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#JeSuisCharlie? No, I'm Really Not Charlie Hebdo–And Here's Why

January 8, 2015 in Blogs

By Sandip Roy, New America Media

Most of us are not even close to being on the same page when it comes to freedom of expression.


Je suis Charlie?

Well, not quite. I really am not Charlie Hebdo.

Nothing – no cartoon, no book, no song – justifies the kind of shooting rampage that happened in Paris. As Hassen Chalghoumi, the imam of Drancy mosque in Paris says, “These are criminals, barbarians. They have sold their souls to hell.”

And he is not talking about the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo. He is talking about those who mowed them down and fled.

But the spontaneous outpouring of the #JeSuisCharlie hashtags also elides over the really thorny issue of free speech. While we want free speech to be absolute, in the real world, it is not. And even as we stand with Charlie Hebdo we cannot pretend not to understand that.

Today, as a tribute to Charlie Hebdo, outlets in India like Mint and NDTV have published a sort of collector’s edition of some of their cartoons. It’s a respectful gesture but it’s also somewhat misleading.

Assuming most readers in India are not regular consumers of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons, it gives them a more sanitized, PG-rated impression of their fare. As Jacob Canfield writes in the Hooded Utilitarian, “its cartoons often represent a certain virulently racist brand of French xenophobia. While they generously claim to ‘attack everyone equally’, the cartoons they publish are intentionally ‘anti-Islam’ and frequently sexist and homophobic.”

And that’s putting it mildly.

In reality, some of Charlie Hebdo’s most offensive cartoons would not be published in most parts of the world. Few media outlets would print a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad crouched on all fours with his genitals bared or show the Father, Son and Holy Ghost sodomizing each other. For that matter, most will balk at a cartoon like the one Onion put out showing a Lord Ganesha, Jesus, Moses, and Buddha all naked with erect phalluses having an orgy in the clouds? Now, that’s being equal opportunity offenders but that remains way outside the pale for most of the world. Anyway, in a freedom of expression absolute, …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Senators Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Roll Back Hemp Restrictions

January 8, 2015 in Politics & Elections

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., today introduced legislation that would allow American farmers to grow and profit from industrial hemp. The Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015 would remove federal restrictions on the domestic cultivation of industrial hemp. The bill would remove hemp from the Schedule I controlled substance list under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, and would define it as a non-drug so long as it contained less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Oregon and Kentucky are among twenty states that have already defined industrial hemp as distinct from marijuana and removed barriers to production. However, under current federal law, farmers in states that allow industrial hemp research and pilot programs must still seek a waiver from the Drug Enforcement Administration or risk raids and seizures by federal agents. The U.S. is the world’s largest consumer of hemp, but it remains the only major industrialized country that bans farming the product. ‘The U.S. ban on hemp farming is an outrageous restriction on free enterprise and does nothing but hurt economic growth and job creation,’ Wyden said. ‘Our bipartisan, commonsense bill is pro-environment, pro-business, and pro-farmer. Congress must act to empower farmers and boost economic activity across the country. As I’ve always said, if you can buy it in Oregon, you should be able to grow it in Oregon.’ ‘My vision for the farmers and manufacturers of Kentucky is to see us start growing hemp, creating jobs and leading the nation in this industry again,’ Paul said. ‘Allowing farmers throughout our nation to cultivate industrial hemp and benefit from its many uses will boost our economy and bring much-needed jobs to the agriculture industry.’ ‘Industrial hemp has the potential to fuel jobs and research here in Oregon, and the federal government shouldn’t be standing in the way,’ Merkley said. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also cosponsored the bill. The bill text is available here.
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Source: RAND PAUL

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Celebrating John Conyers, the Longest-Serving African-American Congressman

January 8, 2015 in Blogs

By John Cavanagh, AlterNet

For 50 years, Detroit's own John Conyers has been an advocate for important social issues.


As Republicans take control of Congress this week, it’s a good time for progressives to reflect on the long arc of social change. And I can think of no better way to do this than to celebrate the half century of service of Rep. John Conyers. 

First elected to represent Detroit in 1965, Conyers is now the longest-serving African-American. For 50 years he has recognized the big picture and worked with activists inside and outside the halls of Congress to push for big systemic change, like ending illegal wars and achieving full employment and universal healthcare.

And he’s still going strong. At a January 7 tribute party co-hosted by 20 Washington, DC-based progressive groups, Conyers said, “Martin Luther King has shaped me in so many ways. Jobs, justice, and peace—it’s not hard to put a philosophy of that kind into political action. And the struggle is only beginning.”

In one of his numerous successful political actions, Conyers introduced the first bill to make Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday. He’s also been a master of using bills strategically and creatively to expand the boundaries of the Washington debate.

If you check out the list of “key issues” on his web site, you’ll find a topic you’re unlikely to find on any other congressional web site: reparations. In every session since 1989 he has introduced a bill, HR 40, which would create a commission to study and recommend remedies for the impacts of slavery on today’s African-Americans.

Civil rights icon Julian Bond paid tribute to Conyers at the Washington celebration, pointing out that “The number of people who support reparations today is small, but it was larger this year than last year and it will be larger next year than this year. And John Conyers will be around long enough to be there when they sign it into law.”

Activist and actor Danny Glover also chimed in, pointing out that the call for reparations is taking off in Brazil and other former slave-holding nations around the …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Neil deGrasse Tyson Is Getting His Own Late-Night Talk Show

January 8, 2015 in Blogs

By Sarah Gray, Salon

The astrophysicist and host of “Cosmos” is turning his “StarTalk Radio” podcast into a National Geographic show.


Neil deGrasse Tyson is taking his popular “StarTalk Radio” podcast to late-night television! The famed astrophysicist, director of the Hayden Planetarium, host of “Cosmos” and spontaneous movie critic has landed a spot on National Geographic Channel.

The show will continue along the same vein as the current podcast: An enlightening and entertaining blend of popular culture (there’s often a comedian guest co-host) and science. And according to the Hollywood Reporter, Tyson’s science buddy Bill Nye will be given a minute-long rant during each show, à la Andy Rooney on “60 Minutes.”

“‘Cosmos’ allowed us to share the awesome power of the universe with a global audience in ways that we never thought possible,” Tyson told those at the Television Critics Association press tour. “To be able to continue to spread wonder and excitement through ‘Star Talk,’ which is a true passion project for me, is beyond exciting. And National Geographic Channel is the perfect home as we continue to explore the universe.”

The show will debut in April, the Hollywood Reporter writes, in conjunction with the special “Hubble’s Cosmic Journey.”

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Source: ALTERNET

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Why the Mideast Is One Big PornHub

January 8, 2015 in Blogs

By Carrie Weisman, AlterNet

Some of the world’s top porn consumers come out of the Middle East.


The world is a big place, and cultural gaps are vast. But there are a few things that connect people across borders. Some people argue food is the best glue while others say it's education. But there’s a new contestant: online porn.

Porn is being made and watched in the Middle East, and millions more are watching it around the planet. In fact, some of the world’s top porn consumers come out of the Middle East. According to data released by Google, six of the top eight porn-searching countries are Muslim states. Pakistan tops the list at number one, followed by Egypt at number two. Iran, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Turkey come in at numbers four, five, seven and eight, respectively. Pakistan leads the way in porn searches for animals like pigs, donkeys, dogs, cats and snakes.

According to research put out by PornMD, the terms “creamy squirt,” “blowjob” and even “Kendra Wilkinson” (Hugh Hefner’s former girlfriend) appear on the top 10 most-searched terms coming out of countries like Iraq, Syria and Iran. The word “Arab” is the number-one searched porn term in Egypt, Iran and Syria. Some get a little creepier. “Pain” lands at Iraq’s fourth most-searched term, while “father daughter” and “brother sister” come in at numbers four and five for Syria. Both the words “mother” and “mom” appear on Egypt’s top 10 list.

The specifics are representative of a broader change taking place in a society all but defined by extreme “moral” standards. The fact that porn trends within the region can even be tracked is impressive, given that the sale of erotic material is banned in nearly every Arab country except Lebanon, Israel and Turkey.

In 2009, Iraq’s government moved ahead with new censorship laws, prohibiting material deemed harmful to the public. Taher Naser al-Hmood, the country’s cultural minister, claimed, “Our Constitution respects freedom of thought and freedom of expression, but that should come with respect for society as a whole, and for moral behavior. It is not …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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We Must All Be Charlie Hebdo Today

January 8, 2015 in Economics

By Flemming Rose

Flemming Rose

They lost in court, fair and square. So apparently some people in the Islamic community — and perhaps they were only a radicalized few — decided to take “justice” into their own hands in the middle of Paris. Indeed, there is a long and sorry history to the horrific broad-daylight murders of the editor-in-chief of Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical newspaper, and several of its cartoonists — along with at least six other people.

Setting aside the terrible human tragedy of 12 innocent people who are dead, Wednesday’s events represent only the latest grave new danger to free speech, not just in France but around the world.

As French President Francois Hollande said after the attacks, previous threats had been made against Charlie Hebdo, and in 2011, its offices were firebombed.  In 2006, the newspaper angered some Muslims when it republished controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that were first printed my newspaper, Jyllands-Posten. Two organizations, the Paris Grand Mosque and the Union of Islamic Organizations of France (UOIF), later sued an editor at Charlie Hebdo, accusing the newspaper of committing “an act of deliberate aggression” against Muslims. I was a witness in the court case laying out the rationale behind the publication for the cartoons to make it clear that there was no racist or xenophobic motive. In 2007, Charlie Hebdo and its editor were acquitted of public defamation.

The attacks in Paris are only the latest assault on free speech around the world.”

A year later, a documentary about the whole affair, It’s Hard Being Loved By Jerks, by Daniel Leconte, premiered in Cannes. Variety praised the film, saying it offered “a strong example of individuals unafraid to stand up for basic but sometimes neglected principles even in the face of heavy intimidation and even death threats.”

Yet now the intimidation has grown more murderous — more intimidating — than ever. Already, in the immediate aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo killings, news publications in the United States and around the world were publishing blurred images of the Mohammad cartoons so as not to offend, Buzzfeed reported Wednesday. In this way we are, slowly but surely, watching our too-often “neglected principles” of free speech eroding away.

It’s not just the re-radicalization of the Muslim world, as embodied in those balaclava-clad men who were recorded shouting “Allahu Akbar” in Paris on Wednesday, or the brutal treatment of just about everyone by the barbarians who make up the Islamic State. It’s a broad-based attack …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Property Rights of the Poor Need to be Recognized in Developing Countries

January 8, 2015 in Economics

By Peter F. Schaefer, Clayton Schaefer

Peter F. Schaefer and Clayton Schaefer

Although most economists agree that secure property rights contribute fundamentally to economic growth and broad-based prosperity, more than a billion households in poor countries still live without secure, documented, publicly registered and tradeable rights to their homes.

As in developed countries, people in poor countries hold most of their savings—their wealth—in their homes. But unlike in developed countries, weak property rights render the bulk of the savings of the world’s poor illiquid. This is not a trivial matter since the value of these frozen savings is estimated at well more than $10 trillion.

To try to address this issue, Western aid donors have provided billions of dollars to the governments of poor countries over the last few decades in an attempt to modernize their land registry systems, with little success. And unfortunately, there has been even less success at formalizing previously untitled property. In most countries, lawyers, career bureaucrats and professional surveyors have resisted the necessary streamlining of registration procedures, while corrupt elites have used any new land registry systems as yet another way to capture wealth for themselves.

As long as informal landholders remain isolated, fragmented, and invisible, there is little hope for meaningful reform.”

Little incentive for elites to change the situation

Because the elites in poor countries obtain enormous financial and political benefits from the control they are able to exercise over the allocation of land rights, there is little incentive for them to change the situation. Taking decisions about land out of the hands of elites and turning it over to a neutral, transparent process based on the rule of law would undermine the foundation of their wealth and power. As a result, no western aid project, no matter how well-intentioned or well-funded has much chance to change the institutionalized corruption in all poor countries that creates an uneven playing field to the disadvantage of the poor.

As long as informal landholders remain isolated, fragmented, and invisible, there is little hope for meaningful reform. So the question, then, is how do the billions of informals in poor countries create a political reality that is more powerful than the interests of the elites? We believe that creating an open, global registry of informal rights that reflects the true consensus of neighbors and communities—not government’s arbitrary allocation of land or a registry dating back to colonial times—is the best way to trump the power of …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Funny's Funny: Humor Is an Essential Freedom of Speech

January 8, 2015 in Economics

By Flemming Rose

Flemming Rose

It’s a Sunday morning in 2009, and I’m standing under the shower in a hotel room in Lyon. Rain drums against the window; at the end of a narrow street, I can just see one of the two rivers that flow through the city.

In an hour, I’m due at city hall to participate in a panel discussion organized by the French newspaper Libération on challenges to free speech in Europe. I’ve been doing a lot of that kind of thing in the past several years. Yesterday, I was in Paris. Earlier in the week, I was involved in a heated exchange at a conference in Berlin about Muslims and Islam in the European media.

As I began speaking, a member of the audience stood up, approached the panel, and in a voice trembling with fury demanded to know who had given me the right to tell Muslims like her about democracy. She then turned toward the organizers, angrily asked how they could even consider inviting someone like me, and then stormed out of the room.

Everywhere I go, I seem to provoke controversy. At American universities, I’ve been met by placards and students protesting against my speaking. When I was scheduled to lecture at a university in Jerusalem, a demonstration called for my removal.

When I talked about freedom of speech at a UNESCO conference in Doha in the spring of 2009, local media branded me the “the Danish Satan,”1 the authorities were inundated with angry emails and the Ministry of Internal Affairs set up a hotline for citizens who complained about my having even been allowed into the country.

In the spring of 2006, I was invited by the Oxford Union to take part in a discussion on freedom of speech, democracy, and respect for religious sentiment. That body is accustomed to controversy. Nevertheless, my visit turned into what local media alleged was the biggest security operation the city had seen since Michael Jackson’s visit in 2001.

What differentiates open and closed societies is the right to tell and retell our own and other people’s stories.”

When I was invited to the World Association of Newspapers’ forum in Moscow a few years ago, Russian authorities politely yet firmly implied that they would like me to stay away. I didn’t fully comprehend their hints, so I went to Moscow oblivious. Since then, I have been unable to secure a visa, although I …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Senator Rand Paul Joins Push for School Choice

January 8, 2015 in Politics & Elections

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator Rand Paul joins Senator Tim Scott’s (R-SC) push for School Choice in America’s education system. Senator Scott, a leading advocate for school choice in the United States Senate, yesterday filed a resolution supporting National School Choice Week. Senator Scott, a member of the Senate Education Committee, will also introduce his Creating Hope and Opportunity for Individuals and Communities through Education (CHOICE) Act later this month and host a significant event supporting school choice in early February (details to be released in the coming weeks).’As someone who grew up in poverty and ignored the power of education for too long, I cannot overstate the importance of a quality education,’ Senator Scott said. ‘It is absolutely critical that we ensure all of our kids in every community have access to the tools they need to succeed. That’s why my first actions in the new Congress seek to strengthen school choice, and I will continue to work with my colleagues on the education committee to reform and improve our education system.’Senator Scott continued, ‘It is the parents, teachers and administrators in our communities, not bureaucrats in board rooms in Washington, who know what’s best for our kids. When parents have a choice, our kids have a chance.Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), John Boozman (R-AR), John Cornyn (R-TX), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Michael Enzi (R-WY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Rand Paul (R-KY), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and David Vitter (R-LA) have all signed on as original cosponsors of the resolution.A summary of Senator Scott’s CHOICE Act, a key component of his Opportunity Agenda, can be found here.

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Source: RAND PAUL

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Stop Obsessing about Inequality. It's Actually Decreasing around the World.

January 8, 2015 in Economics

By Marian L. Tupy

Marian L. Tupy

Is inequality increasing or decreasing? The answer depends on our point of reference.

In America, the income gap between the top 1 percent and the rest has grown. But if we look not at America, but the world, inequality is shrinking. We are witnessing, in the words of the World Bank’s Branko Milanovic, “the first decline in global inequality between world citizens since the Industrial Revolution.”

For most of human history, incomes were more equal, but terribly low. Two thousand years ago, GDP per person in the most advanced parts of the world hovered around $3.50 per day. That was the global average 1,800 years later.

Globalization has ushered a period of unprecedented prosperity in many poor countries.”

But by the early 19th century, a pronounced income gap emerged between the West and the rest. Take the United States. In 1820, the U.S. was 1.9 times richer than the global average. The income gap grew to 4.1 in 1960 and reached its maximum level of 4.8 in 1999. By 2010, it had shrunk by 19 percent to 3.9.

That narrowing is not a function of declining Western incomes. During the Great Recession, for example, U.S. GDP per capita decreased by 4.8 percent between 2007 and 2009. It rebounded by 5.7 percent over the next 4 years and stands at an all-time high today. Rather, the narrowing of the income gap is a result of growing incomes in the rest of the world.

Consider the spectacular rise of Asia. In 1960, the U.S. was 11 times richer than Asia. Today, America is only 4.8 times richer than Asia.

To understand why, let’s look at China.

Between 1958 and 1961, Mao Zedong attempted to transform China’s largely agricultural economy into an industrial one through the “Great Leap Forward.” His stated goal was to overtake UK’s industrial production in 15 years. Industrialization, which included building of factories at home as well as large-scale purchases of machinery abroad, was to be paid for by food produced on collective farms.

But the collectivization of agriculture resulted in famine that killed between 18 and 45 million people. Industrial initiatives, such as Mao’s attempt to massively increase production of steel, were equally disastrous. People burned their houses to stoke the fires of the steel mills and melted cooking wares to fulfill the steel production quotas. The result was destruction, rather than creation of wealth.

Deng Xiaoping, Mao’s successor, partially privatized the farmland and …read more

Source: OP-EDS