Via the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Click on the image below to use EFF’s automated system to email your senators. Sunlight Foundation showsthat backers of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act had $605 million in lobbying expenditures from 2011 through the third quarter of last year compared to $4.3 million spent by opponents of the bill. Lopsided resources in action.
With today’s strip, Gary Trudeau’s Doonesbury starts a week-long ridicule of Texas’s mandatory transvaginal ultrasound law, also known as the sonogram law.
The strip has a young woman coming in for a sonogram and is told to take a seat in the “shaming room” where “a middle-aged male state legislator will be with you in a moment.”
Tomorrow, she’ll get asked, “Do your parents know you’re a slut?”
Yep, and apparently, some papers are running away from the strip this week. Romenesko.com reports that the Oregonian features editor, JoLene Krawczak says, “We thought the strips were over the line for the comics pages and won’t be running them.” I’m sure some other papers will not run the strips for fear of ruining “the funnies.”
Not sure if Gov Rick, or male legislators, or male state judges who made the law possible in Texas will make a strip appearance. But we have days to go till Friday.
In an interview with WaPo, Garry Trudeau, creator of the Pulitzer-winning comic strip tells Micheal Cavna:
Texas’s HB-15 isn’t hard to explain: The bill says that in order for a woman to obtain a perfectly legal medical procedure, she is first compelled by law to endure a vaginal probe with a hard, plastic 10-inch wand. The World Health Organization defines rape as “physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration — even if slight — of the vulva or anus, using a penis, other body parts or an object.” You tell me the difference.
I chose the topic of compulsory sonograms because it was in the news and because of its relevance to the broader battle over women’s health currently being waged in several states. For some reason, the GOP has chosen 2012 to re-litigate reproductive freedom, an issue that was resolved decades ago. Why [Rick] Santorum, [Rush] Limbaugh et al. thought this would be a good time to declare war on half the electorate, I cannot say. But to ignore it would have been comedy malpractice.
Can somebody please, please invent a 10-inch shaming wand for male legislators only?
Oh, Sam Brownback, one of the Senate’s old advocate for human rights in North Korea who decamped to Kansas, USA after the last election is back in the news, and not in a good way.
As the story goes — Shawnee Mission East senior Emma Sullivan, 18 and apparently newly registered voter went with a group of students to the statehouse for a Youth in Government program.
Must have been exciting, she tweeted:
Oops! Except that it’s not even true … she did not actually said that to the guv, but she did tweet it.
Normally, a tweet like that gets overtaken by well, a whole lot of noise in the twitterverse.
But not this time. Apparently, Governor Brownback’s office monitor social media comments over there in Kansas and saw this tweet. And so the highschooler was reported by the governor’s office to Youth in Government officials. When this hit the news, Gov. Brownback’s spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag then said, “It was important for the organization to be aware of the comments their students were making. It’s also important for students to recognize the power of social media, how lasting it is. It is on the Internet.” She added of Sullivan’s tweet, “That wasn’t respectful. In order to really have a constructive dialogue, there has to be mutual respect.”
Holy molly guacamole …. where or where did this woman learn her public affairs skills, from Vladimir Putin’s Russia?
So then, the highschooler was called into the principal’s office where Mr. Krawitz, the principal asked her to write a letter of apology to Governor Brownback and his staff. Apparently, Monday was the due date for the letter.
In the meantime, #heblowsalot started picking up on Twitter.
Somebody even bothered to make a poster here and here.
I imagined it was a rough weekend over there in Kansas. As if the bad publicity was not enough, there is also a fake Sam Brownback Twitter account. And in the last 24 hours, a Govblowsalotaccount, specializing in twittermockery was born.
Then Monday came, and the school district, after a weekend of adverse publicity released the following statement:
“District officials have reviewed recent events surrounding the reported tweet by Shawnee Mission East High School student Emma Sullivan. The district acknowledges a student’s right to freedom of speech and expression is constitutionally protected.
“The district has not censored Miss Sullivan nor infringed upon her freedom of speech. She is not required to write a letter of apology to the Governor. Whether and to whom any apologies are issued will be left to the individuals involved.
“The issue has resulted in many teachable moments concerning the use of social media. The district does not intend to take any further action on this matter.”
Also on Monday, at 10:46am, Governor Brownback’s statement regarding Emma Sullivan’s tweet was posted on Facebook:
Topeka – Kansas Governor Sam Brownback issued the following statement today regarding the tweet by Emma Sullivan:
“My staff over-reacted to this tweet, and for that I apologize. Freedom of speech is among our most treasured freedoms.
I enjoyed speaking to the more than 100 students who participated in the Youth in Government Program at the Kansas Capitol. They are our future.
I also want to thank the thousands of Kansas educators who remind us daily of our liberties, as well as the values of civility and decorum.
Image via WikipediaLibya’s regime learned exceptionally well from Egypt’s revolution. First, it has scruplously controlled its borders especially with visitors coming in as members of the press. So no Richard Engle or Anderson Cooper. And it blocked Al Jazeera’s TV signal.
Today, NYT’s Kristof in Bahrain tweets:
Reports from Libya are horrific. It shld be getting more attention, but we journalists can’t get visas. I’ll keep trying.| about 10 hours ago via web
Then, Libya pulled down the internet switch on February 18. Although connectivity was reportedly restored today, reports indicate that the internet is still cut off the eastern side of Libya, where the protests have spread to six cities.
Most of all, I think Libya learned that not using a heavy hand (like the willingness to kill your own people), is quite dangerous for a sitting ruler who could get swept away in such a tsunami.
It rectified that very seriously and now wields its iron fist even more brutally.
Al Jazeera quoted a Benghazi resident saying that at least 150 people, injured and dead were at a nearby hospital.
Human Rights Watch says that Libyan security forces have killed 84 people over the past three days.
Protests in the country began on February 14. Reax from the following:
UK’s foreign secretary William Hague, a day after his department revoked all British arms licences to Libya and Bahrain, condemned the “unacceptable and horrifying” use of violence by Gaddafi’s security forces against his own people, “including reports of the use of heavy weapons fire and a unit of snipers against demonstrators”.
“The United States urges the governments of Bahrain, Libya and Yemen to show restraint in responding to peaceful protests and to respect the rights of their people,” President Obama said in a statement read to reporters by White House press secretary Jay Carney.
German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle has also denounced the violence across the region, saying that citizens are “only realizing their rights” and that a “spark of freedom” has been lit after the Tunisian government fell. Germany is one of the three major import partners of Libya.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay says security forces responded in an “illegal and excessively heavy-handed” manner against peaceful demonstrators and condemned the use of live ammunition against protesters in Libya, the use of electric tasers and batons in Yemen, and the use of military-grade shotguns in Bahrain.
The EU Observer reports that EU calls for dialogue as Bahrain, Yemen, Libya kill protesters. In Libya …. Ms Ashton’s spokeswoman had said earlier on Wednesday that her boss was: “following the situation very closely. As in other cases, we call on the authorities to listen to all those who are taking part in the protests … and to allow freedom of expression.”
The European Union is the first trading partner for Libya, covering almost 70% of its total trade that amount approximately to €26.4 billion in 2009. The EU is also Libya’s major source of imports and is its largest market for exports in 2009.
Certainly with that kind of trade, the EU can do more than “follow the situation very closely.” Whether it’ll do more to pressure Libya is the €26.4 billion question.
And by the way, Libya has also been trying to join the WTO. So there is that. If Gaddafi survived this protest movement, a bunch of somebodies may be in great danger of sitting next to him in future World Trade Organization powwows. You may even have to shake his bloody hands.
In a related news, on February 16, four days after the first protest broke out in Libya, Russia’s natural-gas exporter, Gazprom, signed an agreement to take a stake in Italian oil and natural gas company, Eni’s Elephant oil project in Libya. The oil project is located in Libya’s south-western desert some 800 km from Tripoli. The deal is reportedly worth $170 million. The agreement was signed in the presence of President of Russian Federation, Dmitry Medvedev and Italy’s Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi.
According to Gazprom’s press statement, the Elephant field contains 110 million tonnes of estimated recoverable oil reserves. The maximum annual oil output is expected to reach some 6 million tonnes.
We should hear statements of concerns on this brutal crackdown from President Medvedev and Prime Minister just about now.
On February 19, the US Embassy in Tripoli issued a Warden Message to advise U.S. citizens of reported protests and violence in the Eastern Libyan cities of Benghazi, Ajdabiya, Al-Bayda, Al Marj, Derna and Tobruk. It recommends that non-essential travel to these cities be deferred.
Anti-government demonstrations have reportedly occurred in Benghazi, Ajdabiya, Al-Bayda, Al Marj, Derna and Tobruk. There are reports of violence, injuries and deaths. The U.S. Embassy wishes to advise U.S. citizens of the occurrence of these demonstrations, the reports of violence, and the potential for further such incidents, and that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can quickly turn confrontational and escalate into violence. In addition, U.S. citizens should be advised that there may be unannounced changes to road access in and nearby those cities. The U.S. Embassy recommends deferring non-essential travel to Benghazi, Ajdabiya, Al-Bayda, Al Marj, Derna and Tobruk.
U.S. citizens are urged to exercise extreme caution, avoid areas where demonstrations are likely to occur such as government offices and public squares, and to immediately leave an area if a demonstration begins. U.S. citizens are strongly encouraged to maintain a high level of vigilance, be aware of local events, and take the appropriate steps to bolster their personal security. U.S. citizens should keep a low profile, exercise caution when traveling around the country, and avoid crowds and areas where demonstrations may occur.
The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy is located in the Ben Ashour neighborhood on Jeraba Street behind the former Libyan-Swiss Clinic. Our phone numbers are +218 (0)21-337-3250 during business hours or 091-220-5207 (after-hours number for emergencies involving U.S. citizens only).
According to a two year old OIG inspection report of US Embassy Tripoli, post is staffed by 33 direct-hire Americans and 129 LE staff, including the 80 direct-hire local guard force. Embassy Tripoli’s program budget for FY 2008, including diplomatic security, public diplomacy (PD), and representational budgets was approximately $6.1 million.
The consular section provides support for over 500 registered Americans resident in Libya. The actual number of Americans in the country may be hard to pin down because according to the IG, “people do not want to be identified as American or be in contact with the Embassy.”
The 2008 IG report indicates that “maintaining and enhancing Libya’s cooperation in the Global War on Terror is one of the Embassy’s principal priorities. This is an area where U.S. and Libyan interests coincide, because, in the Libyan view, our cooperative efforts enhance regime stability.”
Consular relations was described as “poor,” and points to the limits and delays on Libyan visas for American citizens. Underscoring the difficulties of US diplomats operating under Moammar Gadhafi‘s regime, the inspection team also describes a reporting environment characterized by “official harassment, stringent travel restrictions, and the capricious nature of Libyan Governmental and quasi-government contacts.” On human rights, the ability to investigate is limited as “the Government of Libya is not interested in engaging on these issues.” The embassy’s political officers’ attempts to gather information for these reports were met with negative reactions from the Government of Libya and translates to more stringent travel restrictions seen by the embassy as “retaliation.”
To recap the troubled history of our US Mission in Tripoli:
The Legation in Tripoli was established Dec 24, 1952, with Andrew G. Lynch as Chargé d’Affaires ad interim. Our first U.S. Ambassador was Foreign Service officer, Henry S. Willard who presented his credentials on Mar 6, 1952 and left post on Jun 24, 1954. In September 25 of that year, the Legation in Libya was raised to Embassy status. Fast-forward to 1972 where the United States withdrew its Ambassador to Libya. All remaining U.S. Government personnel were also withdrawn and the Embassy was closed after a mob attacked and set fire to the Embassy on December 2, 1979. The embassy was burned during protests over allegations that the United States was involved in the Grand Mosque Seizure in Mecca.
Direct diplomatic presence resumed on February 8, 2004 after a 24-year hiatus, with the arrival of U.S. personnel to the U.S. Interests Section in Tripoli. The mission was upgraded to a U.S. Liaison Office on June 24, 2004. On May 31, 2006 the United States and Libya exchanged diplomatic notes confirming the upgrade of the U.S. Liaison Office to a U.S. Embassy. This exchange of notes followed Secretary of State Rice’s announcement and report to the U.S. Congress, on May 15th, of her intent to upgrade diplomatic
representation with Libya.
Career diplomat Gene Cretz was nominated by President Bush in 2007 to be Ambassador to Libya and was finally confirmed on November 20, 2008. For the first time in 36 years, the United States sent am ambassador to Libya. Although there had been multiple news that Ambassador Cretz may be recalled over the WikiLeak cables, he continues to be listed as the chief of mission at US Embassy Libya, and the WH has not announced any nominee as successor.
In 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with Libyan National Security Advisor Dr. Mutassim Qadhafi at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, DC. He is also known as Mutassim Billah, and is the King of King’s 4th son.
Photo from state.gov
In May 2010, the Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Wilson and Libya’s General People’s Committee for Economy, Industry, and Trade Under Secretary Sarkez signed a bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA). On December last year, the two governments meet for the first TIFA talks.
According to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, total two-way trade in 2009 between Libya and the United States was valued at $2.6 billion. Libya is the United States’ 69th-largest goods trade partner. Top U.S. exports to Libya include vehicles, machinery, agricultural products, medical instruments, and iron and steel products. Oil was Libya’s principal export to the United States in 2009.
This is horrifying to watch, a government that turned against the peaceful assembly of its people. Yesterday, Bahrain’s government was reported as saying it used proportional force against the demonstrators. I hate to imagine what its disproportional force looks like.
Today, the BDF was ordered to leave the Pearl Roundabout and the crowd has surged back. Here is an update via NYT:
The government had ceded the square before, on Wednesday, only to return with a deadly assault on Thursday. On Friday, the army opened fire on a group of about 1,000 peaceful demonstrators trying to walk into the square.
The varying responses appeared to reflect an inner turmoil within the government to grapple with a response to the uprising. The confrontation on Friday, with the Bahrain Defense Forces firing on Bahraini citizens in plain light, seemed to be the shock that forced a change in the government’s approach.
On Saturday, it was Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, the son of the king and deputy commander of the military, who ordered troops to leave the square.
We don’t know what exactly President Obama said to the king in his call last night, but we do know that the White House was talking about suspending military licensing to Bahrain. This may have been a case where American pressure helped avert a tragedy and aligned us with people power in a way that in the long run will be good for Bahrain and America alike.
Americans will worry about what comes next, if people power does prevail, partly because Gulf rulers have been whispering warnings about Iranian-influence and Islamists taking over. Look, democracy is messy. But there’s no hint of anti-Americanism out there, and people treated American journalists as heroes because we reflect values of a free press that they aspire to achieve for their country. And at the end of the day, we need to stand with democracy rather than autocracy if we want to be on the right side of history.
To follow the protests sweeping the Middle East and North Africa, check out our list in Twitter:
As Bahrain enters its fourth day of protest, I’ve put together the following quick items below, mostly extracted from the Congressional Research Service report dated January 5, 2011, available via the website of the Federation of American Scientists.
Bahrain is a tiny archipelago of 33 islands with an area of 257 square miles, larger than the Maldives but slightly smaller than Singapore. Take a look at its neighbors.
Map from CIA World Factbook/Regional Map
Its total population as of April 2010 is at 1,234,596 with 54% or 666,172 composed of expatriates.
Has a vibrant middle and working class, largely composed of majority Shiite Muslims — about 70% of the citizenry who are envious of the “ownership class” mostly of Sunni Muslims.
About 25% of the population is age 14 or younger.
The Al Khalifa family, which is Sunni Muslim and generally not as religiously conservative as the leaders of neighboring Saudi Arabia, has ruled Bahrain since 1783.
The country is 81% Muslim, 9% Christian, 10% account for other religions
The U.S. Embassy in Manama, Bahrain’s capital, opened in September 1971. J. Adam Ereli was sworn in as the 15th United States Ambassador of the Kingdom of Bahrain on June 28, 2007. He is due for a rotation but is still listed in state.gov as US Ambassador to Bahrain. US Embassy Manama currently lists Stephanie Williams as Chargé d’Affaires.
Bahrain (and UAE) have been the only Gulf states to deploy their own forces to provide aid to Afghanistan.
On March 2002, President Bush (Presidential Determination 2002-10) designated Bahrain a “major non-NATO ally (MNNA),” a designation that facilitates U.S. arms sales.
In September 2004, the United States and Bahrain signed a free trade agreement (FTA). Implementing legislation was signed January 11, 2006 (P.L. 109-169). In 2005, total bilateral trade was about $780 million, suggesting that trade has expanded significantly following the FTA. In 2009, the United States exported $668 million worth of goods to Bahrain, and imported $463 million in goods from that country.
February 2008 marked the 60th anniversary of a U.S. naval command presence in Bahrain; MIDEASTFOR (U.S. Middle East Force), its successor, NAVCENT (naval component of U.S. Central Command), and the Fifth Fleet (reconstituted in June 1995) have been headquartered there. The Fifth Fleet headquarters is a command facility that now covers over 100 acres, and about 2,300 U.S. personnel, mostly Navy, are assigned there.
The US Congress and successive Administrations, citing Bahrain’s limited income, have supported military assistance to Bahrain’s small force. The main recipient of such assistance is the relatively small Bahrain Defense Force (BDF), which has about 13,000 personnel (plus about 1,200 National Guard).
Bahrain’s total government budget was about $5.6 billion in 2008.
In December 2008, the government made numerous arrests of Shiite demonstrators and accused some of being part of a foreign-inspired “plot” to destabilize Bahrain.
Allegations of torture against Shiite opposition figures are widespread.
Former Iranian parliament speaker Ali Akbar Nateq Nuri, now an advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader, referred to Bahrain as Iran’s 14th province.
Here is the February 16 notice from US Embassy Manama:
As of 1600 hours local time on 16 February, there are no major infrastructure disruptions and demonstrators are neither threatening nor targeting westerners. We are not currently advising extra precautions beyond those listed in our last Demonstration Notice, the Country Specific Information for Bahrain, or the Worldwide Caution available at http://bahrain.usembassy.gov. We will continue to monitor the situation and send out further information as warranted.
Demonstrations are currently expected at:
An ongoing demonstration at the Pearl Roundabout remains peaceful but has disrupted traffic in the area. This demonstration is expected to continue at least through the coming weekend.
A pro-Government demonstration is scheduled from 1500 – 1700, originating near the Diplomat Hotel, crossing the Shaikh Hamad Causeway along Airport Ave and ending in the vicinity of the airport. Expect heavy traffic delays.
Paddy Power is apparently Ireland’s biggest and most successful bookmaker. It operates both a retail and an online/telephone division and has a chain of licensed betting offices located throughout Ireland and in the UK.
On February 16, the Telegraph reported that the bookmaker has Yemen leading the pack as the next country to topple its leader. It also installed Jordan at 9/4 as the second favorite to fall with Algeria at 7/2. Today, Yemen’s odds remain at 15/8/ but changed to 11/4 for Jordan, with Algeria and Morocco tied at 4/1. Bahrain, which is facing Egypt-style unrest, was called a good bet by the Telegraph and its 8/1 a “generous odds.” The more oppressive regimes of Saudi Arabia and Syria have been given longer odds of 20/1, although both countries have seen protests. The odds remain at 20/1 for both countries as of this writing.
Paddy Power’s odds applies to the next country from the list below to have a prime minister/president/monarch/state leader step down due to public protests, according to its website. It must be reported by Sky News, and the bookmaker’s decision is final in settlement.
20/1 Saudi Arabia
Fractional odds are the traditional odds you see in the bookmaker window and are used here. You simply treat them like fractions. If you divide the first number by the second, you will get a multiplier. For example, 20/1 means that whatever you stake on this bet you will receive 20 times your stake back if you win. So, $100 on a 20/1 bet will give you $2000 winnings. For $100 on 15/8 you just need to divide 15 by 8, giving you a multiplier of 1.875. Therefore if you stake $100 at a 15/8 bet you will return winnings of $187.50.
Apparently, bookmaker.com operating out of Cyprus had calculated the odds much earlier than Paddy Power. Called the tackiest press release here for turning real-life drama into sport, the bookmaker also placed Yemen on top of the pack.
After seven years of research and planning, thousands of hours of testing and over fifty champion-level sparring matches, IBM’s Watson is finally ready to face the two greatest Jeopardy! champions in history – Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. The first-ever man vs. machine Jeopardy! competition will air today and the next two days. The grand prize for this competition will be $1 million with second place earning $300,000 and third place $200,000. Rutter and Jennings will donate 50 percent of their winnings to charity, and IBM will donate 100 percent of its winnings to charity.
IBM’s Watson page says that preparing Watson for the Jeopardy! stage posed a unique challenge to the team: how to represent a system of 90 servers and hundreds of custom algorithms for the viewing public.
The result? A dynamic visual avatar based on the smarter planet icon. A speaking voice that clearly pronounces a vast vocabulary. And an answer panel that reveals the system’s top responses and confidence levels. Watch the video IBM – The Face of Watson to find out more about each of these elements.
Last week, PBSNewsHour’s science correspondent Miles O’Brien challenged the machine to a JEOPARDY! duel. Watch Miles, Watson and David Gondek, one of Watson’s many creators, face off over unusual animal phobias, presidential tongue twisters and … laundry detergent … here.
Image via WikipediaWell, when Ambassador Frank Wisner was sent on that important mission to Cairo by the Obama Administration, we wondered out loud if this is President O’s Reagan moment. And if Mr. Wisner was this administration’s, Paul Laxalt sent to tell Mr. Mubarak to “cut and cut cleanly” in the “time has come” moment. Mr. Laxalt, of course, is forever remembered as then President Reagan‘s ultimate messenger to former Philippine dictator, Ferdinand Marcos.
We don’t know what message Mr. Wisner was asked to relay. The BBC reported that he was sent by President Obama to Cairo apparently to urge Mr Mubarak to announce his departure.
Mr. Mubarak, unfortunately, did not hear the message. Or if he heard it, did not know when to cut cleanly. Either that, or there was something wrong with his ears. He could not hear the relayed message and he could not hear the thundering sound from Liberation Square? Could be that he’s hearing everything through the delusion channel? What? The kids in the square are asking him to go, are you nuts? They’re screaming and pleading for him to stay. While the voices are screaming “Leave!, Leave! Leave!”, he could only hear “Save us! Save us! Save us!” Please somebody give him the clear channel.
So anyway, Mr. Wisner was in Cairo … then he was in Munich. And when we saw him on teevee, we had to cover our eyes when he said this:
“We need to get a national consensus around the pre-conditions for the next step forward. The president must stay in office to steer those changes,” he told the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.
“I believe that President Mubarak’s continued leadership is critical – it’s his chance to write his own legacy.
“He has given 60 years of his life to the service of his country, this is an ideal moment for him to show the way forward.”
Video here … we won’t blame you if you want to cover your eyes, too.
According to the BBC, the State Department spokesman PJ Crowley, ever diplomatic said: “We have great respect for Frank Wisner and we were deeply appreciative of his willingness to travel to Egypt last week.”
“He has not continued in any official capacity following the trip. The views he expressed today are his own. He did not co-ordinate his comments with the US government.”
We suspect that Ambassador Wisner won’t get any invite to the WH any time soon.