Slightly more on the “general amnesty” declaration from Assad:
DAMASCUS — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Tuesday decreed a general amnesty for members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood and for political prisoners, but the opposition swiftly dismissed the measure as “too little too late.”
"President Assad has by decree issued an amnesty on all (political) crimes committed before May 31, 2011," the official SANA news agency reported.
"The amnesty applies to all political prisoners as well as to the Muslim Brotherhood."
The announcement, which comes after two months of deadly anti-regime protests, was shrugged off by Syrian opposition activists gathered in Turkey to discuss democratic change and voice support for the revolt.
"This measure is insufficient: we demanded this amnesty several years ago, but it’s late in coming," said Abdel Razak Eid, an activist from the "Damascus Declaration," a reformist group launched in 2005 to demand democratic change.
"We are united under the slogan: the people want the fall of the regime and all those who have committed crimes brought to account. Blood will not have been spilled in vain," he said.
The release of political prisoners has been a central demand of protesters who, inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, have since March 15 been staging almost daily demonstrations against Assad’s autocratic government
So we’re in Afghanistan to bring Freedom and Democracy to the Afghan People, but the President of the country has no power whatsoever to tell us to stop bombing Afghan homes. His decrees are simply requests, “merely symbolic.” Karzai, of course, is speaking not only for himself, but even more so for (and under pressure from) the Afghan People: the ones we’re there to liberate, but who — due to their strange, primitive, inscrutable culture and religion — are bizarrely angry about being continuously liberated from their lives: “Karzai’s statements … underscored widespread anger among Afghans over the deaths of noncombatants at the hands of foreign forces.”
“Sarah Palin represents a dangerous force in American culture that is startlingly similar to the grandiose hyper-patriotic militarism that Hitler brought to Germany during his rise to power. We have better things to do in this nation than go down some twisted path of vengeance-seeking in the name of lost glory. I hope that Sarah Palin’s competitors on the right will stand up to her American fascist themes and call her out for what she is: a half-educated TV performer unqualified for high political office. The true shame of this country is that we have to take a clown like Sarah Palin seriously.”—James Howard Kunstler
Florida’s Rick Scott and Ohio’s John Kasich are currently the leading contenders for the title of the most unpopular governor in America, according to a recent Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey. (A mere 32 percent of respondents approve of Scott, while just 33 percent support Kasich. A separate Quinnipiac poll puts Scott’s approval even lower, at 29 percent.) Michigan’s Rick Snyder is struggling with a 33 percent approval rating, and in Wisconsin, 43 percent approve of Scott Walker, PPP found—down 3 points from February and 9 from Election Day 2010. Only 41 percent of respondents gave Iowa’s Terry Branstad a thumb’s up. Even New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a darling of the GOP, has seen his approval plummet in recent weeks, according to a recent PublicMind released by Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistan Bureau Chief of the Asia Times Online, has been found dead near his car in Sarai Alamgir, about 200 kilometres from Islamabad. The body, according to reports, showed “signs of torture.”
This is a serious loss—not just for his family, which must mourn a senseless death, but for people trying to understand the inexplicable militancy in Pakistan. He often had incredible sources, embedding with the insurgency inside Pakistan and Afghanistan and bringing to light narratives, perspectives, and stories no one could even hope to touch. Shahzad also seemed to have close ties to the ISI, and he performed an invaluable service reflecting those views to the outside world.
Shahzad, in other words, helped us start to understand why things happen in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Beyond his value as a human being—which means already that he couldn’t ever deserve to be abducted off the road and tortured to death—Syed Saleem Shahzad lived his life reporting things no one else would or could. And for that, we should celebrate what he accomplished.
In a hyper-individualised society, it is no surprise that climate action has been focused up to now on personal responsibility to limit consumption. We receive typically about three thousand adverts every day to consume, so green consumption bolsters that. The mentality is that the problem is one of individual and consumer habits, and that the answer to the climate crisis is lifestyle changes. This reinforces the idea that our primary identity is as a consumer, and reinforces a system that is the main problem. How can we recover and assert a system based on us as human beings rather than consumers?
In Rome, the eight officers, including five generals, appeared at an Italian government-arranged news conference, saying they were part of a group of up to 120 military officials and soldiers who defected from Gaddafi in recent days.
The defections come two months after that of Libyan foreign minister and former espionage chief Moussa Koussa and the resignation of senior diplomat Ali Abdussalm Treki.
In Rome, one of the defecting officers, who identified himself as General Oun Ali Oun, told reporters: “What is happening to our people has frightened us.
"There is a lot of killing, genocide … violence against women. No wise, rational person with the minimum of dignity can do what we saw with our eyes and what he asked us to do."
"They attacked, shot at people, burned their tents. The square had a big stage to make speeches and to make plays and songs, loudspeakers and this sort of thing.
"They killed them [protesters]… and at 0300 [0100 GMT], they brought bulldozers and finished it all. There is nothing there. They are even cleaning it so no-one can guess that there was anything like that before."
Activist Bushra al-Maqtari told AFP news agency: “This was a massacre. They have dragged the wounded off to detention centres from the streets.”
Another medical source said some of the wounded had been run over by bulldozers.
GOP leaders argue that the budget deficit is the great moral issue of our day and requires great austerity.
Yet just before Memorial Day, GOP lawmakers unveiled their bold new economic program. You guessed right: more tax cuts for millionaires, billionaires, and global corporations.
The Republicans’ plan calls for reducing the top income tax rate on millionaires and big corporations from 35 percent to 25 percent — and slashing taxes on income from wealth by cutting the taxes on capital gains and dividends. The plan would accelerate the use offshore tax havens for corporations to move profits overseas to avoid U.S. taxes.
Combined with proposed cuts in Medicare, college aid, environmental protection, elder services, and children’s health care, you get a pretty stark picture of the kind of America GOP leaders would like the bottom 98 percent of us to live in.
Twitter has been forced to hand over the personal details of a British user in a libel battle that could have huge implications for free speech on the web.
The social network has passed the name, email address and telephone number of a south Tyneside councillor accused of libelling the local authority via a series of anonymous Twitter accounts. South Tyneside council took the legal fight to the superior court of California, which ordered Twitter, based in San Francisco, to hand over the user’s private details.
It is believed to be the first time Twitter has bowed to legal pressure to identify anonymous users and comes amid a huge row over privacy and free speech online.
Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, has called on Syrians to support president Bashar al-Assad and enter into dialogue with the government to end weeks of ongoing protests across Syria.
Nasrallah, speaking via video link from an undisclosed location on Wednesday, made the remarks in an address marking the 11th anniversary of “Liberation Day”.
The date marks the end of Israel’s 22-year occupation of southern Lebanon.
Here’s the “your leader will give you the freedom he thinks you deserve and this is for your own good, believe me, just be patient” moment:
"Bashar is serious about carrying out reforms but he has to do them gradually and in a responsible way; he should be given the chance to implement those reforms," Nasrallah told supporters gathered in the village of Nabi Sheet in the eastern Bekaa Valley.
Rights groups have accused authorities in Syria of killing more than 1,000 people since protests against Assad’s Baathist government began in March.
Nasrallah’s comments are his first on the protests against Hezbollah’s ally in Damascus.
“This is one of the tricks the president is using to convince the west that al-Qaeda is spreading everywhere in Yemen. He has declared that al-Qaeda is going to take three provinces. The majority of the Yemenis believe that these are not al-Qaeda; they are just militants, gunmen belonging to the regime and they are under control and he uses them whenever he wants.”—Amin Al Himyari, a Yemen analyst, dismissed reports that al-Qaeda had occupied Zanjibar. Yemeni gunmen alleged to be al-Qaeda fighters have reportedly taken control of the capital of the southern Abyan province. A resident said around 300 fighters entered the southern coastal town of Zinjibar on Friday and took over “everything” in the area. (source)
Seppia asked a Moroccan drug dealer to arrange sexual encounters with young and vulnerable boys. “I do not want 16-year-old boys but younger. Fourteen-year-olds are O.K. Look for needy boys who have family issues.”
“The real mass media are basically trying to divert people. “Let them do something else, but don’t bother us (us being the people who run the show). Let them get interested in professional sports, for example. Let everybody be crazed about professional sports or sex scandals or the personalities and their problems or something like that. Anything, as long as it isn’t serious. Of course, the serious stuff is for the big guys. ‘We’ take care of that.”—Noam Chomsky (via noleadersplease)
$90 millionthe amount Hosni Mubarak and other Egyptian leaders were fined for their role in shutting down Internet and mobile phone service for five days
$34 millionthe size of the fine Mubarak has to pay personally, an amount that has to be paid immediately to the country’s national treasury source
» A fine still owed, appeal or not? The fine, which the judge ordered must be paid now, still must be paid even if Mubarak and the other defendants appeal the decision. Legal analyst Aly Hassan puts it as such: ”The court ordered an immediate payment and the fine may be increased by the state if the damages increase during the year as compensation for lost revenue.” When Egypt’s Internet went down in January, it was an unprecedented event on the world stage — never before had anyone thought that a political leader had the power to shut the whole thing down.
Bahrain’s state news agency says military prosecutors have asked the country’s highest court to review two death penalty sentences linked to anti-government protests.
A special security court issued the sentences last month for four people convicted of killing two policemen during the unrest. Two of the sentences were reduced to life in prison and two death sentences were upheld.
Bahrain’s general military prosecutor told the official Bahrain News Agency on Thursday that the capital punishment verdicts will be re-examined by the civilian Court of Cassation. No timeframe was given.
Reading the “House Republican Plan for America’s Job Creators” (PDF) is an exercise in wonderment: you wonder what the GOPers actually propose. Several of the “Republican Solutions” are a bit vague. “After a systematic review of our visa system, the Congress should undertake prudent reforms,” reads one “solution.” Another “solution”: “We will work to control the federal deficit to assure investors and entrepreneurs that our nation’s elected leaders are finally getting serious about paying off the debt over time.” Details? Apparently, the GOP view was, why bother?
The GOP plan boiled down to its essence is rather retro: Roll back regulation, lower taxes, pass free trade agreements, shrink the US debt, and boost energy production. In other words, the GOP’s overall agenda for the past three decades. There’s nothing in this plan that is specific regarding the current jobs crisis, nothing to address such key issues as long-term unemployment, skyrocketing youth unemployment, the war on unemployment benefits in the states (PDF), the use and efficacy of job retraining for laid-off workers, or the polarization of the American work force. It’s empty rhetoric, recycled talking points, and campaign slogans.
I asked myself the same questions upon hearing the news of Mladic’s capture and imminent trial:
The NYT says that, for Europe, Mladic’s arrest ”has a resonance on the magnitude of the killing of Osama bin Laden for Americans.” That’s understandable, as the crimes of which Mladic is accused are at least as grave and serious as those bin Laden allegedly committed. Mladic is almost certainly responsible for more deaths than the Al Qaeda leader was. There is probably less doubt about his guilt worldwide than there was (and is) about bin Laden’s. And when he was found, Mladic “had two pistols with him” (though “he made no attempt to use” them).
In light of all that, what’s the point of arresting Mladic and putting him on trial? Why is that considered “bringing him to justice”? Why not just pump his skull full of bullets and dump his corpse into the ocean, and then proclaim that “justice has been done”? For those who have embraced the idea that we are “at war” with Al Qaeda, one could argue that that “war” is still ongoing while the Bosnian war has long been over, but, beyond legalisms, why is that a difference that matters? If “justice” demands that this heinous Serbian war criminal be arrested and tried before being punished, why was the same not true for bin Laden?
“The idea that churches can tackle national poverty, take care of those who are ill, and rebuild communities after natural disasters requires a spoonful of bad moral theology and a cup of dishonesty.”—“Let the Churches Do It” Is a Deceptive Myth
While this was not a good week for Barack Obama, and was a very good one for Binyamin Netanyahu, it also can be a salutary occasion for Palestinians and Arabs. It should finally cure those still infected with the diseased notion that they have anything to gain by bending to the importuning of American diplomacy. It should alleviate any doubt that there is any reason to avoid seeking entirely new means to achieve Palestinian national aims. Justice and liberation for the Palestinians, and peace for the entire region, will not come from following the course of the last two decades: exclusive reliance on the United States. If this week in Washington did not make that crystal clear to even the most deluded Palestinian, presumably nothing will.
In a visit to Pakistan today to reset strained U.S.-Pakistani relations in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated that the U.S. has no evidence that any senior Pakistani officials knew bin Laden was hiding in the country. But, according a New York Timesreport this morning,U.S. officials have uncovered evidence that bin Laden considered cutting a deal with those very Pakistani officials shortly before Navy SEALs killed him.
Messages between the al-Qaeda leader and his top operations chief—seized from bin Laden’s Abbotobad compound—discuss a deal in which al-Qaeda would cease attacks in Pakistan if Pakistani authorities protected bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders, though U.S. officials stress there’s no indication that bin Laden’s aides brought the idea to Pakistani military or intelligence operatives
All of this is significant because both the Bush administration and the Obama administration have denied this narrative to various degrees. The CFTC only recently admitted that speculation played a role in the 2008 mess, having originally (and stubbornly) blamed supply and demand issues. Subsequent analyses have shown that the Saudi position, that worldwide demand for oil never increased nearly enough to account for the gigantic 2008 price spike, was almost certainly correct.
“What we’re witnessing now is a battle between the two most powerful families in Yemen, a conflict that has been brewing for several years which because of Saleh’s stubbornness has come to its head,” said Abdullah al-Faqah, professor of politics at Sana’a University. “This was a foolish fight for him [Saleh] to pick.”
“Then they would choose certain detainees randomly and drag them a bit away from the others so that they have enough space to beat them hard. One came to me as I was sitting on my knees, placed his shoe on my head and forced it down until my face touched the floor. He asked me: ‘Who is your master?’ I said: ‘Bashar al-Assad.’ He left me. The same thing happened to my friend, but the soldier banged my friend’s head on the floor with his shoe until he bled from his nose and mouth. He kept asking him, ‘Who is your God?’ and did not leave him until he said: ‘Bashar al-Assad.’
“If the blindfold slipped down, one of them would hit me and tie it up. When anyone of us asked for water, a soldier would throw some on our head and prevent us from drinking. If anyone asked to go to the toilet, they would say: ‘Pee in your pants.’ And some later told me that they peed in their trousers. You could see the big stains.
“I remember hearing a man pleading with them as he cried, saying that he had asthma, but they didn’t care.
“We all stayed like that, sitting on our knees, beaten badly and sworn at from around 2pm until 5.30pm.”
The final communiqués haven’t been written. But the word on the street is that when leaders of the Group of 8 industrialized countries meet in France this week, they will claim that wealthy countries have come close to fulfilling their 2005 promise to boost annual development aid by $50 billion by 2010. They are not even in the ballpark.