countries, which used their veto powers as permanent Security Council members to derail a resolution that supported the Arab League’s proposal to resolve the conflict in Syria. The resolution would have required, among other things, that Mr. Assad turn over some powers to a vice president.

Both Russia and China have been loyal supporters of Mr. Assad but they also value their relationships with many other countries in the Arab world, so the Saudi king’s remarks amounted to a further sign that those relationships have suffered some damage.

Meanwhile, the Russian government is accusing Western nations of arming Syrian rebels, with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov quoted stating that “Western states inciting Syrian opposition to uncompromising actions, as well as those sending arms to them, giving them advice and direction, are participating in the process of fomenting the crisis.” Which is actually kind of funny, because according to CNN Money:

Russia has long been Syria’s primary military supplier and currently has about $4 billion worth of contracts for future arms deliveries to Damascus, according to a report from global analysis firm Oxford Analytica. Syria received 6% of total Russian arms exports in 2010, the report said, and is “critical for some [Russian] companies’ financial survival.”

“Overseas arms contracts are very important for the Russians,” said Rajan Menon, a professor at Lehigh University who studies Russian foreign relations. “There have been significant cuts in the size of the Russian military budget relative to the Soviet period, so if you want to keep people employed in the military-industrial complex, you need exports of armaments.”

Recent turmoil in the Middle East, however, has cut into this business.

With the loss of arms sales to Iran following U.N. sanctions and the cancellation of contracts in Libya after the Gadhafi regime’s overthrow, the list of Russian arms customers in the region is dwindling. The lost business with Iran was worth $13 billion, according to Treisman, while the Libyan deals totaled $4.5 billion.

> Rumors of Kim Jong-un’s death have been greatly exaggerated. No, really. Foreign Policy notes:

The chained Chinese media universe means that Weibo rumors are a lot more trusted than their Twitter counterparts. Chinese media coverage of sensitive subjects is often deliberately obfuscating, and Chinese viewers know it.

…Chinese official media reporting on North Korea is often further removed from reality than the way China reports on its own political process. (My favorite English-language example is a Xinhua article that compares nightlife in Pyongyang with New York and Tokyo.) Besides, North Korea itself is a black box: Even the best American articles often depend on rumors and hearsay to cobble together a portrait of the closed country.

All these factors combine to give the Sina Weibo rumor — started, it appears, by a random user with less than 200 followers — enough traction in China to land on this side of the world wide web and into the pages of Forbes, MSNBC, and Huffington Post.

It is possible that this Weibo user broke the story of a successful coup in North Korea, though it’s extremely unlikely. My favorite explanation on the Twitter side of things comes from Shaun Walker, the Moscow correspondent for the Independent, who wrote “Possible that someone said he ‘murdered an enormous family-sized bucket of fried chicken,’ and something got lost in translation

In fact, National News seems to think that the whole thing started when a Chinese Weibo user tweeted (weiboed?), regarding the sizeable crowd outside the North Korean embassy in Beijin in celebration of Kim Jung-il’s 70th birthday, “It’s the first time I’ve seen this situation, did something happen in Korea?

> Remember SOPA? Its slightly mutant European brother is being protested across the Continent.

ACTA is a global effort to protect intellectual property rights by banning counterfeit goods and online piracy. Critics say it would severely limit net freedom and could also have life-threatening consequences when it comes to pharmaceutical and agricultural patents.

While at least 30 governments initially signed the the agreement, some European countries are putting their decisions on hold. Most recently, Germany announced on Friday that it would delay signing the accord in order to “carry out further discussions.”

> Over at Slate, pandagon’s Amanda Marcotte thinks that the recent two-week contraception brouhaha was part of an elaborate plan engineered by the Obama administration to punk the GOP. She writes:

The fun part of this is that Obama just pulled a fast one on Republicans. He drew this out for two weeks, letting Republicans work themselves into a frenzy of anti-contraception rhetoric, all thinly disguised as concern for religious liberty, and then created a compromise that addressed their purported concerns but without actually reducing women’s access to contraception, which is what this has always been about. …With the fig leaf of religious liberty removed, Republicans are in a bad situation. They can either drop this and slink away knowing they’ve been punked, or they can double down. But in order to do so, they’ll have to be more blatantly anti-contraception, a politically toxic move in a country where 99% of women have used contraception.

Salon advocates a variation of the view proposed by Marcotte:

When President Obama personally announced today that the foretold compromise on contraceptive coverage would involve insurers’ directly offering no-co-pay contraception to women whose employers object, he wasn’t trying to placate the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who made it clear this week that they were uninterested in anything resembling compromise. He was talking to moderates who might be horrified to learn how far the USCCB wanted to take things.

…As long as the USCCB and Republican opportunists could intimate that Obama was forcing pious priests to offer birth control pills instead of communion, they had a shot at reframing this debate about religious liberty instead of equal access to healthcare for women. But once the bishops made it clear they would take their opposition to birth control to the bitter end — past not only employees of Catholic hospitals and universities, and to all American women interested in no-cost birth control — they lost.

In an editorial for the Washington Post, Rachel Maddow disagrees, fearing that the debate has been far more an engineering of the right than of the left:

The right has picked a fight on this issue because religiosity is a convenient partisan cudgel to use against Democrats in an election year. Despite that, some Democrats and even some liberals have embraced their logic. The thinking inside the Beltway seems to be that religious voters will turn against Democrats unless the White House drops the basic idea that insurance should cover contraception.

Al Jazeera seems to fall somewhat in between the two perspectives:

But Republicans risk alienating some moderate independent voters by hammering on such a divisive social issue at a time when polls show most Americans support birth-control coverage and the fragile economy tops the public’s agenda.

Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association of the US, welcomed the move, saying she was “pleased and grateful that the religious liberty and conscience protection needs of so many ministries that serve our country were appreciated”.

The controversy has pushed a sensitive social issue into the media spotlight ahead of November 6 presidential and congressional elections. Republicans hope to use it to galvanise their conservative base, but it is unclear whether it will resonate with the broader electorate.

> Meanwhile, an all-female panel during a discussion of the birth control controversy at CPAC suggested that the best way to defeat the Obama administration’s birth control mandate would be to call it an abortion mandate, despite the lack of, you know, abortion.

“I would encourage you not to let this become a debate over birth control,” Tobias said. “I truly believe the mandate from HHS was a deliberate attempt by the Obama administration to get a discussion in this country right before the election over whether men controlling the Catholic church can tell women whether or not to take birth control. That’s the debate they want. We need to bring it back. This is religious freedom. If they can tell the Catholic Church that they have to provide contraception to their employees, then they can also tell National Right to Life that we have to provide abortions for our employees.”

>Following up on my rantings regarding Mr. Santorum’s comments about the dangers of women in combat, I found this Foreign Policy article on the topic. It’s well worth a read, but I found the part below most interesting, particularly in light of Mr. Santorum’s suggestion that the primary risk women in such positions would face would be their male comrade’s overwhelming urge to protect them. In fact, the issue could be quite the opposite:

Unfortunately, no matter what a country’s policies on the roles women can play in the military, one constant from Canada to the United States, Australia to Sweden, is the prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual assault at military facilities. While female soldiers around the world increasingly brave the same dangers as their male counterparts, they still face a unique set of risks from their own fellow soldiers.

In any case, where this issue is concerned, Mr. Santorum seems to be at odds with many members of this own party. A Washington Post-ABC News poll from March of last year indicates that 73% of respondents think women in combat would be pretty cool. Even among the respondents identifying themselves as “strongly conservative,” 53% were down.

In a snarky piece for Salon, Linda Hirshman notes:

On Thursday, the Pentagon released a report allowing a trickle more of estrogen into the front lines, with women now officially assigned, instead of informally attached, to battalions. But despite an explicit recommendation from a panel of neutral experts, still no ground fighting, no combat infantry, no special forces. In a press release, the women veterans’ Service Women’s Action Network “regretted” the failure to lift the “unfair” Combat Exclusion Policy, which precludes women from becoming infantry members.

> Austrian brothel owner Peter Laskaris, proprietor of Vienna’s Red Room Laufhaus, is offering a free room, hot shower, and hot meal to ten homeless people in the city as temperatures plunge to -20 (he has stated that “other services” are not included):

He added: “We are not really doing much business in the current cold weather anyway and it is the school holidays – a lot of people are off away with their families. Lots of our rooms are empty and it seemed a shame not to use them for a good cause.

“In these cold temperatures nobody should be left out on the streets.”

And he added that it had been so popular that he was now in talks with other brothels in Vienna to open their doors to the homeless. He said: “The homeless shelters are completely full. People need a warm place to stay. Giving away 10 rooms means that we only have five rooms remaining in our brothel and these are running as normal. None of my girls are complaining – they will have a lot of sympathy for the homeless.

> 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 “bastardized combo of punk-rock, Klezmer (Jewish jazz), polka and comedy (Frank Zappa meets Henny Youngman) but much more profane.” As may or may not matter to you, all four guys in the band are trans. Also, they’re hilarious. (For one thing, “Schmekel” is Yiddish for “small penis.”)

If you are a man, then wanting me makes you a homo.

Some of us have boyish faces, tiny hands and noses

But we are men, not girls in drag or women with psychosis

And some of us have giant beards and killer abs and bear coats

So if you want to suck my dick, my `dick’ is not in scare quotes.

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Written by whackanarwhal

February 11, 2012 at 6:41 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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