America’s decline and the assault on women’s freedom and the environment

April 18, 2011 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

The right’s target list speaks volumes: from public broadcasters and scientists to health providers, unions, academics and women. Nothing drives the right into greater paroxysms of rage than NPR and Planned Parenthood, climate scientists and teachers unions.

How destructive is the assault on these institutions?

Start with Fareed Zakaria’s TIME article about America’s decline:

The following rankings come from various lists, but they all tell the same story. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), our 15-year-olds rank 17th in the world in science and 25th in math. We rank 12th among developed countries in college graduation (down from No. 1 for decades). We come in 79th in elementary-school enrollment. Our infrastructure is ranked 23rd in the world, well behind that of every other major advanced economy. American health numbers are stunning for a rich country: based on studies by the OECD and the World Health Organization, we’re 27th in life expectancy, 18th in diabetes and first in obesity. Only a few decades ago, the U.S. stood tall in such rankings. No more. There are some areas in which we are still clearly No. 1, but they’re not ones we usually brag about. We have the most guns. We have the most crime among rich countries. And, of course, we have by far the largest amount of debt in the world.

Not to mention staggering stats like this, from the LA Times:

One in five Californians struggled to afford enough food for themselves and their families last year, according to a new report by the Food Research and Action Center. The rate in California was slightly higher than the national average of 18%.

The American right is fiercely wedded to the notion of American exceptionalism, but there’s nothing exceptional about undermining women’s rights. Nor is there anything exceptional about blithely ignoring the scientific consensus that we’re endangering humanity’s future by ravaging the environment.

From women’s rights to climate change and a host of other issues, the right is setting America back. I wrote about it in a recent post, comparing America’s decline with the uprisings in the Mideast and North Africa:

The contrast between events in the Middle East and the political reality here in America is striking: as the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere rise by the millions to protest injustice, and as governments from Jordan to Syria see the writing on the wall, the United States gives power to a political movement bent on reversing generations of progress.

The GOP and Tea Party, drifting ever rightward, want to strip away health coverage, undermine faith in science, deny the overwhelming consensus on the mortal threat of climate change, give tax breaks to the rich, increase record wealth disparities, abolish women’s reproductive rights, defund public radio, gut gun laws, curtail gay rights, inject religion into government, and much more.

Targeting scientists, academics, public broadcasters, unions, health care providers and women, among others, they willfully misinterpret the Constitution to make specious arguments in favor of reactionary policies and are whipped into a frenzy by millionaire radio and TV blatherers, whose sole mission is to demonize liberals and liberalism — to the point of inciting violence against them.

Democratic leaders, obsessed with wooing “independent” voters, and captives of a toxic Beltway mindset, barely make a stand in the face of this all-out assault. If we fail to see the irony of a Mideast marching into the future while America races into the past, we will pay the price.

It’s the seemingly little things:

Okay, so it’s not exactly earth-shattering green political news — but it’s still indicative of the new anti-environment attitude that’s swept into the US House of Representatives. Four years after our nation’s esteemed governing body decided to stop using one of the most destructive, ungreen materials in existence, our lawmakers have decided it’s time to cancel the program that supported biodegradable packaging, and to bring Styrofoam back.

To the big things:

“We’re broke! We’re broke!” Speaker John Boehner said on Sunday. “We’re broke in this state,” Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin said a few days ago. “New Jersey’s broke,” Gov. Chris Christie has said repeatedly. The United States faces a “looming bankruptcy,” Charles Koch, the billionaire industrialist, wrote in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. It’s all obfuscating nonsense, of course, a scare tactic employed for political ends. …  a substantial part was caused by deliberate decisions by state and federal lawmakers to drain government of resources by handing out huge tax cuts, mostly to the rich. As governments begin to stagger from the self-induced hemorrhaging, Republican politicians like Mr. Boehner and Mr. Walker cry poverty and use it as an excuse to break unions and kill programs they never liked in flush years.

No matter the issue, the right’s reactionary positions are undermining generations of progress. The most egregious example is the shameless attack on women’s rights:

Using small-government, libertarian rhetoric, the Tea Party ushered in a new crop of Republican leaders under the banner of fiscal responsibility. But the aggressive antichoice legislation coming from the new GOP majority in the House makes perfectly clear that belt-tightening deficit reduction is entirely compatible with an older social agenda committed to pushing American women out of the public sphere.

These initiatives are well coordinated and poised to make an enormous impact on women’s lives. House Republicans, joined by ten Democrats, passed Mike Pence’s bill to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which in addition to pregnancy termination provides basic reproductive healthcare, STD testing, birth control and cancer screenings to millions of American women. The Republican Party has also proposed eliminating more than $1 billion from Head Start’s budget. As a result, 157,000 children may go without preschool care.

Meanwhile, the South Dakota legislature has considered a bill justifying homicide in the case of imminent harm to a fetus, a law that critics believe may in effect legalize the murder of abortion providers. Republicans in Arizona have proposed different birth certificates for children born to women who are not US citizens in order to nullify the birthright citizenship established by the Fourteenth Amendment. And Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is poised to eliminate most of the collective bargaining rights of public employees, including nurses, teachers and other pink-collar workers who are disproportionately women.

Put simply, America can’t be ‘number one’ as long as the right chooses to undermine the very entities that make it what it is.

UPDATE: Bob Herbert’s farewell column for the New York Times is a devastating look at America’s skewed priorities:

The U.S. has not just misplaced its priorities. When the most powerful country ever to inhabit the earth finds it so easy to plunge into the horror of warfare but almost impossible to find adequate work for its people or to properly educate its young, it has lost its way entirely. Nearly 14 million Americans are jobless and the outlook for many of them is grim. Since there is just one job available for every five individuals looking for work, four of the five are out of luck. Instead of a land of opportunity, the U.S. is increasingly becoming a place of limited expectations.

…The current maldistribution of wealth is also scandalous. In 2009, the richest 5 percent claimed 63.5 percent of the nation’s wealth. The overwhelming majority, the bottom 80 percent, collectively held just 12.8 percent. This inequality, in which an enormous segment of the population struggles while the fortunate few ride the gravy train, is a world-class recipe for social unrest. Downward mobility is an ever-shortening fuse leading to profound consequences.

A stark example of the fundamental unfairness that is now so widespread was in The New York Times on Friday under the headline: “G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether.” Despite profits of $14.2 billion — $5.1 billion from its operations in the United States — General Electric did not have to pay any U.S. taxes last year.

…Overwhelming imbalances in wealth and income inevitably result in enormous imbalances of political power. So the corporations and the very wealthy continue to do well. The employment crisis never gets addressed. The wars never end. And nation-building never gets a foothold here at home.

UPDATE II: Fred Hiatt goes after climate deniers:

The Republican self-deception that draws the most attention is the refusal to believe that Barack Obama is American-born. But there are Republican doctrinal fantasies that may be more dangerous: the conviction that taxes can always go down, but never up, for example, and the gathering consensus among Republican leaders that human-caused climate change does not exist.

The climate change denialism is a newer part of the catechism. Just a few years ago, leading Republicans — John McCain, Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty among them — not only accepted global warming as real but supported some kind of market-based mechanism to raise the cost of burning fossil fuels. Now polls show declining numbers of Republicans believing in climate change, and a minority of those believing humans are at fault, so the candidates are scrambling to disavow their past positions.

And the New York Times describes the GOP’s eagerness to ravage the environment:

In the past month, the nation’s focus has been on the budget battle in Washington, where Republicans in Congress aligned with the Tea Party have fought hard for rollbacks to the Environmental Protection Agency, clean air and water regulations, renewable energy and other conservation programs.

But similar efforts to make historically large cuts to environmental programs are also in play at the state level as legislatures and governors take aim at conservation and regulations they see as too burdensome to business interests.

When Republicans wrested control across the country last November, they made clear that reducing all government was important, but that cutting environmental regulations was a particular priority.

UPDATE III: Check out these numbers:

It’s almost an unbe­liev­able fig­ure — 916. That’s the amount of leg­is­la­tions that have been intro­duced so far this year, in an attempt to reg­u­late a woman’s repro­duc­tive sys­tem, and we’re only in April.

This infor­ma­tion comes from a report by The Guttmacher Insti­tute, and it finds that 49 states have con­tributed to this num­ber with var­i­ous bills geared towards reg­u­lat­ing Abor­tions and a woman’s right to choose. The report states that in 15 states, the fol­low­ing mea­sures became law:

  • expand the pre-abortion wait­ing period require­ment in South Dakota to make it more oner­ous than that in any other state, by extend­ing the time from 24 hours to 72 hours and requir­ing women to obtain coun­sel­ing from a cri­sis preg­nancy cen­ter in the interim;
  • expand the abor­tion coun­sel­ing require­ment in South Dakota to man­date that coun­sel­ing be pro­vided in-person by the physi­cian who will per­form the abor­tion and that coun­sel­ing include infor­ma­tion pub­lished after 1972 on all the risk fac­tors related to abor­tion com­pli­ca­tions, even if the data are sci­en­tif­i­cally flawed;
  • require the health depart­ments in Utah and Vir­ginia to develop new reg­u­la­tions gov­ern­ing abor­tion clinics;
  • revise the Utah abor­tion refusal clause to allow any hos­pi­tal employee to refuse to “par­tic­i­pate in any way” in an abortion;
  • limit abor­tion cov­er­age in all pri­vate health plans in Utah, includ­ing plans that will be offered in the state’s health exchange; and
  • revise the Mis­sis­sippi sex edu­ca­tion law to require all school dis­tricts to pro­vide abstinence-only sex edu­ca­tion while per­mit­ting dis­cus­sion of con­tra­cep­tion only with prior approval from the state.

Epic irony: Mideast moves forward while America moves backward

February 23, 2011 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

The contrast between events in the Middle East and the political reality here in America is striking: as the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere rise by the millions to protest injustice, and as governments from Jordan to Syria see the writing on the wall, the United States gives power to a political movement bent on reversing generations of progress.

The GOP and Tea Party, drifting ever rightward, want to strip away health coverage, undermine faith in science, deny the overwhelming consensus on the mortal threat of climate change, give tax breaks to the rich, increase record wealth disparities, abolish women’s reproductive rights, defund public radio, gut gun laws, curtail gay rights, inject religion into government, and much more.

Targeting scientists, academics, public broadcasters, unions, health care providers and women, among others, they willfully misinterpret the Constitution to make specious arguments in favor of reactionary policies and are whipped into a frenzy by millionaire radio and TV blatherers, whose sole mission is to demonize liberals and liberalism — to the point of inciting violence against them.

Democratic leaders, obsessed with wooing “independent” voters, and captives of a toxic Beltway mindset, barely make a stand in the face of this all-out assault.

If we fail to see the irony of a Mideast marching into the future while America races into the past, we will pay the price.

UPDATE: The GOP’s mission to deny women’s reproductive rights/freedom is exemplified by this:

One hundred members of Congress (so far) have cosponsored a bill introduced by far right Congressman Joe Pitts (R-PA) called the “Protect Life Act.” They want to “protect life” so much that they have written into the bill a new amendment that would override the requirement that emergency room doctors save every patient, regardless of status or ability to pay.  The law would carve out an exception for pregnant women; doctors and hospitals will be allowed to let pregnant women die if interventions to save them will kill the fetus.

Heinous beyond words.

UPDATE II: More disturbing examples of America’s reverse trajectory…

First:

Georgia State Rep. Bobby Franklin has introduced a 10-page bill that would criminalize some miscarriages, and make abortion in Georgia completely illegal and punishable by death. Basically, it’s everything an “pro-life” activist could want aside from making all women who’ve had abortions wear big red “A”s on their chests.

Second:

For nearly a year, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, Virginia’s crusading Republican attorney general, has waged a one-man war on the theory of man-made global warming. Invoking his subpoena powers, he has sought to force the University of Virginia to turn over the files of a prominent climatology professor, asserting that his research may be marred by fraud. The university is battling the move in the courts. Now his allegations of manipulated data and scientific fraud are resonating in Congress, where Republican leaders face an influx of new members, many of them Tea Party stalwarts like Mr. Cuccinelli, eager to inveigh against the body of research linking man-made emissions to warming.

Third:

In 2010, for the first time in 15 years, more bank branches closed than opened across the United States. An analysis of government data shows, however, that even as banks shut branches in poorer areas, they continued to expand in wealthier ones, despite decades of government regulations requiring financial institutions to meet the credit needs of poor and middle-class neighborhoods.

This raped, dead girl is your sister

February 4, 2011 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

Read this story and imagine you’re reading about your sister – because you are:

A 14-year-old Bangladeshi girl allegedly raped by a much older cousin has died after being publicly flogged for adultery, media reports said. Hena Begum was sentenced to receive 100 lashes by a village council made up of elders and Muslim clerics in the district of Shariatpur, about 35 miles from the capital, Dhaka, the BBC said today. She endured about 80 lashes before collapsing Monday, according to The Daily Star, a Bangladeshi newspaper. Her family took her to a hospital, where she died.

Family members said Hena was raped by a 40-year-old married cousin, The Daily Star said. The man’s family beat up the teen, then accused of her adultery, the newspaper said. The very next day, she was sentenced to the flogging in a fatwa, or religious ruling, issued by the village council under Islamic Shariah law, the BBC said.

Lest anyone think that this is isolated to one religion, one culture or one region, read this.

I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it: the wholesale oppression of women is the single greatest travesty of our time. Each of the victims is  your sister and my sister, not a statistic, not a stranger, but a fellow human with hopes, dreams and feelings. It shatters me that anyone has to experience what Hena went through. We MUST find a way to stop it.

Obama and Egypt: clues and warnings in his 2009 Cairo speech

January 30, 2011 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

The Obama administration is in a tough spot – navigating the treacherous diplomatic and political waters of Egypt’s uprising is no easy task. Supporting the Egyptian people without doing or saying something that could destabilize the region is a careful balancing act.

Still, many Americans and Egyptians yearn for a more forceful stance from the U.S. president.

In June of 2009, I wrote a post about President Obama’s Cairo speech and I’m posting it below to offer some context on how the administration is handling today’s events:

Let Women Wear the Hijab: The Emptiness of Obama’s Cairo Speech
June 4, 2009

I know many will gush over President Obama’s Cairo speech and I’m likely swimming against the tide of the media and my fellow Democrats and progressives. But reading the transcript, I was struck by two things:

1. Aside from a few platitudes, it is disappointingly weak on human rights and specifically women’s rights.

2. It betrays a naiveté, perhaps feigned, about how the Arab world works.

I sometimes preface my posts by explaining that my Mideast perspective is that of an American-Lebanese-Christian-Jew who grew up in Muslim West Beirut at the height (or should I say depth) of the Lebanese civil war. The tumultuous and bloody intersection of religions and geopolitical interests is painfully real to me.

Yes, Obama is targeting the Arab ‘street’ and global public opinion – but to the corrupt regimes that dominate that region of the world, his oration means virtually nothing. Repression and suppression will go on uninterrupted. And to those whose abiding hatred of Israel (and thus America) is absolute, Obama’s words will be seen as empty and hypocritical.

Egyptian blogger Hossam el-Hamalawy explains:

Right before he took off from DC, on what the media has been depicting as some “odyssey,” to address the Muslim World from Cairo, President Obama had described the 81-year-old Egyptian President Mubarak as a “force for stability.” This week Cairo and its twin city Giza have been a showcase of what this “stability” cost.The capital is under occupation. Security troops are deployed in the main public squares and metro stations. Citizens were detained en masse and shops were told to close down in Bein el-Sarayat area, neighboring Cairo University, where Obama will be speaking. In Al-Azhar University, the co-host of the “historical speech,” State Security police raided and detained at least 200 foreign students, held them without charges in unknown locations.

Is there an overarching purpose to Obama’s speech? Is it to repair our image after eight years of a radical rightwing administration? Of course. But if the goal is to repair our image, then how about shunning the barbaric concept of indefinite detention? How about heeding the increasingly distressed calls of those who view the new administration’s actions in the realm of civil liberties as a dangerous, disturbing, and precedent-setting affirmation of Bush’s worst excesses?

Glenn Greenwald writes:

The White House is actively supporting a new bill jointly sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman — called The Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009 — that literally has no purpose other than to allow the government to suppress any “photograph taken between September 11, 2001 and January 22, 2009 relating to the treatment of individuals engaged, captured, or detained after September 11, 2001, by the Armed Forces of the United States in operations outside of the United States.”What kind of a country passes a law that has no purpose other than to empower its leader to suppress evidence of the torture it inflicted on people? Read the language of the bill; it doesn’t even hide the fact that its only objective is to empower the President to conceal evidence of war crimes.

That this exact scenario is now happening in the U.S. is all the more remarkable given that the President who is demanding these new suppression powers is the same one who repeatedly vowed “to make his administration the most open and transparent in history.” After noting the tentative steps Obama has taken to increase transparency, the generally pro-Obama Washington Post Editorial Page today observed: “what makes the administration’s support for the photographic records act so regrettable” is that “Mr. Obama runs the risk of taking two steps back in his quest for more open government.”

What makes all of this even worse is that it is part of a broader trend whereby the Government simply retroactively changes the law whenever it decides it does not want to abide by it.

Glenn has been documenting – and railing against – dozens of similar instances. I echoed his concerns in a recent post:

Setting aside all the campaign slogans about hope and change, what Obama really signifies is a razor sharp break from Bush, Cheney, Yoo, Rice, Rumsfeld, Addington, Libby, Bybee et al. After eight years of damage to the fabric of our Constitution and our nation, the entire point of a new face, a smart, youthful, inspiring Democratic president is to completely and totally reject the Bush years, to reject the lawless behavior, the Orwellian rationales, the blatant disregard of the Constitution. Neglecting to do so, and leaving any doubt about where Democrats stand on these issues, is profoundly detrimental to the country.

Take the issue of women’s rights, addressed in Obama’s Cairo speech with the most tepid language:

“The U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it.”"I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.”

“Now let me be clear: issues of women’s equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, we have seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women’s equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.”

“Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons, and our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity – men and women – to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice. That is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams.”

Is that a joke?

With women being stoned, raped, abused, battered, mutilated, and slaughtered on a daily basis across the globe, violence that is so often perpetrated in the name of religion, the most our president can speak about is protecting their right to wear the hijab? I would have been much more heartened if the preponderance of the speech had been about how in the 21st century, we CANNOT tolerate the pervasive abuse of our mothers and sisters and daughters.

I return to the example of Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow:

13-year old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was stoned to death in Somalia by insurgents because she was raped. Reports indicate that was raped by three men while traveling by foot to visit her grandmother in conflict capital, Mogadishu. When she went to the authorities to report the crime, they accused her of adultery and sentenced her to death. Aisha was forced into a hole in a stadium of 1,000 onlookers as 50 men buried her up to the neck and cast stones at her until she died. When some of the people at the stadium tried to save her, militia opened fire on the crowd, killing a boy who was a bystander.A witness who spoke to the BBC’s Today programme said she had been crying and had to be forced into a hole before the stoning, reported to have taken place in a football stadium. … She said: ‘I’m not going, I’m not going. Don’t kill me, don’t kill me.’ “A few minutes later more than 50 men tried to stone her.” The witness said people crowding round to see the execution said it was “awful”.

Enough with the perpetual campaign. True justice, true peace, these are earned through courageous decisions and bold actions. Real truth to power.

If we are to fix America’s image in the world and if we are to heal the planet’s myriad ills, it will not be done through contrite kumbaya speeches about how we are all one world and how we should all coexist peacefully, no matter whether the remarks are delivered in Cleveland or Cairo. It will be done by leading through example, by righting the many wrongs here at home, by seeking justice and fairness for all, by doing what is right, not saying what sounds pleasing to the media elite and the pliable punditocracy.

The Mask – a chilling look at the abuse of Afghan girls and women

January 3, 2011 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

The greatest travesty of our time is the wholesale abuse and oppression of girls and women. It happens across our planet, in every culture, religion, social and economic class. And it remains mostly unspoken. Afghanistan’s new  TV show, “Niqab” (“The Mask”) brings to light some of the horrors endured by Afghan women:

Her identity safely concealed behind the mask, Saraya said she was forcibly married off to a known rapist, a man with an existing criminal record when she was 15 years old. He was 58. “When my youngest was just four years old, my husband brought women to the house and raped them. “My child asked me: ‘who are these women?’ I could not say anything to my child — my husband would just beat me.”

The most important person in the world

December 18, 2010 by Peter · 4 Comments 

You only have power over people so long as you don’t take everything away from them. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything, he’s no longer in your power – he’s free again. ~Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Do some people matter more than others? In a tabloid culture, an inordinate premium is placed on anyone rich or popular, the antics of celebrities and millionaires receiving more attention than the mortal struggles of women and children.

In the U.S., the gap between fame and obscurity, wealth and poverty, power and powerlessness manifests itself most starkly in centers of influence like Washington, Los Angeles and New York, where jockeying for position is an obsession.  Being invited to the right party, getting the right table at the right restaurant, having the right address, owning the right accoutrements, getting name-checked in the right publication or seen with the right person is of paramount importance.

America is based on the noble idea of equality, but principle and practice are two very different things and some people are more equal than others, with disproportionate privileges and prestige. This holds true across the planet.

Counterintuitively, the most important people in the world are those who have the least, those who are the most oppressed, those who are victims of the worst violence.

We are only as strong and powerful and important as the weakest link in the human chain. When a little girl is gang-raped, when a child wastes away from preventable hunger, when a man is silenced for his beliefs, when a woman dies needlessly in childbirth, when a little boy lives in agony from a preventable disease, we are all weakened, our worth diminished.

When the resources of the rich and famous are put to use to help those in need, it is because the highest moral calling is to give to others, to extend a hand to those who need one.

If character is built on compassion and generosity of spirit, the most important person in the world is the one who most needs our compassion, care and generosity, the person who enables us to improve ourselves by helping them, who gives us value because we value them.

With all the hobnobbing, backslapping, namedropping and idol-worshiping served to us by the media, with the dazzling displays of money and fame and power, let’s never forget who matters most in this world: it is the person to whom we give something of ourselves — and from whom we derive our moral power.

Asia Bibi faces death penalty for “blasphemy” [Updated]

December 1, 2010 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

Sick:

In this village in Pakistan’s Punjab province a tearful 12-year-old girl ponders if the Pakistani government will soon hang her mother. “Whenever I see her picture I cry,” Isham Masih told CNN. “I want my mother back. That’s what I’m praying for.” This month a Pakistani court sentenced Isham’s mother, 45-year-old Asia Bibi, to death, not because she killed, injured or stole, but simply because she said something. Prosecutors say Bibi, who is a Christian, broke Pakistan’s strict blasphemy law by insulting Islam and the prophet Muhammad, a crime punishable by death or life imprisonment according to Pakistan’s penal code.

UPDATE: Falsely accused:

A preliminary investigation shows that a Pakistani Christian woman has been falsely accused of insulting the Prophet Mohammed, a government official said Monday.

“The president asked me to investigate her case and my preliminary findings show she is innocent and the charges against her are baseless,” Pakistani Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti told CNN.

Asia Bibi, who has been jailed for nearly 15 months, was convicted in a Pakistani court earlier this month of breaking the country’s controversial blasphemy law, a crime punishable with death or life imprisonment, according to Pakistan’s penal code. She was sentenced to death.

Bibi filed a petition for mercy Saturday, and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari asked Bhatti to investigate the case, Bhatti said. Bhatti emphasized Monday that he has reached only preliminary conclusions and will submit a final report Wednesday to Zardari’s office.

UPDATE II: Protesters oppose pardon for Pakistani Christian:

Around 250 hard-line Muslims staged a demonstration in the central Pakistani city of Lahore on Wednesday, warning the president not to pardon a Christian woman sentenced to death for insulting Islam.

They also denounced any attempt to change Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which critics say is often misused to persecute Christians like Asia Bibi and other minorities. Her case has prompted outrage from human rights groups and a personal appeal from Pope Benedict XVI for her release.

But hard-line Islamic groups in Pakistan have pushed back and some have even threatened officials in the past who suggested reforming or repealing the blasphemy law. These groups have significant power since politicians from the major parties rely on them for votes.

UPDATE III: Pardon denied:

A Pakistani court has barred President Asif Ali Zardari from pardoning a Christian woman sentenced to death on charges of insulting Islam, in a case that has prompted criticism over the country’s blasphemy law.

Pakistan mother denied presidential pardon for ‘insulting Islam’

Asia Bibi, a Christian, has been sentenced to death after falling foul of the country’s blasphemy law

Asia Bibi, a Christian woman in Pakistan been sentenced to death on charges of insulting Islam Asia Bibi, who has been sentenced to death on charges of insulting Islam. Photograph: Str/APA Pakistani court has barred President Asif Ali Zardari from pardoning a Christian woman sentenced to death on charges of insulting Islam, in a case that has prompted criticism over the country’s blasphemy law.

Inspiring: Anuradha Koirala fights trafficking of Nepal’s women and girls

November 8, 2010 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

A true hero:

Anuradha Koirala is fighting to prevent the trafficking and sexual exploitation of Nepal’s women and girls. Since 1993, she and her group, Maiti Nepal, have helped rescue and rehabilitate more than 12,000 victims.

Koirala: I would like to urge all the human beings around the world: Please close your eyes and imagine these girls are your daughters, and you will feel the pain of being trafficked.

Don’t watch this video of Afghan women

November 8, 2010 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

A terrible reality for Afghan women:

Even the poorest families in Afghanistan have matches and cooking fuel. The combination usually sustains life. But it also can be the makings of a horrifying escape: from poverty, from forced marriages, from the abuse and despondency that can be the fate of Afghan women. “If you run away from home, you may be raped or put in jail and then sent home and then what will happen to you?” asked Rachel Reid, a researcher for Human Rights Watch who tracks violence against women.

Returned runaways are often shot or stabbed in honor killings because the families fear they have spent time unchaperoned with a man. Women and girls are still stoned to death. Those who burn themselves but survive are often relegated to grinding Cinderella existences while their husbands marry other, untainted women. “Violence in the lives of Afghanistan’s women comes from everywhere: from her father or brother, from her husband, from her father-in-law, from her mother-in-law and sister-in-law,” said Dr. Shafiqa Eanin, a plastic surgeon at the burn hospital, which usually has at least 10 female self-immolation cases at any one time.

The most sinister burn cases are actually homicides masquerading as suicides, said doctors, nurses and human rights workers. “We have two women here right now who were burned by their mothers-in-law and husbands,” said Dr. Arif Jalali, the hospital’s senior surgeon. Doctors cited two recent cases where women were beaten by their husbands or in-laws, lost consciousness and awoke in the hospital to find themselves burned because they had been shoved in an oven or set on fire.

Unless you’re prepared to be shocked and enraged, don’t watch this video:

White House focuses on domestic violence

October 27, 2010 by Peter · 1 Comment 

This is good:

The White House will announce several policy initiatives on Wednesday that are aimed at reducing domestic violence, including pilot programs targeted at children and pregnant women, financial and housing assistance for victims of abuse and a national campaign to reduce sexual violence, according to a memo about the plans.

There are programs targeted at children, including a fund to assist pregnant women who are victims of domestic violence in five states — North Carolina, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia and Washington — and Head Start centers in six states – Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico and South Carolina – will launch a program to help staff members identify signs of domestic violence in children and respond appropriately.

HUD will release guidelines for housing authorities and landlords who have tenants who may be victims of domestic violence, a move that codifies protections outlined in the Violence Against Women Act. The FDIC will expand its Money Smart financial literacy curriculum on Friday to include information for victims of domestic violence.

The Justice Department will announce the start of a pilot program intended to get more private lawyers to offer services to domestic violence victims pro bono.

Here are some stats for context:

Of all the women murdered in the U.S., about one-third were killed by an intimate partner.

According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, women experience about 4.8 million intimate partner-related physical assaults and rapes every year.

More than 600 women are raped every day.

The Justice Department estimates that one in five women will experience rape or attempted rape during their college years, and that less than five percent of these rapes will be reported.

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