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Facing the 21st Century: A Brave New World of Challenge, Change and Caution

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In the past six months, the “brave new world” of the 21st century has erupted  into massive and immediate political, social, economic, and environmental change, foisting challenges of biblical proportions, all of which elicit concern, caution — and jaw-dropping exhilaration. Tanya Domi explains.

Revolutions, biblical-proportion earthquakes, floods, tornadoes and tsunamis, labor union uprisings, tear-gassing of hundred of public school teachers, humanitarian interventions and the execution of a terrorist who held the world at bay and in fear, for over a decade — even before the 9/11 attacks on America. All these events have transpired in a short six months, with unprecedented speed and alacrity that is at once breathtaking, phenomenal, frightening, jaw dropping and exhilarating.

Hard to believe that just a few weeks ago, President Obama was undoubtedly forced to confront Donald Trump’s orchestrated  “birther” allegations. Trump made the rounds with the media, vociferously asserting that Obama was not a bona fide American citizen. The president released the long form of his “live birth” Hawaii State certificate – and even discussed it live from the White House press room — and of course, the debate continued. It also sickeningly elevated Trump into the same breath as the president.

But the execution of Osama Bin Laden by American Navy Seals a week ago marks the end of not only puffed up and combed over Donald Trump, but also marks the end of a decade of American adventurism that included the prosecution of an illegal war in Iraq and the establishment of a dubious prison for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo, a U.S. Navy base that is home to a military court, strategically calculated by Bush Administration Department of Justice officials to be situated outside the jurisdiction of American courts and beyond the reach of the world’s international legal system.

 


April’s spring not only unveiled the unseemly image of a puffed up and combed over Donald Trump, but it also revealed that the Republicans have perhaps blinked from pursuing that Medicare “reform” as their inane heads were handed to them in town halls filled with irate citizens during the Easter break.



 

Also known as “Gitmo,” an island unto its illegal self, it has been criticized by leaders and jurists from every corner of the earth, including by the conservative leaning U.S. Supreme Court in 2007.

All these events have been overwhelming and yet, in tandem, I have been enthralled by them, as major breaking news has regularly washed over my desk since the earliest days of 2011.

Interspersed among these seismic events, included a big moment at home for the LGBT community when Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Feb. 23rd that the Department  of Justice would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court, asserting the Administration’s belief that the law banning gay marriages was unconstitutional. DADT repeal implementation has continued, lagging as the military gets trained on integrating openly gay and lesbian service members in the ranks. First Lady Michelle Obama announced a campaign to support military service members and their families on Feb. 28th, called “joining forces,” to the exclusion of LGB families, because DADT remains a policy.

This unforgiving, accelerated international news tempo, has also been buttressed on the home front, first by the Wisconsin labor uprising against Governor Scott Walker’s efforts to bust the Wisconsin public employee unions in February and March, fueled by the mad hatter “Tea Party caucus” in the Republican led House of Representatives, which seems hell-bent on removing whatever is left of an American safety net. The House nut jobs also seem driven to exploit the mandatory raising of the debt ceiling, come what may, even if their reckless actions give the markets not only jitters, but could drive America’s credit rating into a bigger ditch than any of us could ever imagine in our worst nightmares.

Wisconsin’s push back by labor activists and everyday citizens in February and March happened side-by-side with the Libyan uprising that has now morphed into a third American war, this time unanimously backed by the Arab League (unheard of that Arab nations would agree to declare war on a fellow Arab leader or state) and passed by the UN Security Council for humanitarian reasons to prevent a slaughter in the city of Benghazi, and called for by Libyan rebels who are giving Muammar Gaddafi his biggest leadership challenge in 41 years of unchecked power.

Read: Wisconsin Union Uprising: Why This Is The LGBT Community’s Moment

Poor Japan. Pray for Japan. My heart was in my throat as I watched the news video tape roll, capturing the god forsaken images of a 9.0 earthquake that rocked its islands on March 11, igniting a ferociously powerful tsunami that swept thousands of people out to sea and destroyed whole towns, unrecognizable, save for Google map images of before and after. But the destruction did not stop with the receding waters of the tsunami, as its Fukushima nuclear facility began a partial nuclear meltdown, considered the worst nuclear mishap since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster 25 years ago.  Watching these reports, for me, felt like the end of history and perhaps civilization. It was absolutely frightening.

April’s spring not only unveiled the unseemly image of a puffed up and combed over Donald Trump, but it also revealed that the Republicans have perhaps blinked from pursuing that Medicare “reform” as their inane heads were handed to them in town halls filled with irate citizens during the Easter break.  American baby boomers actually like Medicare and are paying close attention to the nutty wonders on Capitol Hill. The Republicans are meeting with Vice President Biden, who is negotiating a budget deal for the White House and in the meantime Budget Chair Paul Ryan, a Wisconsinite, has disappeared, perhaps gagged and rolled into sack cloth, buried in a closet in the basement of Longworth.

Under the guise of excessive spending, the Republicans declared war on women and low-​income Americans and nearly shut down the government over continued funding of Planned Parenthood under Title X, which does not permit funding of abortions. Democratic women senators came out swinging, in what was the most vigorous and articulate defense of Democratic Party principles during the manufactured budget crisis.

 

Watch: Trump vs. Obama – Dueling Birth Certificate News Conferences

I was relieved when Bin Laden was taken out, but I did not share the enthusiasm of  American youth, who gathered  in iconic places, like New York City’s Times Square and World Trade Center, as well as Lafayette Park (across from the White House) in D.C. to cheer his death and mark the demise of Al Qaeda. Let us hope that his death and the certain roll-up of his collaborators across the globe creates enough political space for the president to lighten our military footprint in Afghanistan and accelerate troop withdrawals from there and Iraq.  The costs associated with the Iraq War alone, called “The Three Trillion Dollar War” in a book authored by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, are unsustainable and are effectively killing America’s future and its dreams. We are broke. Plagued by a soft economy and a weaker job market of more than 14 million persons and many more underemployed, who are working two or more jobs to make ends meet — if they’re lucky to find them. This is the issue that will determine the outcome of the 2012 elections, not the death of Bin Laden.

Americans want to know, and rightfully so, when are we going to build schools, invest in research and innovative technologies and build infrastructure that can support and advance America’s place in a globalized  economy. It isn’t America leading the pack these days–the world’s economy is being upended by the powerhouse go-go “BRIC” countries–Brazil, Russia, India and China–are nearly all on fire. The International Monetary Fund recently projected that China could overtake the U.S. as the number one world economy by 2016. Not a happy thought for America.

Nonetheless, the political changes we are watching transpire in the Middle East and North Africa are a once in a 100 to 150 years phenomenon. It is history in the making that will have unknown ramifications for decades to come. This situation presents great opportunity and speculative risk. Will these changes emerge as democratic (small “d”) states and societies, or will they result in the rise of more illiberal states, perhaps Muslim theocracies or Shi’ia dominated governments, which so many Western policy-makers fear?

Read: Wikileaks, Twitter, Cable News Fuel Tunisia Uprising Perfect Storm

Social media platforms Facebook and Twitter, along with the Doha, Qatar based Al Jazzera Arab and English television broadcasters, have emerged as major global media players in facilitating and, some believe, fueling the revolutionary spirit ricocheting across the region. Recognition that Al Jazzera’s English service has “arrived” was acknowledged last week by the Columbia University School of Journalism (disclosure: I work for Columbia University,) who announced it was bestowing upon the once dismissed Arab news service, its highest award for “singular journalism in the public interest.”

The “let them eat cake” policy approach (subsidized food prices have been recently revoked by governments in the Middle East, as inflation and rocketing food prices have hit the world food commodity markets hard) applied by iron fisted despots, is unsustainable now, because of a revolutionary political marriage between massive poverty, rising food prices and a “youth bulge” — majorities of populations are now under the age of 30 for nearly every country in the Middle East and North Africa. No country seems untouched by these combined factors and are consequently facing popular uprisings that are shaking the foundation of Middle East governments, a hybrid of familiar kleptocracies that have maintained power for at least a half of century, if not longer.

 


 

And now, adding agony to injury, Uganda’s parliament has toyingly played with the “Kill The Gays” bill. The government seems undeterred in its pursuit of legalized brutality. The U.S. State Department has issued statements condemning the Uganda government’s actions, which have been condemned by numerous governments around the world.

 


 

Syria’s iron-fisted President Bashar al-Assad, thought to be one of the most stable (or controlling) governments in the region, during the past seven weeks has sacked his government, announced reforms, while intermittently cracking down by turning tanks on unarmed demonstrators this week. Meanwhile, the president of Yemen has announced he will depart depending on a positive negotiation process with the opposition, and the Bahrain monarchy announced it would lift martial law on June 1st.

And yet these changes have also revealed just how fragile many of these societies are, and the extent to which women are oppressed and routinely subjected to rape, sexual assault and harassment. To wit, the barbaric rape of CBS foreign correspondent Lara Logan by a mob of Egyptian men, during celebrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on March 11th. She was rescued by a group of Egyptian women and members of the Egyptian military, who rushed to her aid at the insistence of her TV crew.

 

https://youtube.com/watch?v=GN2BAcATMHg%3Ffs%3D1%26hl%3Den_US

 

Logan’s terse press statement about her rape in Egypt’s Liberation Square was followed by a shocking and brazen attack — captured on video that went viral — of Libyan officials slapping and shoving Eman al-Obeidy, a Libyan woman who had sought out foreign journalists in a Tripoli hotel, when she tried to tell them she had been raped by Libyan militia members near Benghazi. When journalists attempted to protect her, they too were shoved and slapped by government press escorts, who brutally dragged her from the hotel to an unknown location. Al-Obeidy recently emerged in public for the first time, in Tunisia, where she said she had sought diplomatic protection for simply reporting a rape–a cautionary tale about the state of these societies.

But back on the home front, not to be out done by the freakish weather in Asia, Mother Nature, perhaps, fueled by hotter temperatures which have produced more moisture, assaulted the South East on April 28th, when 190 some tornadoes swept through six states, killing more than 300 people, and leveling Tuscaloosa, the home of the University of Alabama. Obama got on a plane to view the devastation and immediately declared significant parts of the south a disaster area. Now we are faced with a flooding Mississippi River — at levels not seen since 1927 — which has risen to more than 48 feet above normal levels in Cairo, Illinois, and Memphis, Tennessee, that are expected to crest in two weeks in New Orleans. Poor New Orleans.

And now, adding agony to injury, Uganda’s parliament has toyingly played with the “Kill The Gays” bill. The government seems undeterred in its pursuit of legalized brutality. The U.S. State Department has issued statements condemning the Uganda government’s actions, which have been condemned by numerous governments around the world. But perhaps in the end, will love conquer all? It seems so in Brazil, whose Supreme Court on May 5th, decisively voted by a overwhelming margin of 10-0, to extend equal legal status and  rights and benefits to gay partners in stable relationships, including inheritance and pensions. Brazil is home to the largest Roman Catholic population in the world.  So Pope Benedict XV, go eat your miter!

 

Tanya L. Domi is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, who teaches about human rights in Eurasia and is a Harriman Institute affiliated faculty member. Prior to teaching at Columbia, Domi worked internationally for more than a decade on issues related to democratic transitional development, including political and media development, human rights, gender issues, sex trafficking, and media freedom.

Read Tanya Domi’s most-recent previous article at The New Civil Rights Movement, “Budget Showdown: Senate Democratic Women Preserve Party’s Principles.”

 

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Democrats Discredit GOP Claims on IVF as Republicans Try to Regain Ground After Fallout

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One week after the Alabama State Supreme Court ruled frozen human embryos are “children,” causing several medical institutions to pause their in-vitro fertilization (IVF) programs, Alabama and the GOP have seen tremendous nationwide anger, upset, and confusion from the left and the right over the decision, the Christian nationalist chief judge, and the Republican Party that set this in motion.

Now, GOP lawmakers and political groups are trying to regain ground after some Republicans quickly embraced the decision that, as White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre predicted Tuesday, would cause “exactly the type of chaos that we expected when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and paved the way for politicians to dictate some of the most personal decisions families can make.”

“As a reminder,” Jean-Pierre added, “this is the same state whose attorney general threatened to prosecute people who help women travel out of state to seek the care they need.”

President Joe Biden condemned the Alabama ruling: “The disregard for women’s ability to make these decisions for themselves and their families is outrageous and unacceptable.”

But U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) cheered his state’s Supreme Court, while appearing to not fully grasp what IVF is.

READ MORE: ‘Handmaid’s Tale’: Biden Campaign Blasts Trump Christian Nationalism Plans

“I was all for it,” he said of the Alabama Supreme Court ruling, calling young people “our number one commodity.”

But when pressed, Tuberville declared, “I’d have to look at the entire bill, how it’s written, I have not seen it,” referring not to legislation but the ruling.

And when told that women will now not be able to have IVF treatments, Tuberville repeatedly replied it was “unfortunate.”

On Thursday night, speaking to a group of religious broadcasters, Donald Trump denounced the Alabama ruling and vowed to protect IVF. On Friday, the beleaguered Chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) issued a memo directing Republicans to defend IVF. Also Friday, the Attorney General for the state of Alabama, mentioned earlier by the White House Press Secretary, effectively suggested he would ignore the state supreme court’s ruling, promising to not prosecute IVF families, as ABC News reported.

But Democrats are making clear that despite whatever claims or promises Republicans make, the IVF ruling is the direction conservatives are taking the Republican Party.

READ MORE: Smirnov Scandal: Experts Call for Investigations, Warn GOP of Possible Conspiracy Charges

“First Republicans banned abortions so women couldn’t terminate a pregnancy. Now they are coming for IVF so women can’t begin a pregnancy. The GOP agenda is about one thing: government control of women,” observed U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) (photo).

CNN congressional correspondent Lauren Fox reports a new NRSC memo “instructs [GOP] candidates to reject clearly and concisely government attempts to restrict access to IVF.”

Just hours later, Sen. Murphy responded, saying, “umm the chairman of the NRSC sponsored the bill to ban IVF.”

He added, “newsflash: no matter what they tell their candidates to pretend, when they get power they use it to control women.”

The NRSC’s goal is to help get Republicans elected to the U.S. Senate. It is chaired by Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, a MAGA Republican and member of the Senate’s Pro-Life Caucus.

As Bloomberg’s Matthew Yglesias notes, Senator Daines is an original co-sponsor of the Life at Conception Act.

The Center for American Progress’ Colin Seeberger adds, Daines “quite literally has been a longtime co-sponsor of the Lifetime at Conception Act, which would establish legal protections for the unborn just as the Alabama Supreme Court ordered and has led to the suspension of fertility care across AL.”

Meanwhile, Media Matters’ Matthew Gertz notes that the “text of GOP‘s most recent platform claims that ‘the unborn child has a fundamental right to life which cannot be infringed’ and calls for a constitutional amendment that would ban all abortions — and jeopardize IVF — by granting 14th Amendment rights to fetuses.”

READ MORE: Why Was GOP’s Star Witness Re-Arrested? He May Have Been Trying to Flee the Country: Report

Indeed, as The New York Times reported, far-right Christian conservative Tony Perkins, head of the Southern Poverty Law Center-designated anti-LGBTQ extremist group Family Research Council, called the Alabama Supreme Court ruling a “beautiful defense of life and the Alabama Constitution.”

Friday afternoon Donald Trump followed up his vow to protect IVF with a social media post that claims in part, “Under my leadership, the Republican Party will always support the creation of strong, thriving, healthy American families. We want to make it easier for mothers and fathers to have babies, not harder! That includes supporting the availability of fertility treatments like IVF in every State in America. Like the OVERWHELMING MAJORITY of Americans, including the VAST MAJORITY of Republicans, Conservatives, Christians, and Pro-Life Americans, I strongly support the availability of IVF for couples who are trying to have a precious baby.”

Former Obama senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer responded, asking: “Why would anyone believe this? In 2016, Trump pledged no cuts to Medicaid and then spent four years trying to gut the program.”

And as Axios reports, “House Democrats’ main super PAC is promising to pour money into attacking Republicans on fertility treatments in the wake of a controversial, first-of-its-kind Alabama Supreme Court ruling, Axios has learned.”

“Trump’s call came a day after President Biden’s re-election campaign blamed him for the ruling, noting his appointment of conservative justices to the Supreme Court, which overturned Roe v. Wade,” Axios adds. House Majority PAC, in a memo set to be released Friday, listed nearly a dozen current and former House Republicans in competitive districts who have co-sponsored at least one version of the Life at Conception Act between 2021 and 2023.”

See the social media posts and video above or at this link.

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Why Was GOP’s Star Witness Re-Arrested? He May Have Been Trying to Flee the Country: Report

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The re-arrest of Alexander Smirnov, the former FBI informant who allegedly may have provided House Republicans with Kremlin propaganda that was the basis for their efforts to impeach President Joe Biden and attack his son Hunter, raised some eyebrows on Thursday.

Smirnov, once considered House Republicans’ Jim Comer and Jim Jordan’s star witness, was re-arrested even after a magistrate judge ordered him released, and at his attorneys’ offices, raising eyebrows from even national security experts, insisting there had better be a good reason for it.

Now, according to a noted legal expert, it appears there was.

“A California judge seems to be suggesting [Smirnov’s] lawyers are complicit in his efforts to flee, in a remarkable line ordering detention for the FBI source whose lies propelled Biden impeachment efforts,” writes professor of law and MSNBC legal contributor Joyce Vance, a former U.S. Attorney.

READ MORE: ‘Insultingly Stupid’: Trump’s Move to Toss Out Classified Docs Case Torn Apart by Experts

U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II in his order wrote on Thursday: “It has come to this Court’s attention that counsel for defendant has sought an emergency hearing in the District of Nevada to arrange the release of Defendant Smirnov, likely to facilitate his absconding from the United States.”

After detailing Smirnov’s arrest and release, Judge Wright ordered his re-arrest, adding: “The U.S. Marshal Service is advised there is to be no deviation from this Order.”

Just Security’s Adam Klasfeld calls Judge Wright’s order “wild,” and adds that Smirnoff’s lawyers released “a terse statement about the extraordinary order.”

“They did not respond to questions about the language in the judge’s order suggesting a ‘likely’ aim to ‘facilitate’ their client ‘absconding from the United States.'”

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Vaccine-Laced Lettuce and Tomatoes? Tennessee GOP Lawmaker Worried

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A Tennessee Republican state lawmaker says he’s worried Tennesseans might overdose on vaccines if they eat too many tomatoes.

State Rep. Scott Cepicky claims vaccines can already be added to foods like lettuce and tomatoes, and to tobacco products, so he has filed legislation to require grocery store items containing vaccines to be labeled.

“University of California Riverside has already perfected the ability to put human vaccines into our lettuce right now,” Rep. Cepicky told his fellow lawmakers Wednesday while discussing his legislation. “Also, tomatoes, has the ability to do that also per UC Berkeley. And then big tobacco, RJ Reynolds and stuff has perfected the ability to put a human vaccine in tobacco products.”

NCRM could find no evidence supporting his claims, although researchers starting in 2021 were studying if it is possible to do so.

Cepicky, who has been endorsed by U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), warned, “there is no law, deeming those that when you go into a grocery store, you should know as a consumer, this head of lettuce is a head of lettuce. The head of lettuce right next week could contain a vaccine in it. All we’re saying is if it does have the vaccine in it, make sure it’s listed as a pharmaceutical so people can get the proper dosage.”

READ MORE: ‘Insultingly Stupid’: Trump’s Move to Toss Out Classified Docs Case Torn Apart by Experts

Facing some pushback from Democratic Rep. John Ray Clemmons, Cepicky went on to say, “This is more of a consumer protection bill right here, is to make sure that if you’re going in to buy tomatoes, and there’s a polio vaccine in there, that you are aware of what you’re buying has a polio vaccine. The problem you have is if it’s not treated as a pharmaceutical, being the size and difference between you and me, how many tomatoes do I have to eat to get the proper dosage versus how many tomatoes that you have to eat? And if you eat too many do you get a overdose?”

Asked if his legislation was necessity, Cepicky added, “Well, if you’d have a child that is allergic to a certain vaccine, and it’s not disclosed, when you go to buy that, that vegetable, whatever it is, and your child dies from that, I would think that having place is going to make sure that that is treated as a pharmaceutical so that the consumers know exactly what they’re buying.”

Anti-vaxers gained a foothold during the COVID pandemic, spreading false claims about vaccines. Last year the fact-checking website Snopes deemed it “false” that “mRNA from COVID-19 vaccines has entered the food supply via genetically modified plants bred to contain it or through the consumption of vaccinated livestock.”

“Claims regarding COVID-19 vaccines ‘in your salad‘ have persisted on the internet and recirculated due to misreadings or misinterpretations of several press releases or scientific research,” Snopes added, “Mike Flynn, during a September 2021 podcast appearance, referenced this research, describing it as ‘putting the vaccine in salad dressing.'”

READ MORE: Kremlin Infiltration of Congress Alleged by Ex-Trump Prosecutor: Republicans ‘Duped or in on It’

Flynn, the former Trump U.S. national security advisor, is a far-right Christian nationalist and Trump MAGA activist.

Tennessee lawmakers voted to move Rep. Capicky’s forward.

Watch Rep. Capicky’s remarks below or at this link.

 

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