Thursday, March 31, 2011

An Unexpected Ripple From Egypt

I freely admit, I did not see this one coming. My friend and fellow NQ writer, Linda Anselmi, shared the following article with me, most appropos for bringing to an end Women's History Month.

And that would be this Bloomberg article, Saudi Women Inspired by Fall of Mubarak Step Up Equality Demand. Wow, right? Honestly, I did not see this as a potential change, primarily because of the influx of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the very likely scenario that women who enjoyed more freedoms in Egypt, will soon be losing them (if they haven't already). Sill, this is exciting:
Activists among Saudi Arabia’s women, who can’t drive or vote and need male approval to work and travel, are turning to the type of online organizing that helped topple Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak to force change in a system they say treats them like children.

The “Baladi” or “My Country” campaign is focused on this year’s municipal elections, only the second nationwide ballot that the absolute monarchy has allowed. The election board yesterday said women will be excluded from the Sept. 22 vote. Another group, the Saudi Women’s Revolution, citing inspiration from the Arab activism that grew into revolts against Mubarak and Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, is pressing for equal treatment and urging international support.

The wave of anti-regime protests that spread from Tunisia and Egypt into some of Saudi Arabia’s Persian Gulf neighbors, such as Bahrain and Oman, hasn’t translated into mass street demonstrations in the kingdom that holds the world’s biggest oil reserves. Saudi rulers have taken steps to ensure it won’t, pledging almost $100 billion of spending on homes, jobs and benefits. They also deployed thousands of police in Riyadh on March 11, when a protest was planned by Internet organizers -- a group that increasingly includes Saudi women.

“Women are raised to fear men and to fear speaking out,” said Mona al-Ahmed, a 25-year-old in the coastal city of Jeddah. She said she joined the Women’s Revolution campaign after her brother refused to let her take her dream job, as a biochemist, because it would involve working in a mixed-gender environment. “I opened my eyes one day and said, ‘This is not the life I want’,” al-Ahmed said in a phone interview.

Well, I suppose that is one way of keeping the people in place, right? Ahem.

But this is telling indeed of how women in Saudi Arabia, our ally, live. We may hear bits and pieces about it, but at this point, it seems we just take for granted women are treated like shit there.

Think I am being hyperbolic? Think again:
[snip] Like other opposition and protest groups in Saudi Arabia, the women’s movement faces a tough task. The kingdom ranked as the least democratic state in the Middle East, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2010 Democracy Index.

“Women will not participate in this session,” Abdul- Rahman al-Dahmash, director of the kingdom’s electoral commission, said at a press conference yesterday, referring to the municipal balloting. “There is a plan, though not with a definite time, to put in place a framework so that women can participate in upcoming elections.”

Baladi said on its Facebook page that Saudi women “are like other women in the world who have hopes and ambitions” and must be allowed to vote.

While Saudi Arabia was placed in the top one-third of nations in the United Nations 2010 Human Development Report -- higher than European Union member Bulgaria -- its score for gender equality was much lower. On that UN measure, which includes assessments of reproductive health and participation in politics and the labor market, the country ranked 128th of 138 nations, below Iran and Pakistan. [snip]

You know it is bad when you rank BELOW Iran and Pakistan on the treatment of women. Seriously. How bad must you be to be WORSE than Iran and Pakistan??

Let's just pause for a moment and see how women are treated in Iran (I warn you, this is a difficult video to watch, contains violent images):

Women are worth half as much as men. They are culpable at the age of 9 for "crimes," while boys aren't until they are 16. Women cannot divorce their husbands. Men can have many wives. And that is but a minute amount of with what these women live.

Well, how about Pakistan, then? This video gives a good overview (again, difficult to watch):

"Considered to be the property of men." Uh, yeah. Not allowed to leave the house. Infant girls killed. Slave girls trapped from other countries and sold every day. Education morally corrupts girls, thus they should not have it.

And Saudi Arabia is farther down the list than Pakistan in its treatment of women.

I'm sorry, I need a moment to compose myself.

Back to the reality facing women in Saudi Arabia:
[snip] Saudi Arabia enforces the Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam and its clerics say that requires strict segregation of the sexes, including in government offices, workplaces and public spaces such as restaurants. Other areas of discontent highlighted by women writers and activists include family law. A Saudi man can end his marriage by telling his wife, “You are divorced,” while women must go to a court or an authorized cleric to get a dissolution. Custody of children above a certain age is usually granted to the father.

Saudi Arabia is also one of the few countries that has a high rate of executions for women, Amnesty International said in a 2008 report. (Emphasis mine.) Adultery is among the capital offenses.


Those are among the goals of the Women’s Revolution group, which began as an exchange of Twitter messages among likeminded women, and now has more than 2,000 Facebook supporters. “Women are treated like minors, except if they commit a crime,” the group said in a statement on Facebook. “Then they are equal.”

Alia al-Faqih, 19, said this year’s Arab revolts inspired her to join the group and demand change in her country.

“The protesters in Egypt and Tunisia did something that was almost impossible,” she said in a telephone interview from Jeddah. “If they could bring down two tough presidents, why can’t we demand our rights?”

Why, indeed? Women in Saudia Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, and many countries around the world must do just that - demand their rights. Though as noted above, with the increased presence of the Sharia Law-loving Muslim Brotherhood rising up in Egypt, simply getting a change at the top does not mean a change throughout the country. And in the case of Egypt, it is a change for the worse for women.

And speaking of change, there has been some lip service paid to changing the plight of women in Saudi Arabia, but it is largely window dressing:
[snip] Saudi Arabia’s ruler, King Abdullah, who turns 87 this year, has pledged to improve the status of women. He opened the kingdom’s first co-educational university in 2009, appointed its first female deputy minister, Nora bint Abdullah al-Fayez, the same year, and has promised steps to improve access to jobs for women, who make up about 15 percent of the workforce. That would help improve productivity in the kingdom’s oil-dominated economy, say analysts including John Sfakianakis, chief economist at Banque Saudi Fransi.

A change of policy in 2008 allowed women to stay in hotels without male guardians, and an amendment to the Labor Law allowed women to work in all fields “suitable to their nature.” Women can now study law at university, without being allowed to practice as lawyers in courts.

At some companies, such as billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s Kingdom Holding Co. (KINGDOM), women are permitted to work alongside men. That isn’t typical, though. Most companies that hire women must provide a women-only section that is off- limits to the male staff.

Human Rights Watch concluded in January that “reforms to date have involved largely symbolic steps to improve the visibility of women.” [snip] (Click here to read the rest.)

Yes, superficial reforms at best in Saudi Arabia, not the systemic changes in attitude and treatment of women that need to change.

I know I have asked this before, but how, how, in the Twenty-first century, are women around the globe still being treated as less than human, as chattel, as property, as worthless, as animals, as dirt? How do we, as a nation, not demand that the countries with whom we do business treat women as full human beings?

Lest anyone think this is a problem "over there," I assure you, what happens to women there affects women here. When an 11 year old girl can be gang raped, by adult men, numerous times, right here in Texas, as well as California, we must acknowledge that what happens to women and girls here, in Saudi Arabia, around the world, matters.

It matters a lot. Just after I finished writing this, I received an email from MADRE about the kidnapping and torture of a youth activist in Iraq. This kind of treatment of women is happening day in and day out, sadly.

And so, for those women in Saudi Arabia, may the ripples continue to widen. May they change the way women are treated, at home and abroad, may the treatment of women matter as much as the oil beneath the sands, and may women be treated as fully human around the globe. That is my prayer...

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Petition To HBO To Get Maher Off The Air

The New Agenda has the following petition in light of Bill Maher's repeated misogynistic and sexist language. I urge you to sign this petition to HBO to stop giving this man airtime for his despicable characterizations of women:

Please sign the petition here. The petition signatures will be sent to HBO Chairman and CEO, HBO Head of Programming, and the entire Board of Directors of Time Warner (owner of HBO).

Please SHARE, post on your Facebook page, and tweet! This story is posted at The Daily Caller.

Home Box Office (HBO) “Real Time” host Bill Maher’s recent foray into sexism – employing the terms dumb twat, bimbos, and cunt in describing Rep Michele Bachmann and Gov Sarah Palin – is completely unacceptable and should not be allowed to be part of our country’s national dialogue. That is why The New Agenda, a national organization devoted to improving the lives of women and girls, is calling on Time Warner, owner of HBO, to immediately cancel Bill Maher’s show and terminate his employment.

Mr. Maher has a track record of sexist comments against women in power.

In February 2008, Maher made light of David Shuster’s Chelsea “pimp” comment by saying (emphasis added):

Now they fined CBS a million dollars, a million dollars for Janet Jackson’s nipple. Think what they could get for Hillary Clinton’s cunt.

For this, Mr. Maher was almost fired by HBO. He should have learned from his mistake, but he clearly did not. In fact, Mr. Maher’s most recent string of vulgar comments has little to do with political party, and everything to do with his utter contempt for women.

Mr. Maher’s use of the terms dumb twat, bimbos, and cunt hurts not only Rep Bachmann and Gov Palin, but each and every mother, daughter and wife.

Mr. Maher’s statements reveal his belief that rather than criticize or question a woman on her positions or ideas; it is appropriate demean and diminish her by sexualizing her or presuming a lack of intelligence due to her gender.

Mr. Maher’s comments have no place in our national dialogue and he should be taken off the air immediately.

This has gone way past "Enough is enough." Maher should lose his job. And if he doesn't, please consider boycotting HBO and letting them know why.

One final note - why is it that this kind of language is tolerated about women? If a comparable remark was made about a person of color, Maher would have lost his job long ago. And, why is it that the so-called "progressive" men are the ones making these kinds of misogynistic statements about women? Maher isn't even that extreme of an example, unfortunately. Heck, Chris Matthews claimed that the only reason Hillary Clinton was able to be in the Senate was as a result of her husband's infidelity. Never mind Clinton's legion of qualifications and experiences leading up to that. None of that matters. She is defined solely by her husband. Wow.

Those of us paying attention during the 2008 Campaign had our eyes opened as to the extent of misogyny in the DNC, the media, and punditry. Enough IS enough. This assault on women needs to stop, and HBO can begin by firing Bill Maher.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Guess Who's Been Wanting To Overthrow Gadhafi For Years?

Did you guess the Muslim Brotherhood? If so, you would have been right.

Yes, CNN had this report, Energized Muslim Brotherhood in Libya Eyes A Prize.

Oh, great. Well that's just jake. And this is no joke. It is far, far from funny. It has been a plan long in the making:
Dr. Abdulmonem Hresha knows first hand how Moammar Gadhafi's regime works. He says the seeds of his opposition were sown when he was age 10.


The prominent member of the Muslim Brotherhood now lives in London, and anticipates the group could become an important player in a post-Gadhafi environment.

As in Egypt and Tunisia, the Brotherhood in Libya has been energized by the sudden upheaval sweeping the Arab world.

Oh, yay. Just what the world needs - more countries run by Sharia Law Imposing Jihad Waging Islamist extremists.

Oh, but wait - this is just the very beginning:
[snip] Islamist opposition to the Libyan regime gathered force in the late 1980s, as part of a wider Islamic awakening or "Sahwa" in the region and in reaction to what many saw as an attempt by Gadhafi to hijack and interpret Islam for his own purposes.

While jihadists launched a brief but unsuccessful campaign to overthrow Gadhafi in the 1990s, the Brotherhood focused much of its efforts on clandestine preaching and social welfare efforts in Libya.0

In 1998, Gadhafi's security services launched a crackdown against the group that saw more than 200 members imprisoned and hundreds more forced into exile, including Hresha.

Despite years of repression, Hresha claims the Brotherhood still has thousands of members scattered across Libya, with chapters in almost every single town, including Sirte, Gadhafi's birthplace on the coast west of Tripoli.

In 2006, its leaders were released after reconciling with the Libyan regime. But now the Brotherhood is siding with the rebellion.

In February, as protests in Libya began, Yusuf al Qaradawi -- an Egyptian preacher in Qatar widely viewed as the Muslim Brotherhood's chief spiritual guide -- issued a fatwa or religious ruling obliging any Libyan soldier who had the opportunity to do so to assassinate the leader. [snip]

Well, don't mince any words there! How is it possible that anyone thinks the Muslim Brotherhood is a kind, and peaceful, organization? They clearly have intentions to take over, and their rhetoric notwithstanding, it would be a mistake to not look deeper into the Brotherhood:
Al-Amin Bilhaj, a leading figure in the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood and the President of the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) recently traveled to Benghazi, the headquarters of the rebel movement, according to Hresha.


But in the longer term, in a country where the political space has been dominated by Gadhafi for more than 40 years, the Brotherhood's organization and nationwide presence may afford it an advantage.

The West has nothing to fear from the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya, according to Hresha.

Like their counterparts in Egypt, they would embrace multiparty democracy.

"I've lived for many years in Canada and the UK, and that's exactly the political system that we want," Hresha said.

Hresha says that if his organization forms a political party, it would seek to legislate according to Koranic principles, which would include, for example, a continued ban on the sale of alcohol.

"Why shouldn't we be able to press our point of view -- we are humans too," he said.

And there you have it. On the one hand, oh, it is all about democracy and democratic principles, and in the next breath, the reality slips out.

But wait - this is really good:
Hresha said the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood welcomes airstrikes in Libya, a startling turnaround for a movement that previously supported jihad by Iraqis against U.S. forces occupying Iraq.

"I salute and am very grateful to the Americans, French and British governments for stopping the killing," he said. "I will never forget this."

Hresha said he hopes a post-Gadhafi Libya will be a close friend to the West.

Oh, yeah, I am so sure about that. The Muslim Brotherhood has nothing but the fondest wishes for the United States of America. Ahahahahaha. I could hardly type that out falling off my sofa laughing. Ahem. Just in case you are starting to buy this crap, here is a statement from a sermon just last year: The Brotherhood wants America to fall. It tells followers to be “patient” because America “is heading towards its demise.” The U.S. is an infidel that “does not champion moral and human values and cannot lead humanity.” —Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Muhammed Badi, Sept. 2010[3] (Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Muhammad Badi, "How Islam Confronts the Oppression and Tyranny,” Sermon, Sept. 2010, translated at MEMRI.)

The following raises other questions, like just who some of these rebels are:
A more prominent role for the Brotherhood in Libya could dent support for al Qaeda and other jihadist groups, especially in eastern provinces that have witnessed significant radicalization in recent years.

But Libya's deeply tribal structures -- unlike Egypt and Tunisia -- may complicate its efforts to build a national base.

And hardline "Salafi" preachers have gained influence in neglected towns like Derna -- on the coast near the border with Egypt.

"Conservative imams (in Derna)," a U.S. diplomat wrote in 2008, "deliberately sought to eliminate the few social activities on offer for young people to monopolize the social and cultural environment." [snip]

And this should scare the crap out of you. At least it did me:
[snip] Hresha, the long-time Brotherhood member, expects that to change.

"We've been working secretly till this moment," he said. (Emphasis mine.)

Meanwhile, the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, stated on Sunday that Libya was not a "vital interest" or an imminent threat to the US:
[snip] “No I don’t think it’s a vital interest for the United States,” said Gates in a pre-taped interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” that aired on Sunday. “But we clearly have interests there and it’s a part of the region which is a vital interest for the United States.” [snip]

Huh. Then what the hell are we doing there? Secretary of State Clinton defended the US participation:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed that the airstrikes and the no-fly zone established by U.S.-led forces had “prevented a great humanitarian disaster” and that the consequences could have been catastrophic if President Obama had not engaged the U.S. military.

“The cries would be, ‘Why did the United States not do anything?’” said Clinton on ABC’s “This Week.” “How could you stand by when, you know, France and the United Kingdom and other Europeans and the Arab League and your Arab partners were saying, ‘you've got to do something?’” [snip] (Click here to read the rest.)

Well, we could "stand by" like we have been doing with Iran, Tunisia, and a host of other countries, and because we are already involved in two major wars, are broke, and we do not know who the hell these rebels are! Hech, even Dennis Kucinich, about as liberal a person as there is in Congress, said we are not the world's police force, and we cannot insert ourselves into every single civil conflict around the world. He went so far as to say that Obama involving us in this conflict without going to the Congress was an "impeachable offense." Wow.

So one question - what are we, the US (and NATO) doing in Libya exactly? When a prominent member of the Muslim Brotherhood is thanking us for our air strikes on Libya, after making it abundantly clear their true sentiments about the U.S. (and they are not warm, fuzzy feelings),it would seem we are playing right into their hands.

And that should scare the shit out of anyone.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Geraldine Ferraro Has Died **Updated**

At the age of 75, Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to run as a Vice Presidential candidate in 1984, died today (h/t Sara in Italy):
[snip] Ferraro died at Massachusetts General Hospital, where she was being treated for blood cancer. She died just before 10 a.m., said Amanda Fuchs Miller, a family friend who worked for Ferraro in her 1998 Senate bid and was acting as a spokeswoman for the family.

A three-term congresswoman from the New York City borough of Queens, Ferraro catapulted to national prominence in 1984 when she was chosen by presidential nominee Walter Mondale to join his ticket against incumbents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.


Palin paid tribute to Ferraro on her Facebook page on Saturday.

“She broke one huge barrier and then went on to break many more,” Palin wrote. “May her example of hard work and dedication to America continue to inspire all women.”

For his part, Mondale remembered his former running mate as “a remarkable woman and a dear human being.”

“She was a pioneer in our country for justice for women and a more open society. She broke a lot of molds and it’s a better country for what she did,” Mondale told The Associated Press. [snip] (Click here to read the rest.)

If you wish to read the entire statement from Sarah Palin, click here. You may recall that Sarah Palin and Geraldine Ferraro did appear together, the only two women to run as Vice Presidential candidates for the major parties. Here they are:

My thoughts and prayers go out to the Ferraro family. Ms. Ferraro broke a lot of barriers in this country, was an outspoken advocate for women, and she will have my undying gratitude. May she rest in peace.

Update: The Clintons issued a statement following the death of Ms. Ferraro, a staunch Hillary supporter:
[snip] "Gerry Ferraro was one of a kind -- tough, brilliant, and never afraid to speak her mind or stand up for what she believed in -- a New York icon and a true American original. She was a champion for women and children and for the idea that there should be no limits on what every American can achieve. The daughter of an Italian immigrant family, she rose to become the first woman ever nominated to the national ticket by a major political party. She paved the way for a generation of female leaders and put the first cracks in America's political glass ceiling. She believed passionately that politics and public service was about making a difference for the people she represented as a congresswoman and Ambassador.

For us, Gerry was above all a friend and companion. From the rough-and-tumble of political campaigns to the important work of international diplomacy, we were honored to have her by our side. She was a tireless voice for human rights and helped lead the American delegation to the landmark Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. Through it all, she was a loyal friend, trusted confidante, and valued colleague.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Gerry's husband John, her children and grandchildren, and their entire family."

Greta Van Susteran will be doing a tribute show to Geraldine Ferraro at 10:00pm Sunday night.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Want A Job Playing On Facebook All Day? Plus Sending Our Dollars Up In Space (Or Not)

Well, I have just the position for you then. And get this - it is with the federal government! Not only do you make a good salary - $115,000 a year, but you get all those awesome federal benefits, too! Woohoo!

Yes, it is true. This is but one of the many, many jobs currently available courtesy of the Federal Government. I guess it wasn't enough that Obama doubled the number of people making $150,000 or more since his ascension in Washington. Nope, now you can get a job with the Department of the Interior, and run their Facebook page. This article highlights some of the positions available - on your dime, of course,
Uncle Sam Shelling Out Big Bucks For Government Jobs, GOP Says Time To Out:
If you’re one of the millions of Americans still looking for a job, the federal government is hiring, and (especially for the unemployed) the pay is excellent. While private sector job growth creeps along at a snail’s pace, the roster of available federal jobs is booming.

The Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs needs someone to run the Facebook page for the Dept. of the Interior and they’ll pay up to $115,000 a year. Over at the Dept. of Defense, they’ll drop nearly 50k a year for a new mail room clerk, plus the glorious benefits that comes with government work.

In Washington, D.C., there are more than 1,000 openings this month alone. These include a “student internship” program at the Federal Housing Finance Agency that pays the equivalent of $48,304 a year; a $155,000-a-year gig at the Peace Corps to ensure the agency is complying with Equal Opportunity Employment standards; and a similar job at the Dept. of Transportation that promises nearly $180,000 a year.

Wow. I gotta say, when I was doing internships, I never got anywhere CLOSE to $50,000 a year. One of those internships was a full-time residency which involved spending the night at the trauma hospital in which I worked once a week, after working a full day, and then having class the next morning. Nope, it was NOWHERE near $50k, I can tell you, even though each of us put in a lot of time there.

I guess this is what happens when the Democratic Congress decided not to pass a budget last year, and has been stalling on getting one passed this year, too: thousands of jobs with some mighty decent pay and benefits. Surely, some of these positions will have to be cut, right? Well, some folks think so:
[snip] Republican policymakers looking for more ways to slash government spending think Uncle Sam is being mighty too loose when it comes to how he doles out the cash to his employees, and if the GOP has its way, the $115,000 taxpayer-funded Twitter gurus at the Dept. of the Interior could become a thing of the past.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which held a subcommittee hearing earlier this month to address federal pay rates, is gearing up for even more action, with plans to release a study comparing public worker salaries to similar jobs in the private sector. According to Committee Chair Rep. Darrell Issa of California, the goal is to show the rest of the country just how good federal workers really have it.

“It’s abundantly clear that many federal employees are being paid significantly more than their counterparts outside government service,” committee spokesman Ali Ahmad told The Daily Caller. “The committee is working to more fully expose the compensation divide by developing comparisons that don’t just look at salary but also the expensive benefits and job security federal employees have that is rarely found in the private sector.”

Well, that's an understatement, isn't it? I would say the federal employees make out like bandits comparatively speaking. Check this out:
[snip] Federal employees raked in an average of $101,628 in total compensation in 2010, which includes health care and other benefits, according to the Office of Personnel Management. That’s far more than the average private-sector worker, although simple side-by-side comparisons don’t necessarily tell the whole story. Many federal jobs require highly-skilled workers, while the data on the private sector lumps in more low-waged jobs that aren’t present in the public sector and bring down the average.


Issa’s committee wouldn’t be the first to compare federal pay with the private industry. An investigative report from USA Today last year found that “in more than eight out of 10 occupations” federal employees “earn higher average salaries than private-sector workers” and that doesn’t include the government’s generous package of benefits.

President Obama in November proposed a two-year pay freeze for nearly two million federal workers, but that would still allow them to collect bonuses and receive automatic pay raises when they move up the ladder on the General Schedule system.[snip] (Click here to read the rest.)

I cannot help but think of the theme song from Cybill Shepherd's sitcom, "Cybill," "Nice work if you can get it, if you can get it, won't you tell me how?" Ahem.

I bet many of us would like to receive bonuses, or even "automatic pay raises" in our jobs. Especially when there is a "freeze" on pay. See, to me, when I hear that phrase, I think there will be NO automatic pay raises, or bonuses, etc., etc. Then again, I don't work for the government, thus utilizing that kind of "logic." So there you go.

And if you want to take a look at some of the benefits available to federal employees, click here. Hey, might as well search for one of the positions above, while you are at it.
And if you get it, or any others listed, do tell!

While I am at it, talking about government expense, that is, since the US government is the largest employer in the US. Um, what happened to wanting smaller government? I guess that was so 1990s...

Anywho - how about this little expenditure? That would be NASA being compelled to spend over $1 million a DAY on a program that is now defunct, the Constellation. It has been defunct since last year, which means a quarter of a billion dollars has already been spent since then. And there is more being shelled out while Congress keeps kicking the Budget Can down the road.

I can't say it any better than this:
[snip] Industry and congressional sources attributed the failure to the fact that the amount of money involved simply wasn't enough to attract the attention of congressional leaders.

"Maybe $1 million a day isn't a big deal when you have a $1.6 trillion [federal] deficit," said Thomas Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, a non-partisan budgetary watchdog. But, he added, that's "not the kind of decision any normal organization would make." [snip] (Click here to read the rest.)

Yeah, I'm thinking that kind of cash adds up pretty quickly. But the bottom line is, when the vast majority of American citizens are having to watch our money more and more carefully, as gasoline prices go up, thus raising food and utility costs as well, and our elected officials cannot take better care of the money we are sending to Washington, whether it is through programs like this, or the number of positions available in DC, it makes me just a little cranky.

How about you?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Waking Up And Smelling The Coffee

That would be the CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, on Obamacare. A big supporter of Obama, and his health care bill, Schultz is now smelling the coffee, and realizing how disastrous this program is for small businesses.

Welcome to the Reality-based community, Mr. Schultz. We tried to tell you.

Yes, in a recent interview, Mr. Schultz made this surprising statement:
[snip] Q: Starbucks was vocal about [wanting] health-care reform. How do you feel about how it worked out?

A: We have been a leader for almost 20 years now in demonstrating our heartfelt commitment to making sure that we provide health coverage for the majority of our people.

That cost last year was $250 million. We have faced double-digit increases for almost five consecutive years with no end in sight.

So, when I was invited to the White House prior to health care being reformed, I was very supportive of the president's plan, primarily because I felt it was literally a fracturing of humanity for almost 50 million Americans not to have health insurance.

There's no plan that would be a perfect plan, but the intent of the bill and the heartfelt commitment to insure the uninsured is the right approach. I think as the bill is currently written and if it was going to land in 2014 under the current guidelines, the pressure on small businesses, because of the mandate, is too great. [snip] (Click here to read the rest.)

Yes, which many people were screaming at the top of their lungs. I don't know why Mr. Schultz finally heard them, or realized this, but glad he did.

Oh, but wait, there's more. Remember the little claim by Nancy Pelosi about the job creation aspect of Obamacare? Here she is, detailing just how glorious this bill will be:

Oh, yeah. Well, a liberal organization, the Urban Institute, set out to prove Pelosi's claim that Obamacare would create all of these bazillion jobs. Guess what? They found out it doesn't, again, what many of us knew from the get-go. Here is part of their conclusion:
[snip]The ACA is unlikely to have major aggregate effects on the U.S. economy and on employment primarily because the changes in pending and taxes are very small relative to the size of the economy. Moreover, most of the effects offset each other. This of course implies that repeal would also have little effect on the macroeconomy. The increased spending because of the ACA will
increase demand for health services and demand for labor in the health sector. Cuts in Medicare and various costcontainment provisions, if successful, will have opposite effects. The new taxes on insurers, medical devices and pharmaceutical manufacturers could have adverse effects on those industries,except for the fact that coverage expansion should provide new revenues well in excess of new tax obligations. Cost-containment efforts, if successful, will have somewhat opposite effects,reducing the growth in spending on Medicare and Medicaid, which will reduce the taxes or borrowing the federal government has to undertake.Cost-containment that reduces the federal budget deficit would result in faster economic growth, more employment and higher family incomes. Cost-containment would also free up private dollars to be spent in non-health areas of the economy. [snip] (Click here to read the entire report.)

The report also claims there will be no impact on small businesses that employ fewer than 50 people, and makes a leap about other companies providing health care. From all (other) reports, though, including the assessment of a major company which presumably DOES provide health care, that seems a bit of a reach to me.

On the anniversary of this healthcare law, shoved down our throats by Pelosi and Co., we are still learning all of the ways this will impact us, many of them bad. Is it any wonder that the majority of Americans want it repealed? Uh, no.

As Nancy Pelosi said, we would find out what was in this bill once it became law, and are we ever. And we don't like what we are learning, from staunch Obama supporters like Schultz to John Boehner. It was a bad bill from the get-go, will cost us WAY more money than Obama, Pelosi, and Reid admitted, and will not create the jobs promised. It was one big lie from the get-go. It needs to be repealed, and to go back to the drawing board to craft a law that will not include major giveaways to Big Pharma, will not double count pots of money, and which will not play favorites with select groups of organizations (like unions). Now that is a bill I could support.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

News That Sounds Lilke It's From "The Onion," But Isn't

There have been a few items in the News recently that really do sound like they are straight from The Onion, but are, in fact, true. Chalk it up to the "truth is stranger than fiction" meme. Hopefully, this will provide a bit of a respite from our undeclared war on Libya, which cost us over $100 million just the first day in missiles alone, and Obama's callous disregard for Congress, and the Constitution.

To make matters worse, as Jake Tapper reports, Obama informed the Congress via a letter that we had gone to war. Surprise! Separation of powers? What separation of powers? Read it here:
Amidst claims by members of Congress that they were insufficiently consulted, and ensuing White House pushback, President Obama Monday officially notified congressional leaders that at “approximately 3:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, on March 19, 2011, at my direction, U.S. military forces commenced operations to assist an international effort authorized by the United Nations (U.N.) Security Council and undertaken with the support of European allies and Arab partners, to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe and address the threat posed to international peace and security by the crisis in Libya.”

The notification was part of the president’s “efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution,” but given complaints from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, and the fact that the war started two days ago, it had the effect of a rather discomforting “While You Were Out…” note. [snip] (Click here to read the rest.)

Then there is the little problem of Obama turning over control of our military to a political coalition.

You can't make this stuff up. Well, maybe if you worked at The Onion or Mad Magazine.

Holy moley.

So check this out. Remember back in the day when Obama was depicted as the Hope And Change Agent of the Universe? I know, I know, some are still caught up in that Kool Aide induced haze, but not everyone went so far as to change the 100+ year old name of a school. You may recall that a school in New Jersey did just that. Yes, Bangs Avenue Elementary decided to change its name to Barack Obama Elementary a year or so ago.

Guess what? That school is closing. Yep, turns out it will save the district a bunch of money to close it, and send the children to two other schools instead. At the end of this school year, the Barack Obama Elementary School will be no more. The building will keep Obama's name, though, ans be used for other things (basketball? Golf? Parties?).

I have two quotes from this article I have to share with you. The first is from the Superintendent, Denise Lowe:
[snip] "Change is never easy, but the district is at a pivotal point where difficult decisions must be made,'' Lowe said in a statement Thursday afternoon. "The consequences of idleness are far greater than the improvisation that is now necessary.'' [snip]

And this one:
[snip] "We needed a change … we need to fix our school district,'' said Nina Summerlin, the Parent-Teacher Organization president at both the Obama and Middle schools.[snip]

Oh, my. Now THAT is some "change we can believe in," right? The irony, the irony.

Oh, want to hear another irony? Wanna guess how much money was being spent PER child in this district (Asbury Park)? About $36,000 per child. And as Michelle Malkin points out, what they get for this hefty price tag are the lowest test results that offers. Holy moley.

And now for another story you may have seen, but which bears repeating. That would be Senator Claire McCaskill, her plane, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars she owed in back taxes on said plane.

Now, here is what makes this so, oh, what's the word, laughable. Or hypocritical, take your pick:
[snip] McCaskill recently co-sponsored a bill in the Senate that would send pink slips to federal employees who are found to have unpaid taxes, a measure Republicans also highlighted Monday, calling the Democrat a hypocrite. But a McCaskill aide said that was not a fair attack. "Those are people who knowingly have not paid their taxes and have refused to own up to it and to make that right," an aide told Fox. "She didn't knowingly do this. This is a situation where a mistake was made. As soon as she found out...she made it right," the aide told Fox.

Because planes are not licensed the way automobiles are with the state of residence, rather they are licensed with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the state has no record of ownership and, therefore, sends no property tax bill.

As for that bill, the McCaskill aide said, "The senator has already written and sent the check to repay this money. There was no effort to evade taxes here." [snip]

Um, over $287,000, 3 years worth, is not trying to "evade taxes"? Yeah, okay, sure. I suppose that could happen to just anyone, right? And the IRS would SURELY understand such a thing if it happened to a regular old citizen, no doubt about it! They are so understanding about things of that nature. Cough, cough. Well, unless someone is a senator or representative (think Charlie Rangel) that is.

As an aside, who among us can sit down and write out a check for that amount of money at the drop of a hat? Yeah, me, neither. I also have to ask, what the hell kind of plane is this that the annual taxes are so hefty? Good grief.

There were other issues with the plane, too, like her use of it, for which she had to pay back $89,000 to the government. Oops. I guess she forgot what the rules are around things like using taxpayer money to fund political trips, 89 of them, to be specific. Yeah, right, that's the ticket, she just forgot! Sheesh, what do you want from her? Ahem.

As for McCaskill and the plane, well, this is her take:
[snip] An audibly exasperated McCaskill told reporters, "I have convinced my husband to sell the damned plane. He has hired a broker, and I never intend to step foot on that plane ever again." [snip] (Click here to read the rest.)

Yes, it is all that "damn" plane's fault! Harrumph!

Oh, and before anyone tries to compare this to Sarah Palin selling a jet on Ebay, bear in mind, Palin did not buy that plane, her predecessor did. Nor did Palin want the state to have to pay for it, so she had it sold for $2.1 million.

Once again, we see demonstrated, from the top down from Obama to McCaskill, that the rules, the laws, do not apply to people whom we have elected. Don't know quite how that has become the case, since they swear to uphold the Constitution, but it sure does seem to be the way of Washington. We see it from Obama essentially waging war without Congressional approval to failing to pay taxes while expecting others to do so lest they face harsh consequences. Those consequences all seem to be for others, though - "for thee, not me." That might as well be the mew motto on the Presidential Seal, don't you think? As long as they can get away with it, they seem hellbent on breaking the rules. I think it is far past time they get their comeuppance. Perhaps in 2012?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Fears About Early Voting In Egypt Confirmed

After forcing out Mubarrak as leader of Egypt, Egyptians held a vote on Sunday on a number of different amendments and changes. One of the issues on which the people voted was whether or not to have speedy elections. The people have spoken, and the answer is: yes. Yes, they do want speedy elections.

Here's the thing. There is only one group that is well organized. Any guesses as to who that group would be? If you said "Muslim Brotherhood," you would be right. This NY Times article, Egyptian Voters Approve Constitutional Changes, highlights the effects of the vote:
Egyptian voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum on constitutional changes on Sunday that will usher in rapid elections, with the results underscoring the strength of established political organizations, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, and the weakness of emerging liberal groups.


The military council has been somewhat vague about the next steps. But Maj. Gen. Mamdouh Shaken told Al-Shorouk newspaper in an interview published on Sunday that the generals would issue a constitutional declaration to cover the changes and then set dates for the vote once the results were announced.

The Muslim Brotherhood and remnant elements of the National Democratic Party, which dominated Egyptian politics for decades, were the main supporters of the referendum. They argued the election timetable would insure a swift return to civilian rule.

Members of the liberal wing of Egyptian politics mostly opposed the measure, saying they lacked time to organize into effective political organizations. They said early elections will benefit the Brotherhood and the old ruling party, which they warned would seek to write a constitution that centralizes power much like the old one.

What a double-edged sword this is. On the one hand, it is great that the Egyptian people are so excited about their ability to vote, and feeling that their votes will actually count. I am sure their delight in this event which we take so for granted is palpable. But, when it benefits terrorist-spawning, Sharia-law supporting organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood, it makes it a bitter pill to swallow:
[snip] “It is very, very disappointing,” said Hani Shukrallah, who is active in a new liberal political party and is the editor of Ahram Online, a news Website.

He and many other opponents of the referendum said religious organizations had spread false rumors, suggesting that voting against the referendum would threaten Article 2 of the constitution, which cites Islamic law as the main basis for Egyptian law.

“I saw one sign that said, ‘If you vote no you are a follower of America and Baradei and if you vote yes you are a follower of God,’” he said. “The idea is that Muslims will vote yes and Copts and atheists will vote no.”

Mohamed El Baradei, a former top United Nations nuclear official and Noble Prize winner planning to run for president, opposed the amendments, as did Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, another potential president candidate. In a vote remarkably free of problems, Mr. Baradei was attacked by a mob when he went to vote, fleeing a shower of rocks and bottles. His supporters said the mob was paid.

There is much more to this article, and I urge you to read the rest. But the disinformation campaign is telling in and of itself. I think that is the kind of thing we can expect to see more of should the Muslim Brotherhood win in the upcoming election. Unfortunately, that seems exceedingly likely.

And that is exceedingly disturbing. As I have stated before, there is a reason why this organization was banned from Egypt for so many years. Egypt, once a more progressive Middle Eastern country, will turn into something a whole lot more regressive under the Muslim Brotherhood. This is sad on so many levels, especially in terms of the treatment of women in a country where women had known some freedoms. Yikes.

Just in case you need a reminder of who the Muslim Brotherhood is, I will leave the last word on them to Niall Ferguson:

Friday, March 18, 2011

It's March Madness Time Alright **UPDATED**

I suppose that can be taken a number of different ways considering all that is going on in the world with Japan fighting desperately to deal with aftereffects of the massive earthquake(s) and tsunami there*, Libya bombing its own people, gasoline prices skyrocketing which makes food prices skyrocket, and on and on... But for the moment, I am talking about basketball.

Yes, it is all anyone can talk about these days. While in Tampa to take in some Yankees' Spring Training games, the number of men wearing NCAA t-shirts is telling. Heck, even President Obama, with all the major issues going on in the world today was not too busy to pick his NCAA brackets and play some golf, or diss his Secretary of State for being hardworking while he plays around at parties and dinners. Oh, it is March Madness alright.

But, as Christine Brennan of USA Today highlights, they aren't the only ones, Psst, Women Have Hoops Tourney, Too. Oh, huh - yeah, I guess they do.

Brennan nails it when she writes:
If you had a dollar for every time someone has referred to "the tournament" this week, you'd be a millionaire.

It's all people can talk about in sports: the tournament. Catch the national news on radio or TV. Check out any number of sports websites. Listen to your local sportscaster. Listen to yourself. The language is the same: it's the tournament, singular, as if there's only one.

But there's a rumor going around that there is in fact another college basketball tournament taking place at the same time. Perhaps you've heard this rumor? That women's basketball players are competing for a national title too? When people hear about this and want to check it out, they end up having a difficult time proving it in the mainstream news media, especially radio and TV, so they often end up wondering if they just dreamed it.

This is the fate of "the other tournament," the NCAA women's college basketball tournament, which runs concurrently with the men's, forever to be known as "the tournament."

And I do mean forever. No matter how much better and more interesting the women's game has become, its tournament will always be seen as an add-on. And it's not just because the men started theirs in 1939 and the women in 1982. Ironically, the stronger the women's tournament gets, the more the men's tournament leaves it in the dust. It's illogical, but true. While the women's tournament is all about sports, the men's is about so much more. It has become a way of life, a part of our culture. How can the women compete with that? [snip]

Good question. How indeed, when the men have 55 years on the women with this top basketball tournament? Brennan addresses that, too:
[snip]There is a school of thought that says the women are getting far more than they used to in terms of coverage and interest, and that they should be happy with that. We'll call this the "table scraps" theory.

Then there's the 21st-century concept of actually trying to give women's sports every opportunity to shine in their own right. This school of thought says that the current system, running the two tournaments at the same time, is failing because the men's tournament simply blocks out too much of the sun.

In less than three weeks, the NCAA could be hosting the greatest women's Final Four in history. If top seeds Connecticut, Tennessee, Stanford and Baylor all make it to Indianapolis, it could be a terrific Sunday of college basketball: UConn would play Tennessee, renewing the high-wire rivalry between Geno Auriemma and Pat Summitt; and Stanford, the team that ended UConn's historic NCAA winning streak in December, would play Baylor, led by towering, 6-8 center Brittney Griner.

You gotta admit, that does sound pretty exciting (though I have no love lost for Pat Summit, sorry all of my Tennessee friends!). And for those who do not know, U-Conn had a record streak going of 90 wins until Stanford broke it the end of December. You can see how there could be some major fireworks if the Final Four ends up as Brennan thinks it might. Holy moley, that would be some good basketball, wouldn't it? Brennan thinks so, too:
This glorious prospect has to be one of the best-kept secrets in sports. To be sure, national outlets that take their responsibility to cover all sports seriously are busy telling the story of the women's game.

But do the vast majority of people putting the finishing touches on their bracket (that would be singular) have any clue about this possibility? Of course not. They are too busy worrying about their pick in Thursday's Cincinnati-Missouri men's matchup.


People will come up with excuses forever, but this year shows us as well as any that it's time for the NCAA to give the women a place of their own on the sports calendar.

Today, there is more talent, skill and athleticism in women's college basketball than at any other time in the history of the game. To do nothing is to guarantee that these fine athletes who are so deserving of widespread national attention will never get it. (Click here to read the rest.)

Indeed, these women work just as hard as their male counterparts, play a great game of hoops, and deserve more attention than they are getting. If the Final Four shapes up as predicted, it will be one helluva end to this tournament. It isn't just men playing basketball on a national scale any more, and it is far past time for that to sink into the public consciousness. If nothing else, watching the women play is a great way to wind up Women's History Month, don't you think?

* One more thing about Japan. Unfortunately for the Japanese, people take their stoicism, calm, civility, and community spirit as evidence that they do not need help on the same level as other countries hit by natural occurrences of this magnitude. Add to that the perception that Japan, as a first level industrialized nation, has it altogether so it doesn't need as much help. That spells Japan receiving just $49 million in donations the first week after the earthquake, aftershocks, and tsunami hit. Compare that to Haiti, which received $296 million, and those affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami at $250 million. The issues they face with the nuclear reactors, as well as whole areas wiped out from the tsunami, are massive on a huge scale. Yes, they are an industrialized nation, but they are our allies, and they are people in need. If you are able, and so inclined, they can use your help. Charity Navigator lists and ranks organizations doing relief work in Japan. Or if you have a favorite, like the Red Cross, you can designate funds for Japan there as well.

**UPDATED** - Sandra Bullock has donated $1 million to Japan's relief effort. She continues to impress with her generosity and compassion.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Shining A Bright Light On TSA's Assault On Our RIghts

Sharon Cissna is an Alaskan State Representative(D), and one of my new heroes. Now why, you may ask, is she a hero? Because Rep. Cissna refuses to submit to a TSA pat-down. As a survivor of breast cancer, with a false breast as a result of a mastectomy, she has refused to submit to another government-sanctioned TSA sexual assault after her breast set off the metal detector.

She is my new hero.

You may recall, I wrote about my recent experience at the, um, hands of the TSA. A full body sexual assault as the result of having an airplane ticket. As I sat in an airport on Tuesday, on my way to a couple of Yankees' Spring Training Games, and having had to endure yet another sexual assault as a result of my knee replacement, my thoughts turned to Rep. Cissna.

I hated my experience so much, found it so offensive, that I asked my partner if we could drive to Miami for our cruise, rather than fly. She, of course, agreed. So we made the 9 hour (one way) drive to and from Miami to spare me the unwanted, unwarranted, full body search. Unfortunately, we did not have the luxury of driving this time around, hence my Round 2 of TSA sexual assault. Gee - can't wait for the return trip home. Ahem.

Before I get into more about Rep. Cissna, though, and in light of my recent pat-downs, I want to share my conversation with the TSA agent this morning. I had to wait in line for my pat-down behind an 88 year old woman who had a knee replacement(hers was 3 years ago). I asked the agent why we could not be wanded down instead, something that would so easily show why we set off the metal detector. She said it was because of the Underwear Bomber. You know the one - the young Somalian man who was on a plane to Detroit that the Powers-That-Be were hesitant to label a terrorist. Yes, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who was charged as a civilian, not a terrorist, which included being read his Miranda rights. It is because of this one man, and the failure of the TSA to catch him, that many of us who have health issues are subjected to this invasion of our privacy.

While I was getting my stuff after the TSA assault, I was standing right beside a man who looked like a pilot. He was indeed a pilot, as it turned out, when I could see his "Crew" badge. He, too, was having to get a pat-down. Why? He wore orthotic shoes that he could not take off, lest he "fall over" (his words).

Wow. I feel so much safer, don't you? And I sure wish someone could tell me why my setting off a metal detector then results in this pat-down to swab for explosives. If it is METAL, then a wand will find it. Just saying.

Now, back to Rep. Cissna. The L.A. Times relates her story in this article, "Alaska's Legislator's 'No' To TSA Pat-down":
When Alaska state Rep. Sharon Cissna passed through airport security a few months ago, the false breast she has worn since her mastectomy set off an alert on the new full-body scanner and triggered what she called a "humiliating" pat-down search.

Last week, it happened again. The Anchorage Democrat was leaving Seattle to return to the legislative session in Juneau when her prosthetic breast sent her once again toward the rubber gloves.

"The horror began again," she recalled, except this time, she refused.

Cissna caught a small plane to British Columbia and boarded a ferry for a two-day journey back to Juneau.

She arrived in the Alaskan capital Thursday to expressions of support from fellow members of the Alaska Legislature, which passed a resolution backing Cissna's stand that declared "no one should have to sacrifice their dignity in order to travel."

Alaskans — residents of a state with so few roads that most journeys must be taken by boat or plane — say they do not enjoy the same ability as other Americans to refuse security measures imposed by the Transportation Security Administration.

"We can't take Amtrak, we can't take Greyhound, we can't drive ourselves. Those options aren't open to us. We have a choice of fly or stay home," said Republican State Rep. Alan Dick, who spoke on the House floor about Cissna's case before overwhelming approval of a resolution in support of her. [snip] (Click here to read the rest.)

Anyone who has seen the Discovery show, "Flying Wild: Alaska" knows this is true. Everyone from sports teams to hunters, to mothers returning to their villages after showing off their new babies to family living elsewhere in Alaska, to teachers getting back to their villages in time for school, flying is a way of life in Alaska on par with the rest of us hopping into our cars to go to another town or county.

Rep. Cissna's colleagues are standing behind her in a big way. The Alaskan House passed a resolution asking that these kinds of pat-downs by the TSA be stopped. To that end, Rep. Cissna has headed to Washington, DC, to discuss this excessive pat-down:
[snip] Cissna says she has heard from people throughout Alaska and across the country expressing their concerns, and she has a clear message to bring to Washington, where she will appear before the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Wednesday.

"We're asking Congress to go back to the physical scanning that was done before. People didn't have a problem with it. I didn't have a problem with it. A light pat-down and sometimes they use a wand. The way it used to be."

The TSA has argued that when anomalies appear on full body scanners the enhanced pat-down is necessary to make sure those anomalies are not dangerous items such as explosives and bomb parts.

Says Cissna, "We want safe skies, believe me. I want people safe. But there's no proof this (invasive pat-down) is keeping people safe."

She says her husband has mapped out a route for her trip to Washington that will only include airports that do not yet have full body scanners but rather use metal detectors, which do not red flag her scars.

Cissna will share her own experience with Congress, she says.

"I'll be talking about the human part. And my fellow representatives have just added a piece of the human part. The people of Alaska will be heard in Washington D.C., will be heard across America," she says. "This procedure is a feel-up. That may be harsh, but it was harsh." (Click here to read the rest.)

I concur - it is harsh. And it needs to stop. Now. There are better ways than forcing those with disabilities, or previous illnesses, to endure this kind of harassment.

Apparently, this young man, who is also my hero, Aaron Tobey, concurs that this practice is outrageous. Mr. Tobey, in protest of the illegal search of US citizens, stripped down to his skivvies, revealing the 4th Amendment on his chest:
[snip] The Constitution's Fourth Amendment outlaws "unreasonable searches and seizures." Tobey, a 21-year-old University of Cincinnati architecture student, had those very words scrawled across his chest and abdomen when he stripped down to his underwear at a Richmond, Va., airport back in December. He was heading to his grandfather's funeral at the time. Tobey was arrested and cited for disorderly conduct.

The misdemeanor charge has since been dropped, but Tobey is still suing. The defendants listed in his legal filing are Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, the head of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, the Richmond airport authority and several security officers there. He's seeking $250,000 in damages and reimbursement for legal fees.

"This action seeks vindication of the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights of Aaron Tobey, who ... was arrested without probable cause, falsely imprisoned and maliciously prosecuted," the legal complaint states. The civil lawsuit was filed on Tobey's behalf by the Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties group. [snip] (Click here to read the rest.)

Good for him. Good for Tobey for standing up for what is right, even though he endured some hardship as a result. He is my hero, too.

Thank heavens for people like Alaskan State Rep. Sharon Cissna, and Aaron Tobey. Cissna is a godsend, given her political clout. I hope, and pray, she is successful in getting this practice abolished. Tobey, too, for also shining a bright light on this un-Constitutional practice, is a brave young man, and I applaud him for his actions. No doubt about it, the TSA assault on American citizens needs to stop, and it needs to stop now. I, for one, cannot take much more of this. And I am not alone...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Hillary, Chelsea, "Inspiration," And "Pet Rocks"

(March 10, 2011 - Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images North America)

The above photograph was taken at the Diller-von Furstenberg 2nd Annual Awards, as Chelsea presented her mother, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with the first Inspiration Award.

Some of the most poignant moments for me of the 2008 Campaign were to see Chelsea Clinton with her mother. The pride she felt, the love, the connection, was evident by the way Chelsea looked at her mother when she was speaking. This photo reminds me of those days when a woman garnered the most votes of any candidate during a primary ever.

Yes, it brought back some memories, like this one of Chelsea and her mother:

(Joe Raedle-Getty Images)

Ah, yes - those were the days. It seems appropriate during Women's History Month to remember, to affirm, just how close we came to having a woman president for the first time in this country. And to recognize just how far we have to go to achieve true equality in this country. Sadly, more qualified, accomplished, women still have to take a back seat to younger, unqualified men. It is a sobering thought.

Given that Clinton was just awarded an Inspiration award, what should we make of it when the Secretary Clinton consistently highlights the importance of girls and women to be educated, that the very development of communities, and countries, depend on how women fare. Yet when discussing Afghanistan, women, and USAID, a senior official claims that:"Gender issues are going to have to take a back seat to other priorities. There's no way we can be successful if we maintain every special interest and pet project. All those pet rocks in our rucksack were taking us down." (H/t to Yttik.)

"Pet rocks"? That's how this "senior official," who would speak only under conditions of anonymity, describes over half the population in relation to a USAID contract in Afghanistan? And on the eve of International Women's Day, no less?

I hope you appreciate my restraint in not writing what I really think of this man (but you can feel free to add your two cents worth about him).

Allow me to provide some context for his assholic remark, though it may make you even madder. The quote is from a Washington Post article entitled, "In Afghanistan, U.S. Shifts Strategy On Women's Rights As It Eyes Wider Priorities." Yes, the headline does provide a bit of a clue as to the intent, but this makes it crystal clear:
When the U.S. Agency for International Development sought bids last March for a $140 million land reform program in Afghanistan, it insisted that the winning contractor meet specific goals to promote women's rights: The number of deeds granting women title had to increase by 50 percent; there would have to be regular media coverage on women's land rights; and teaching materials for secondary schools and universities would have to include material on women's rights.

Before the contract was awarded, USAID overhauled the initiative, stripping out those concrete targets. Now, the contractor only has to perform "a written evaluation of Afghan inheritance laws," assemble "summaries of input from women's groups" and draft amendments to the country's civil code.

The removal of specific women's rights requirements, which also took place in a $600 million municipal government program awarded last year, reflects a shift in USAID's approach in Afghanistan. Instead of setting ambitious goals to improve the status of Afghan women, the agency is tilting toward more attainable measures. [snip] (Click here to read the rest.)

Ah, yes, "attainable measures." Right. Presumably that means turning the other way when girls get acid thrown in their faces by the Taliban. Or when women are killed through "honor" killings. I could go on, but I trust you get the idea.

So a senior official refers to women as "pet rocks" in a discussion of how USAID, which falls under the State Department, has thrown women under the bus in their contract requirements. Wow.

I remember well those days, just three short years ago, when Hillary Clinton was amassing the most votes of anyone ever in the history of the country. I remember well the excitement of women, children, and men alike that this incredible, capable, intelligent, qualified woman had surfaced in a run for the White House. And I remember well how the media, the DNC, and Obama himself, worked to destroy her by any means necessary, including massive misogyny at every turn.

And then she went to work for him.

The issues that affect women and girls has always been of the greatest importance to Hillary Clinton. Or at least they were until she became Secretary of State under the least qualified man ever to sit in the White House, pushed over the far more qualified woman. The issues that always meant so much to her, to us, now take a back seat as "special interests." Over half the population in the world has been reduced to a "pet rock." Holy moley.

I have never been inspired by a politician the way I was by Hillary Clinton. I have never donated so much time, money, or energy as I did for Hillary Clinton. Two years ago, I would have said, "hell to the yes" she deserves an Inspiration Award. But when her department fails to do what is right for women in Afghanistan, or Egypt, or Libya, or Iran, or anywhere else in the world, because women are seen as "special projects," not worthy of full humanity, well, I find that less than inspiring.

Frankly, I find it disturbing. How about you?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Major Earthquake Hits Japan, Spawns Tsunamis

The strongest earthquake recorded in Japan occurred Friday, at 8.9 on the Richter scale. It is wreaking a tremendous amount of havoc, loss of life, and loss of property. The aftershocks are expected to be almost as strong as the original earthquake.

The following video details some of the initial effects of the tsunami:

Here is a glimpse of what the earthquake caused:

That is just the beginning. Tsumanis have hit in Japan, as well as Hawaii. The West Coast of the US is bracing for tsumanis there, as well.

We are just beginning to know the extent of the initial damage in Japan, which will likely increase with the aftershocks. And, news is just starting to roll in about Hawaii. The effects on the West Coast are uncertain as of this writing.

My prayers go out to all of those affected by this massive earthquake, and the resulting tsunamis...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Some Celebration *Reprised*

I wrote this two years ago after International Women's Day (which was Tuesday, the 100th such celebration). I have written about women in Afghanistan recently, and this one also looks at women there, and other countries, as well. We are all connected, each and every one of us. As long as women and girls are suffering anywhere in the world from brutality based on religion and/or culture, it affects all of us. Has anything changed in the past two years?

On International Women's Day, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan addressed women in his country:
With every step forward that women in Afghanistan take, violent incidents highlight the fact many still struggle for basic human rights eight years after the ouster of the conservative Taliban regime.

In a speech commemorating International Women's Day on Sunday, President Hamid Karzai challenged Afghan religious leaders to denounce violence against women and reject traditional practices that treat women as property.

"The forced marriages, the selling of women — these are against Islam," Karzai told some 600 women gathered in a high school auditorium in the capital, Kabul.

The Taliban government that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 forced women to stay at home and banned them from appearing in public without a body-covering burqa.

There have surely been improvements, as the article details (it's an AP article, and they are very picky about having those reprinted). Thank heavens for that.

But that is not the end of the story. The same day President Karzai was speaking to this group of women, a woman, a widow, set herself on fire to escape the poverty in which she lived, and from which she saw no escape:
The incident occurred in an area where scores of women have killed themselves by self-immolation to escape abuse, forced marriages or other oppressive customs. As a widow, Bibi would have been on the bottom rung of traditional Afghan society — undesirable for marriage and unemployable because of her gender.

Even in the cities, where women have made great strides in employment and recognition, there are signs of backsliding in recent years. Karzai noted in his speech that the number of women working in government ministries has actually dropped to 21 percent from an earlier figure of 32 percent.

A U.N. report this week on human rights in Afghanistan said that "threats and intimidation against women in public life or who work outside the home have seen a dramatic increase."

Things are getting better in some ways for women, but too much is still the same, or getting worse.

And not just in Afghanistan, unfortunately, but in Iraq in which mothers are selling their daughters into prostitution (H/T to This TIME article describes the far-reaching extent of this practice, with many of the daughters not yet teenagers, some going to our close friends in the Middle East. For the sake of space, I am not reprinting the whole article here, but I urge you to read it all:
...That underworld is a place where nefarious female pimps hold sway, where impoverished mothers sell their teenage daughters into a sex market that believes females who reach the age of 20 are too old to fetch a good price. The youngest victims, some just 11 and 12, are sold for as much as $30,000, others for as little as $2,000. "The buying and selling of girls in Iraq, it's like the trade in cattle," Hinda (an undercover human rights worker) says. "I've seen mothers haggle with agents over the price of their daughters."

The trafficking routes are both local and international, most often to Syria, Jordan and the Gulf (primarily the United Arab Emirates). The victims are trafficked illegally on forged passports, or "legally" through forced marriages. A married female, even one as young as 14, raises few suspicions if she's travelling with her "husband." The girls are then divorced upon arrival and put to work. (See Iraq's return to "normalcy".)

Nobody knows exactly how many Iraqi women and children have been sold into sexual slavery since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003, and there are no official numbers because of the shadowy nature of the business. Baghdad-based activists like Hinda and others put the number in the tens of thousands. Still, it remains a hidden crime; one that the 2008 US State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report says the Iraqi government is not combating. Baghdad, the report says, "offers no protection services to victims of trafficking, reported no efforts to prevent trafficking in persons and does not acknowledge trafficking to be a problem in the country."

Mere children are being sold into sexual slavery in Iraq, and it has gotten WORSE under our watch. Sadly there is more, horrifying information in this article, but Hinda's experience is pertinent:
Hinda the activist-investigator also knows what's its like to be betrayed by family and considered human merchandise. Raped at 16, she was disowned by her family and left homeless. In many parts of the Arab world, the stigma of compromised chastity, even if it was stolen, is such that victims are at best outcasts and at worst killed for "dishonoring" their family or community. Desperate and destitute, Hinda turned to prostitution.

Now 33, she is using her knowledge of the industry to infiltrate trafficking rings across the country. She gathers information about the victims, where they are from, how much they're sold for and who is buying them. Most often she poses as a buyer for overseas clients, a cover that enables her to snap pictures of victims and claim that they are for her potential customers. She drags out the negotiations for several days, knowing that the victims are usually sold during that period. Playing a disappointed pimp helps keep her cover intact, she says. She can't rescue the girls, but the hope is that when the government decides to take trafficking seriously, her work and that of others will eventually help prosecute offenders and identify victims. She moves away from each trafficking ring as quickly as she can. To linger would be to invite suspicion.

But these days, she says suspicion is getting harder to avoid. She has been beaten before, by the security guards of pimps who suspect her of encouraging young victims to escape or offering them help. But in the past week she has received several death threats, some so frightening and persistent that she penned a farewell letter to her mother. "I'm scared. I'm scared that I'll be killed," she says, wiping away her tears. "But I will not surrender to that fear. If I do it means I've given up and I won't do that. I have to work to stop this."

So do we. But not just in Iraq, or Afghanistan. We, too, have a government that needs to work to stop this abuse of women. I have written before about domestic violence, and rape, but in more general terms. Today, though, it will be more specific. Today, I speak out for our women in the military. Yes, I said the women in our military. More than 1 in 4 women, officers and enlisted, are either raped or sexually assaulted. More than 25% of our women in uniform are sexually assaulted. And they are assaulted by fellow military personnel (96%). These women are putting their lives on the line for US, and while in the service of our country, over 25% are assaulted in the most horrendous way possible for a woman (at least in my opinion).

The statistics above came from a House panel on Friday, March 7, 2009. Again, thanks to for bringing these to my attention. If you do not have time to watch all 4 of them, please watch the first one:

I am sickened by this, absolutely sickened. But it is cultural, unfortunately, here in the States. Valuing men above women, using women as a means to an end, using women as objects, treating them with callous disregard and with violence.

In our military, where women go to serve their nation, too, too many are being subjected to the most despicable form of violence, taking something by force that can never be returned, and from which most never fully recover. By their contemporaries. With whom they are forced to remain in contact. Can you even begin to imagine the psychological effects this has on them?

We saw the most qualified person, a woman, with the majority of support by members of her party, forced to concede her victory to a lesser qualified, far more inexperienced man. This was able to happen because of the tacit acceptance of rampant sexism and outright misogyny (as a reminder - misogyny means HATRED of women), perpetrated by men in that party and in the media, as well as from the women who wanted, no, craved, men's approval. It is a matter of degrees, and in this country, we have made it quite clear - even the very best, most qualified women are not as good, not as WORTHY, as the worst of con men with little to offer.

And this has effects on all of us. The lessons it teaches us, our daughters, our nieces, our grandchildren, is that they are less than, they are tools to be used, they are objects. Like Afghanistan and Iraq, while some strides may be made, there is always a price to be paid, and too many women in our country, in our military, are paying that price. That is simply unacceptable, and it must stop. Now.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"This One's For The Girls" Reprise

Recently, faithful NQ Reader, Cindy, asked that I reprint this post from last year. Since it is Women's History Month, this seems like an appropriate time to do so. I have not seen recent poll numbers for Secretary Clinton, but other than that, the numbers remain in the same ballpark, sadly. One day, I hope to report otherwise. Until then, there is much work for us to do. Thank heavens for those who are pushing for the rights of women and girls.

Since we have been talking about our beloved Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, the one with the 70% approval rating, the one who was just honored as a Global Trailblazer and who received over 2 minutes of a standing ovation (MUST READ post by Ani: Hillary Receives Some Well Deserved Accolades), I wanted to share about another strong woman making a difference on an issue important to me: domestic violence. With Clinton's commitment to women and children, this is an extension of the love-fest by broadening the circle to include another woman doing the work.

Thursday, I happened to catch Martina McBride, whom I love, talking about her work with teens and the issue of domestic violence. She is involved with an organization entitled, loveisrespect, the mission of which is to educate teens on this issue, an issue that affects 1 out of 4 teens (just like the adult population). This is a part of the Love Is Not Abuse site, sponsored by Liz Claiborne.

In terms of Martina McBride specifically, the site has this:
National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline have partnered in a new program called My Time to Shine, which has been announced in conjunction with the release of her new album, Shine.

As the mother of three daughters, four-time CMA Female Vocalist is passionate about the need to increase awareness for teens and parents about teen dating abuse, and about how to develop healthy relationships. Recent research has shown that one in three girls who have been in a serious relationship say they’ve been concerned about being physically hurt by their partner.

My Time to Shine was developed for Martina’s Shine CD and tour around the concept that the teen years should be a young person’s time to shine—the time in their lives when they discover who they are, what their talents are and how to have healthy relationships.

When the contemporary country singer released Independence Day in 1994*, she never dreamed that the song would resonate so powerfully with victims of family violence. It opened her eyes to the issue and changed her life. On concert tours, Martina began visiting high schools to talk to young women about self worth. Since then, she has been involved in fundraising for several programs that benefit women. My Time to Shine expands her work and is an opportunity for her to include her 14-year-old daughter, Delaney in a cause they can both relate to.

Starting with the morning TV shows this week, Martina will promote both the new CD and the awareness program. In addition Martina will
speak out in public service announcements which will be shown at her concert venues when her tour begins in October. My Time to Shine merchandise will be sold at Martina’s concerts to raise funds to benefit the teen helpline.

For more on the Shine album, visit

Heaven knows, we don't talk enough about domestic violence in general, much less how it affects our young women. And now there is additional technology to assist those who would abuse our young women - texting, Twittering, facebook, Myspace, you name it. So many new ways to keep up with them, try to isolate them, have ammunition to use against them, and to terrorize them. The statistics on teen girls is sobering:
Nearly three in four tweens (72%) say boyfriend/girlfriend relationships usually begin at age 14 or younger. (Liz Claiborne Inc. study on teen dating abuse conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited, February 2008.)

62% of tweens (age 11-14) who have been in a relationship say they know friends who have been verbally abused (called stupid, worthless, ugly, etc) by a boyfriend/girlfriend. (Liz Claiborne Inc. study on teen dating abuse conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited, February 2008.)

Only half of all tweens (age 11-14) claim to know the warning signs of a bad/hurtful relationship. (Liz Claiborne Inc. study on teen dating abuse conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited, February 2008.)

More than three times as many tweens (20%) as parents (6%) admit that parents know little or nothing about the tweens dating relationships. (Liz Claiborne Inc. study on teen dating abuse conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited, February 2008.)

1 in 3 teenagers report knowing a friend or peer who has been hit, punched, kicked, slapped, choked or physically hurt by their partner. (Liz Claiborne Inc. study on teen dating abuse conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited, February 2005.)

Nearly 1 in 5 teenage girls who have been in a relationship said a boyfriend had threatened violence or self-harm if presented with a break-up. (Liz Claiborne Inc. study on teen dating abuse conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited, February 2005.)

13% of teenage girls who said they have been in a relationship report being physically hurt or hit. (Liz Claiborne Inc. study on teen dating abuse conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited, February 2005.)

1 in 4 teenage girls who have been in relationships reveal they have been pressured to perform oral sex or engage in intercourse. (Liz Claiborne Inc. study on teen dating abuse conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited, February 2005.)

More than 1 in 4 teenage girls in a relationship (26%) report enduring repeated verbal abuse. (Liz Claiborne Inc. study on teen dating abuse conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited, February 2005.)

80% of teens regard verbal abuse as a "serious issue" for their age group. (Liz Claiborne Inc. study on teen dating abuse conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited, February 2005.)

If trapped in an abusive relationship, 73% of teens said they would turn to a friend for help; but only 33% who have been in or known about an abusive relationship said they have told anyone about it. (Liz Claiborne Inc. study on teen dating abuse conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited, February 2005.)

Twenty-four percent of 14 to 17-year-olds know at least one student who has been the victim of dating violence, yet 81% of parents either believe teen dating violence is not an issue or admit they don't know if it is an issue. (Survey commissioned by the Empower Program, sponsored by Liz Claiborne Inc. and conducted by Knowledge Networks, Social Control, Verbal Abuse, and Violence Among Teenagers, December 2000)

Less than 25% of teens say they have discussed dating violence with their parents. (Liz Claiborne Inc. study of teens 13-17 conducted by Applied Research and Consulting LLC, Spring 2000)

89% of teens between the ages of 13 and 18 say they have been in dating relationships; forty percent of teenage girls age 14 to 17 report knowing someone their age who has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend. (Children Now/Kaiser Permanente poll, December 1995)

Nearly 80% of girls who have been physically abused in their intimate relationships continue to date their abuser. (City of New York, Teen Relationship Abuse Fact Sheet, March 1998)

Of the women between the ages 15-19 murdered each year, 30% are killed by their husband or boyfriend. (City of New York, Teen Relationship Abuse Fact Sheet, March 1998)

Wowie freakin' zowie. Sobering, indeed. Violence is so prevalent in our society, and the targets are far, far too often women. Systemic cultural violence needs to be addressed in general, but specifically as it relates to women and our teenage daughters, nieces, and grand-daughters.

Liz Claiborne and Martina McBride are doing just that, thank heavens, but we ALL need to be aware of this issue - educate ourselves and the young women in our lives, and work to end violence against women period. The time is now.

*This is "Independence Day," referenced above:

So, "This one is for the girls":