10 months ago
Monday, October 18 Nine Circles of Hell!
The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Saturday, October 18, 2010, including a bonus story on Congo’s protests, are:
What gridlock? 111th Congress was most productive in nearly 50 years
The Associated Press
A productive Congress gets no respect from voters
The public panned it. Republicans obstructed it. Many Democrats fled from it. Even so, the session of Congress now drawing to a close was the most productive in nearly half a century.
Not since the explosive years of the civil rights movement and the hard-fought debut of government-supported health care for the elderly and poor have so many big things — love them or hate them — been done so quickly.
Gridlock? It may feel that way. But that’s not the story of the 111th Congress — not the story history will remember.
Democrats are dearly hoping history won’t repeat itself. In 1966, after Democrats created Medicare and Medicaid and passed civil rights laws, they got hammered in the election, losing 48 seats in the House and four in the Senate. They maintained their majorities in both at the time, but an identical result next month would turn the House over to Republicans.
In the 1960s, Democrats paid the price for events largely outside their control — an escalating war in Vietnam going badly, rowdy anti-war protests and violence in American cities, said Linda Fowler, professor of government at Dartmouth College.
“I think that’s what’s going on this time too,” Fowler said, “despite a very significant record of accomplishment.”
Democrats struggling now to retain majorities in the House and Senate must deal with a public that is quick to blame Washington for the prolonged economic downturn, and that resents the bank bailouts that were actually passed by the previous Congress.
In terms of legislative successes, the current session of Congress is “at least on a par with the 89th Congress” of 1965-1966, said Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
But, he added, Republicans have done all they could to discredit Congress and Democrats have failed to sell their agenda. Moreover, it will take years to fully feel the effects of the health care law and financial regulation.
“A world dominated by bickering and epithet-throwing and bomb tossing in Washington obscures accomplishments,” Ornstein said.
Pentagon wants media to ignore Wikileaks
The Associated Press
Pentagon asks media not to publish war leaks
The Pentagon on Monday asked media organizations not to publish any classified war files released by the WikiLeaks Web site, as the U.S. braces for the potential disclosure of hundreds of thousands of secret Iraq war documents.
In July, WikiLeaks obtained and released nearly 77,000 classified military reports from Afghanistan. Now, the Pentagon says the group has as many as 400,000 documents from a military database on operations in Iraq.
WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange on Monday downplayed expectations that a leak was imminent. In a Twitter post, Assange said information were coming from “a single tabloid blog” that had put out a “tremendous amount” of false information about his site.
Still, the military says its 120-person task force has been on high alert. The group has been reviewing the documents for weeks to determine what information might be compromised.
Marine Corps Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters that the military isn’t sure if WikiLeaks has shared the Iraq war logs with any news organizations. But, he said, media should not disseminate the “stolen” information even if it’s already posted online by WikiLeaks.
“The concern is that WikiLeaks as an organization should not be made more credible by having credible news organizations facilitate what they’re doing,” Lapan said.
WikiLeaks was largely unknown until this spring, when it released a gritty war video of Army helicopters gunning down a group of men — including two unarmed Reuters photographers — in Iraq.
The group in July gained international notoriety when it coordinated its release of the 77,000 Afghan war logs with The New York Times, The Guardian in London and the German magazine Der Spiegel.
The New York Times says it omitted information from its coverage that would have jeopardized military operations or exposed Afghan informants. The Times also declined to provide a Web link to the WikiLeaks data base.
Der Spiegel and The Guardian said it withheld sensitive information as well, although The Guardian published a selection of the documents that it believed were significant.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has told Congress that the July leak did not expose the nation’s most sensitive intelligence secrets. But, he maintained, the release still put U.S. interests at risk because it exposed the names of some Afghans who had cooperated with U.S. forces.
US charity that pays addicts to have a vasectomy goes international
CBS News/The Associated Press
U.S. Charity Pays U.K. Addict to Have Vasectomy
An American charity has paid a British man addicted to drugs 200 pounds (about $320) to get a vasectomy, the BBC reported.
The charity was started by a North Carolina woman who says seeing the affects of drug addiction on children angered her into taking a stand.
Barbara Harris and her organization have already paid more than 3,500 addicts in America to be sterilized, but her foray into Great Britain is causing fresh controversy.
The man, identified only as “John,” was the first U.K. participant in the controversial bribery program.
According to the mission statement on their website, “Project Prevention offers cash incentives to women and men addicted to drugs and/or alcohol to use long term or permanent birth control.”
The initiative has brought Harris, who started the organization after adopting children born to a woman addicted to crack cocaine, huge criticism — even comparisons to the Nazi regime.
Other addiction advocacy groups have railed against the extreme nature of Harris’ program, accusing her of taking advantage of people with a medically diagnosed illness.
“It exploits very vulnerable people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol at probably the lowest point in their lives,” Simon Antrobus, chief executive of Addaction, told the BBC.
“I think Barbara uses some very extreme examples to get her point across. It might work in America but Great Britain is a very different country,” said Maria Cripps, who runs a center for addicts in east London.
Canadian commander committed murder, sexual assault, stole panties
The Associated Press
Top Canadian commander pleads guilty to murders
A commander who was a rising star in Canada’s military pleaded guilty Monday to the murders of two women, the sexual assaults of two others and dozens of breaking and entering charges in which he stole panties from the bedrooms of girls as young as 11.
Col. Russell Williams, who once flew prime ministers and served as a pilot to Queen Elizabeth II during a 2005 visit, was the commander of Canada’s largest Air Force base until he was charged earlier this year.
He pleaded guilty Monday to two first-degree murder charges, two sexual assaults and 82 breaking and entering charges in a Belleville, Ontario court. The 47-year-old faces an automatic sentence of life in prison with no possibility for parole for at least 25 years.
Williams was expressionless and dressed in a somber dark suit, and he kept his head down as the charges were read. The list of charges was so long that it took nearly 40 minutes to read it into the record.
“Guilty, your honor,” he said after the charges were entered.
Prosecutors said Williams targeted girls and women in their teens and 20s and often photographed himself in their underwear.
At the sentencing hearing following his guilty plea, prosecutors warned the court they would be presenting evidence that was “extremely disturbing.” Prosecutor Lee Burgess said much of the facts will be difficult for his victims to hear, but said it was “important to have a full account of the crimes.”
Burgess began presenting photos showing Williams wearing a 12-year-old girl’s cartoon-decorated underwear, with his genitalia protruding from them. Other photos showed him wearing underwear belonging to 11-year-old twins.
Many of the photos showed Williams masturbating in the stolen lingerie, either wearing it or with it draped over his erect genitilia. People in the courtroom, many of them victims and their families, were in tears and appeared stunned. Roxanne Lloyd, the mother of murder victim Jessica Lloyd, clutched a frame photo of her daughter, wiping away tears as the prosecution relayed details of Williams’ fetish behavior.
In another photo, Williams appears to be wearing his military uniform with his trousers dropped to show he is wearing stolen pink panties that have stains on them. Burgess also presented evidence of Williams photographing himself naked with one of his victim’s sex toys.
In each photo, he looks serious, with little expression. As prosecutors presented the evidence, Williams was again void of expression, his eyes cast downward the entire time.
If you don’t accept Christian values you have no place in Germany
Agence France Presse
Merkel says German multi-cultural society has failed
Germany’s attempt to create a multi-cultural society has failed completely, Chancellor Angela Merkel said at the weekend, calling on the country’s immigrants to learn German and adopt Christian values.
Merkel weighed in for the first time in a blistering debate sparked by a central bank board member saying the country was being made “more stupid” by poorly educated and unproductive Muslim migrants.
“Multikulti”, the concept that “we are now living side by side and are happy about it,” does not work, Merkel told a meeting of younger members of her conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party at Potsdam near Berlin.
“This approach has failed, totally,” she said, adding that immigrants should integrate and adopt Germany’s culture and values.
“We feel tied to Christian values. Those who don’t accept them don’t have a place here,” said the chancellor.
“Subsidising immigrants” isn’t sufficient, Germany has the right to “make demands” on them, she added, such as mastering the language of Goethe and abandoning practices such as forced marriages.
Merkel spoke a week after talks with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in which they pledged to do more to improve the often poor integration record of Germany’s 2.5-million-strong Turkish community.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul, in a weekend interview, also urged the Turkish community living in Germany to master the language of their adopted country.
“When one doesn’t speak the language of the country in which one lives that doesn’t serve anyone, neither the person concerned, the country, nor the society,” the Turkish president told the Suedeutsche Zeitung.
“That is why I tell them at every opportunity that they should learn German, and speak it fluently and without an accent. That should start at nurseries.”
German President Christian Wulff was due for a five-day visit to Turkey and talks with the country’s leaders on Monday.
The immigration debate has at times threatened to split Merkel’s conservative party, and she made noises to both wings of the debate.
While saying that the government needed to encourage the training of Muslim clerics in Germany, Merkel said “Islam is part of Germany”, echoeing the recent comments of Wulff, a liberal voice in the party.
Israeli police now recruiting from ranks of illegal settlements
Israeli police launch drive to fill ranks with settlers
Past This is Hell! guest Jonathan Cook writes …
As US-sponsored peace talks have stalled over the issue of settlements, Israel’s national police force has revealed that it is turning to the very same illegal communities in its first-ever drive to recruit officers from among the settlers.
The special officer training course, which is chiefly aimed at discharged combat soldiers, includes seven months of religious studies in an extremist West Bank settlement.
The programme has provoked widespread concern among Israel’s 1.3 million Palestinian citizens, a fifth of the population.
“The police have already repeatedly demonstrated their hostility to Palestinian citizens, but this move proves that the authorities want to extend and deepen our oppression,” said Jafar Farah, the director of Mossawa, an advocacy centre for the Palestinian minority.
“Is it really credible that these religious extremists who have been educated to hate Palestinians in the West Bank are going to behave differently when they police our communities inside Israel?”
The first 35 cadets in the officer-training programme – known as “Believe in the police” – are to start their studies next month. More than 300 settlers are reported to have expressed an interest in the course so far.
The police command is said to have taken up the idea, originally proposed by right-wing groups, in the hope of reversing years of declining recruitment levels that have led to a national shortage of officers.
Congolese women protest “rape capital of the world”
Congolese rape victims march against sexual violence
Many of Congo’s rape survivors took to the streets Sunday to speak out against sexual violence in a country where it has become a weapon of war.
“My heart is in pain, why are you raping me?” sang the rape victims, many of whom left hospital beds to join the march in eastern Congo.
“They have had enough, enough, enough, enough,” said Nita Vielle, a Congolese women’s activist, of the women marching. “Enough of the war, of the rape, of nobody paying attention to what’s happening to them.”
The United Nations has named the Democratic Republic of Congo the “rape capital of the world,” with 15,000 women raped in eastern Congo last year. The attacks occurred in parts of the country where armed rebel groups moved into areas considered to be pro-government but lacking in army or police protection, according to the U.N.
Margot Wallstrom, the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict, said recently that one distraught Congolese woman had told her that “a dead rat is worth more than the body of a woman.”
“It was an expression of how human rights violations against women are still the lowest on a fool’s hierarchy of war time horrors,” she said.
Sunday’s march was organized by the World March of Women in association with local women’s groups. Organizers hoped the march would combat the stigma attached to rape victims and draw international attention to the problem of rape as a war tactic.
- This ain’t the only protest going on in Congo, according to the Canadian Press story, “Thousands protest in volatile Eastern Congo after 3 civilians killed in lootings by soldiers“:
Witnesses and an official say civilians are protesting after three residents were killed when soldiers looted homes in Congo’s South Kivu province.
Katana county resident Emmanuel Mburungu says soldiers forced themselves into homes Sunday, demanding money and mobile phones.
Mburungu says all 11,000 residents in the county have taken to the streets to demand the troops’ removal.
Rwandan opposition fearing “another cycle of violence”
Agence France Presse
Rwanda opposition urges UN on jailed leaders
Rwandan opposition parties Monday called on the UN Security Council to intervene to have Victoire Ingabire, the opposition figure arrested last week and other “political prisoners” freed.
The parties — Ingabire’s FDU party, the Democratic Green Party and the PS Imberakuri — said they have already called on the Rwandan authorities to release Ingabire and others but in vain.
“The Rwandan Opposition is convinced that your urgent intervention will help defuse the current political crisis in the country and help achieve sustainable peace in the Great Lakes Region of Africa,” the parties said in an open letter to the Security Council.
Ingabire was arrested last week in Kigali and faces charges including plotting to set up a “terrorist group” and threatening national security.
The parties are also appealing for the release of Bernard Ntaganda, the founder and chairman of PS Imberakuri, in prison since June, and the head of the People’s Defence Pact, Deo Mushayidi, sentenced to life …
“We fear that the present management of the political system has the potential to lead to another cycle of violence. This must be stopped immediately; the UN Security council can prevent this,” the three parties said.
It’s not Big Brother but Little Brother that should worry you
The New York Times
Little Brother is Watching
In George Orwell’s “1984,” that novel of totalitarian politics whose great mistake was to emphasize the villainy of society’s masters while playing down the mischief of the masses, the goal of communications technology was brutal and direct: to ensure the dominance of the state. The sinister “telescreens” placed in people’s homes spewed propaganda and conducted surveillance, keeping the population passive and the leadership firmly in control. In the face of constant monitoring, all people could do was sterilize their behavior, conceal their thoughts and carry on like model citizens.
This was, it turns out, a quaint scenario, grossly simplistic and deeply melodramatic. As the Internet proves every day, it isn’t some stern and monolithic Big Brother that we have to reckon with as we go about our daily lives, it’s a vast cohort of prankish Little Brothers equipped with devices that Orwell, writing 60 years ago, never dreamed of and who are loyal to no organized authority. The invasion of privacy — of others’ privacy but also our own, as we turn our lenses on ourselves in the quest for attention by any means — has been democratized …
In “1984,” the abolition of personal space was part of an overarching government policy, but nowadays it’s often nothing more than a side effect of wired high spirits. The era of the “viral video,” when footage of some absorbing slice of life can spread overnight around the globe, is bringing out the anarchist in all of us. Sometimes the results are welcome, benign, and the intruder does his subject a favor. Take the young man who taped his girlfriend shimmying in front of a TV attached to a Wii Fit video game. He shot the clip without her knowledge, apparently, and in no time Google and YouTube made her famous. She capitalized on her high profile by appearing on “The Tyra Banks Show.”
There are also times, of course, when Little Brother does a positive service to society by turning the tables on the state and watching the watchers. The other day a video emerged that seemed to show an Israeli soldier dancing in a mocking manner around a cowering Palestinian woman whom he appeared to have under his control. The viewer couldn’t help but be reminded of more shocking pictures from Abu Ghraib — scenes of torture that might never have come to light if Little Brother hadn’t been standing nearby. The irony is that these images, which caused a convulsion of national moral conscience, were taken — in some cases, at least — as photographic boasts or trophies. So giddy with power and numb to its abuses were the camera-wielding prison guards that they indicted themselves with their own antics.
In the postideological YouTube-topia that Orwell couldn’t have foreseen, information flows in all directions and does as it pleases, for better or for worse, serving no masters and obeying no party line. The telescreens, tiny, mobile and ubiquitous, at times seem to be working independently, for some mysterious purpose all their own. This morning, when I sat down to write, I was distracted by a story on my computer about a Google Street View camera that snapped pictures of a corpse lying on a bloody street in urban Brazil. I clicked on the link, unable to do otherwise, and up came the awful, disconcerting image. For a moment, I felt like a voyeur, spiritually dirtied by what I saw. A moment later I was checking the weather report and the status of my I.R.A.
Even Big Brother himself was not so cold. He, at least, had a motive for his peeping — to maintain order, to shore up his position and to put down possible rebellions — but I and the countless Little Brothers like me lack any clear notion of what we’re after. A fleeting sensation of omnipotence? The gratification of idle curiosity? Our nonstop trafficking in stolen images, sometimes as consumers and sometimes as producers (is there any meaningful difference anymore?), adds up to a story without a plot. Is it a tragic story? On occasion. It was tragic for Tyler Clementi and for his roommate, who ruined his own life by spying on another’s, but for those who are suddenly lofted to fame and riches by achieving viral visibility, it’s closer to a feel-good comedy.
Ours is a fragmentarian society, infinitely divided against itself and endlessly disrupted from within by much the same technologies that, in Orwell’s somber novel, assured a dull and deadening stability. In some ways, his nightmare vision of state control is cozy and reassuring by comparison. Big Brother may have stifled dissent by forcing conformity on his frightened subjects, but his trespasses were predictable and manageable. What’s more, his assaults on citizens’ privacy left the concept of privacy intact, allowing the possibility that with his overthrow people might live again as they once had.
Little Brother affords us no such luck, in part because he dwells inside us rather than in some remote and walled-off headquarters. In the new, chaotic regime of networked lenses and microphones that point every which way and rest in every hand, permitting us to train them on ourselves as easily as we aim them at one another, the private and public realms are so confused that it’s best to treat them as identical. With nowhere to hide, you might as well perform, dispensing with old-fashioned notions of discretion and personal dignity. If Tyler Clementi had remembered to do this — to yield his personal life to the machine and acknowledge, with Shakespeare, that the world’s a soundstage — he might have shrugged off the embarrassment he suffered and made a reality show of his existence. He might have asked Little Brother into his room instead of choosing, fatally, to keep him out in the only manner he must have thought possible.