No one in the Middle East will be studying Ukraineâs violent tragedy with more fascination â and deeper concern â than President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
Good Judges exist. Not often. But MUCH more often than good politicians…
A Queens attorney didn’t do much to help his client yesterday when he argued that his defendant’s hefty sentence for murdering a transgender woman should be reserved for someone who kills “certain classes of individuals."
Last month, 32-year-old Rasheen Everett was convicted of the 2010 murder of Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar, a transgender prostitute. Prosecutors said Everett, who has a history of abuse, choked the 29-year-old Gonzalez-Andujar to death allegedly after he discovered she had male genitalia, bleaching her body and fleeing her Queens apartment with her camera, suitcase, keys, laptop, coat and cell phone. “He said he choked her until she wasn’t breathing," the prosecution’s witness, Darius Ferguson, told the court.
But at Everett’s sentencing hearing yesterday—at which he was served a sentence of 29 years to life—defense attorney John Scarpa caught the ire of the judge when he argued against the victim’s character. “Shouldn’t that [sentence] be reserved for people who are guilty of killing certain classes of individuals?" he reportedly asked, adding, "Who is the victim in this case? Is the victim a person in the higher end of the community?”
Scarpa says he was speaking about the victim’s history, not her status as a transgender person. “He himself was guilty of attempted murder," he told us, referring to Gonzalez-Andujar’s HIV-positive status as a prostitute, and detailing her history of drug use. "I thought it was loathsome for the judge to say this was a good person.”
But Queens Supreme Court Justice Richard Buchter, who described Everett as “coldhearted and violent menace to society," didn’t take too kindly to Scarpa’s argument. "This court believes every human life in sacred," he said. "It’s not easy living as a transgender, and I commend the family for supporting her.”
This wasn’t the defense’s first misstep in the trial; in October, during a cross-examination of one of Everett’s ex-girlfriends in October, Scarpa accidentally allowed the witness to reveal more of the defendant’s history of abuse. “Our breakup was because he choked me,” she said when Scarpa asked her why their relationship ended. “I dislike him for what he did to me.” A juror later told the Post that the admission “didn’t close the case for me at that point, I wanted to be fair, but it did for some of the other jurors.”
In latest row between Israel and EU, Romania refuses to allow its workers to build illegal settlements in the West Bank.
This is the equivalent of a nation not allowing its people to enforce apartheid. Or support genocide. Congrats, Romania, you are awesome.
“If Syria falls into the hands of America, Israel and Takfiris [Sunni extremists], the resistance will be besieged and Israel will enter Lebanon and impose its will.” This is what Nasrallah said on the huge screen erected in the town of Mashgara on the 13th anniversary of south Lebanon’s liberation from Israeli occupation on Saturday night. What he meant was that if Assad falls, Hezbollah’s own political support and weaponry – originating in Iran – will come to an end. And then there will be no more Hezbollah to drive out the Israelis when they return.
And before we bellow with hollow laughter, let’s just remember that the destruction of the Islamic Republic of Iran – as a theological state created by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 – is currently the be-all and end-all of US and Israeli policy towards the country once called Persia. The 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah was an attempt to destroy Iran’s Shia ally in Lebanon. The battle against Assad – a struggle supported by the US, the EU and those wonderful, freedom-loving demo¬cracies in the Gulf – is an attempt to strike down Iran’s only Arab ally. western-supported rebel battle for Syria is therefore a proxy war against Iran. No wonder Hezbollah has come clean about their involvement."
Robert Fist for The Independent
The most simple two paragraph breakdown of US policy in the Middle East ATM
There comes a time when it is appropriate to ask questions like “what got me here.” Not here in life. I’m 24. I am decidedly not having a midlife crisis. But here, physicially, where I am.
It would seem that my current existance in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, hanging out before catching a prop plane to Somalia is absolutely the perfect time to ask that question. Why do I travel the way that I do? How do I, or, if I want to project myself on an entire community (always appropriate) we as travellers, relate to the places I/we drift through. What do we hope to gain? What purpose do these places serve in our own narratives?
An amazing travel companion of mine, Pablo, once asked such a question. We were passing through Popayan, Colombia, and discussing other parts of the country that we had been to separately. Which places were “worth going to,” and which were simply… “not.”
“Isn’t it weird how we just fucking… consume places?” Pablo asked.
“Huh?!” was my response as I alternated between a beer and some sort of delicious pastry I had recently come across. Consuming places wasn’t really what was on my mind at the time. Consuming alcohol and food took priority.
“I don’t know. We just… fly or bus or hitch-hike or whatever to these countries or cities and smile at how different things are like we’re in… fucking Epcot Center or something?”
I half shrugged off the question at the time. It was interfering with my consumption of Popayan. This conversation came at the tail end of 11 months of travel, my longest stretch of unadulterated backpacking to date. I had spent a few months in Scandinavia and on the Iberian Peninsula, worked my way through the Mediterranean Middle East from Istanbul to Siwa, in Egypt’s West, and was somewhere in the middle of my five months travelling the vast majority of Spanish speaking South America. It was one of the best years of my life, and I certainly didn’t feel a strong inclination to unpack my situation. My identity at that time was as a traveller (it still might be, I’m not sure), and, like most people when they feel any sort of threat to their identities, I shut down and defended it.
And, here I am, years later. Spending my 11 day Spring Break from my teaching job in the Bronx laying around in Ethiopia. It’s my first time back to Sub-Saharan Africa since I spent 4 months between the DRC, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania in the summer of 2009. I’ve travelled a lot in between then and now, but, more-so than I have felt this way in the last year or so, I really feel like I’ve stepped back into my old life, minus a few critical bits, my skin is no longer conditioned to the desert sun, despite my attempts to compensate with sunscreen.
I’ve spent my days talking to exceptionally friendly locals, negotiating Somaliland visas at the only existing Somaliland Consul (hence my presence in Addis) vacillating between expat hangouts (the German Beer Garden has been a favorite) and bumming around with the locals in share taxis. Tomorrow I have another day of the same. I’m not sightseeing at high speed. I’m not visiting friends. I don’t know a single fucking person. I cannot believe I have only been here for two days. Time, at least the way we measure it with our 11 day vacations or 5 day work weeks, becomes less and less relivant.
Why do we do it?
I remember an article in Lonely Planet Magazine about the benefits of travel. It mentions travel making you younger, because it makes time slow down, like when you were a kid and a week seems like an eternity. I think I buy that. But let’s be honest. We don’t travel to make time slow down.
I personally don’t buy into travelling as an escape, either. A lot of the non-travellers in my life are only able to understand my love for the… hobby? Lifestyle? What the fuck is it? By asking me what I am running from. What I’m afraid of. And while, like just about everyone, there’s a lot in the world and in my future that makes me a bit nervous, I’ve never felt like I was running away from myself. I have felt like I was trying to escape the constraints of my situation. That I’ve done.
Some old candy bar advert was centered around guys getting asked tough questions by their girlfriends, and buying a moment to think their response over by shoving a… twix? Snickers?… Into their mouths. Real, long haul travel is kind of the twix moment for our life decisions. It is literally time off of a pre-determined path to re-invent ourselves, not really in the present but in the future. It’s a chance for us to meet people who are of radicially different backgrounds than ourselves, whether we mean the people we are travelling with or the people we encounter while we pass through their communities.
But that isn’t all of it.
For many travellers, myself included, travel transitions from a string of international experiences to an international lifestyle. There are elements of this in almost every backpacker I know. I cannot count how many times I have had the following conversation:
XXX: “What’s you’re favorite country?”
Me: “That’s a really hard question to answer, I like different places for different reasons.”
XXX: “OK. Where could you see yourself living?”
And there it is. The liberation that goes beyond the temporary. I guess it makes sense. As travel becomes more and more of a lifestyle, and the countries that issue our passports become less and less relevant to our day to day lives, with international bank accounts set up to get paid from jobs overseas and without an apartment at home full of furniture, we start to think about where we could see ourselves settling down.
I have this list, a lot of us do. For me, though, I think it is far less about escapism than it is about control.
Come on. The Westerners of our generation have grown up to national economies imploding, unemployment looming at the end of university, international warfare we didn’t necessarily sign onto, and a digital revolution that makes it more and more possible to keep in touch and handle our affairs from anywhere in the world. There is less that makes life at “home” desireable, and far more equipment available to make our transitions to expat life as smooth and flawless as possible.
Even this short trip would be impossible without these technologies. I have graded student work on the stopovers. There’s wifi on my intercontinental flights so that when I get back to Manhattan I can rush straight to a dentists appointment, my work already uploaded and available to my team. My sister gets married in California three days after I get back. The shirt I need for my suit will be waiting for me in an Amazon locker a five minute walk from my apartment when I get back into the country. How’s that for portability. How’s that for control? I can be on a beach in Somalia, choreographing a bunch of tasks to make my personal and professional life run efficiently.
Beyond our collective experience, my childhood was a combination of interstate moves every few years, a rotating door of people living in our home, with the odd terminal illness or abuse case rocking the house from time to time. I never really thought of it before, but more than anything, I think this is what’s shaped me. It’s why I’ve always made sure to have access to enough cash to get away and at least make the first moves in the direction of starting over. It’s why I have backup plans around the world… places I’d go if my job fell through or became unacceptably unworkable. I’ve seen way too many people fall into the seemingly inevitable trajectories of their lives, and that isn’t what I want for myself. So I’ve made sure there was always an escape option.
There’s different degrees of this, of course. Somalia, it may surprise you to know, is not a place that I’d rush to move to. It’s a break from life. From the hustle and bustle. A twix moment. But it’s more than that. A reaffermation of freedom. Of the fact that there are doors open. A chance to challenge myself. And yeah. To lay on a beach, 8,000 miles from home, and read a book.
As if this global trend seems to ever end….
Tunisia: Murder most foul
Assassination of opposition leader Shokri Belaid highlights a string of beatings and killings since country’s uprising.Yasmine Ryan Last Modified: 07 Feb 2013 14:46
Tunisians of all political stripes are in shock after the killing of Shokri Belaid, leader of the Democratic Patriots
Of all the political turmoil the country has experienced since the 2010-11 uprising, the slaying of the leftist politician - a well-known opposition figure and vocal critic of the ruling coalition - marks a new low.
The resulting crisis has led to the collapse of the government, and could potentially doom the election that was set to take place later this year.
Many say the killing is unsurprising, and that the Islamist-led government bears a heavy responsibility for tolerating and fuelling a deep partisan divide and a culture of political violence.
A star of the Popular Front, a leftist political alliance of which his party is a member, Belaid had many supporters among those who accused the current government of failing to deliver on social justice and economic development.
He was a figurehead of the protests in Siliana last November, when tensions over unemployment and stalling economic progress erupted. Ali Laarayedh, Tunisia’s interior minister, accused Belaid of inciting the protesters against the police. Belaid in turn said the interior ministry was guilty of tyranny.
Belaid, a lawyer and activist, had also been at the forefront of the early lawyer’s protests in December 2010, which grew to become the uprising that toppled the Tunisian government in January 2011. The Ennahdha movement and most of the country’s opposition parties did not give the uprising their explicit backing until the last days.
Wednesday’s shooting is the second suspected killing of an opposition politician since the uprising, and one of many violent attacks.
n October, Lotfi Naqdh - a regional leader of the secularist conservative Nida Tounes Party - was beaten to death in the southern town of Tatouine. His death followed an outbreak of violence between his party and government supporters, the first big flare-up of interparty violence.
The government claimed he died of a heart attack, but an autopsy last week confirmed that Naqdh had died as a result of lynching at the hands of government supporters. Said Chebli, the head of the Tatouine branch of Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution is one of the people implicated in Naqdh’s killing.
Ali Fares, a MP of the ruling Ennahdha party, called on Thursday for Chebli and other suspects in the mob lynching to be released. “These people came out into the streets for the noble cause of defending the revolution, and instead of paying them homage, they have been incarcerated,” Fares declared.
Many opposition parties, human rights groups and activists have called for the dissolution of the leagues, which some compare to militia groups. Belaid was among these critics, arguing that the groups were reinforcing a deep partisan divide and trying to assert ownership over what the revolution meant.
For its part, Ennahdha argues they are a counterforce against its secular opponents, particularly the UGTT, the mighty national union. Members of the league were accused of attacking the UGTT headquarters last December.
The media, viewed by many government supporters as being anti-Islamist, have also been targeted. At a protest against the country’s media in Sousse in December, for instance, demonstrators reportedly chanted the slogan “News, we want your skin!”
Exactly who is responsible for the assassination is unclear, and members of Ennahdha have also been targeted by political violence. Abdelfattah Mourou, the party’s co-founder and an advocate of a progressive form of political Islam, was reportedly assaulted by a group of Salafists a week ago.
The UK-based rights group Amnesty International has called for an independent investigation into Belaid’s death, and for the authorities to take a more proactive stance against political violence.
“Today’s shocking killing must serve as a wake-up call to the authorities. It is their duty to protect all individuals, including those who criticise the government or Tunisia’s leading Ennahdha party, from violence. No group, regardless of its affiliation, can be above the law,” Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director at Amnesty International, said in a press statement.
Said Aidi, a member of the executive committee of the Republican Party and a former minister, said that opposition parties had been calling on the interior ministry for months to put an end to inflammatory partisan language against opposition figures.
Aidi, a conservative secularist, told Al Jazeera in a phone interview that the government was “totally responsible” for Belaid’s death because of what he described as its indifference to the intimidation of opposition activists and politicians.
“There have been incitations to murder made in the mosques against figures including Shokri Belaid,” he said. Aidi says he was himself beaten by groups he believes were linked to Ennahdha, during a peaceful march commemorating the Tunisian union leader and political philosopher Farhat Hached last December 5. He suffered a skull fracture and serious eye injury, and says his aggressors escaped with impunity.
"These are fascist thugs," he told Al Jazeera, adding that in the past few days, many opposition movements have had their meetings disrupted by the groups.
But Ennahdha denies any links to Wednesday’s killing, which it has firmly denounced. “This is a sad day for Tunisia … we’ve never had anything like this in our history,” said Zied Ladhari, an Ennahdha MP. “Even if there are political divergences between us, we can’t accept such acts of violence against those who don’t share our ideas.”
He told Al Jazeera in a phone interview that a serious investigation would be needed to uncover who was behind the killing, and that those behind it were trying to derail Tunisia’s democratic transition.
China’s demand for illegal wood is devastating rare forests and killing rare species across Asia. Al Jazeera does not hold back in this in-depth look at China’s blatant ignorance of environmental destruction.
China’s skyrocketing demand for timber to fuel its economic boom is driving illegal logging and contributing to the destruction of forests in Asia and Africa, needed now more than ever to halt climate change, a new environmental report says.
China is now the biggest international consumer of illegal timber, according to the report from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), which adds that the trade is causing the destruction of vast tracts of forest in developing countries.
Globally, the trade in illegal timber is worth between $30 billion and $100 billion a year, according to an Interpol and United Nations Environment Programme report.
Warning: Article is not for the weak-kneed…
Particularly worthwhile for anyone who’se read The Bottom Billion or other Collier work.
But really, if you’re interested in world politics/events, read them:
List of some of the 10 worst corporate income tax avoiders.
1) Exxon Mobil made $19 billion in profits in 2009. Exxon not only paid no federal income taxes, it actually received a $156 million rebate from the IRS, according to its SEC filings. (Source: Exxon Mobil’s 2009 shareholder report filed with the SEC here.)
2) Bank of America received a $1.9 billion tax refund from the IRS last year, although it made $4.4 billion in profits and received a bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department of nearly $1 trillion. (Source: Forbes.com here, ProPublica here and Treasuryhere.)
3) Over the past five years, while General Electric made $26 billion in profits in the United States, it received a $4.1 billion refund from the IRS. (Source: Citizens for Tax Justice hereand The New York Times here. Note: despite rumors to the contrary, the Times has stood by its story.)
4) Chevron received a $19 million refund from the IRS last year after it made $10 billion in profits in 2009. (Source: See 2009 Chevron annual report here. Note 15 on page FS-46 of this report shows a U.S. federal income tax liability of $128 million, but that it was able to defer $147 million for a U.S. federal income tax liability of $-19 million)
5) Boeing, which received a $30 billion contract from the Pentagon to build 179 airborne tankers, got a $124 million refund from the IRS last year. . (Source: Paul Buchheit, professor, DePaul University, here and Citizens for Tax Justice here.)
6) Valero Energy, the 25th largest company in America with $68 billion in sales last year received a $157 million tax refund check from the IRS and, over the past three years, it received a $134 million tax break from the oil and gas manufacturing tax deduction. (Source: the company’s 2009 annual report, pg. 112, here.)
7) Goldman Sachs in 2008 only paid 1.1 percent of its income in taxes even though it earned a profit of $2.3 billion and received an almost $800 billion from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department. (Source: Bloomberg News here, ProPublica here, Treasury Department here.)
8) Citigroup last year made more than $4 billion in profits but paid no federal income taxes. It received a $2.5 trillion bailout from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury. (Source: Paul Buchheit, professor, DePaul University, here, ProPublica here, Treasury Department here.)
9) ConocoPhillips, the fifth largest oil company in the United States, made $16 billion in profits from 2006 through 2009, but received $451 million in tax breaks through the oil and gas manufacturing deduction. (Sources: Profits can be found here. The deduction can be found on the company’s 2010 SEC 10-K report to shareholders on 2009 finances, pg. 127,here)
10) Over the past five years, Carnival Cruise Lines made more than $11 billion in profits, but its federal income tax rate during those years was just 1.1 percent. (Source: The New York Times here)
Our country & our world can no longer afford to be run by these corporations!
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