Archive for the ‘in the news’ Category

In Haiti the 2010s opened with utter tragedy: last week on Tuesday January 12th 2010 at 21:53 GMT the strongest Caribbean earthquake in over 60 years struck Haiti. In the first six days 70,000 bodies were found and, unnamed, have been put into mass graves.

Up to 200,000 are feared dead.  That would make it the deadliest natural disaster the world has seen since the tsunami in 2004, which killed 230,000.

The earthquake, measuring 7.0, struck not far from the capital, Port-au-Prince. That is a bad quake, but in a richer, better built city only a few dozen would have died. Even so, the quake killed few outright: instead people have been dying of their injuries because the damage has kept help from reaching them in time.

It destroyed 80% of the buildings in the capital, among them the president’s palace, government buildings, the cathedral, the United Nations mission, the main prison, most of the hospitals, even the main one. The archbishop was killed, so was the head of the UN mission, but not the president and his wife. Surprisingly, those living in shanty towns were less affected: a tin roof falling on you is not as deadly as concrete.

It knocked out the seaport and blocked all the roads, though main roads in the capital are now clear.

The airport is still open but, with only one runway and a damaged air traffic control tower, it is slow going.

People are living in tents and cars: the buildings are no longer safe.

To give you an idea of the scale, at 70,000 dead it is already 15 times worse than 9/11 and Katrina put together.

It is so bad that it is beyond the power of even television to overstate. The smell of dead bodies is everywhere.

America is sending 10,000 troops and air dropping food and water. Many other countries are sending help too, but the damage means getting that help to people will be slow.

The Americans will probably find themselves keeping law and order as well: the government is not in control of the country and it is too much for the police. People are desperate for food and water. On top of all that, 3,000 have escaped from prison, among them infamous gang leaders.

Both France and America will stop sending Haitians back to Haiti for a time. Senegal has offered free land for Haitians who move there!

Haiti has had few earthquakes over the past 40 years. Too few: the fault line that it lies on was locked, the strain on it building to dangerous levels. It was ovedue for a big one of just this size.

Pat Robertson, an American television preacher, saw it differently:

Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and the people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. And they (Haitians) got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, “We will serve you if you get us free from the French.” True story. And so the devil said, “OK, it’s a deal!”

Postscript: The earthquake killed 159,000, making it the second deadliest natural disaster of the past 30 years and the worst earthquake on record in the Americas.

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Goldstone report

The Goldstone Report (2009) is the United Nations war crimes report on the war in Gaza last winter. Richard Goldstone, a former South African judge (pictured above) led the UN’s fact-finding mission to Gaza.  The report finds both sides guilty of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, but Israel much more so.

The report does not “prove” that war crimes took place, merely that it seems so based on facts found. The report calls on both Israelis and Palestinians over the next six months to carry out their own independent investigations that meet international standards.

If they fail to do so, then the UN Security Council should hand the matter over to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the The Hague. But most likely America will block that: it has veto power in the Security Council and turns a blind eye to Israel’s misdeeds.


  • Palestinians:
    • Fired rockets into southern Israel with little hope of ever hitting a military target, thereby spreading terror among civilians.
    • Hamas, the ruling party, used the war as cover to kill some  from the opposing party, Fatah.
  • Israelis:
    • Israel struck mosques, hospitals, schools, apartment buildings, water treatment plants and factories that had no military value. One mosque was struck while hundreds were there praying. If Israel’s true concern were weapons that may have been hidden there it would have struck the mosque in the middle of the night.
    • It struck a house after the Israeli army told Palestinians to stay there to be safe.
    • It used white phosphorus, which burns and kills people, in the middle of Gaza City.
    • Israeli soldiers used Palestinian civilians as human shields.

In war you are supposed to fight the enemy’s military and destroy things of military value, like bridges, roads, armies and weapons factories. Some civilians will get killed, but you are supposed to take reasonable measures against that.

Israel did not. It was not just carelessness either: it went after things like water treatment plants that were a threat to no one.

The Israelis called the report “one-sided” and unacceptable – months before it even came out! They would not help the UN one bit, which had to cross into Gaza from Egypt.

After the report came out Israel said it was “one-sided” (again), “inaccurate and flawed” and that it would derail the peace process (a lie: the Israeli government is hardly serious about peace). Sadly American Congressmen and even The Economist repeat the same words and excuses as the Israelis.

Hamas does not agree with everything in the report but accepts it. Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority and a Fatah man, says he will not hold a vote on the report till March 2010. He is seen as giving in to the Americans. That has led to protests (pictured below). In Gaza there are posters of Abbas with a black X across his face at which people throw their shoes.


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darfur_aerialThe eighth and last stage of genocide is denying it ever took place. This allows the genocide to continue, either now or sometime in the future.

Here are the common ways to deny a genocide:

  1. “Don’t rock the boat” – Or the peace talks might break down. Or contracts for oil or arms might be cancelled. Or you will look weak if you call it genocide and do nothing. Just go with the flow.
  2. “We are helping these people!” – and show outsiders model camps. Like how the Nazis showed the Red Cross Theresienstadt but not Auschwitz or Dachau. See how nice we are!
  3. Make it about the numbers – if they say 50,000 were killed, you say it was 5,000. Get into that dispute.
  4. Make it about words – Oh, it is just “ethnic cleansing”. Oh, it is not about race but land rights and that is not genocide. And so on. Overlooking the fact that if people only of a particular race are dying then it is about race no matter what anyone says or wants to believe. Because that kind of thing is not an “accident”.
  5. Make it about the accusers – question their motives. Overlooking the fact that they are telling the truth.
  6. Blame history – say this kind of stuff goes on all the time. Overlooking the fact that genocide is rare, despite what racists like to believe.
  7. Blame bad luck – blame it on disease, lack of food, lack of Western aid, etc. Overlooking the fact, say, that these people were driven off their land or moved to a place that cannot support their numbers. A trick favoured by Sudan and America.
  8. Blame out-of-control forces – after all genocides are often started  by paramilitary forces that seem to be acting on their own. Overlooking the fact that many of these same forces are secretly supported by the government. If the government is not seriously fighting the force in question, it is receiving its blessing.
  9. Blame the victim – say the victims started a civil war. Overlooking the fact that there is no military reason  for the mass killing of women and children.
  10. Dehumanize the victim – “They’re Africans. They do these sorts of things to each other.” They are not like us. Their lives do not matter. Why do you care? Overlooking the fact that everyone’s life matters, not just those who are like us or live nearby.
  11. Peace matters more than justice – Let us forget the past and just move on to give peace a chance. Overlooking the fact that a lasting peace can only be built on justice, otherwise there could be another round of genocide.

Genocide is rare. It is not “natural” – except to a racist. Tens of thousands of women and children of a particular race, religion or ethnicity do not just up and die by “accident”, not even in war. It is done on purpose, thought out in advance by sick minds. Who tell themselves these lies.

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Mitrice Richardson (c. 1985- ),  a 24-year-old secretary from South Los Angeles, has been missing for two weeks.

  • Height; 5 foot 5 (1.65 m)
  • Weight: 135 lbs (59 kg)
  • Tattoos: on the back of her neck and lower abdomen
  • Wearing: a black top and blue jeans
  • Last seen: at 1:25 am on Thursday September 17th 2009 leaving the Malibu/Lost Hills police station in Calabasas, California.
  • Reward: $10,000.

If you see her call the Los Angeles police. But please call her mother or father too because the police have been bad at following up on this:

  • Her mother, Latice Sutton, at (909) 282-9134
  • Her father, Michael Richardson, at (310) 283-4717

mitrice-richardson450Unlike most missing black women, Richardson has made the news nationwide: both NBC and CNN have carried the story. But apart from her race she is like most of their missing persons: young, female, middle-class and pretty.

Her mother says she is manic-depressive (bipolar) and that on the night she disappeared she was in the manic stage, meaning she was not quite in her right mind. Signs of that:

  1. That afternoon she sent “erratic” text messages to her friends;
  2. She went to a very nice restaurant (Geoffrey’s Malibu) looking like the second picture (the police photo from that night), having her 1990 Honda Civic parked by a valet;
  3. According to workers at the restaurant she said she was from Mars and was there to avenge the death of Michael Jackson. She started talking in a made-up language (but that was after she was caught short on money and could not pay the $89.21 bill);
  4. She walked out into the night from the police station (after being arrested for failing to pay her bill) with no money, no car, no mobile phone and not even her ID. No buses run there in the middle of the night and the nearest shops were 20 minutes away on foot. (They kept her car because they found some marijuana in it.)

Her mother called the police station and said she would pick her up. She was led to believe they would hold her overnight till the morning. They did not (they later lied and said they did not have room). They did not even tell Richardson that her mother was coming.

Her father on seeing the police photo:

She looked like a demon had come inside her. That was not my daughter. It ran chills up my spine. I’ve never seen my daughter look like that.

And in that state they let her walk out into the night with nothing.

Five hours after she left a man called and said a woman was sleeping on his porch. She fit the description. The police took three hours to show up. By then the woman was gone.

The police have searched for her, but they have not followed up on all leads: at least one woman who reported seeing her was not called back.

Some of the roads nearby are very dangerous for walking as they go through canyon country – the kind that twist and turn and have a huge drop on one side.

Postscript: Her skeletal remains were found in Malibu Canyon on August 9th 2010, nearly a year after she disappeared. More at CNN.

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Lou Jing (娄婧)


Lou Jing (1988- ), or 娄婧, is a Chinese student from Shanghai who took part in the television talent show, “Let’s Go! Oriental Angel”, in 2009. Even though she lost she became famous in China because of the Internet firestorm she caused, bringing to light how racist China still is (old news to Tibetans and Uighurs). As Hung Huang put it:

In the same year that Americans welcome Obama to the White House, we can’t even accept this girl with a different skin colour.

One night during the show they brought out the families of the contestants. There on live television her mother told China that she had an affair with a black man who returned to America not knowing she was going to have his baby. Then her Chinese husband left her after he saw that the baby was black! She had to bring up Lou Jing on her own.

Pretty strong stuff for Chinese television. Most of the comments that I have seen are directed at the mother, calling her shameless for speaking openly about her affair. The father is stereotyped as a black buck.

Women who have children with foreigners are seen as race traitors. And yet Eurasians, those who are half Chinese and half white, are stereotyped as having more beauty and brains than most. Eurasians are common in fashion, entertainment and advertising.

For those who are half black it is not quite like that. It will be hard, for instance, for Lou Jing to get married. It is unclear whether her skin colour will stand in the way of achieving her dream of becoming a television host. Dark skin is looked down on. Chinese women buy skin creams to lighten their skin.

When Lou Jing was little her skin colour was not a big deal. But as she got older and went out in public more, people would ask her about it, mostly just curious. Others, though, were less kind, calling her names.

But then she went on the show and it got way worse.

The hosts of the show called her “Our Chocolate Girl” and “Black Pearl”, which might be innocent. But people on the Internet left no doubt what they thought, calling her things like “Black Chimpanzee”.

They were saying she was not truly Chinese – even though she was born in China, has lived in China all her life, speaks perfect Shanghai Chinese (to the surprise of many) and can sing Shanghai opera better than most.

Because she looks black American or black African to the Chinese, many believe she is not truly Chinese.

Time magazine would have you believe that is because China is backwards, unlike America. As if Asian Americans do not face the very same perpetual foreigner stereotype in America. Even blacks are not seen as truly American, not like how white people are – just think about Katrina and the Birthers.

Lou Jing:

After participating in this competition, I finally found out, the world is not like what I thought it was.

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The opposition against President Obama is not like what we saw against Clinton and Bush. It comes from a darker, more dangerous place. It expresses itself in a more troubling form.

People disagreed with Bush and Clinton. They questioned their character and intelligence. The Republicans even tried to bring down Clinton by impeaching him. But through it all they continued to respect the office of the presidency – even if they did not like the man holding that office. That is how Americans have been. Not so with Obama. A line is being crossed.


That line was crossed when Congressman Joe Wilson said “You lie!” in the middle of speech by the president to the country, openly disrespecting him.


That line was crossed when Sean Delonas of the New York Post drew a cartoon showing the president being shot dead (as a chimp).

Before Obama no one has doubted the president’s right to be the president, not in living memory.

Bush in 2000 lost the popular vote, winning only through a questionable vote count in a state where his brother was governor.  Yet there was no movement that continued to question his right to hold his office.

Reagan in 1980 won by less than Obama, destroyed the power of the labour unions and pushed through much more extreme policies than Obama’s. Yet you did not hear about people “taking their country back”.

Further, none of these men had their Americanness questioned. None were required to show their hospital birth record because suddenly the one from their state of birth would not do.

The only thing that makes sense of all this is that some have a hard time accepting a black man as president. So they question his right to be president or act towards him like he is not the president.

If so then it is coming from a dark and dangerous place in the American soul, a place of whips and chains and hangings. Dangerous because no one knows how it will end. It could do more than simply take down a president, it could divide the country to a dangerous degree. Already it seems like racism is becoming much more open and naked than it was even six months ago.

Unlike a president’s sex life or bad English, race is one of the few things that can tear the country apart.

lewinskydressThe Republicans hammered Clinton. Even in 1996, two years before Monica Lewinsky and her blue dress, it seemed like Clinton might not make it through another four years. It seemed like sooner or later the Republicans would find something that would stick.

Yet the worse it was ever going to do was to bring down Clinton. It was not going to shape the nature of the country. Its damage would be limited.

If Republican opposition to Obama was based mainly on stuff like ACORN and Tony Rezko, then it would be like what they did to Clinton. But it is not. This is something different.


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Jimmy Carter, a good man who was a bad American president, said this the other day:

Carter: I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he’s African American. … racism still exists and I think it’s bubbled up to the surface, because of a belief among many white people, not just in the South, but around the country, that African Americans are not qualified to lead this great country.

Obama disagrees. His press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said this:

Gibbs on behalf of Obama: The president does not believe that that criticism comes based on the color of his skin. We understand that people have disagreements with some of the decisions that we’ve made and some of the extraordinary actions that had to be undertaken by both this administration and previous administrations to stabilize our financial system, to ensure viability of our domestic auto industry.

Carter is right, though his timing might not be the best. Carter tends to do what he thinks is right, the consequences be damned. So, for example, he pushed for human rights in Iran under the Shah even though it led to the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini. Carter acts morally without thinking ahead.

Obama, on the other hand, goes along to get along. To a sickening degree: He agrees with right-wing talking heads that racism has nothing to do with it. Nothing. It was his policies for saving the banks and the car companies.

He cannot possibly believe that.

Yet, I wonder: Is Carter doing Obama’s bidding? Obama, after all, could never say what Carter said. It needed to be said and said by a white man, one whose opinions would be reported and not be dismissed out of hand.

Obama cannot “cry racism” himself. It would put him in an extremely weak position. And it would not even work: white people have built-in defences against that stuff. It is how they live with themselves.

Yet the racist right is not going to go away. Yesterday it was about his hospital birth record, today it is about health care reform and a sudden, overdone concern for state socialism, tomorrow it will be something else. None of it has the ring of mere policy disagreements. It is too angry and too unreasoned. Because the true issue is not his policy but his race.

The country is at that point in its history where it is liberal enough to elect a black man as president but still too racist for many to accept him as their true president. The nearest comparison I can think of is King James II, a Catholic king of a Protestant England. He was overthrown in the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

Like Reagan and the labour unions, Obama needs to force a showdown with the racist right. That is how Martin Luther King dealt with them. We call it Selma.

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At the end of a press conference on health care reform, they asked President Obama about the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr, a black Harvard professor who is a friend of his. Obama took three minutes to answer the question. In part he said:

Now, I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that, but I think it’s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home; and, number three, what I think we know, separate and apart from this incident, is that there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. And that’s just a fact.

That was so great and so wonderful! To have a president who does not mouth the storybook lies about America but knows full well what goes on and says it out loud. Not only was he willing to call the police boneheaded right there on television, but he did not buy the police account of events either!!

One of the best lines from his NAACP speech last week:

When I drive through Harlem or I drive through the South Side of Chicago and I see young men on the corners, I say, there but for the grace of God go I. They’re no less gifted than me. They’re no less talented than me.

One of the greatest, greatest things about Obama is that he does not believe in the Just World Doctrine – unlike most White Americans, who seem to believe, or at least want to believe, that the world is just. Not should be just, but already is just!

So when the world is plainly unjust they look the other way or try to come up with Some Logical Explanation or some half-baked excuse. Like when the New York Times talks about black unemployment. Unless the injustice is far away (China, Alabama) or long ago (1800s, 1950s) or is done by people “not like them” (Muslims, blacks) it makes them uncomfortable and not, say, angry or sad or shocked like they should be.

They want to believe that America, or at least White America, is just. It is clear that their sense of themselves as good people is built on it, which makes their belief even more deeply rooted. But the lies and the level of moral and intellectual blindness required to carry that off means only that more evil will be done.

Therefore the Just World Doctrine makes the world more unjust than it would have been. And so then, one fine day, one bright Tuesday morning, they find two of their tallest buildings falling down in front of their eyes.

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whitesToday is June Jordan’s birthday and I was going to write about her, but I think she would understand:

I wrote about whites-only proms not too long ago and now this: There is a whites-only swim club. In America. In 2009. In supposedly post-racial America. In the supposedly Enlightened North. Just outside of Philadelphia. Right now.

Our story:

About 65 black and Hispanic children ages 5 to 13 go to a day camp in Philadelphia. They spend most of the week in the city in the basenment of a grade school. But one day a week they get to go swimming in the suburbs. The camp paid $1950 so they could go to the Valley Swim Club in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania just outside the city.

They went there for their first day of swimming on June 29th. When they got in the pool all the white children got out. One white mother was overhead saying:

Uh, what are all these black kids doing here? I’m scared they might do something to my child.

She was not the only one talking like that. But it got worse: the pool attendants came and  told the black and Hispanic children that minorities were not allowed in the club and that they need to leave immediately.

Well, maybe it was all just some big misunderstanding.  But no, the president of the club gave back the $1950 (you know, like the year this club still lives in). He said he was getting too many complaints from (white) parents. The complaints had nothing to do with racism, he said. He put it this way:

There was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion … and the atmosphere of the club,

By the way, they had signed up online.

Some good news, though: Girard College, a school in the city, offered their swimming pool, free of charge even, so they will get to swim.

It is like what I said about the whites-only proms:

Note to white people: Small-town and working class whites often come off seeming racist and backward in the press, but that is only because they do not have the money to move away from blacks. I mean, why have a whites-only prom if you live in a place that is less than 1% black, like nearly all suburban whites do?

Well, this club is in one of those places where white people do have the money to move away from blacks. It is 0.5% black.

Somehow I get this feeling that white Americans feel free to be more openly racist now that there is black man as president. It is kind of like how white people think that if they have a black best friend then it is all right to go to a whites-0nly prom. Or say nakedly racist things. Like some commenters on this blog, not to name names. It seems like the same kind of strange, twisted moral thinking.

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burkaThe burka – or burqa as some write it – is the head-to-toe covering that some Muslim women wear over their clothes when they go out in public. Sometimes all you can see is their eyes, but sometimes even their eyes are covered (with a netting that they can see through).

Burkas are mostly seen in Afghanistan and South Asia – Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. In India only one Muslim woman in 20 might wear it; in Afghanistan under the Taliban all women were forced to wear it. In Pakistan it used to be quite common, but it has been dying out, especially in the big cities.

Even though some will argue it is not in the Koran, in most of the Muslim world hijab, or modest dress, is understood to be a religious duty or virtue for women (and, to a lesser degree, for men).

The form that hijab takes is different from place to place. The burka is the most extreme form.

In Iran women wear a chador, which covers everything but their face, hands and feet. In some Arab countries women wear the abaya which does the same thing. In other places, like Turkey, women wear just a headscarf. And some Muslim women dress in a completely Western fashion, though with more of their body covered than Western women.

Burkas, abayas and chadors are just for going out in public. They are something women wear over their clothes. When they are at home they take them off and you find out that they are not dressed quite so plainly. When Neda died during the election protests in Iran in 2009, for example, we found out that under her chador she was wearing  blue jeans!

Governments sometimes force women to follow hijab, like the Taliban or Iran under Islamic rule. Yet others  have forced women to do the opposite, like Iran under the shah.

In France it has been against the law to wear a burka to public school since 2004. And now they want to go even further and outlaw it altogether. In 2009 President Sarkozy said:

The issue of the burka is not a religious issue, it is a question of freedom and of women’s dignity. The burka is not a religious sign, it is a sign of the subjugation, of the submission of women. I want to say solemnly that it will not be welcome on our territory… I tell you, we must not be ashamed of our values, we must not be afraid of defending them.

This only makes sense to me as a piece of xenophobia: Muslims make him feel uncomfortable.

For many Muslim women it is in fact a matter of religion. And keeping themselves covered up from the eyes of men is a matter of dignity. Even in the West, modest dress was seen as part of a woman’s dignity until the 1900s.

Your religion – or even a lack of religion – is part of who you are. To be told you cannot express it when you are hurting no one goes against one’s freedom and dignity.

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ricciIn Ricci v DeStefano (2009) the American  Supreme Court ruled in a 5 to 4 decision that white firefighters in New Haven, Connecticut were denied promotion based on their race. It has become a well-known case of reverse racism.

Ricci was the lead firefighter in the case; DeStefano was the mayor of New Haven.

This overturns Judge Sotomayor’s decision in a lower court. The case made the press in part because the right was using it to frame Sotomayor as a racist.

The white justices were evenly split, 4 to 4. Clarence Thomas, the only black judge on the court and once the head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under President Reagan, sided with the white firefighters. But he did not write a decision as he often does in civil rights cases.

The decision could make it harder to prove racism in hiring since it will have to be based more on motive (hard to prove) and less on outcome (much easier to show).

In 2003 New Haven gave a test for open positions for lieutenant and captain in its fire department. No blacks scored high enough, even though they had on past tests. New Haven threw out the test fearing blacks would take it to court for using a racist test. Blacks could have done that under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – and most likely would have since the new test favoured whites more than even past tests did.

But it was a no-win: when the city threw out the test, the white firefighters who had scored high took it to court – for reverse racism.

Frank Ricci spent 8 to 13 hours a day studying for the test and spent over $1,000 to buy the books and get them read onto tape since he has trouble reading.

But before you cry for him, first guess how many of the 21 captains in the New Haven fire department are black. Answer: 1. Just one: 5% in a city that is 37% black.

Justice Kennedy, who wrote the decision, joined by Roberts, Alito and Thomas, said that New Haven had no “strong basis in evidence” to fear a lawsuit and, even so:

Fear of litigation alone cannot justify an employer’s reliance on race to the detriment of individuals who passed the examinations and qualified for promotions.

Justice Ginsburg, writing the dissent, said of the white firefighters:

they had no vested right to promotion. Nor have other persons received promotions in preference to them.

Ginsburg thought New Haven was right to fear a lawsuit. She found it laughable that the city, given its history, was racist against whites.

That the right picked this case to accuse Sotomayor of racism is unfair. First, in most cases regarding racism in employment she rules against blacks and Hispanics. No word about those. Second, in Ricci she was merely part of a panel which let a lower court decision stand. She did not write an opinion as to why.

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Michael Jackson (1958-2009), the King of Pop, is dead. May he know the peace he never had in this life.

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Neda Agha-Soltan

NedaAghaSoltanNeda Agha-Soltan (1982-2009), also called Neda Soltani, Iranian martyr, died on the streets of Tehran on Saturday June 20th 2009 during the violent crackdown by the government on protests against the 2009 election for president. It was put on the Internet and people all over the world saw her die.

Despite the media blackout, everyone in Iran knows about her. The government knows that they know.

She was about a kilometre away from the protests – people were running up the street fleeing the tear gas. She was in a car with her music teacher on the way to Freedom Square to take part. They got stuck in traffic. She was getting hot, so she got out of the car to get some air. Then there was the sound of a crack in the distance: she was shot square in the chest. People helped to lay her down. She said, “I’m burning, I’m burning”. In the video you see her eyes go dead and then blood comes out of her mouth and her nose to cover her face and people cry out in despair.

It is extremely upsetting to watch. Partly because of her age and sex: men are supposed to protect women, not kill them.

The killer was not shown – the video seems to start a second after she was shot. Witnesses say she was killed by a Basiji gunman on a roof across the street. The Basiji are paramilitary roughnecks that the government uses to do its dirty work.  They are the ones that drove motorbikes during the crackdown looking for all the world like human hyenas or something out of Mad Max.

She died at 7:05 pm Tehran time (14:05 GMT) at the corner of Khosravi and Salehi streets. It was recorded by mobile phone and a few hours later was up on YouTube on the Internet. A doctor at the scene said she died within two minutes of getting shot, that there was no saving her.

She was denied a public funeral. The government would not even allow her family to mourn her properly. She was buried Sunday afternoon.

State television said nothing about her death until several days later: they said it was staged by the BBC – or maybe the CIA.

She was the second of three children, the daughter of a civil servant. She studied Islamic philosophy at Azad University. She loved travel and was learning Turkish to become a tour guide.

Time magazine points out that in Shia Islam, the main religion in Iran, people mourn their dead on the 3rd, 7th and 40th days. The 40th day is the big one. The Islamic revolution 30 years ago, in fact, progressed on a 40-day timetable: protests would lead to deaths, deaths to public mourning 40 days later, which would also became a new protest, which would lead to more death and so on.

Martyrdom is big in Shia Islam. From their history Shiites are very familiar with the idea of evil rulers dressing themselves up in religion and creating martyrs.

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mousavi_vs_ahmadinejadMir Hosein Mousavi (1941- ), or Moussavi with two s’s, was prime minister of Iran from 1981 to 1988. After more than 20 years out of public office, he ran for president in 2009.

Opinion polls showed he would win 54% of the vote. In the event the government said Ahmadinejad, the sitting president, won by a landslide – despite high prices and high unemployment. In utter shock Mousavi and his supporters took to the streets in protest.

Hundreds of thousands, some say millions, have been peacefully marching in protest through the streets of Tehran and other cities for a week, wearing his election colour of light green.

A week after the election the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamanei, who commands the military, said enough is enough, to stop protesting or face the “consequences”.  Mousavi called for a huge march the next day – that is tomorrow as I write this. Some say to bring your Koran to make it harder for the army to shoot you down. (Mousavi always asks for his protesters to be peaceful for the very same reason – to make a violent crackdown less likely.)

Mousavi is an unlikely leader. He cannot speak well; he has little charm. He is every bit the quiet professor that he seems. And yet his experience as prime minister shows he can run the country. But, even more, he has proved he has the courage that few would to stand up to the liars who are taking Iran down a dead end. Some say he is a frontman, for Ayatollah Rafsanjani or others. This is not the actions of a frontman.

Mousavi favours a more liberal Iran, one  more friendly to the West. He is not for the narrow, hard, army-boot-in-your-face, God-and-country Iran that Ahmadinejad seems to want. Mousavi wants freedom of speech, privately owned television stations, more open government and no more moral police.

Mousavi would continue Iran’s push for nuclear power but only the peaceful sort. (His daughter is a nuclear physicist.)

Mousavi asks where the $300 billion windfall went that Iran got from higher oil prices in the Ahmadinejad years: Iran should be doing well, but instead prices have gone up (destroying middle-class savings) and more are out of work.

Mousavi is favoured by those who are young, live in the city and have good educations.

Mousavi took part in the Islamic Revolution of 1979 which overthrew the shah. He was a trusted friend of Ayatollah Khomeini. In the 1980s Mousavi was hard-line and helped to pass the very laws that he now wants to reform. But by 1997, for reasons unclear, he had become a reformer.

Mousavi is not Persian but Azeri, a Turk, from the city of Tabriz in the north-west, the son of a merchant. He studied architecture, particularly the Islamic sort, though he favours the work of Renzo Piano. He is also a poet and a painter. But for years his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, an artist and professor of political science, was the famous one.

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KananKharbandaKanan Kharbanda and his friend were Indian students in Australia. Late one night in March 2008 they were in Sunshine, a western suburb of Melbourne, waiting for his wife to arrive on the last local train. Then 15 to 20 Australians came up to them and asked for a dollar. When they showed their empty pockets they were beat up.

When the police arrived Kharbanda asked for an ambulance or first aid, The police said, “Take a taxi. We know what our job is, you bloody overseas.” After he got to the hospital he waited eight and a half hours, bleeding and in pain, before a doctor saw him.  He is now blind in one eye.

Indians are hardly the only ones who are beat up and robbed, but in the western suburbs of Melbourne they account for 30% of those who are. The police see nothing racist in that. They blame the Indians, saying they come home late at night from work. Or carry laptops. Or speak in a foreign language. Like they deserved it or something.

There were at least 70 such cases reported over the past 12 months, though many probably go unreported, given how it might affect their education and given how the police are.

The number of Indian students in Australia has tripled over the past five years to nearly 100,000. It is cheaper than Britain or America. Half live in or near Melbourne.

Australia makes billions from its foreign students, more than it does from sheep. Only coal and iron ore bring in more money. Yet somehow it could not see fit to protect them.

Not, that is, till India made a big deal out of it after stories like this one kept appearing in its newspapers.

racismdownunderThe Indian press called the violence “racist”. Australians did not like that: Australia is a tolerant and multicultural nation that respects and embraces diversity, as the (white) prime minister put it. Yes, a place where Indians are called racist names not just by the roughnecks who beat and rob them but even by the police and ten-year-olds.

When the Indian students complained, the police were slow to take them seriously and do something about it. They were slower still to admit that racism might have anything to do with it.

On May 30th 2009 Indian students staged a protest, about 4,000 strong, in the middle of Melbourne. It met its share of police violence. A week later smaller protests were held in Sydney, which has its troubles too.

Amitabh Bachchan, a famous Bollywood actor, refused an honorary degree from an Australian university, saying, “I did not feel like accepting the honour when so much dishonour against my countrymen was taking place.”

A Bollywood union refuses to film in Australia till things get better. Two hit films in 2008 were shot there.

Australia has agreed to increase police in places which have had trouble and is thinking of passing a hate crime law.

New Zealand now courts Indian students saying that it is different than Australia – in a good way.


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