Saturday, February 19, 2011

And Now Libya...

The BBC is reporting things are getting quite serious in the Libyan city of Benghazi, consisting of Libyan troops opening fire on protesters there amid massive armed crackdown by Qaddafi.

Benghazi, about 1,000 km (600 miles) from Tripoli, has been the main focus of the demonstrations against Col Gaddafi's 42-year rule.

Troops opened fire on people attending a funeral there on Saturday, killing 15, both the Associated Press news agency and al-Jazeera television said.

But an eyewitness told Reuters news agency that many more had actually died.

"Dozens were killed... not 15, dozens," the unnamed eyewitness said, adding that he had helped take victims to a local hospital.

A Benghazi resident told the BBC that security forces inside a government compound had fired on protesters with mortars and 14.5mm machine guns - a heavy machine gun typically produced in the former USSR.

They were, he said, machine-gunning cars and people indiscriminately. "A lot [of people] have fallen down today," he added.

Other witnesses spoke of snipers firing at protesters from rooftops and there were widespread reports of foreign mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa being brought in to attack protesters.

A doctor told the BBC that situation in the city was "like hell", saying he had been seeing people with gunshot wounds being carried into his hospital all day.

Conflicting reports are coming out of who controls the city, the military is said to be freely using violence and in full control, other reports say only the central military barracks are still in the military's hands.   Either way, in the last few weeks North Africa has fully spiraled out of control now.  If Qaddafi goes down like Mubarak and Ben Ali, all bets are off in the region.

Cutting Their Own Throats

Republicans went and passed some $60 billion in budget cuts from this year's budget, voting to gut dozens of programs and laying off hundreds of thousands of workers.  Not even the Blue Dogs went for this one, so the attack ads will write themselves.  Steve Benen:

Looking over the roll call, the drastic cuts received zero Democratic votes, and even Blue Dogs didn't break ranks. Three Republicans -- Walter Jones (N.C.), Reps. Jeff Flake (Ariz.), and John Campbell (Calif.) -- voted with the Dems in opposition, but two of three opposed the measure because they said it wasn't quite brutal enough. (Nine House members -- seven Democrats and two Republicans -- did not vote, but they obviously wouldn't have affected the outcome.)

The gavel came down around 4:30 a.m., making this one of those rare Friday-night/Saturday-morning votes.
The package, which is intended to finance the federal government though the end of the fiscal year, now heads to the Senate, where it stands absolutely no chance whatsoever of passing. Indeed, House Republicans knew this before the vote, and didn't care -- this isn't about governing; it's about right-wing lawmakers pounding their chests in order to impress their reactionary base. House leaders could have worked with Senate leaders on a spending compromise, but Republicans chose not to bother.

As we talked about yesterday, it's hard to overstate how brutal these cuts really are. Overnight, 235 House Republicans voted to slash education, job training, environmental protections, food safety, community health centers, nuclear security, energy efficiency programs, scientific research, FEMA, Planned Parenthood, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Social Security Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control, among other things.

The projected job losses from these cuts, we learned this week, could total 1 million American workers, all of whom would be forced into unemployment, on purpose, because Republicans think it'd be good for the economy.

As the House GOP sees it, we can't afford these expenditures because of the deficit they helped create. We can, however, afford massive tax breaks for people who don't need them, which cost a lot more, and which Republicans didn't even try to pay for.

The GOP proposal, in other words, is the sort of budget a caucus might put together if it was really angry with Americans, as if we'd done something to offend them. (Maybe, if we apologize, they'll stop trying to hurt so many people?)

Oddly enough, perhaps no one is happier with the vote than the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee -- this one measure will be exploited for hundreds of hours of campaign ads, questioning the misguided principles of vulnerable Republican incumbents who were misguided enough to vote for this monstrosity.

So yes, why do Republicans hate education, job training, environmental protections, food safety, community health centers, nuclear security, energy efficiency programs, scientific research, FEMA, Planned Parenthood, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Social Security Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control?

It's because they don't want government to work.  They want it to fail so they can privatize it as much as possible and reap the economic benefits for decades to come.

Seems to be working well so far, but I think when 2012 comes around, the backlash may surprise a lot of people.

Hallelujah, They Got One Right

The 2011 Cybersecurity Freedom Act -- proposed by senators Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut independent; Susan Collins of Maine; and Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat -- is almost identical to the legislation the senators introduced in June with two exceptions.

The bill adds language that forbids the president from shutting down the Internet during a national crisis. It also permits owners of major computer systems deemed as critical infrastructure, and therefore subject to Homeland Security Department regulations, to appeal their status in federal court.

I will give the benefit of the doubt and assume this was not ever intended to keep citizens from information.  I read about this today in several sources, some of which conflict, so keep that in mind if you read up on this.  It is my understanding that the power granted to "flip the switch" could have lasted from 30-90 days, which is way too long.  If we were under a major cyber attack, I could see an hour or two while our best and brightest did what they could, but a period of several days looks to me like an effort to keep us out of the loop for long enough to do something hideous and put a spin on it before we were allowed access to the information. 

This may have looked like a good idea to some, but with trust in government at an all-time low, this was not the time to introduce the power to restrict our access to a network that millions of Americans use daily.  If we had this policy in place, it would also be an invitation to black hatters everywhere.  I realize this doesn't mean that the risk of cyber attack is not there, it just means we need to address it in a different way.

No Need To Get Snippy About It

For a good part of our history, circumcision has been a process that we performed without  much thought.  It was a suggested process for cleanliness and health reasons, but without much scientific backing.  In the 1960s a trend began where parents did not circumcise their male children, and according to this article nearly half of male children born in the US are not circumcised.  The anti-circumcision group drew from the Center for Disease Control's neutrality on the subject.  Due to some recent findings, that neutrality has changed to leaning towards circumcision again, as a way to improve overall health and in particular sexually transmitted diseases. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics, currently neutral on whether to circumcise, are drafting new policies in light of recent studies suggesting circumcision helps prevent transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
The studies driving the new recommendations, based on clinical trials in sub-Saharan Africa and published in recent years in the Lancet medical journal, found that circumcised men had a 60 percent lower incidence of contracting HIV from heterosexual sex than their uncircumcised peers.

Another study, published in January in the Lancet, found that women with circumcised partners were 28 percent less likely to contract the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common STD that can cause cervical cancer, than women with uncircumcised partners.
The article does a good job of explaining both sides of the argument.  Both sides agree on the most important thing: this shouldn't be done without research and consideration.  It's up to the parents to decide whether or not to circumcise their children, but to do it without any reason beyond "I want him to match his father" isn't making a solid choice.


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