Friday, November 25, 2011

Homeland Security drags feet on political asylum for apparently gay Saudi diplomat

The Washington Blade, on Nov. 18 on p 10, in a story by Lou Chibbaro, Jr., reports that the United States Department of Homeland Security has at least at first denied political asylum to a Saudi diplomat outed as gay by the Los Angeles consulate for Saudi Arabia. The link for the story about Ali Ahmad Asseri is here.

An original story had appeared Sept. 11, 2010, authored by Michael Isikoff, had appeared on MSNBC here.

The Blade reports that the political asylum application was reported recently by Rasheed Abou-Alshamh at When I checked that site on Firefox, I got a warning of unsafe activity from Webroot, but not from any other of my site advisories.

Some sent back to Saudi Arabia and publicly outed could face execution.  On the other hand, people have told me that closeted gay life in private spaces is quite common among the wealthy in the Arab world, and underground meeting places are well known and "overlooked" by authorities.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

CNN reports that release of Americans in Egypt seems to be progressing

CNN reports that Egyptian authorities are in the process of releasing three American students, who had been arrested at protests at Tahir Square. The mother of Derrik Sweeney spoke to CNN, but she has not spoken to him. She had said that her son stood up for what he believes in  and that his willingness to travel to protest was consistent for him.

The young people had been accused of throwing gas bottles at police, and they maintained that the bottles belonged to someone else. 

Earlier CNN had reported that a release was expected.  

Jihane Nojaim , who had written the film “The Control Room” about Al-Jazeera, has also been arrested, according to Karim Amer, the Lebanon Daily Star story here .

Generally, when dictators are overthrown, it is very difficult for replacement governments to observe what we expect as democratic values for a long time.  Political revolution that sticks is very difficult.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

CNN: more on Israel's threat to Iran, on what presidential candidates should know about foreign policy

Sunday morning, Candy Crowley on CNN interviewed Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State under President Bush, and asked her what a GOP presidential candidate needed to know about foreign policy – given some gaffes recently on Libya.  She said – have a general knowledge. The rest is OJT after inauguration. 

She also said she would not come back to government under a new GOP administration and said that she (who is single) enjoyed being a college professor because she could open young people up to opportunity.

And Fareed Zakaria took up the grim topic that Israel really is contemplating attacking Iran. Zakaria interviewed Ehud Barak, Israel Defense Minister.  Zakaria asked if Israel has the technical or military capacity to take out the Iranian nuclear program.  Such an event could have grave implications for oil supply.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Iran would close Persian Gulf oil exports if Israel attacks

The Washington Times, the DC area’s “conservative” paper, is warning that Iran might try to shut down oil shipping through the Straits of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf as an outcome of tensions over its supposed nuclear weapons program, which Iran insists is only for civilian purposes. 

The fear is that Israel will attack Iran, provoking retaliation. Then the Obama administration would have to contemplate war to keep the Straits open, put it in a position recalling Bush on Iraq.  Again, we’ll have “Obama’s War”, #2.

There was a lot of tension in the Straits late in 1980, just before the election of Reagan. 

During the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, PO Keith Meinhold, soon to become a figure in the debate on gays in the military, served on special planes that hunted for submarines in the Hormuz area. He says he was shot at once.   

The link for Rowan Scarborough’s story is here

Friday, November 11, 2011

Washington Nationals player Ramos found safe, returning from kidnap in Venezuela; State Dept warns travelers on culture, lack of security

Washington Nationals baseball player (catcher) Wilson Ramos was found safe in Venezuela Friday, according to media reports, including this story by Major League Baseball, Adam Berry, here.  Ramos is OK, and no ransom has been paid.  This has been an unusual incident in its course. Nevertheless, MLB recommends that players from unstable countries with weak or anti-western governments hire their own security, particularly if playing winter ball.

It remains to be seen how much involvement was necessary from the Obama administration, including state department and FBI   The US State Department warns travelers of poor security, corruption and rampant crime in Venezuela, here

In Venezuela, the criminal practice has been to kidnap relatives of wealthy targets, to take advantage of the family-center culture.  The left wing environment of Chavez may contribute to the occurrence of these crimes, or they could be related to drug cartels (as in the 2001 movie “Collateral Damage”).
A rally was held early evening at National’s Park.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Charlie Hebdo incident in France sounds a bit like the Danish cartoon controversy

Here’s a pretty subtle story on p A19 of today’s Wall Street Journal, “A French lesson in free speech” by Anne Jolis, link (WSJ may require subscription to read entire article). 

The tall tale concerns the strange career of Charlie Hebdo, who sometime around 2001 took himself off the Web because of the reputation for scoundrels.  Nevertheless, he made a lot of online satire, even with a “Shariah Weekly” edition of his printed leaflet and online paper (link). , which apparently led to an attack on his office in Paris on Nov. 2 (BBC story link).

Yet Bruce Crumley in Time criticized Hebdo for “constantly provoking crises that we don’t need”, and saying Hebdo is “no free speech martyr”,  link 
And here’s a Wordpress posting on the incident, called “Promotheus Unbound”, link

This does sound a lot like the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad Cartoon Controversy.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Italy could be a much bigger problem than Greece (then, Spain); "demographic winter?"

Nick Thompson of CNN has a sobering article “Has Italy Passed the Point of No Return?”  He gives a good explanation of bond yields and sovereign debt.  Silvio Berlusconi will step down once the government can agree on austerity measures enough to convince investors to let Italy borrow at a reasonable rate, less than 7%.

Italy’s economy is about 7 times the size of Greece, and a default would have a severe effect on the entire global financial system.  401K’s in the US could be hit much harder than with Greece.
The CNN link is here

To put it bluntly, many of Italy's problems are demographic: not enough children (despite parenthood subsidies), retirement ages that are too early, pension commitments that are too big.  A warning for the US?  This problem will follow the entire developed world.

The US Dow fell almost 400 points today, over 3%.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Greece behaves itself to accept EU bailout -- else be quarantined

So, the prime minister of Greece tries to broker “the people” by proposing a referendum, on whether existing Greeks will willing to have their pensions cut and even salaries cut so their country doesn’t go bankrupt, and retirees overseas don’t lose on their investments.  It sounds like a variation on the Leftist “class warfare”. No, it's more about "demographic winter". 

So the government falls, a new one must form, and apparently Greece will fall in line with what us investors in the rest of the world expect, to pay their bills.   The US  Dow was up slightly Monday morning.  Wall Street likes it, temporarily.  But the AP (David Randall) reports that investors are already that the Greece virus will spread to Italy, Spain and Portugal, story here

It might have been easier for Greece to leave the EU and go back to printing its own money, so it could become another Argentina, while quarantining itself.

I remember, when landing in Lisbon in April 2001 on a Europe trip, a cab driver’s saying that Portugal would benefit from the Euro with real estate development. Look at Spain and Portugal now. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Washington DC church helps establish important library in Liberia

Today, during the potluck dinner at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC, there was a report of a new library established (in June 2011) in Monrovia, Liberia (on the coast of West Africa), the building almost on the beach itself, called the “Francis A. Dennis Sr. Memorial Library”. It will seek collections of books on international relations particularly for countries in its region of Africa.

Liberia is one of two countries in the region not founded by colonialism and mercantilism; it was actually formed by freed slaves.

Companies have used Liberia for ship registries. That was true of an insurance company I worked for, USLICO, in the early 1990s; it owned a ship registry and actually promoted someone to manage it. In 1995, the company was acquired by NWNL which would become ReliaStar and then ING.

Liberia is about 85% Christian.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Liberian students studying by candlelight.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Australian filmmaker seeks funds to make documentary about coal, environmental damage in Australia

Haw River Films and the Bimblebox Nature Refuge in Australia are seeking to raise money for a documentary film about coal and gas mining in Australia (particularly Queensland and New South Wales).  They have a fundraising deadline in December 2011.  The details are (website url) here 

Haw River Films produced the film “Mountaintop Removal” about the practice in the US associated with strip mining for coal, reviewed on my movies blog (Oct. 16, 2009).

I got an email from Mike O’Connell in Australia which reads as follows:

“Mike O'Connell here I'm writing you because you purchased a copy of my last film Mountain Top Removal.  Your purchase funded ton's of outreach and made my new project Bimblebox possible.  I filmed this feature documentary entirely in Australia during the last year.  Bimblebox is basically finished and we've submitted to loads of festivals. If you're interested in seeing a clip we have a Kickstarter site and hope you'll check it out.

“Bimblebox is global in scope and examines Australia's position as the worlds largest fossil fuel exporter. Australia supplies one third of the world's coal trade. 

“I tried not to make another "coal is bad" movie,  Bimblebox includes solutions as well from an amazing organization called Beyond Zero Emissions.

“The twenty something founder is sort of the Julian Assange of the climate movement.

“Once again I can't tell you how much your dvd purchase meant to me as a way to continue pursuing my passion for moving images, stories and music.”

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Kalgoorlie open pit mine (Western Australia). 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Contractor employees living in Arabia or Muslim countries, in compounds: how does gay life work?

A personal conversation last night with someone who had worked in Saudi Arabia and other Arabian countries as a contractor gave me an idea of how gay life goes in the Middle East. And it’s definitely “don’t ask don’t tell”, even in more moderate countries like Oman or Abu Dhabi.

Arab countries don’t have gay bars as such, and in many areas alcohol is not allowed.  In places like Dubai, alcohol is available to non Muslims in hotel bars and private clubs (for example, here).

In many places, I’m told, young foreign nationals accumulate to be “picked up”.  A lot goes on, but no one talks about it. The same is true on “compounds”.

The hostility of Islam to homosexuality (in men) is well known, which may be ironic because of the polygamy in some Muslim societies (leaving some men without the opportunity to have women). There is a cultural norm that says sons must protect the honor of their father (that is, the marital relations which the sons did not choose).  

There is an earlier posting about gay life in Saudi Arabia on the GLBT blog, April 15, 2007, based on an Atlantic story.

There is a lot of material on the web about compound life in Saudi Arabia for foreign employees of large contractors.

There are references that explain the difficulties and expense of moving into a compound, here. That would sound like an employer responsibility.

Back in 1980, I was told by someone who had worked in Saudi Arabia that religious police did come onto compounds to check for alcohol.  That may not be happening now.  

Picture: Tanzania House (apparently the embassy itself), 22nd St, Washington DC