Sunday, June 17, 2007

Weekend News Roundup

As usual click on links for full articles.
Big kosher little chicken-hawk runs screaming "the sky is falling! The sky is falling!" and proclaims we (Americans) should bomb Iran; decides to side with Republicans over Gonzales Vote of No Confidence; and is campaigning for Republican Susan Collins from Maine. People keep telling me to vote for the winning presidential Democratic candidate, even if I have to hold my nose (um - hint, H-I-L-L-A-R-Y).

Here's an article from The Nation on the perils of voting for a Democrat, just because he/she claims to be one. Some of us knew Lieberman was a closet Republican, but he was able to deceive enough people to win another term in the Senate last year. President Lieberman: A Cautionary Tale

For five years before 9/11, Lieberman pushed funding for Chalabi's exile organization to lead the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Lieberman was also a principal author of the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, which threw $100 million in Chalabi's direction.

Having fallen for the Iranian plot to gain control over Iraq, Lieberman now seeks to undo the damage by invading Iran. He is apparently unaware of public warnings that key Shiite leaders in Iraq would take up arms again in support of their co-religionists across the border. Indeed, the Iranian arms being smuggled into Iraq that Lieberman complains about are going to the Shiite militias dominating America's surrogate government in Baghdad.

Indeed, even after the revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib, Lieberman was able to find a bright spot, noting that "those who were responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001, never apologized."

Great. So we are now to be comforted by exceeding the standard set by Osama bin Laden.

And, if having to vote while holding one's nose isn't enough, who knows if the vote will even be counted, especially if you're voting overseas.
Casting Ballot From Abroad Is No Sure Bet, By IAN URBINA
The Pentagon’s system for allowing citizens living abroad to vote is plagued with security and privacy problems.

Nice article in TIME Magazine about a embroidery industry in Siwa, Egypt.
Postcard from Siwa
Women's Freedom Comes Slowly to a Sleepy Oasis

The U.S.-based pro-democracy group Freedom House says in its latest report that the countries of Central Europe have shown a decline in democratic progress -- despite membership in NATO and the European Union.

The "Nations in Transit" report, which reviews democratic standards in 29 countries and territories in the former Soviet sphere, may sound a cautionary note for other transitional countries aspiring to integrate with the West.

CNN is presenting a special program:The War Within,
Christiane Amanpour examines the fight for young Muslims in Britain.
The link has videos and a slide show.

CNN: Special Investigations Unit "The War Within" airs Saturday at 3 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. ET

And another article Londonistan Calling, by Christopher Hitchens
The London neighborhood of the author's youth, Finsbury Park, is now one of the breeding grounds for a new phenomenon: the British jihadist. How did a nation move from cricket and fish-and-chips to burkas and shoe-bombers in a single generation?

A Compass That Can Clash With Modern Life, By MICHAEL SLACKMAN
Religious and political leaders say that there is a crisis in Islam because too many religious edicts are being issued.


Arrests in Egypt Point Toward a Crackdown

In recent days, hundreds of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the popular outlawed political movement, have been arrested. A request was denied to free from prison the onetime presidential candidate and political dissident Ayman Nour. A prominent member of Parliament who helped form a new political party was forced out in connection with a years-old financial case.

The state-controlled press has virulently attacked Egyptians who attended a conference in Doha, Qatar, to discuss democracy. And elections on Monday to select members of the upper house of Parliament were described by independent organizations as manipulated to ensure that the governing party won a majority of the seats — a charge the government denies.

The nexus between democracy, religion and Mr. Said is his cousin — Amr Tharwat. Like Mr. Said, Mr. Tharwat contends that Islamic law should be based solely on the Koran, not the sayings and traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, known as the Hadiths. The men support a secular government and seek to promote peace and tolerance among faiths, though their rejection of the Hadiths is considered radical within the faith.

Mr. Tharwat attended the democracy conference in Doha. He worked for the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, headed by Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who is Egypt’s most renowned democracy advocate. Mr. Tharwat was arrested on the same night as Mr. Said.

But on the fourth floor of the Said family house, there is no talk of Mr. Ibrahim or politics, only talk of Mr. Said and Mr. Tharwat and their possible whereabouts. The authorities have been referring to the family as Koranists, a derogatory label in the context of the faith, suggesting allegiance to a cultlike organization.

The head of the family and the force behind the movement in Egypt is Mr. Said’s half brother, Ahmed Sobhy Mansour, a former scholar at Al Azhar. He was granted asylum by the United States.

For the last year he has paid his relatives about $150 a month to update his writings and to post them on the Web as part of what he calls “an effort to reform Islam from within.”

Mr. Said’s wife, Naisa, has waited with her two children, Baher, 4, and Amira 3, for any news about her husband and his cousin. “Ours is a school of thought, not a movement or a group,” she said. “We want to fight the extremists from within the Koran. Now I am worried they will take me and my children, too.”

Iran Curtails Freedom In Throwback to 1979
Repression Seen as Cultural Revolution
The recent detentions of Iranian American dual nationals are only a small part of a campaign that includes arrests, interrogations, intimidation and harassment of thousands of Iranians as well as purges of academics and new censorship codes for the media. Hundreds of Iranians have been detained and interrogated, including a top Iranian official, according to Iranian and international human rights groups.

The widespread purges and arrests are expected to have an impact on parliamentary elections next year and the presidential contest in 2009, either discouraging or preventing reformers from running against the current crop of hard-liners who dominate all branches of government, Iranian and U.S. analysts say. The elections are one of several motives behind the crackdowns, they add.

Public signs of discontent -- such as students booing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on a campus last December, teacher protests in March over low wages and workers demonstrating on May Day -- are also behind the detentions, according to Iranian sources.

"The current crackdown is a way to instill fear in the population in order to discourage them from future political agitation as the economic situation begins to deteriorate," said Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "You're going to think twice about taking to the streets to protest the hike in gasoline prices if you know the regime's paramilitary forces have been on a head-cracking spree the last few weeks."

German Users In Revolt Over Flickr Image Restrictions
It was supposed to be simple. Riding on the success of its U.S.-based photo-sharing site Flickr, Yahoo rolled out country-specific versions of its site in order to bring its popular photo-sharing community to users in their native languages.

But when the sites went live in Germany, Korea and Singapore, something was wrong. Users in these countries saw a different version of Flickr--one where the content filters were locked on "Safe," preventing access to content flagged "Moderate" or "Restricted."

There was no warning on the company blog. No message to the users. And now what seemed like a straightforward move towards expansion has snowballed into one of the largest user revolts the site has ever seen.

Russian Bloggers: Working the Net
The Russian site of LiveJournal has 400,000 registered users, while the site's readership amounts to nearly 10 million people, said Anton Nosik, one of the site's most popular Russian bloggers. Russia holds second place after the United States in the number of users on the blog-hosting portal.

Ruslan Linkov, head of the liberal organization Democratic Russia and also a LiveJournal blogger, said Internet spies on the lookout for potential victims are becoming abundant. LiveJournal is getting permeated with false blogs created by "spies," he said.

Former chess champion Garry Kasparov, one of the leaders of opposition coalition The Other Russia, says Putin's high approval rating among the public is based on the level of ignorance that most Russians have about the way their country is governed, and that media censorship plays a key role in protecting the authorities.

"One month of honest television debates discussing the true state of corruption in the country, and the concentration of financial resources in the hands of the closest relatives of members of the ruling political elite, would result in the immediate collapse of Putin's approval rating," Kasparov told a news conference in April. "The fast-expanding Internet is dangerous for the authorities as it effectively spreads the word about the level of corruption in Russia, especially in the provinces."

It is generally in undemocratic states, however, that people go to jail for online commentary. According to a survey by the international press-freedom advocate Reporters Without Borders, 52 people are currently in jail in China for posting critical comments against the authorities on the Internet. Internet users have also been imprisoned for putting controversial content online in Iran, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and Vietnam, and a Belarusian former parliamentarian, Andrei Klimau, was arrested in April for allegedly calling for the overthrow of the government online.

Censorship showdown in India
Gangs on the rampage, issuing threats to owners of some Internet cafes and attacking others, tearing up places that allowed users to access information via the Net that some zealots say insults their religious beliefs. Sounds like Gaza, right? Think again. This is happening in Mumbai, commercial capital of tech-savvy India.

“Beat the Censors!”, a gift of freedom for Thai Internet users
YouTube, which is owned by Google, was blocked by the Thai government in April 2007, following the appearance on the site of material critical of the country’s king.

But another Google-owned website has been reported to have been blocked by number of Thai ISPs: the popular blogging platform Blogger.

The “Beat the Censors–Unblock ICT!” CD “features 41 software applications to circumvent Website-blocking by Thai censors, anonymous proxy servers and MICT’s secret blocklists, in both English & Thai. Many international websites and NGO’s are offering to host the CD on their servers for download. FACT activists have also made “Beat the Censors” available on BitTorrent peer-to-peer networks with cross-platform versions (Windows, Linux and Macintosh).

FACT likes to call the CD its first “weapon of mass instruction”. “In fact, the disk is applicable for use in any censored country. Only the Thai-specific information needs to be deleted and the English needs to be translated into a local language. Unblock the world!” said Ajarn CJ in our email exchange.

Yahoo Weighs in on Free Speech in China
China should not punish people for expressing their political views on the Internet, Yahoo Inc. said Monday, a day after the mother of a Chinese reporter announced she was suing the U.S. company for helping officials imprison her son.

Tips on subverting China's censorship of Flickr
Zooomr CEO Thomas Hawk also pointed on Friday to a plug-in that can enable Firefox to bypass Flickr blocks in Iran, China, Saudi Arabia and other places.

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