Gerda Lerner, a Feminist and Historian, Dies at 92 #Obituary


“Fireweed: a Political Autobiography”/Temple University Press

Gerda Lerner and her husband, Carl, in 1966, at her graduation from Columbia with a doctorate.

 

By 
Published: January 3, 2013
Andy Manis for The New York Times

Gerda Lerner in her office in Madison, Wis., in 2002.

Her death was confirmed by Steve J. Stern, a history professor and friend at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where Dr. Lerner had taught for many years.

In the mid-1960s, armed with a doctorate in history from Columbia University and a dissertation on two abolitionist sisters from South Carolina, Dr. Lerner entered an academic world in which women’s history scarcely existed. The number of historians interested in the subject, she told The New York Times in 1973, “could have fit into a telephone booth.”

“In my courses, the teachers told me about a world in which ostensibly one-half the human race is doing everything significant and the other half doesn’t exist,” Dr. Lerner told The Chicago Tribune in 1993. “I asked myself how this checked against my own life experience. ‘This is garbage; this is not the world in which I have lived,’ I said.”

That picture changed rapidly, in large part because of her efforts while teaching at Sarah Lawrence College in the early 1970s. In creating a graduate program there, Dr. Lerner set about trying to establish women’s history as a respected academic discipline and to raising the status of women in the historical profession. She also began gathering and publishing the primary source material — diaries, letters, speeches and so on — that would allow historians to reconstruct the lives of women.

“She made it happen,” said Alice Kessler-Harris, a history professor at Columbia. “She established women’s history as not just a valid but a central area of scholarship. If you look at any library today, you will see hundreds of books on the subject.”

Gerda Hedwig Kronstein was born on April 30, 1920, in Vienna, where her father, Robert, owned a large pharmacy. Her mother, the former Ilona Neumann, a free-spirited bohemian at heart, tried unsuccessfully to reconcile her budding career as an artist with her duties as a housewife and mother. This struggle made a marked impression on her daughter.

Immediately after Germany annexed Austria in 1938, Dr. Lerner’s father, a Jew, was tipped off that he was about to be arrested. As a hedge, he had started a pharmacy in Liechtenstein, and there he fled, whereupon the Gestapo arrested his wife and daughter to force his return. Five weeks later, after he sold his Austrian assets for a nominal sum, his wife and daughter were released and left for Liechtenstein as well.

“It was the most important experience of my life, because I didn’t think that I was going to come out alive,” Dr. Lerner told The Chicago Tribune in 1993.

A more thorough investigation by the Gestapo might have revealed that their young prisoner had been doing underground work for the Communists for several years.

Through a marriage of convenience, Gerda Kronstein made her way to New York, where she worked in menial jobs and trained at Sydenham Hospital in Harlem as an X-ray technician. As a saleswoman at a Fifth Avenue candy store, she was fired after she reported her employers to the Labor Department for paying their factory workers less than the minimum wage.

In 1941, she married Carl Lerner, a theater director and Communist who helped her polish her halting English by having her repeat tongue-twisters like “Mae West is wearing a vest.” The couple moved to Hollywood, where Mr. Lerner became an apprentice film editor.

Dr. Lerner placed a short story based on her jail experience, “Prisoners,” in The Clipper, a liberal literary journal, joined the Communist Party and began working with community groups to organize supermarket boycotts and neighborhood child care centers.

“I was unduly intense, super-serious, incapable of small talk or the kind of friendly gossip that hold acquaintances together,” she wrote in “Fireweed: A Political Autobiography” (2002). “My perfectionism, insistence on anti-fascist commitment in word and deed, and general ‘heaviness’ as a person set me apart from others.”

Because of his politics, Mr. Lerner found it increasingly hard to find work in Hollywood, so in 1949 the couple returned to New York, where he became a top film editor, working on “Twelve Angry Men,” “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” “Klute” and other films. In 1964, the two collaborated on the film “Black Like Me,” based on the 1961 book by the Southern white journalist John Howard Griffin that recounted his experiences disguised as a black man in the Deep South. Mr. Lerner directed, and together they helped adapt the book for film.

Mr. Lerner died in 1973 after a long illness that Dr. Lerner wrote about in “A Death of One’s Own” (1978). Her survivors include a sister, Nora Kronstein; a daughter, Stephanie Lerner; a son, Dan; and four grandchildren.

Dr. Lerner, with great difficulty, found a publisher for “No Farewell” (1955), a novel about the coming of fascism to Austria, but by the late 1950s she faced uncertain prospects as a writer. With thoughts of writing a historical novel, she began researching the lives of Sarah and Angelina Grimké, daughters of a wealthy plantation owner, who traveled throughout the United States proselytizing for the American Anti-Slavery Society.

The novel never materialized, but her research led to a new career. She began taking history courses at the New School for Social Research, where, while still an undergraduate, she taught “Great Women in American History.” It was one of the first courses ever given in the United States on women’s history.

After earning her bachelor’s degree from the New School in 1963, she enrolled at Columbia, her work on the Grimké sisters in hand, to study women’s history. Bending the rules, the university allowed her to complete her master’s and doctorate in three years. In 1967, she published “The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina: Rebels Against Slavery.”

At Sarah Lawrence, where Dr. Lerner began teaching history in 1968, she was the driving force behind what is widely credited as the first graduate program in women’s history in the United States, established in 1972.

At the same time, after writing the textbook “The Woman in American History” (1971), Dr. Lerner began gathering documentary material that would allow other scholars to write women’s history. Her material was published in two important sourcebooks, “Black Women in White America: A Documentary History” (1972) and “The Female Experience: Documents in American History” (1976).

In 1980, she joined the history department at Wisconsin-Madison, where she created the university’s doctoral program in women’s history. She retired from Wisconsin in 1991. In 1981, she became the first woman in 50 years to be elected president of the Organization of American Historians. The Lerner-Scott Prize, named in honor of her and Anne Firor Scott, another pioneer in women’s history, has been given annually since 1992 for the best doctoral dissertation on women’s history in the United States.

Dr. Lerner wrote two ambitious studies on women and society: “The Creation of Patriarchy” (1986) and “The Creation of Feminist Consciousness” (1997). Many of her essays were collected in “The Majority Finds Its Past: Placing Women in History” (1979) and “Why History Matters” (1997).

“I want women’s history to be legitimate, to be part of every curriculum on every level,” she wrote in “Living With History/Making Social Change” (2009), a collection of autobiographical essays. “I want people to be able to take Ph.D.’s in the subject and not have to say they are doing something else.”

 

Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.

 

Starving for Recognition: The Plight of Palestinian Political Prisoners


Saturday, 15 December 2012 00:00 By Pam Bailey, Truthout | Op-Ed

In support of hunger strike prisoners.Palestinian and israeli protesters demonstrate in support of hunger striking prisoners. (Photo: Rina Castelnuovo / The New York Times)

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Earlier in the year, the US media extensively covered the 66-day hunger strike of a Palestinian named Khader Adnan, who risked his life to protest his detention without charge or trial. Today, there are five more prisoners protesting with their empty stomachs. Yet virtually no one is covering their cases. Why?

Early this year, the long-ignored population of Palestinians warehoused behind Israeli bars broke onto the global stage with the courageous hunger strike of Khader Adnan, who went without food for 66 days to protest his “administrative detention” – a limbo in which he had been held without charge or trial. His protest captured the attention of media around the world and inspired a rash of other strikes, culminating in a mass action by an estimated 2,000 other Palestinian political prisoners.

The dramatic tactics appeared to work: Adnan and the others were released, and the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association reported that the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) agreed “there would be no new administrative detention orders or renewals” (albeit with several caveats).

However, today, more than four months later, the IPS is quietly breaking its promises, and at least five prisoners are once again on hunger strike. Two of them – Ayman Sharawna and Samer al-Issawi – had been released in October 2011 as part of the agreement Israel signed in exchange for the freedom of its captured soldier, Gilad Shalit. They were re-arrested several months later, without any new charges or evidence, and have been on at least a partial strike since July and August, respectively. As this article went to press, their health was seriously deteriorating, with frequent loss of consciousness and muscle control, and calls by Physicians for Human Rights in Israel to allow visits by independent doctors have been ignored.

Another of the hunger strikers, Oday Keilani, has gone without food for more than 40 days, after his own administrative detention – under which he has been held since April 2011 – was extended for another four months, despite the IPS’ promises.

Even those who have merely rallied in support of the prisoners are now being targeted. In October, Ayman Nasser, a researcher with Addameer, was arrested in part for his active participation in solidarity demonstrations. To date, Nasser remains in Israeli detention. At 3 a.m. on Dec. 12, the offices of Addameer and several other Palestinian NGOs were ransacked, and their computers, files and video equipment stolen. Posters of prisoners and hunger strikers were ripped from the walls and strewn around the office.

You wouldn’t know any of this was going on, however, from the “mainstream” Western media. Despite the earlier rush of coverage, the hunger strikers today are starving in virtual silence.

Khaled Waleed, operations coordinator for the UFree Network, which advocates in the European Union for Palestinian political prisoners, believes media coverage isn’t typically what forces Israel to act. However, he is quick to add that it is an important influence on governments that can apply pressure. And Mahmoud Sarsak, the popular Palestinian soccer player who went on hunger strike for 96 days before he was finally released, is convinced that grassroots pressure was critical to his eventual freedom.

“People seem to have lost interest in the hunger strikes now,” laments Waleed, who adds that his organization focuses more on broad issues, like Israel’s growing pattern of “re-arrests.”

“We need a vision that unites everyone, and right now, it’s not clear where that will come from,” he said.

Experts, as well as former and current political prisoners, identify a variety of forces working against the sustained attention needed to bring about real and lasting change in the plight of Palestinian political prisoners: marginalization by the “Arab Spring,” global economic collapse, the Iranian “threat” and elections in several key countries.

Competing With World Events

As Salam Fayyad, prime minister for the Palestinian Authority (PA), told The New York Times earlier this year, “The biggest challenge we face – apart from occupation – is marginalization. This is a direct consequence of the Arab Spring where people are preoccupied with their own domestic affairs. The United States is in an election year and has economic problems, Europe has its worries. We’re in a corner.”

Although the PA managed to gain enough support to win observer status in the United Nations last month, the international “bandwidth” is just not sufficient to accommodate a host of other issues – especially those that require sustained attention – without a very focused, sustained campaign.

Even in the Palestinian Territories, where “solidarity tents” in support of the hunger strikers were constant and vocal for Khader Adnan and the others, there is only intermittent activity this time around. “I think people are just exhausted with the whole situation,” admits Malaka Mohammed, a young activist in Gaza who has been at the forefront of the protest movement there, and helped organize a solidarity rally on Dec. 13. “It’s hard to stay active on everything, especially after Israel’s latest attack on Gaza.”

Salem Hassan Khalil Abu Shab was imprisoned by Israel three times – the last for more than 18 years – and now is back home in Gaza, struggling to fit back into a family that had become independent without him. Twice, he participated in hunger strikes, which he recalls as “the worst thing to have to do, but the only thing we can do to fight back and keep our dignity.” Shab adds, however, that to be successful, strikes need “people on the outside keeping up the pressure.” When other, competing events occur, he acknowledged – like the UN bid and the Israeli attack – the strikes lose their impact. Israel, he believes, is aware of that.

Israel’s Control of the Message

Anat Matar, senior lecturer in philosophy at Tel Aviv University, observed in a report from the International Middle East Media Center that Western reporting is largely based on Israel’s perspective, in which Palestinians are portrayed as security risks rather than political prisoners, and as “militants” and “terrorists,” rather than resistance fighters. Because spokespeople for the Israeli government are easy to access, are relied upon by the likes of President Obama and Secretary Clinton and have 30-second sound-bites at the ready, this same language is repeated in Western media, which regularly describe Palestinian prisoners and fighters as “militants” (or worse yet, “Islamist militants”), rather than “the opposition,” as in Syria.

Richard Falk, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian territories, writes in his blog: “Israeli hasbara has worked hard over many years to stereotype the Palestinians as ‘terrorists,’ and by doing so to withdraw any sympathy from their victimization, which is portrayed as somehow deserved.”

Predictability

Khader Adnan’s hunger strike attracted attention in large part because he used Gandhian techniques to challenge the “system,” and no one knew how the story would end: Would Israel let him die? Would he wrest significant concessions from Israel?

However, Adnan didn’t die. He reached a settlement with Israel, dropping his protest in return for early release. Hana Shalabi followed, ending her own strike in exchange for release to Gaza, far from her home in the West Bank. Each of the rest of the hunger strikers followed suit, eventually ending their strike in return for a few weeks or months cut off their detention. The outcome became predictable, and the concessions given in return had plenty of loopholes built in. As Falk writes, “It needs to be understood that Israel retains all the prerogatives to rely on administrative detention in the future and continues to have unmonitored, exclusive control over prison life.”

After the novelty of Adnan, media coverage gradually tapered off as boredom set in. Shalabi, Bilal Diab, Thaer Halahla and the estimated 2,000 other prisoners who joined the hunger strike, mostly for a shorter length of time, continued to generate some attention. But by the time Sarsak upped the ante, it had started to lag. Google Akram Rikhawi, who lasted an amazing 102 consecutive days, and the current strikers Ayman Sharawna and Samer al-Issawi, and few mentions at all are found in “mainstream” American media. In part as a result, the Israeli military appears to have adopted a pattern of doing what it has to do to cut a deal to avoid revival of international attention, then reneging on virtually everything.

No Clear, Compelling “Public Face”

No centrally coordinated, highly visible vehicle exists for tracking who begins hunger striking, when and why, monitoring what Israel has promised and when those commitments are broken and then widely publicizing this information. Reporters interested in the issue must work hard – too hard – to find all the details. As a result, they don’t. Compare that situation to the sophisticated, “one-stop-shop” blog and companion Facebook page run by the Israeli military: www.idfblog.com. Whatever “fact” you could want, it’s there, along with snazzy graphics.

Lack of Leadership

As powerless as Palestinians often feel, it’s a fact that international media attention often follows local coverage. Yet columnist Hussam Kanafani, from the newspaper Al Khaleej, wrote that after Adnan, even Palestinian coverage of the strikers began to decline.

The case of Sarsak is instructive. He was first imprisoned without charge in 2009 and began his hunger strike in March of this year, after his administrative detention was renewed for the sixth time. But the Palestinian football association didn’t raise its voice until June, when it became public knowledge that the once-star player, the youngest to have made it onto the Palestinian national team, had lost 33 percent of his body mass and was said to be suffering from spells of unconsciousness and severe muscle atrophy. Ayat Saafeen, head of the Palestinian Women’s Football Association, admitted that “support was slow on the uptake,” with the organization waiting for a build-up of international solidarity before acting.

Local media coverage lagged as well. Linah Alsaafin explained in Ceasefire magazine that an independent news outlet is still a rarity in Palestine – with most publications owned by political parties or wealthy individuals with political affiliations. The fact that footballer Sarsak did not belong to a political faction (not to Islamic Jihad, as Israeli authorities claimed), was the underlying reason, she wrote, for the half-hearted coverage of his hunger strike by Palestinian media.

“Prisoners have separated according to political party and religion,” Sarsak agreed at a conference on political prisoners in Tunisia, where he is now making his home. “This is very bad for the cause. We need to be acting as one.”

Unity of leadership is one of the key lessons learned by perhaps the most famous hunger-striking prisoners: Irish Republicans who fought the British state in the 1980s. Former hunger striker Pat Sheehan, who was slated to be the 11th political prisoner to die in the chain begun by Bobby Sands in 1981, visited Gaza recently with a delegation of European parliamentarians. He and his fellow former political prisoner Gerry MacLochlainn are very careful to avoid even the appearance of telling Palestinians what to do, or of drawing too close a parallel. Still, history has undeniably shown that some lessons are universal.

“Three factors were critical to our ultimate success,” recalled MacLochlainn. “Unity of leadership; realistic, concrete demands that we all bought into and insisted on as a group; and a willingness to ‘go the distance.’ When you start a hunger strike, participants must be totally committed to taking it to the final end. Otherwise, you won’t be taken seriously.”

To date, unity of leadership has been a challenge for Palestinians, as Sarsak noted. In fact, Addameer’s staff in the West Bank was reportedly told by the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority to stay home rather than attend the conference in Tunisia, due to the dominant role played by Islamist factions in organizing the event. There is cautious optimism, however, that the new sense of unity evident following the latest Israeli attack on Gaza, and the UN vote on observer status for Palestine, will be more than a “flash-in-the-pan.” It will, however, take time, cautions Waleed.

The other question Palestinians must answer is whether striking for individual release is their best strategy, versus negotiating for the collective good. According to Ashraf Hussain, director of international relations for the Ministry of Detainee Affairs in Gaza, the mass hunger strike that attracted more than 2,000 participants in the spring was called by a committee of prisoner leaders inside the system. However, the ongoing strikes by specific prisoners to protest their continuing detentions despite promises of release are actions taken individually.

“It is definitely more effective to act as a group, but how can we not support individuals fighting their own situations as well?” Hussain asked.

The danger, however, is that by doing so, the Palestinians play into the secret agenda of their captors. In the 2011 book, Threat: Palestinian Political Prisoners in Israel, Walid Daka – currently serving a life sentence – observes, “Most of the problems presented and the solutions reached pertain to individual prisoners…. Meetings, study circles and ideological discussions about national problems are much less frequent. Indeed, there [are] an increasing number of prisoners who take up academic studies, but their motivation is self-development and preparation for their own future after their release, rather than collective values and national concerns.”

According to Addameer, more then 4,600 Palestinians remained in Israeli prisons as of Oct. 12 – including 210 who are under the age of 18, 250 who have never been formally charged or tried, and 23 who were democratically elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council. Israel is arresting 11 to 20 more Palestinians every day – up to 7,000 a year.

When the Israeli effort to focus prisoners on narrow personal needs is coupled with the increasing use of technology to separate them from each other and from their “keepers” (a trend chillingly documented in Threat), it’s clear that Palestinians are facing an existential challenge to their very identity as a people and a culture.

Pam Bailey is a journalist and social entrepreneur who reports on Palestine and other “targets” of misbegotten US foreign policy. She teaches journalism/social media & consults on communication strategies in the fight for peace & justice. She is based in Alexandria, VA, and blogs atpaminprogress.tumblr.com.

 

Medicare Is Faulted on Shift to Electronic Records


From the New York Times

November 29, 2012

By 

The conversion to electronic medical records — a critical piece of the Obama administration’s plan for health care reform — is “vulnerable” to fraud and abuse because of the failure of Medicare officials to develop appropriate safeguards, according to a sharply critical report to be issued Thursday by federal investigators.

The use of electronic medical records has been central to the aim of overhauling health care in America. Advocates contend that electronic records systems will improve patient care and lower costs through better coordination of medical services, and the Obama administration is spending billions of dollars to encourage doctors and hospitals to switch to electronic records to track patient care.

But the report says Medicare, which is charged with managing the incentive program that encourages the adoption of electronic records, has failed to put in place adequate safeguards to ensure that information being provided by hospitals and doctors about their electronic records systems is accurate. To qualify for the incentive payments, doctors and hospitals must demonstrate that the systems lead to better patient care, meeting a so-called meaningful use standard by, for example, checking for harmful drug interactions.

Medicare “faces obstacles” in overseeing the electronic records incentive program “that leave the program vulnerable to paying incentives to professionals and hospitals that do not fully meet the meaningful use requirements,” the investigators concluded. The report was prepared by the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees Medicare.

The investigators contrasted the looser management of the incentive program with the agency’s pledge to more closely monitor Medicare payments of medical claims. Medicare officials have indicated that the agency intends to move away from a “pay and chase” model, in which it tried to get back any money it has paid in error, to one in which it focuses on trying to avoid making unjustified payments in the first place.

Late Wednesday, a Medicare spokesman said in a statement: “Protecting taxpayer dollars is our top priority and we have implemented aggressive procedures to hold providers accountable. Making a false claim is a serious offense with serious consequences and we believe the overwhelming majority of doctors and hospitals take seriously their responsibility to honestly report their performance.”

The government’s investment in electronic records was authorized under the broader stimulus package passed in 2009. Medicare expects to spend nearly $7 billion over five years as a way of inducing doctors and hospitals to adopt and use electronic records. So far, the report said, the agency has paid 74, 317 health professionals and 1,333 hospitals. By attesting that they meet the criteria established under the program, a doctor can receive as much as $44,000 for adopting electronic records, while a hospital could be paid as much as $2 million in the first year of its adoption. The inspector general’s report follows earlier concerns among regulators and others over whether doctors and hospitals are using electronic records inappropriately to charge more for services, as reported by The New York Times last September, and is likely to fuel the debate over the government’s efforts to promote electronic records. Critics say the push for electronic records may be resulting in higher Medicare spending with little in the way of improvement in patients’ health. Thursday’s report did not address patient care.

Even those within the industry say the speed with which systems are being developed and adopted by hospitals and doctors has led to a lack of clarity over how the records should be used and concerns about their overall accuracy.

“We’ve gone from the horse and buggy to the Model T, and we don’t know the rules of the road. Now we’ve had a big car pileup,” said Lynne Thomas Gordon, the chief executive of the American Health Information Management Association, a trade group in Chicago. The association, which contends more study is needed to determine whether hospitals and doctors actually are abusing electronic records to increase their payments, says it supports more clarity.

Although there is little disagreement over the potential benefits of electronic records in reducing duplicative tests and avoiding medical errors, critics increasingly argue that the federal government has not devoted enough time or resources to making certain the money it is investing is being well spent.

House Republicans echoed these concerns in early October in a letter to Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of health and human services. Citing the Times article, they called for suspending the incentive program until concerns about standardization had been resolved. “The top House policy makers on health care are concerned that H.H.S. is squandering taxpayer dollars by asking little of providers in return for incentive payments,” said a statement issued at the same time by the Republicans, who are likely to seize on the latest inspector general report as further evidence of lax oversight. Republicans have said they will continue to monitor the program.

In her letter in response, which has not been made public, Ms. Sebelius dismissed the idea of suspending the incentive program, arguing that it “would be profoundly unfair to the hospitals and eligible professionals that have invested billions of dollars and devoted countless hours of work to purchase and install systems and educate staff.” She said Medicare was trying to determine whether electronic records had been used in any fraudulent billing but she insisted that the current efforts to certify the systems and address the concerns raised by the Republicans and others were adequate.

The report also takes to task another federal agency that certifies the software systems used to qualify for the Medicare incentive payments, saying it should do more to ensure the systems’ reports are accurate and meet the “meaningful use” criteria.

Medicare has not audited any of the $3.6 billion payments it has made to date, according to the report, which faults the agency for its lack of prepayment review and reliance on self-reporting after money has been spent.

In their written response to the report, federal officials said they agreed with some of the inspector general’s recommendations that they clarify what hospitals and doctors need to do to qualify for the payments. But Marilyn Tavenner, the acting administrator for Medicare, strongly disagreed with the idea that the agency should do more to ensure payments are appropriate before writing a check.

Requiring an audit before paying hospitals and doctors “could significantly delay payments to providers,” she said, and these reviews “would also impose an increased upfront burden on providers.” Ms. Tavenner said Medicare took some steps to make sure providers were eligible for the payments but “does not believe prepayment audit is necessary at this juncture.” Medicare maintains that it has systems in place to verify the information being submitted.

Medicare has developed plans to audit payments it has made since the program started in 2011 and says it expects to issue additional guidance for hospitals and doctors.

The other federal agency, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, agreed with the inspector general’s recommendations and said officials were already working to improve the process of certifying systems.

The inspector general said Medicare should be able to review at least some payments before they were made to determine whether the hospitals and doctors actually qualified. The investigators suggest identifying a small number of providers where the information provided was inconsistent and conducting a review or audit.

 

Fukushima–Hopes of Home Fade Among Japan’s Displaced


AIZU-WAKAMATSU JOURNAL

Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

The community center of a temporary housing complex in Aizu-Wakamatsu, where some fled after last year’s nuclear disaster.

By 
Published: November 25, 2012

AIZU-WAKAMATSU, Japan — As cold northerly winds sprinkle the first snow on the mountains surrounding this medieval city, those who fled here after last year’s Fukushima nuclear disaster are losing hope that they will ever return to their old homes.

Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

Cleanup in Kawauchi, a village in Fukushima Prefecture. In Okuma, decontamination efforts have been slow to reduce radiation dosages.

The mayor of Okuma, a town near the Fukushima Daiichi plant that was hastily evacuated when a huge earthquake and tsunami crippled the reactors’ cooling systems on March 11, 2011, has vowed to lead residents back home as soon as radiation levels are low enough. But the slow pace of the government’s cleanup efforts, and the risk of another leak from the plant’s reactors, forced local officials to admit in September that it might be at least a decade before the town could be resettled.

A growing number of evacuees from Okuma have become pessimistic about ever living there again. At a temporary housing complex here in Aizu-Wakamatsu, a city 60 miles west of the plant, the mostly elderly residents say they do not have that much time or energy left to rebuild their town.

Many said they preferred plans that got them out of temporary housing but helped them maintain the friendships and communal bonds built over a lifetime, like rebuilding the town farther away from the plant.

“I was one of those who kept saying, ‘We will go back, we will go back!’ ” said Toshiko Iida, 78, who fled her rice farm three miles south of the plant. “Now, they are saying it will be years before we can go back. I’ll be dead then.”

Such feelings of resignation are shared by many of the 159,000 people who fled their towns after the earthquake and tsunami caused a triple meltdown at the Fukushima plant, spewing radiation over a wide area of northeastern Japan in the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 disaster at Chernobyl, in what was then the Soviet Union.

After first being reassured by the authorities that the accident was not so bad, then encouraged as the government began its costly decontamination effort, many evacuees are finally accepting that it may take decades, perhaps generations, before their town could be restored to anything like it was before the disaster.

“We all want to go back, but we have to face the obvious,” said Koichi Soga, 75, a retired carpenter who once worked on reactor buildings at the plant. “Look at the Soviet Union. They are still not back, right?”

Such sentiments have led to a very public loss of hope by the 11,350 displaced residents of Okuma, one of nine communities within 12 miles of the stricken plant that were evacuated.

After living in school gymnasiums and other shelters for about a month, Okuma’s town hall officials and about 4,300 of its residents relocated to temporary sites in Aizu-Wakamatsu, with most of the rest scattered as far as Tokyo, about 140 miles away. The mayor, Toshitsuna Watanabe, immediately began drawing up plans for returning to Okuma that called for a group to resettle a small corner of the town where radiation levels were relatively low. The settlers would then slowly expand the livable areas, decontaminating one street or building at a time, like colonists reclaiming a post-apocalyptic wilderness.

Last fall, the plan won de facto approval when Okuma residents re-elected Mr. Watanabe over a challenger who had called for building a new town at a safer location. Hopes were still high early this year when the Environmental Ministry began a decontamination program, with a budget of $4.8 billion for 2012 alone, that employed a small army of workers to scrape away top soil, denude trees and scrub down buildings in Okuma and other evacuated communities.

But the ministry said this summer that an experimental effort to decontaminate a 42-acre area in Okuma had failed to reduce radiation dosages by as much as had been hoped, leading officials to declare most of the town uninhabitable for at least another five years. That forced Okuma’s officials to change the target date of their “road map” for repopulating the town to 2022, instead of 2014.

“People are giving up because we have been hit by negative news after negative news,” said Mr. Watanabe, 65, who set up a temporary town hall in a former girls’ high school on a corner of Aizu-Wakamatsu’s six-century-old castle. “Keeping our road map is the only way to hold onto hope, and prevent the town from disappearing.”

The New York Times

Okuma’s town hall officials and about 4,300 of its residents relocated to temporary sites in Aizu-Wakamatsu.

World Twitter Logo.

Mr. Watanabe admits that his plan has a dwindling number of adherents. In response to a questionnaire sent to Okuma’s evacuees by the town hall in September, only 11 percent of the 3,424 households that responded said they wanted to go back, while 45.6 percent said they had no intention of ever returning, mostly because of radiation fears.

Hopes for a return took another blow in early November, when Environmental Ministry officials told Mr. Watanabe that they planned to build as many as nine temporary storage facilities in Okuma for dirt and other debris from the cleanup. Many evacuees said they did not want to go back if their town was to be used as a dumping ground for radioactive refuse.

At the temporary housing site, where prefabricated apartments stood in rows like barracks on a former soccer field, many evacuees said they had been allowed to return to their homes in Okuma wearing hazmat suits and masks on tightly monitored, one-hour visits to retrieve some belongings. Many said that as the months passed, it was becoming more difficult emotionally to think about spending the time and energy to rebuild.

“My house has become a playground for mice,” said Hiroko Izumi, 85, adding, “Every time I go back, it feels less and less like my home.”

Many others said the town needed to move fast to keep its relatively small number of working-age residents, who were already beginning to find jobs and start new lives in places like Aizu-Wakamatsu.

“If too much time passes, Okuma could just disappear,” said Harue Soga, 63, a health care worker.

For those who do not want to move back, Okuma drew up an alternative plan in September that calls for building a new town on vacant land safely outside the evacuation zone around the plant. The new town — including a town hall, fire and police stations and housing — would be built within five years.

Mr. Watanabe admits that he is now among a minority of former residents who are still determined to go back to the original Okuma. He describes an almost spiritual attachment to the land where his family has grown rice for at least 19 generations, and that holds the family graves that Confucian tradition forbids him to abandon.

“We have been living there for 1,000 years,” he said. “I have promised myself that one day, I will again eat my own rice grown on my ancestral farm.”

 

 

#Greece: Free speech faces abyss #FOE #FOS #Censorship #Media


The arrest of editor Kostas Vaxevanis for exposing alleged tax cheats is just the latest attack on free speech in Greece. Democracy itself is now in danger, say Asteris Masouras and Veroniki Krikoni

UPDATE: Since this article was published, journalist Spiros Karatzaferis was arrested on an outstanding charge after claiming he would publish classified documents relating to Greece’s financial bailout. 

Athens, Greece. 29th October 2012 -- Greek Journalist Kostas Vaxevanis has his trial postponed. Stathis Kalligeris | DemotixIn recent months Greece has recorded multiple instances of censorship and attacks on the press. Systematic efforts to curtail media freedom are taking place against a backdrop of rising police brutality used to quell anti-austerity protests and mounting neo-Nazi violence against journalists, immigrants, and homosexuals linked to rise of the far-right Golden Dawn party, which gained 18 seats in June’s parliamentary elections (having achieved a record 21 seats in the May election).

28 October, National Day in Greece, saw the arrest of investigative journalist Kostas Vaxevanis, whose Hot Doc magazine published a leaked list (nicknamed the “Lagarde list”) of over 2,000 names of Greeks with bank accounts in Switzerland. Reporters Sans Frontieres appealed for his release, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, expressed her concern, and netizens rallied to his support on Twitter, gathering over 16,000 signatures on a petition demanding that charges be dropped, as did the European Federation of Journalists.

“They are after me instead of  the truth,” Vaxevanis stated in a video uploaded on the night before his arrest.

New York Times editorial slammed the Greek government for being “shamefully quick” to attack the messenger and strip basic social services from the country’s most vulnerable citizens but shamefully slow at probing possible tax evasion by the well-connected. Vaxevanis, whose magazine has been steadily publishing investigative reports on graft and corruption scandals, had reported a seemingly abortive ambush at his home on the northern suburbs of Athens earlier in September by five unknown individuals.

Several other incidents of censorship have plagued the media in the last month, leading to international condemnation and grave concerns about the state of democracy in its nominal birthplace.

On 25 September, a 27-year-old netizen was remanded to trial on blasphemy charges for maintaining a Facebook page titled “Gerontas Pastitsios” (Elder Pastitsios), which included satirical comments on Christianity and the noted Eastern Orthodox monk Elder Paisios and his alleged“prophecies”, as well as the commercial exploitation of Paisios’s legacy. The matter was raised by a member of parliament from Golden Dawn. According to the defendant, the blasphemy charge was later dropped, but he still faces defamation and insult charges over third-party comments left on the Facebook page (he maintains he never defamed or used abusive language himself, and even deleted abusive comments).

On 9 October, the Guardian published a report by the Nation’s Maria Margaronis on torture allegations made by anti-fascist protesters arrested after a clash with Golden Dawn members on 26 September, in which detainees spoke of being subjected to an “Abu Ghraib-style humiliation” at police headquarters in Athens. The Μinister of Public Order, Nikos Dendias, later announced his intention to sue the British newspaper for defamation and instead of ordering a public inquiry while investigating the torture allegations in a “sworn administrative inquiry”, a process described by the UNHCR in 2008 as an internal and confidential police procedure designed to protect the rights of the officer involved rather than those of the complainant.

On 11 October, religious groups and neo-Nazis protested against the gay-themed play Corpus Christi in Athens, deeming it blasphemous; they assaulted a theatre critic and forced the cancellation of the performance. Five days later, Greek public television channel NET censored a gay kiss scene from the British TV series Downton Abbey. Management apologised after a furore online against censorship, and rebroadcast the episode uncensored.

On 26 October, ERT3 state TV reporter Christos Dantsis, assigned to cover the celebrations of the liberation centenary of Thessaloniki, “disappeared” on screen, after reporting on citizen protests against the Greek Prime Minister and President of the Republic outside St Dimitrios’ church and the heavy police presence that had descended on the city. His substitute was ordered to present a more amicable image of festivities.

On 28 October, a 35-year-old man arrested in Corfu for posting photos of police and Golden Dawn on Facebook during the Ochi Day parade, was reportedly charged with breaching privacy, defamation and “spreading false news with the intent to destabilise the state”.

The following day, two journalists, Kostas Arvanitis and Marilena Katsimi, had their morning news show on Greek state TV (ERT) cancelled, after analysing claims by the Guardian of police torture of Greek anti-fascist protesters in Athens, and criticising the Greek Minister of Public Order, Nikos Dendias.Katsimi told the Guardian:

About an hour after the programme ended, the director of information called for a transcript. He didn’t ask to talk to us. And it was then announced that two other journalists would present tomorrow’s show. We were cut.

Aimilios Liatsos, ERT’s general director, defended his decision and stated that the two journalists “violated minimum standards of journalistic ethics”. Various political parties and organizations have condemned ERT’s action, while journalists at ERT/NET launched a 24-hour rolling strike as of 30 October, until the decision on Arvanitis and Katsimi is withdrawn.

In reaction to these developments, The Nation’s Maria Maragaronis argues:

Greece can no longer be called a functioning democracy […], as press freedom, always precarious in Greece where most private media are in the hands of well-connected oligarchs, is a dead letter.

David Hughes of the Daily Telegraph underlines that “press freedom is under threat in Greece and the EU doesn’t seem to care”.  Yiannis Baboulias similarly accuses European leaders of treating what is happening in Greece as a national problem, predicting in a New Statesman article that “they’re holding the door open for their countries to go down the same path”.

2006, WHERE IT ALL BEGAN…

An apparent lack of Internet policy and judicial ignorance of the nature of the internet had led to the first publicised incident of online censorship in Greece in October 2006. During the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) held in Athens, news emerged that Greek authorities had arrested Antonis Tsipropoulos, a Greek aggregation service administrator, and confiscated his hard drives, for linking to US-hosted blog posts that satirised Greek businessman and tele-evangelist Dimosthenis Liakopoulos. Bloggers organised a massive online solidarity campaign and held courtside protests, declaiming the lack of web savvy of the complainant and the court, as well as the technophobe spirit of the time. Tsipropoulos’ case was mired in legal limbo for years, as often happens in similar cases. Subsequent attempts over the years by Greek governments to institute “anti-blog laws” — similar to ones recently enacted in Jordan, Zambia and Malawi, among others — that would enforce mandatory registration and hold bloggers accountable for third-party comments, were held in check by netizen initiatives.

RISING ENCROACHMENT OF PRESS FREEDOM

Overt press censorship is banned by the Greek Constitution, but systematic efforts to curtail press freedom have intensified in recent years, as unpopular austerity measures, corruption scandals and police violence are fueling frequent protests and dissent. Greece notably plummeted 35 ranks in the Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders in 2010, in large part due to the assassination of online journalist Sokratis Giolias, allegedly because of his work on an undisclosed corruption story, and targeted police attacks on photojournalists covering protests. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other international human rights organisations have repeatedly chastised the Greek state, urging a “zero tolerance” approach to police violence. Threats and abuse against journalists by newly-elected politicians from the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party prompted CPJ to remark that the party “casts a shadow on Europe’s press freedom”.

While Greece is widely and casually demonised as “patient zero” of the European financial crisis, politicians and the media are routinely displaying a callous shortsightedness in addressing its corrosive effects on press freedom and free speech,  eating away at the core values that made the European Union a necessary reality. This is, in large part, to oppose the spectre of totalitarianism ever rising again in the continent.

As Kostas Vaxevanis has written: “Greece gave birth to democracy. Now it has been cast out by a powerful elite”.

Asteris Masouras and Veroniki Krikoni are Global Voices authors and editors of Global Voices in Greek

 

 

 

 

 

 

Allen Ginsberg: ‘The Ballad of the Skeletons’ #sundayreading



http://www.thenation.com/sites/default/files/user/20/nation-1995-cover_img.jpg

The Nation | October 23, 2012

The late Allen Ginsberg first published his poem “The Ballad of the Skeletons” in the pages of this magazine in 1995. A portrait of our world of contradictions, the poem was set to music by Ginsberg in that same year in collaboration with Paul McCartney, Philip Glass and Lenny Kaye. Now, with a new release by Ginsberg Recordings [1], the song can be heard in its entirety once again. Listen to the recording and read the full poem below with illustrations by Eric Drooker. Check out Ginsberg Recordings’ new release here [2].

Said the Presidential skeleton
I won’t sign the bill
Said the Speaker skeleton
Yes you will

Said the Representative skeleton
I object
Said the Supreme Court skeleton
Whaddya expect

Said the Military skeleton
Buy Star Bombs
Said the Upperclass skeleton
Starve unmarried moms

Said the Yahoo skeleton
Stop dirty art
Said the Right Wing skeleton
Forget about yr heart

Said the Gnostic skeleton
The Human Form’s divine
Said the Moral Majority skeleton
No it’s not it’s mine

Said the Buddha skeleton
Compassion is wealth
Said the Corporate skeleton
It’s bad for your health

Said the Old Christ skeleton
Care for the Poor
Said the Son of God skeleton
AIDS needs cure

Said the Homophobe skeleton
Gay folk suck
Said the Heritage Policy skeleton
Blacks’re outta luck

Said the Macho skeleton
Women in their place
Said the Fundamentalist skeleton
Increase human race

Said the Right-to-Life skeleton
Foetus has a soul
Said Pro-choice skeleton
Shove it up your hole

Said the Downsized skeleton
Robots got my job
Said the Tough-on-Crime skeleton
Tear-gas the mob

Said the Governor skeleton
Cut school lunch
Said the Mayor skeleton
Eat the budget crunch

Said the Neo-Conservative skeleton
Homeless off the street!
Said the Free Market skeleton
Use ’em up for meat

Said the Think Tank skeleton
Free Market’s the way
Said the S&L skeleton
Make the State pay

Said the Chrysler skeleton
Pay for you & me
Said the Nuke Power skeleton
& me & me & me

Said the Ecologic skeleton
Keep Skies blue
Said the Multinational skeleton
What’s it worth to you?

Said the NAFTA skeIeton
Get rich, Free Trade,
Said the Maquiladora skeleton
Sweat shops, low paid

Said the rich GATT skeleton
One world, high tech
Said the Underclass skeleton
Get it in the neck

Said the World Bank skeleton
Cut down your trees
Said the I.M.F. skeleton
Buy American cheese

Said the Underdeveloped skeleton I
Send me rice
Said Developed Nations’ skeleton
Sell your bones for dice

Said the Ayatollah skeleton
Die writer die
Said Joe Stalin’s skeleton
That’s no lie

Said the Petrochemical skeleton
Roar Bombers roar!
Said the Psychedelic skeleton
Smoke a dinosaur

Said Nancy’s skeleton
Just say No
Said the Rasta skeleton
Blow Nancy Blow

Said Demagogue skeleton
Don’t smoke Pot
Said Alcoholic skeleton
Let your liver rot

Said the Junkie skeleton
Can’t we get a fix?
Said the Big Brother skeleton
Jail the dirty pricks

Said the Mirror skeleton
Hey good looking
Said the Electric Chair skeleton
Hey what’s cooking?

Said the Talkshow skeleton
Fuck you in the face
Said the Family Values skeleton
My family values mace

Said the N.Y. Times skeleton
That’s not fit to print
Said the C.I.A. skeleton
Cantcha take a hint?

Said the Network skeleton
Believe my lies
Said the Advertising skeleton
Don’t get wise!

Said the Media skeleton
Believe you me
Said the Couch-Potato skeleton
What me worry?

Said the TV skeleton
Eat sound bites
Said the Newscast skeleton
That’s all Goodnight

2/12-16/95


Source URL: http://www.thenation.com/article/170764/allen-ginsberg-ballad-skeletons

Links:
[1] http://ginsbergrecordings.com/
[2] https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/ballad-skeletons-paul-mccartney/id567541187
[3] http://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/

The Girl Who Changed Pakistan: #Malala Yousafzai #mustread


by Oct 22, 2012

Shehrbano Taseer takes an insider’s look at the 15-year-old girl who may finally turn the tide on extremism.

The teenage girls chatted to each other and their teachers as the school bus rattled along the country road. Students from a girls’ high school in Swat, they had just finished a term paper, and their joy was evident as they broke into another Pashto song. About a mile outside the city of Mingora, two men flagged down and boarded the bus, one of them pulling out a gun. “Which one of you is Malala Yousafzai?” he demanded. No one spoke—some out of loyalty, others out of fear. But, unconsciously, their eyes turned to Malala. “That’s the one,” the gunman said, looking the 15-year-old girl in the face and pulling the trigger twice, shooting her in the head and neck. He fired twice more, wounding two other girls, and then both men fled the scene.
Over the screams and tears of the girls, a teacher instructed the bus driver to drive to a local hospital a few miles away. She stared in horror at Malala’s body, bleeding profusely and slumped unconscious in her friend’s lap, then closed her eyes and started to pray.

As of this writing, Malala fights for her life at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England. Her would-be killers have not yet been caught. But it’s clear who bears responsibility. And in the days since the Oct. 9 assault on her, sadness, fury, and indignation have swept the world.

For months a team of Taliban sharpshooters studied the daily route that Malala took to school, and, once the attack was done, the Tehrik-e-Taliban in Pakistan gleefully claimed responsibility, saying Malala was an American spy who idolized the “black devil Obama.” She had spoken against the Taliban, they falsely said, and vowed to shoot her again, should she survive.

The power of ignorance is frightening. My father, Salmaan Taseer, was murdered last January after he stood up for Aasia Noreen, a voiceless, forgotten Christian woman who had been sentenced to death for allegedly committing blasphemy. My father, the governor of Punjab province at the time, believed that our country’s blasphemy laws had been misused; that far too frequently, they were taken advantage of to settle scores and personal vendettas.

In the days before my father’s murder, fanatics had called for a fatwa against him and had burned him in effigy at large demonstrations. His confessed shooter, a 26-year-old man named Mumtaz Qadri, said he had been encouraged to kill my father after hearing a sermon by a cleric, who, frothing at the mouth, screeched to 150 swaying men to kill my father, the “blasphemer.” Qadri, a police guard, had been assigned to protect my father. Instead, on the afternoon of Jan. 4, my brother Shehryar’s 25th birthday, he killed my father, firing 27 bullets into his back as he walked home.

My father, one of the first members of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, was frequently imprisoned and tortured for his unwavering belief in freedom and democracy under the harsh dictatorship of Gen. Zia ul Haq.

But in later life, as he spoke against the blasphemy laws, his views were distorted to suggest—wrongly—that he had spoken against Prophet Muhammad—just as Malala’s views were twisted by both her Taliban attackers and opportunistic politicians peddling poisonous falsehoods for their own gain.

One would think the nightmare and brutality of the Zia regime ended when the tyrant’s aircraft fell out of the skies in 1988 and he was killed. We were so wrong.

 

What the attack on Malala makes clear is that this is really a battle over education. A repressive mindset has been allowed to flourish in Pakistan because of the madrassa system set up by power-hungry clerics. It’s a deeply rooted indoctrination, and it sickens me to see ancient religious traditions undermined by a harsher form of religion barely a generation old. These madrassa, or religious schools headed by clerics, are the breeding ground of Islamic radicalism. The clerics don’t teach critical thinking. Instead, they disseminate hate. These clerics are raising merchants of hatred who believe in a very right-wing and radical Islam, to hail people like Osama bin Laden and Mumtaz Qadri as heroes. They train children how to use guns and bombs, and how not to live but to die.

Since my father’s murder, I have often wondered if Qadri would have killed him had he known my father’s actual views and not what they had been twisted into by media anchors and clerics on a hysterical witch hunt. Maybe if he had listened to what my father really said, Pakistan would not have lost its bravest man and I my center of gravity.

After his bloody deed, Qadri was hailed as a hero by right-wingers and fanatics. In a loathsome display in front of the court where he was to be tried, hundreds of lawyers charged with upholding justice instead showered the murderer with rose petals in praise of him taking a sacred life.

But terrorism bears within it the seeds of its own destruction. What schools with a good syllabus can offer is the timeless and universal appeal of critical thinking. This is what the Taliban are most afraid of. Critical thinking has the power to defuse terrorism; it is an internal liberation that jihadism simply cannot offer.

This time, with the attack on Malala, what is different—and encouraging—is the outpouring of support in Pakistan for this young girl. We cannot, and we will not, take any more madness.

Malala was only 11 when she started blogging entries from her diary for the Urdu-language website of the BBC. Her nom de plume was Gul Makai, meaning cornflower in Pashto and the name of the heroine of many local folk stories. A star student with olive skin, bushy eyebrows, and intense brown eyes, Malala wrote about life under Taliban rule: how she hid her schoolbooks under her shawl and how she kept reading even after the Taliban outlawed school for girls. In an entry from January 2009 she wrote: “Today our teacher told us not to wear colorful dress that might make Taliban angry.” She wrote about walking past the headless bodies of those who had defied the radicals, and about a boy named Anis, who, brainwashed by the Taliban, blew himself up at a security checkpoint. He was 16 years old.

Encouraged by her father, Ziauddin, a schoolmaster, Malala quickly became known as she spoke out on the right to an education. Ziauddin had two sons also, but he told friends it was his daughter who had a unique spark. She wanted to study medicine, but he persuaded her that when the time came she should enter politics so she might help create a more progressive society—at the heart of which was education for all. In Pakistan, 25 million children are out of school, and the country has the lowest youth literacy rate in the world.

 

“I hope you won’t laugh at me,” Ziauddin wrote in an email to Adam Ellick, an American filmmaker, after Ellick had stayed with the family in Swat for several months. “Can I dream for her to be the youngest to clench a Nobel award for education?”

In the film that Ellick made for The New York Times in 2009, the bond between Ziauddin and his daughter is evident as is his pride in his young daughter’s accomplishment. “When I saw her for the first time, a very newborn child, and I looked into her eyes, I fell in love with her,” Ziauddin says at one point in the film, beaming. “Believe me, I love her.” (Her mother, a homemaker who speaks only Pashto, is also supportive of Malala’s work; she wasn’t depicted in Ellick’s film for cultural reasons.)

At the time, the Taliban had swept through Swat, banning girls’ education and attacking hundreds of schools in the province. But Ziauddin—who, in addition to running a school, is also a poet, a social activist, and head of the National Peace Council in Swat—defied the Taliban by refusing to cancel classes, despite continued death threats. “They were so violently challenged,” says Ellick, who is still close to the family.

As Ziauddin explained his motivation at one point: “Islam teaches us that getting an education is compulsory for every girl and wife, for every woman and man. This is the teaching of the holy Prophet,” he said. “Education is a light and ignorance is a darkness, and we must go from darkness into light.”

Ziauddin “has given Malala a love, strength, and confidence that’s rare,” agrees Samar Minallah Khan, a Pakistani journalist and filmmaker who knows the family. “She has an incredible spirit and a mind of her own because of the confidence he has given her.”

In three short years, Malala became the chairperson of the District Child Assembly in Swat, was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by Desmond Tutu, was the runner-up of the International Children’s Peace Prize, and won Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize. More recently she started to organize the Malala Education Foundation, a fund to ensure poor girls from Swat could go to school.

Sharing her father’s eloquent and determined advocacy made Malala a powerful symbol of resistance to Taliban ideology.

Former British prime minister Gordon Brown said the attack had given rise to a children’s movement, with children proudly wearing “I am Malala” T-shirts and defiantly asserting their rights. “Young people are seeing through the hypocrisy of … their leaders [who] deny millions of girls and boys the opportunity to rise,” Brown said in an email. “For one Malala shot and silenced, there are now thousands of younger Malalas who cannot be kept quiet.”

Ziauddin is reportedly shattered by the attack on his daughter and unable to speak, yet he plans on returning to Pakistan once her treatment is complete. He wants to return to their work on education with renewed commitment and strength. He told Ellick: “If all of us die fighting, we will still not leave this work.”

In order to operate, the Taliban need the acceptance—or submission—of the population. A Gallup poll conducted two years ago shows that only 4 percent of Pakistan’s 180-plus million population views the Taliban in a positive light. But the TTP, as they are known, have capitalized on the mounting anti-Americanism spurred by civilian casualties of U.S. drone strikes. Keen to cultivate favorable public opinion, Mullah Omar, the spiritual leader of the Taliban, issued a “new code of conduct” in 2010 that banned suicide bombings against civilians, burning down schools, and cutting off ears, lips, and tongues. On the Web, the TTP rallied against drone strikes, condemned attacks on shrines, hospitals, schools, and marketplaces. In practice, however, the code was spottily enforced and did not necessarily mean a gentler insurgency. Critics claim that any changes were cosmetic—a tactical shift in preparation for a long-term fight.

The assault on Malala seemed a departure from Mullah Omar’s “charm offensive”—a desperate but well-known attempt to spread fear. Even among those who had supported the TTP’s ideological goals in the past, there was revulsion at the attack on the little girl. “The shooting could be an attempt to show that they are still active,” says author and analyst Zahid Hussain. “They want to send a message.”

Instead of being chastised by the popular outrage both in Pakistan and in the West, the Taliban has responded by threatening local journalists who have covered the attack on Malala. The TTP has even threatened cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, claiming he is a liberal and therefore an infidel. The threats surprised many since “Taliban Khan”—as many refer to him—is perceived as an apologist for the extremists. In fact, in the days after the attack on Malala, Khan was strongly criticized for not taking a more forceful stance on her shooting. (Khan said he could not speak too openly against the Taliban because that could imperil the lives of his supporters in the north.)

“Pakistan has arrived at its with-us-or-against-us moment,” Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of the president, told Newsweek by email. The 24-year-old Bhutto Zardari succeeded his mother, Benazir Bhutto, as chairman of Pakistan’s ruling party after her assassination in 2007. (The family believes that the Taliban killed her, though an al Qaeda commander initially claimed responsibility.)

Even as Malala fights for her life, people continue to twist her views and words to suit their own incendiary narrative. Samia Raheel Qazi, herself a mother and a senior figure in Pakistan’s largest religious party, Jamaat-e-Islami, posted an image of Malala, her father, and the late U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke on Twitter, adding a caption that falsely claimed that Malala had attended “a meeting with American military officers.”

In Pakistan such character assassinations and conspiracy theories are unfortunately not uncommon—and they benefit the Taliban’s odious campaign. “Liberals would like to believe this is a turning point for Pakistan,” says journalist Najam Sethi. “That’s what they thought when a Swati girl was publicly flogged by the Taliban in 2009.” Pakistanis were at first outraged, but the anti-Taliban consensus soon evaporated, he recalls. Sethi believes that upcoming Pakistan elections will further politicize the attack. “The government will make the right noises but fall in line with exigencies of party politics. No general or civilian will risk precipitous action.”

Pakistan’s government is funding Malala’s treatment and will present her with a national award for courage. It has also promised jobs to the family members of the other two girls who were shot. But many fear that—despite the arrest of almost 200 people—the investigation into the attack will conclude as most investigations do: with a failure to prosecute those responsible. Our antiterrorism courts have a shoddy record of convictions. The judiciary and law-enforcement agencies clearly lack both the will and the means to bring perpetrators to justice. “If we do capture the terrorists who attacked Malala, I do hope they are brought to justice,” says the government spokesman, Bhutto Zardari. But sounding less than convinced, he cautions in the same email: “This is a war zone. Just as NATO or the U.S. will not capture every terrorist in Afghanistan we cannot capture every terrorist in Pakistan.”

Malala’s English teacher, who is close to the family, clicks his tongue when asked if he believes the attackers will get caught and punished. “I don’t think so at all,” he says. “When have they ever?”

There is talk now in Pakistan of further military sweeps of militant strongholds. But it is clear that the solution cannot be purely military. The government must address the root causes of terrorism as Malala argued. “If the new generation is not given pens, they will be given guns by the terrorists,” she said before she was shot. “We must raise our voice.”

Circumcision is good? #WTFnews


 

NYT News Service Sep 2, 2012,

The American Academy of Pediatrics has shifted its stance on infant male circumcision , announcing this week that new research, including studies in Africa suggesting that the procedure may protect heterosexual men against HIV, indicated that the health benefits outweighed the risks. But it stopped short of recommending routine circumcision for all baby boys, saying the decision remains a family matter.

The long-delayed policy update comes as sentiment against circumcision is gaining strength in the United States and parts of Europe . Circumcision rates in the United States declined to 54.5% in 2009 from 62.7% in 1999, according to one federal estimate.

In Europe, a government ethics committee in Germany last week overruled a court decision that removing a child’s foreskin was “grievous bodily harm” and therefore illegal. The country’s Professional Association of Pediatricians called the ethics committee ruling “a scandal.”

A provincial official in Austria has told state-run hospitals in the region to stop performing circumcisions , and the Danish authorities have commissioned a report to investigate whether medical doctors are present during religious circumcision rituals as required.

“We’re not pushing everybody to circumcise their babies,” Dr Douglas S. Diekema, a member of the academy’s task force on circumcision , said in an interview. “This is not really pro-circumcision . It falls in the middle. It’s pro-choice , for lack of a better word. Really, what we’re saying is, ‘This ought to be a choice that’s available to parents.”

But opponents of circumcision say no one has the right to make the decision to remove a healthy body part from another person .”The bottom line is it’s unethical ,” said Georganne Chapin, director of Intact America, a group that advocates against circumcision . “A normal foreskin on a normal baby boy is no more threatening than the hymen or labia on your daughter.”

 

” Women empowerment” linked to ‘ Healthy Hair ‘ ? #WTF advertising


 

Advertising’s new poster girls: Feminists

Malini Nair | August 11, 2012, Times Crest

TRESS BIEN: Male bashing and hair care in one go

zoom

TRESS BIEN: Male bashing and hair care in one go

An ad campaign for beauty products links empowerment to healthy hair – and sparks off a mighty ruckus.

As ads go it managed to do what ads are meant to do – made most of Kerala and Malayalees outside sit up startled. What was this? A feminist with all the trademark traits – big red bindi, cotton sari, a strong face and long, lovely hair – stands at what looks like a crummy small town bus depot ranting about men who harrass women in buses by pulling their long hair. Should we, she fumes, give into this and start sporting short hair like men? Come sisters, she exhorts, let us stand up for our long hair and fight eve-teasers. ‘Ulkaruthu mudikkyum manasinum (inner strength for hair and heart), Indulekha hair oil, ‘ intones a mellow male voice.

Feminism to push a beauty product and that too starring a feminist theatre actor Sajitha Madathil? How was this supposed to work? Wasn’t feminism supposed to be antithetical to long hair-fair skin stereotypes? Indulekha wasn’t done yet. Its second ad featured a harried housewife fed up of daily beatings at the hands of a drunk husband. “I took it for my two children, ” she tells you at home on a depressing evening, kids glued to television. “But now I won’t. ” And proceeds to bundle up her thick dark hair into a bun, looking ready to beat up the brute when he came home. Said brute is standing tottering at the gate, but then takes one look at wife looking a dark cloud and quietly slinks away.

What followed was a storm. 

The ads opened up a barrage of views and counterviews among Malayalees so forceful that Indulekha says it is now releasing a conventional set of ads – pretty faces, medical claims, surveys and so on, standard issue beauty advertising to be precise. But the debate has yet to die down. Can women’s empowerment be used as a tool for advertising, and to hell with the ideological issues? Or is it that angry, rebellious women make for more sexy models?

Indulekha and the creative heads behind the campaign are clear about what they set out to do, the flak notwithstanding. “The idea of any advertising is to break the clutter and we managed to do that. To that end it was a successful campaign whatever the reactions, ” says Sunil G of the Firewoods creative team that put the campaign together along with V Eye. “We were targeting ordinary middle class woman in Kerala, and maybe men as well. ” An Indulekha executive says the campaign wasn’t taken in the right spirit. “So we have decided to stick to the tested pattern, ” he says.

Ironically the campaign got flak from both quarters – feminists as well as Malayalee men upset at being portrayed as leches and wife-beaters. The latter let loose a stream of furious, sometimes obscene, tirade against the women in the ads. And, there were Facebooks spoofs. Feminist and scholar J Devika, whose blog post on kafila. org set off the debate on Facebook and the internet, says the campaign was patronising. “This whole brainy-despite-being-beautiful thing is driven by men who find it a very engaging idea. This woman figure is still controlled by them because for all her anger she is still hanging on to the long lustrous hair, ” she says.

Feminism has been used as an offbeat strategy before. In her essay for the New York Times, The Empowerment Mystique, writer Peggy Orenstein, says few feminist ads have any real substance. What they revel in is the “feeling of ’empowerment’ : an amorphous, untethered huzzah of ‘Go, team woman!'” Verizon, Sarah Palin‘s Mama Grizlies, Dove’s True Colours are some of the celebrated campaigns that focussed on ‘real’, strong women. There was our own Surf’s Lalitaji and now, Anushka Sharma‘s spunky Scooty gang. Rousing feminist rhetoric, however vacuous, is a tried and tested way to sell a product, says Orenstein.
“The so-called strong women, career women, superwomen who run businesses and households with the help of the magic mixie and magic cooker are a modern version of the karyeshu mantri, karaneshu dasi…prescription, the eight noble virtues of an ideal wife. The old Sanskrit poets stated it baldly, the modern man is more circumspect !” says Prema Jayakumar, writer and translator.

Rattled by the flood of criticism, Indulekha quietly wound up the campaign. Would it have worked if it had stuck to its guns? Kiran Khalap, co-founder of chlorophyll, brand and communications consultancy, believes that feminism is a tricky advertising tool. “There are other layers of retro sexism, reverse sexism etc that come into play in more aware societies and it is difficult to separate labels from reality,” he says.

 

Leaked Document Shows NYPD Infiltrated, Spied On Leftist Groups


 By Kristen Gwynne | Sourced from AlterNet

The Associated Press has obtained another document detailing the New York Police Department‘s (NYPD) spying, this time on liberal political groups. Documents and interviews obtained by the AP show that undercover NYPD officers attended meetings run by liberal organizations, and kept intelligence files on activists planning demonstrations across the country.

The AP reports that the NYPD’s infiltration tactics are nothing new:

  The infiltration echoes the tactics the NYPD used in the run-up to New York’s 2004 Republican National Convention, when police monitored church groups, anti-war organizations and environmental advocates nationwide. That effort was revealed by The New York Times in 2007 and in an ongoing federal civil rights lawsuit over how the NYPD treated convention protesters.

Police said the pre-convention spying was necessary to prepare for the huge, raucous crowds that were headed to the city. But documents obtained by The Associated Press show that the police department’s intelligence unit continued to keep close watch on political groups in 2008, long after the convention had passed.

In April 2008, an undercover NYPD officer traveled to New Orleans to attend the People’s Summit, a gathering of liberal groups organized around their shared opposition to U.S. economic policy and the effect of trade agreements between the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

When the undercover effort was summarized for supervisors, it identified groups opposed to U.S. immigration policy, labor laws and racial profiling. Two activists — Jordan Flaherty, a journalist, and Marisa Franco, a labor organizer for housekeepers and nannies — were mentioned by name in one of the police intelligence reports obtained by the AP.

“One workshop was led by Jordan Flaherty, former member of theInternational Solidarity Movement Chapter in New York City,” officers wrote in an April 25, 2008, memo to David Cohen, the NYPD’s top intelligence officer. “Mr. Flaherty is an editor and journalist of the Left Turn Magazine and was one of the main organizers of the conference.Mr. Flaherty held a discussion calling for the increase of the divestment campaign of Israel and mentioned two events related to Palestine.”

The document provides the latest example of how, in the name of fighting terrorism, law enforcement agencies around the country have scrutinized groups that legally oppose government policies. The FBI, for instance, has collected information on anti-war demonstrators. The Maryland state police infiltrated meetings of anti-death penalty groups. Missouri counterterrorism analysts suggested that support for Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, might indicate support for violent militias — an assertion for which state officials later apologized. And Texas officials urged authorities to monitor lobbying efforts by pro Muslim-groups.

  The AP noted that police often monitored protests to plan for the possibility of violence or riots, adding that:

By contrast, at the height of the Occupy Wall Street protests and in related protests in other cities, officials at the U.S. Homeland Security Department repeatedly urged authorities not to produce intelligence reports based simply on protest activities.

“Occupy Wall Street-type protesters mostly are engaged in constitutionally protected activity,” department officials wrote in documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the website Gawker. “We maintain our longstanding position that DHS should not report on activities when the basis for reporting is political speech.”

  But Occupy Wall Street organizers say the NYPD is following them, and infiltrating, them as well. The New York Times recently reported that some occupiers believe they are being spied on by NYPD officers, and that the NYPD’s surveillance is OWS-related.

The surveillance, also documented in Muslim neighborhoods, is being carried by what the AP categorizes as an un-checked, secret unit:

  The Intelligence Division, a squad that operates with nearly no outside oversight and is so secretive that police said even its organizational chart is too sensitive to publish. The division has been the subject of a series of Associated Press articles that illustrated how the NYPD monitored Muslim neighborhoods, catalogued people who prayed at mosques and eavesdropped on sermons.

Read full document here

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