« May 2006 | Main | July 2006 »

June 28, 2006

WATCH THE "BILLIONAIRES FOR BUSH" HIP-HOP VIDEO

Billionaires_for_bush That band of effective and joyously subversive political satirists, Billionaires for Bush (or B4B for short), has a raucously amusing new hip-hop music video, "The Billionaires Are In The House." Watch this new  B4B video by clicking here.

And check out the B4B multi-media website for lots more fun stuff, including their photo contest for the forthcoming B4B Calendar and a list of their upcoming events. When they drop science on the Bush White House, it hurts!

Posted by Direland at 11:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

GLOBAL PROTESTS JULY 19 TO COMMEMORATE HANGING OF 2 IRANIAN TEENS (Updated)

Iran_teens_deadUpdated July 18 -- At least 27 cities in the U.S., Europe, and Canada have already organized events for July 19, the International Day of Action Against Homophobic Persecution in Iran. The original call to action for July 19 was initiated jointly by the militant British gay rights group OutRage and the Paris-based International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) for world-wide demonstrations on July 19, the first anniversary of the public hanging in Iran of two gay teens, Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni. Photos of the execution of the two boys, who were hanged in the public square of the city of Mashad last year (photo above left), created international outrage when they were widely circulated on the Internet, and focused the world’s attention on Iran’s ongoing, lethal reign of terror targeting Iranian gays.

Protests have already been scheduled for the anniversary of the teens’ execution in a number of large European cities, including London, Moscow, Frankfurt, Milan, Marseille, Amsterdam, Vienna, Dublin, Stockholm, and Brussels.

Local gay groups and ad hoc committees have already scheduled U.S. events in San Francisco, San Diego, , Washington, D.C., Seattle, Fort Lauderdale, Salt Lake City, Sioux Falls (So. Dakota), Tulsa (Oklahoma), Chicago, and Provincetown for July 19. And there will be commemorative meetings in Toronto and Vancouver in Canada.(A list of all those demonstrations and events in the U.S. and around the world, with contacts, is at the bottom of this post).

The call for global demonstrations has also been endorsed by the Persian Gay and Pglo_logo_9 Lesbian Organization (PGLO), the largest Iranian gay group, which has secretariats in several European countries and Canada. “We enthusiastically support the call for demonstrations on July 19, and we are very grateful to our brothers and sisters for organizing these demonstrations for our beleaguered Iranian gay people,” Arsham Parsi (left)Arsham_parsi_ii , human rights secretary of the PGLO, told Gay City News from his base in Toronto, where he and local gay organizations are organizing a demonstration..

The PGLO has also asked all its members in Iran to display lighted candles in their windows on July 19 in memory of the two hanged Iranian lads -- "That's about all we can ask our members in Iran to do safely without bringing down persecution on their heads from the regime's police and the homo-hating paramilitary basiji thugs who work for the ayatollahs," Parsi said.

The New York-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, which had both endorsed the call for world-wide demonstrations and had announced it was taking the lead to organize a New York City demonstration in front of the Iranian Mission to the U.N., has withdrawn from the demonstration. As a result, a local ad hoc committee has taken over the organization of the New York City action. Its members (the list is in formation) include Andy Humm and Ann Northrop, Gay USA cable TV news; Walter Armstrong, POZ magazine; Sandy Rapp, Lesbian feminist singer-writer; Rosario Dawson, actor-activist; Doric Wilson, Playwright; Martin Duberman, Professor Emeritus, City University of New York; Church Ladies for Choice. Allen Roskoff, president, Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club; the Stonewall Democratic Club; the Metropolitan Community Church of N.Y.; Darren Rosenblum, Associate Professor, Pace Law School; Larry Kramer, writer-activist; John Berendt, author, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" and "City of Falling Angels"; Lawrence D. Mass, M.D., physician, writer, activist, co-founder of Gay Men's Health Crisis; Arnie Kantrowitz, prof. emeritus, College of Staten Island, CUNY, and author, "Under the Rainbow: Growing Up Gay"; Sean Strub, founder, POZ magazine; Kenneth Sherill, Professor, Political Science, Hunter College, CUNY; Wayne Besen, Executive Director, Truth Wins Out; Rev. Pat Bumgartner, pastor, Metropolitan Community Church; Rick Shur; Andrew Berman; Frank Jump, educator, artist, activist; Vincenzo Aiosa, same-sex marriage activist; State Senator Tom Duane; Ethan Geto, Geto & DeMilly Inc.; Joe Kennedy, Gay Activists Alliance veteran; Dirk McCall, President, Stonewall Democratic Club; -- more names to come.

LATEST ENDORSEMENTS: The July 19 events have now been endorsed by the International Lesbian and Gay Association, which has called on all its 400 member associations and groups in 90 countries to organize events -- vigils, demonstrations, rallies, candlelight parades -- on the 19th. More endorsements of the Call to Action for July 19 are coming in every day. Among the latest to join the July 19 movement is the Dutch gay organization COC (the world's oldest LGBT organization), which has agreed to help organize the Amsterdam event at the city's famous Homomonument (erected to honor the thousands of homosexuals who died in Nazi concentration camps during World War II); Tupilak, the association of lesbian and gay cultural workers in the Nordic area, which has taken the lead in organizing a demonstration at the Iranian embassy in Stockholm (with support from the Nordic Homo Council, Nordic Rainbow Humanists, and International Lesbian & Gay Cultural Network Information Secretariat); and the website Gay Egypt.. Also, Gay Russia.ru, which organized the banned Moscow Pride 2006 demonstration, and Nicolas Alexeyev (the organizer of Moscow Pride who was arrested during their demonstration) are organizing a July 19 demonstration in Moscow. And the Austrian gay group HOSI (Homosexuelle Initiative) Wien has announced it will organize a demonstration in Vienna. In the U.S. in South Florida, Fort Lauderdale's Independent Gay News is taking the lead in organizing a demonstration there. And in Seattle, Washington, the local weekly newspaper, Seattle Gay News and its editor, George Bakan, are organizing a commemorative meeting. The July 19 Day of Action has also been endorsed by the Campaign for Peace and Democracy.

The newest city to announce an event is Milan, Italy, where it is being organized by the youth section of ARCIIGAY, the national lesbian and gay association. Fabio Saccà, the youth coordinator for ARCIGAY, reports, "Many delegations of youth NGOS addressing minority issues will join and endorse the event, including the Italian Muslim Youth Association. The event is meant to be not only an occasion to celebrate history or to assert rights and protection for LGBT people in Iran, but also serve as a bridge for intercultural cooperation among youth organizations. This event will take
place under the framework of the newly-launched European Youth Campaign: All
Different, All Equal. (www.alldifferent-allequal.info)"

In Dublin, Ireland, the event is spearheaded by the gay youth group BeLonG To Youth -- and organizers, who have put together an impressive list of speakers, say their center city rally may be so large it will stop traffic. Mexico City's July 19 event is being organized by the gay Mexican magazine Enkidu. Warsaw, too, will have a candlelight vigil on July 19 to protest the friendship pact between Poland and Iran -- their slogan will be "PAMIETAMY!" (meaning, "We remember!") In Marseille, France, the demonstration is being organized by a coalition of 15 gay organizations. In Bogota, Colombia, the LGBT group Colombia Diversa is collecting signatures on a petition protesting repressive measures against homosexuals and will deliver them to the Iranian Embassy in Bogota on July 19. And in the small English West Country town of Gloucester, the event will begin with a minute of silence for the two hanged teens and all other victims of Iranian persecution.

At the same time, a new report on the hangings of the two Iranian gay teens, based on sources inside Iran, prepared by Simon Forbes, and issued by OutRage, further refutes the claims by the Islamic Republic of Iran that the boys were guilty of rape, and instead demonstrates that they were victims of a legal “honor killing” initiated by a family member of one of the boys who disapproved of their homosexuality. Gay City News also had refuted the Tehran regime’s claims about the rape allegations against the two lads in its reporting on the hangings last year ( to read one of those reports, click here.

“Local sources in Mashad state that Mahmoud and Ayaz were lovers, not rapists or child abusers – contrary to the homophobic propaganda of the Iranian regime,” says the OutRage report. “Witnesses report seeing them together and obviously in love at a private party in 2003,” the year before their arrest. “Mahmoud and Ayaz were charged with the capital crime of homosexuality after a disapproving family member reported their relationship to the police,” the report adds.

Commented OutRage founder and coordinator Peter Tatchell, “In publicised executions of gay couples, the men are often accused of the kidnap and rape of a Peter_tatchell_good_1 younger male. All such allegations need to be treated with extreme skepticism, as they tend to follow a suspiciously stereotypical formula.” Tatchell (left) added, By instituting charges of kidnap and rape, the Iranian authorities apparently hope to discredit the victims, discourage public protests and deflect international condemnation. They calculate that there will be little Iranian or international sympathy for people hanged for crimes like abduction and sexual assault.” Similar warnings from gay Iranians inside Iran have been documented by this reporter (for example, read this report from Gay City News last year.)

As to the age of the two gay victims, “At first it was claimed by Iranian officials that they were aged 18 and 19, then that they were 19 and 21, then aged 18 and 20, and finally Irangay_teens_17 they made the claim that they were both above 18 at the time of their alleged crimes. However,” the OutRage report says, “ the best evidence is that both youths were aged 17 when they were executed and therefore minors, aged 15 or 16, at the time of their alleged crimes. This execution of minors is in flagrant breach of international agreements the Tehran regime has signed.” (Left, Mahmoud and Ayaz on the scaffold last year)

In calling for global demonstrations, the coordinator and founder of IDAHO, Louis-George Tin (right), a black French university professor, said, “Something special has Louisgeoirge_tin_3_1 happened since 19 July 2005: an international movement is emerging in solidarity with the two boys and all the victims of Iran’s homophobic regime. The political and religious authorities in Iran should understand that their homophobia is now regarded as an international scandal.”

Tin added, “On 19 July, we are standing for life, for liberty, and for love. We are standing in commemoration of Mahmoud and Ayaz and all the victims of Tehran’s homophobic tyranny. We also stand in hope, looking forward to a better future for the gays and lesbians of Iran." (For a profile of Louis-GeorgeTin, "Going Global on Gay Rights," click here.)

The joint IDAHO-OutRage appeal for international demonstrations, entitled “An Iran_tidmus_poster_1_stop_killing_6 International Day of Action Against Homophobic Persecution in Iran” -- whose slogan is "Stop Killing Gays! Stop Killing Kids!" --  includes a five-point list of its goals:

“1. End all executions in Iran, especially the execution of minors.

“2. Stop the arrest, torture and imprisonment of Iranian lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and repeal the Iranian penal code’s criminalization of same-sex relationships.

“3. Halt the deportation to Iran of LGBT asylum seekers and other victims of Tehran’s persecution.

“4. Support Iranians struggling for democracy, social justice and human rights.

“5. Oppose foreign military intervention in Iran; regime change must come from within – by and for the Iranian people themselves.”

Although IGLHRC has stepped forward to organize a demonstration in New York City, some U.S. gay activists are critical of the absence of the other national U.S. gay organizations from the July 19 protests. “American gay rights organizations should devote more energy to tackling homophobic persecution beyond our borders,” said San Francisco’s Michael Petrelis, organizer of a demonstration scheduled there for 5:00 P.M. at Harvey Milk Plaza. The protests on July 19 are a step towards greater US support for the global struggle for queer freedom,“ Petrelis said, adding, “Last year, only one American city joined last year’s the international protests against Iran's hanging of the two gay teenagers. We hope more cities will join us and organize vigils for gay and lesbian Iranians.”

I originally rote the above article (subsequently expanded and updated for this blog) for Gay City News -- New York's largest gay weekly -- in whose June 19 edition it appeared.. GCN also carried an editorial endorsing the demonstrations., in which the newspaper's editors notably declared: "Gay City News believes that it would be shameful and tragic if—in the city where the modern gay movement began with the Stonewall Rebellion 37 years ago—the LGBT community remained silent and immobile in the face of the lethal wave of anti-gay repression unfolding in Iran."

Below is a list (as of now) of cities and contacts where we have details on July 19 demonstrations and events which have been organized (more are joining the list every day):

New York --  Location: Iranian Mission to the U.N., 622 Third Avenue (at 40th St.) Iranwe_say_no Time: 5:00 P.M.  Contact: Andy Humm, Andyhumm@aol.com 

Washington, D.C. -- Location: DuPont Circle Time: 5:00 P.M. Contact: Rob Anderson rcand@mac.com, Tel.  work (202) 508-4446 home (202) 550-8812

Provincetown -- Location: Town Hall Square Time: 5-6 PM Contact: Andrew Sullivan, andsul@aol.com

San Diego -- Location: U.S. Federal Building Time: 4:00 pm Contact: Michael Mussman, michaelmussman@yahoo.com

San Francisco -- Location: Harvey Milk Plaza, Castro and Market Streets Time: 5:00 pm Contact: Michael Petrelis, mpetrelis@aol.com

Fort Lauderdale-Broward County (South Florida) -- details to be announced soon Contact: Michael James, Editor, Independent Gay News, MJames@OurIndependent.com  Telephone 954.563.0470

Sioux Falls, South Dakota -- Location: Calvary Cathedral, 500 S. Main Avenue
Time: 9:00 pm Contact: Kathy Knobloch, thecenter.colc@midconetwork.com 

Seattle, Washington -- Location: Seattle Central Community College Plaza, Pine and BroadwayTime: 7:00 pm
Contact: George Bakan, editor, Seattle Gay News, sgn2@sgn.org

Chicago – Location: Vigil at Millennium Park (Pritzker Pavilion entrance).
Time: 5:30. Contact: Gay Liberation Network, LGBTliberation@aol.com

Tulsa, Oklahoma -- Location: Tulsa County Courthouse Place, Vigil Time: 8:30 PM Contact: Laura Belmonte, Tulsa Oklahomans for Human Rights (TOHR), mobile 918-906-2134

Salt Lake City -- Location: GLBT Community Center Youth Activity Center, 355 North 300 West Time: 6:30 P.M. Contact: Rachel McNeil, rachel@glbtccu.org

Toronto -- Location: University of Torontdo, Hart House, Music Room, 7 Hart House Circle. Toronto, Ontario Time: 5-9 P.M. Speakers will include Arsham Parsi, Human Rights Secretary of the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization (PGLO) and an Iranian exile, and local gay and political leaders. Contact: pglo@pglo.net

Vancouver --  Location: Vancouver Art Gallery - Robson Plaza Time: 6:00 p.m. Contact: Finn Kovaltsenko, aidengreer@shaw.ca

Dublin --  Location: Dublin City Centre, The Central Bank, Dame Street Time: 5.30pm, Speakers to include Senator David Norris Contact: BeLonG To Youth Project, belongto@eircom.net telephone 01-8734184;

Mexico City -- Location (Lugar): Contempo Cine, Address (Direccion): Londres 161, 1er piso; entre Florencia y Amberes; Time: (Miercoles 19 de julio/)Wednesday Hora: 19:00 Hrs Contact: Enkidu Magazine, info@enkidumagazine.com, Telephone 044 55 2517 5098

Bogota, Colombia -- Petitions of protest against anti-gay repression, for which the LGBT group Columbia Diversa gathered signatures, will be delivered to the Iranian embassy in Bogota. Contact: Andrew Dier, andrewdier@yahoo.com

Milan, Italy -- Location: Corso Magenta 39, in front of the palace where the European Union Commission has its offices Time: 18:30 (6:30 PM) Contact: Fabio Sacca, ARCIGAY youth coordinator, giovani@arcigay.it., Tel. 39-349-1777-021

Warsaw -- Location: Candle-light vigil, 22 Królowej Aldony street Time: 9 P.M. Contact: Lukasz Palucki, luke.santi@eranet.pl

Amsterdam -- Location: Homomonument (Keizersgracht canal near Westerkerk)Time: 10 P.M. Contact: René van Soeren of COC, rvansoeren@coc.nl, and Mike Tidmus, tidmus@mac.com

The Hague (Netherlands) -- Location: Iranian Embassy to The Netherlands Time: 1:00-2:00 P.M. Organized by COC, Contact: René van Soeren of COC, rvansoeren@coc.nl

London: -- Location: House of Commons, Committee Room 12 Guest Speakers:Chris_bryant_mp  openly gay Labour Party Member of Parliament Chris Bryant MP (photo right), Jean Lambert MEP, Iranian gay activists, Simon Forbes and Peter Tatchell Time: 6:30 pm Contacts: Peter Tatchell, peter@tatchell.freeserve.co.uk & Brett Lock, brettlock@gmail.com

Stockholm -- Location: Iranian Embassy, Elfviksvägen Västra Yttringe gård Lidingö Time: 5:00 P.M. (17:00) Contact: Bill Schiller, bill.schiller@sr.se (Supported by Tupilak, Nordic Homo Council, Nordic Rainbow Humanists, and International Lesbian & Gay Cultural Network Information Secretariat)

Marseille -- Location: Le Vieux Port Time: 7 PM (19h) Sponsored by a collective of 15 gay organizations. Contact: Philippe Colomb (philippe.colomb@si-lgbt.org) and Hussein Bourgi (husseinbourgi@hotmail.com)

Moscow -- Location and Time to be announced in Moscow at the last minute, to prevent disruption by fascists or police. Contact: Nicolas Alexeyev, GayRussia.ru and nicolas_alexeyev@yahoo.com

Brussels -- Location: Brussels Stock Exchange Time:8 PM to 11PM (20h a 23h) Contact: Stephen Barris, ILGA stephenbarris@ilga.org

Vienna -- Location: Office of IranAir (official airline of the Islamic Republic of Iran), A-Wien 1010 Opernring; Time: to be announced Contact: HOSI Wien and Bettina Nemeth, Obfrau Tel. 0699-11965265; Christian Högl, Obmann Tel. 0699-11811038; Kurt Krickler, Tel. (01) 5451310 oder 0664-5767466
office@hosiwien.at.: 5245 34 408
ZVR-Nr

Gloucester, U.K. -- Location: The Coach and Horses “gay” pub, Saint Catherines Street, Gloucester. Time: 8:00 PM

IF YOUR CITY HAS NOT YET SCHEDULED A JULY 19 DEMONSTRATION, ORGANIZE ONE! WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

For background on the new wave of anti-gay repression in Iran, see my previous articles: July 21, 2005 -- Iran Executes Two Gay Teenagers (Updated); August 11 -- Iran Sources Question Rape Charges in Teen Executions; August 12 -- Two New Gay Executions Scheduled in Iran, Says Iranian Exile Group; August 17 -- Iran's Deadly Anti-Gay Crackdown: With Two More Executions Scheduled, the Pace of Repression Steps Up.August 25 -- Iran's Anti-Gay Purge Grows: Reports of New Executions. September 8 -- Iran and the Death of Gay Activism. September 20 -- "They'll Kill Me" -- A Gay Iranian Torture Victim Speaks of His Ordeal ; September 29 -- Iranian Gays Urgently Appeal for Help ; October 5 --"Shocking New Photo of Hanging of Gay Iranian Teens"; October 6 -- Canada Introduces UN Resolution Condemning Iran's Human Rights Record; November 24, "Save Us"-- A Gay Iranian Who Married His Partner Begs for Help from the West ; January 12, 2006 -- "Kidnapped: Another Gay Iranian Torture Victim Speaks"; January 4, 2006 -- "Iran's Anti-Gay Pogrom"; January 27, 2006 -- "A Call to Solidarity: U.S. Gay Groups Must End Their Isolationism; February 8, 2006 -- "An Iranian Trans Torture Victim Speaks from Inside Iran."  February 9, 2006--Stop the Deportation of Saba Rawi; March 3, 2006-- "Dutch to End Freeze on Deportation of Gay Iranians"; March 4, 2006-- "Commotion in Dutch Parliament Over Deportation of Gay Iranians."; March 16, 2006-- "England: Another Gay Iranian Faces Deportation"; April 20, 2006-- "Dutch Deportations of Gay Iranians on Hold"; April 26, 2006-- "iran Hacks Websites to Bury Anti-Gay Pogrom"; May 31, 2006-- "Iran Exports Anti-Gay Pogrom to Iraq"; June 14, 2006-- "An Iranian Gay Activist's Moving Plea."  June 25, 2006 -- "Iran's Gay Refugees Find a Safe Haven in Canada."

Also, don't miss Rob Anderson's excellent article in the New Republic, "How America's Gay Rights Establishment is Failing Gay Iranians."

Posted by Direland at 03:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (42)

June 27, 2006

JOSCHKA FISCHER LEAVES GERMAN POLITICS TO TEACH IN U.S.

  1. Joschka_fischer_good Joschka Fischer, the German Green Party leader who, as his country's foreign minister, opposed the invasion of Iraq, is leaving politics and coming to the U.S. to take up posts at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and at the Council on Foreign Relations, Deutsche Welle reports today. The German public radio and television news service notes that Fischer was "the most popular German politician for a long time," and led the Greens into a coalition government with the Social Democrats and their highest electoral score ever. You can read Deutsche Welle's truncated summary of Fischer's career by clicking here.

Fischer was famous for being unafraid to confront powerful U.S. leaders. For example, when asked his name by President Bush, he replied, “My name is Mr. Fischer. What’s your name?” (October 22nd, 2005). And to Donald Rumsfeld (at the 39th Security Conference in Munich), after a Rumsfeld peroration in favor of the Iraq war, Fischer looked him in the eye and told him, "Excuse me, I am not convinced."

In a May 29 Washington Post op-ed column, Fischer argued for negotiations with Iran and opposed a military strike against the Tehran regime and its developing nuclear capacity, arguing that " the military option -- destruction of Iran's nuclear program through U.S. airstrikes -- [is not] conducive to resolving the issue. Rather, it rings of a self-fulfilling prophecy. There is no guarantee that attempts to destroy Iran's nuclear potential and thus its capability for a nuclear breakout would succeed. Moreover, as a victim of foreign aggression, Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions would be fully legitimized. Finally, a military attack on Iran would mark the beginning of a regional, and possibly global, military and terrorist escalation -- a nightmare for all concerned."

In its account of a June 25 speech Fischer gave here at the Center for International and Strategic Studies, Joschka_fischer_posters_1 TomPaine.com reported that  Fischer "believes there are two and a half major challenges facing the West right now. The first is how to integrate Asia peacefully into the global economy. The second is how to resolve the mess in the 'greater Middle East'. The final half is what to do about Russia's current boisterousness.

"The core of the first challenge, Asia, is the region's rising demand for materials and energy. 'China needs average growth of 10 percent to fix its domestic problems,' making energy one of the most important challenges facing the west, Fischer said. Fischer recognizes that this is a problem with roots in our own modern economies. Therefore, Fischer believes that 'a reconstruction of the West is crucial,' and asks, 'How will the world economy be organized so that we are not in world conflict about resources?'

"Indeed, Fischer could not overestimate how important the energy question is. During the question and answer period, he chastized a member of the audience serving in the U.S. Commerce Department for attempting to place the blame on the lack of a U.S.-E.U. energy consensus on the European bureaucracy. Fischer retorted that it is America's intransigence on energy that is the major stumbling block and that the proper forum must be the Group of Eight industrialized countries --  a forum Bush has avoided engaging seriously over energy. The G8 reference only underscores Fischer's believe that this problem is rooted in resource economics within developed economies."

Fischer sketched a new transatlantic consensus, summarized in this report: "'Where the old consensus was based on a common view of an external Soviet threat and the need for a united external policy, the next consensus must be fundamentally different. We "need a common strategic understanding,' says Fischer--an understanding that in order to integrate 1.3 billion Chinese and 1.1 billion Indians into the global economy, our own economies must change, starting with energy. From that foundation, then, we can address the Middle East and Russia with confidence." You can read the rest of TomPaine.com's report on Fischer's speech by clicking here.

Posted by Direland at 05:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Letter from Rome: IN ITALY'S CONSTITUTIONAL REFERENDUM, BERLUSCONI GETS SLAPPED

Italy_map_6 The following is the latest dispatch on Italian politics from DIRELAND's Rome correspondent, longtime ex-pat journalist Judy Harris, a former staffer in Italy for the Wall Street Journal and TIME magazine:

ROME ­ -- For the third time in two months, the always arrogant and increasingly ill-Berlusconi_worried_5 tempered former Premier Silvio Berlusconi (right) was slapped down by voters, who scorned his effort to rewrite the Italian constitution in his own name. A mere 38.4% voted with the Berlusconi coalition; a solid 61.6% rejected it. The voting took place Sunday and Monday without incident, and with a remarkably large turnout of 53%.6.

Bossi_6 In the waning days while he was premier, Berlusconi passed the bill challenged by the referendum. The last-gasp populist law whittled away at both the parliamentary system and the presidency while expanding the powers of the premier pro-devolution, anti-immigrant ally, the separatist Northern League headed by the xenophobic demagogue Umberto Bossi (left). In addition, health services, education and police powers were devolved to the twenty Italian regions, not all of which shine for their skills at self-government.

The present constitution is widely honored because written in 1948, when painful memories of World War Two and the 22 years of Fascist dictatorship were still fresh. Although many of his opponents would like to see a constitutional revision (few countries have or need 950 members of Parliament),  Berlusconi chose to give the referendum a high-voltage politicization, which became a boomerang against him.

Last night Berlusconi consoled himself with predictions that Premier Romano Prodi¹s center-left governing coalition will implode, which remains a risk, given the fractious nature Prodi's coalition. But even if Prodi's rickety governing alliance should fall apart, bringing new elections, Berlusconi is today less likely than yesterday to succeed himself as a future premier. The media magnate still commands a loyal following, but he has lost luster. However narrowly, Berlusconi's House of Liberty coalition lost the national general elections in May, and Berlusconi personally failed to achieve his goal of becoming president of Italy in a vote a few weeks later. The flop of the referendum Fini_1 further frays his four-party coalition: count on the center-right moderates of Alleanza Nazionale, the "post-fascist" party headed by former geunuine fascist youth leader Gianfranco Fini (left) and built on the remains of the old neo-fascist party, the MSI (Italian Social Casini_pier_ferdinando Movement); and the Catholics of the UDC (Union of Catholic and Center Democrats), headed by Pier Ferdinando Casini (right), to be less supine in the future.

         A strong vote for the Berlusconi team did come, but from only three regions: the small Venezia-Friuli Giulia (50.8%); the Bossi stronghold of Lombardy (54.6% yes), business capital of Italy; and the wealthy agri-business Veneto region (55.3% yes). All three are in the formerly Austrian-owned Northeast Italy, and in all three the federalist impulse (Bossi compares Lombardy to Scotland) and anti-immigrant feeling is strong.

The Bossi crowd was not happy with the outcome. "Italia fa schifo, gli Italiani fanno schifo," snarled the League's Europarliamentarian Marco Formentini (Italy stinks, the Calderoli_roberto_with_muhammad_tshirt Italians stink); Mussolini-style strong language is popular with the macho Italian right. The reform just rejected was the work of Berlusconi's wacky former cabinet minister without portfolio, Roberto Calderoli (left, wearing a t-shirt bearing a Danish cartoon of the prophet Mohammed -- creating a scandal which forced him to resign.) While expecting Italians to vote for it, Calderoli himself had cheerily dismissed his own law as the "pigshit" reform (okay, Italianists, you try to find a better word for "porcata").

Soccer_ball_2 By five o¹clock yesterday, the results were finally clear, and the Prodi team was justItaly_home_patch_socer  trumpeting victory when the referee blew his whistle at 5:15 Italian time. As the Italian soccer team ran onto the grass to begin their victorious World Cup game(1-0, with a last-minute score by beloved Totti, against Australia), suddenly the sofas of the noisy Italian political talk shows emptied. "It was the fastest vote-counting ever in Italy," a commentator said as he joined the race to the TV set.

When the chattering classes return to business, they will have plenty to discuss.  The Prodi government has yet to get down to work.

After a few embarrassing mishaps, the first weeks were spent in endless meetings during which Prodi made all ministers promise not to issue public statements. But a tough agenda awaits, beginning with  the 7.7% unemployment and the flagging economy, fortunately in the hands of the competent Minister Tommaso Padoa Schioppa, former member of the executive of the European Central Bank. Other Emma_bonnino_1 issues to be resolved: foreign policy and a pull-out from Afganistan, Rose_in_the_fist_2 opposed by Minister for International Trade Emma Bonino (left), for one (Bonino's from the tiny Rosa nel Pugno (Rose in the Fist) party (logo right), a federation of Marco Panella's old Radical Party and the smaller Italian Democratic Socialists, built from remnants of the old, discredited, and hugely corrupt Italian Socialist Party. A veteran pol who is popular for her role in legalizing abortion, Bonino has stolen the limelight from Panella, the Radical's founder and traditional leader.) Knotty issues also include abuses of the health service; education and research; and, yes, constitutional reform.

Rifondazione_logo_1 Bertinotti_gestures_quizzically_1The contradictions within the government remain a problem, as exemplified by Fausto Bertinotti (right), head of Rifondazione comunista and now president of the Chamber of Deputies. Bertinotti made an embarrassing appearance on Armed Forces Day, when he showed up to represent the state while going out of his way to show his scorn of the proceedings. Gratuitous offensiveness against the popular military (still a way out of poverty for the poor) is electorally suicidal.

Luxuria_2 Brightening the picture is, however, a member of Bertinotti's party, the newly-elected Luxuria (left), born Wladimiro Guadagno in 1965. Italy¹s first transgender MP has starred on all the talk shows, where audiences applaud as she tells of having financed university studies by working as a prostitute. She is outgoing, a skillful politician and fields questions with the best of them. Check out her fan site by clicking here, and a site where Luxuria is being promoted for president by clicking here.

But Prodi's Italy still hasn't caught up with the times: Italy's CensureLe_temps_qui_reste_ozon_1  Commission has just forbidden the new film by brilliant Francois_ozon_1 young French director Francois Ozon (left), called "Le Temps Qui Reste," or "Time to Leave" in the English version, (poster right) from being seen by 18-year-olds or younger -- because it has a scene showing two men making love. Vieri Razzini, the film's Italian distributor, fumed that "the 'incriminating' scene was shot entirely in shadow, and there's nothing to be seen in it that could possibly trouble the public." The film, which hits Italian screens this coming Friday, tells the story of a successful fashion photographer who is gay, and who develops terminal cancer, and how his illness affects his relations with his entourage and his lover. Razzini added that, "The Italian censors frequently go after independent films d'auteur while passing commercial films that have had much more severe interdictions in other countries. This shows how cultural censorship and the censorship of the market go hand in hand. And boy, does the homophobia of the members of cultural commissions make me sad!"  That this kind of thing can still happen with a center-left government in power says a lot about the institutional conservatism and hypocrisy of Italian morals. (You can see clips from the film, which stars Melvil Poupaud and Jeanne Moreau among others, by clicking here.)

Posted by Direland at 10:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

June 25, 2006

IRAN'S GAY REFUGEES FIND A SAFE HAVEN IN CANADA

Today's Toronto Star has a feature piece by David Graham on gay refugees, "Fearless in Canada," timed to coincide with the city's Gay Pride March, also todayArsham_parsi_toronto . The Star article profiles our admirable friend Arsham Parsi (right), human rights secretary of the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization (Arsham was recently granted asyluym in Canada; if you missed Arsham's moving speech at the June 13 dinner of Égale Canada, the country's national gay rights group, you can read that speech by clicking here.)

The Star also takes a look at the plight of gay refugees from Iran and other countries where homosexuality is persecuted, and why so many have chosen Canada as their refuge. Says the Star:

"As Toronto Pride Week reaches its culmination with today's Pride Parade, one could easily forget that in many parts of the world, it is extremely dangerous to be gay. In some cases, it's not just the state that harasses and sometimes executes homosexuals, but the intolerant citizenry as well. So, for some foreign-born celebrants and their loved ones, Pride Week's theme of 'fearless in 2006' strikes a particularly resonant chord."

This lengthy article includes quotes from Canadian immigration lawyer and gay activist Michael Michael_battista_1 Battista (right):

Iran_noose_14 "Often, they [gay refugees] have spent a lifetime suppressing, hiding and lying about their sexual orientation to save their lives," says the lawyer, who has spent the past 14 years assisting gays and lesbians who fear harassment, torture and even death if Canada won't let them in. "Soon after they've arrived in Canada they are at a hearing, and they are asked to prove one, that they are homosexual, and two, that they cannot return home," says Battista, who leads about 40 homosexual refugee applicants through the process each year.

"In many cases, they haven't directly experienced problems of persecution. Because the conditions are so oppressive, they are too fearful to express their sexual orientation or sexual identity in any sense."

Battista recalls one of his earliest clients being an older man from Iran who was seeking protection based on his sexual orientation.

"But he couldn't even say the words. He was at the airport in tears of frustration trying to explain to the immigration officer why he was seeking asylum in Canada, and he was saying, `It's because of who I am. It's because of who I am,' and the officer was asking, `Is it political? Is it religious?'

"And finally the officer said, `Are you gay?' And the poor man burst into tears. That was the first time there had been an official recognition of who he was, his sexual orientation. That story will always stay with me."

To read the entire Toronto Star article, click here.

For background on the new wave of anti-gay repression in Iran, see my previous articles: July 21, 2005 -- Iran Executes Two Gay Teenagers (Updated); August 11 -- Iran Sources Question Rape Charges in Teen Executions; August 12 -- Two New Gay Executions Scheduled in Iran, Says Iranian Exile Group; August 17 -- Iran's Deadly Anti-Gay Crackdown: With Two More Executions Scheduled, the Pace of Repression Steps Up.August 25 -- Iran's Anti-Gay Purge Grows: Reports of New Executions. September 8 -- Iran and the Death of Gay Activism. September 20 -- "They'll Kill Me" -- A Gay Iranian Torture Victim Speaks of His Ordeal ; September 29 -- Iranian Gays Urgently Appeal for Help ; October 5 --"Shocking New Photo of Hanging of Gay Iranian Teens"; October 6 -- Canada Introduces UN Resolution Condemning Iran's Human Rights Record; November 24, "Save Us"-- A Gay Iranian Who Married His Partner Begs for Help from the West ; January 12, 2006 -- "Kidnapped: Another Gay Iranian Torture Victim Speaks"; January 4, 2006 -- "Iran's Anti-Gay Pogrom"; January 27, 2006 -- "A Call to Solidarity: U.S. Gay Groups Must End Their Isolationism; February 8, 2006 -- "An Iranian Trans Torture Victim Speaks from Inside Iran."  February 9, 2006--Stop the Deportation of Saba Rawi; March 3, 2006-- "Dutch to End Freeze on Deportation of Gay Iranians"; March 4, 2006-- "Commotion in Dutch Parliament Over Deportation of Gay Iranians."; March 16, 2006-- "England: Another Gay Iranian Faces Deportation"; April 20, 2006-- "Dutch Deportations of Gay Iranians on Hold"; April 26, 2006-- "iran Hacks Websites to Bury Anti-Gay Pogrom"; May 31, 2006-- "Iran Exports Anti-Gay Pogrom to Iraq"; June 14, 2006-- "An Iranian Gay Activist's Moving Plea."

Also, don't miss Rob Anderson's excellent article in the New Republic, "How America's Gay Rights Establishment is Failing Gay Iranians."

RALPH REED'S HYPOCRISY and other notes: The revelations in the news these days thatRalph_reed_time_cover_2  former Christian Coalition czar Ralph Reed (right) was on the take to the tune of over $5 Million from Jack Abramoff, the  bribe-giving lobbyist-turned-canary-for-the-feds, should not have suprised anyone who was paying attention when I wrote about the Reed-Abramoff connection way back in January, in an article for Gay City News entitled "How Abramoff Funded the Anti-Gay Agenda." That's still an angle of the Abramoff story the national media have yet to fully develop. At least this latest chapter in the history of Reed's rapacious boodling should definitively sink his current Bible-thumping, beleaguered campaign for lieutenant governor of Georgia.....And I love both the Grover_norquist_2 AP's revelations that another conservative powerhouse, Grover Norquist, was selling face-time with Dubya at $100,000 per -- and the wire service dispatch's pointed reminder that Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform is a tax-exempt 501(c) (3) operation. Norquist (left) was once dubbed by the Wall Street Journal's Paul Gigot "the Lenin of the anti-tax movement." Now, do you suppose Bush's IRS will go after Grover's tax-exempt status in the wake of this news? If you do, please send me some of what you're smoking....Check out the latest essay from the excellent Tom EngelhardtTom_engelhardt (right) for his Nation Institute-sponsored blog, TomDispatch -- it's called "Green Zoning It All the Way," and it details the brochette of "Green Zone" fantasies about the world we live in which Bush & Rove are peddling to us. Writes Tom: "How many more Green Zone stories are Americans capable of taking? For how long will Americans mistake safety for hunkering down in the ruins of occupied Iraq and Afghanistan, with the embassy lights on and the water running and that fabulous little club in full swing, and everything else going to hell? As long as we do, matters will only worsen. And sooner or later, whether the jihadis arrive on our shores or not, our empire will come home. It already has. Don't for a second think that you can keep the torturers, their methods, and their mentalities -- those classic "dirty hands" -- off in the shadows, beyond the walls forever. Indeed, the barbarians are already inside the gates. Soon enough, they may be impossible to tell from us." You can (and should) read all of my friend Engelhardt's tonic sendup of the White House spinmasters by clicking here.

Posted by Direland at 01:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

June 21, 2006

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT CONDEMNS POLAND'S HOMOPHOBIA

I wrote the following article for Gay City News -- New York's largest gay weekly -- in whose new edition it will appear tomorrow:

The European Parliament at Strasbourg last week voted to condemn Poland and its Eu_logo_2 government for homophobia. The condemnation came in a resolution regarding the increase in racist and homophobic violence in Europe which was offered by the Socialist group, the EuroParliament’s second largest political formation.

The resolution passed by a vote of 301 in favor to 161 against, with 102 abstentions.

Kaczynski_twins_6 The condemnation specifically cited "the declarations by a leading member of the League of Polish Families inciting violence against GLBT people with a view to the march for tolerance and equality." The League, a notoriously homophobic and anti-Semitic party, is a member of the ultra-conservative ruling coalition government in Poland led by President Lech Kaczynski and his twin brother Jaroslav (LEFT), who controls the Polish Parliament.

A vice-president of the League, Wojciech Wierzejski (below right), a front-bencher in the Polish Parliament, had notably targeted the Warsaw Gay Pride March for Equality heldWojciech_wierzejski_1  June 10, saying, "If the deviants will start demonstrating, they need to be bashed with a thick club." (For full background on the rising climate of homophobia in Poland, see this reporter’s story "Poland’s Criminal Probe of Gays," in the June 8-14 issue of Gay City News.

An editorial in the June 11 New York Times, "Poland’s Bigoted Government," condemned the country‘s "right-wing nationalist government that seems intent on violating the rights of minority groups, beginning with an attack on gays." The newspaper cited Wierzejski’s declaration and actions by President Kaczynski’s regime as evidence that the "government's actions give an official wink to bigotry."

The EuroParliament’s resolution also demanded that European Union representativesNicolas_alexeyev_arrest_3  at the upcoming G8 summit meeting "raise the issue of human rights with Russia as a matter of urgency, in particular the right to demonstrate peacefully." This was a reference to the Moscow mayor’s ban on the May 27 Gay Pride March in the Russian capital, which was violently broken up by police and fascists, with its organizers arrested. (Photo right, Moscow Pride organizer Nicolas Andreyev's arrest by police)

The resolution included a list of recent homophobic, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, and racist murders and violent attacks in Europe, saying the Parliament "condemns" all such attacks, and "expresses its solidarity with all victims of such attacks and their families."

Among the other incidents specifically condemned by the EuroParliament was "the horrific torture and murder of Gisberta, a transsexual living in the Portuguese city of Oporto, in February 2006, by a group of adolescent and pre-adolescent minors." The Parliament "urg[ed] the Portuguese authorities to do everything in their power to punish those responsible and fight the climate of impunity with respect to this and other hate crimes."

Also mentioned in the resolution was "the attack against Michael Schudrich (below right), chief Michael_schudrich rabbi of Poland, which took place in Warsaw." The chief rabbi was beaten in the street by a Polish nationalist yelling anti-Semitic slogans the day before Pope Benedict XVI visited the homeland of his predecessor, John Paul II, last month.

The Polish government has recently multiplied its homophobic actions, including the launch of a criminal probe of all Polish gay Roman_giertych_3 organizations and their financing at the demand of the League of Polish Families. Just ten days before the EuroParliament passed its resolution, Poland’s minister of education, Roman Giertych (left)—president of the League of Polish Families—fired the head of his ministry’s department of teacher training, Miroslaw Sielatycki, for having published and distributed a Polish-language version of an official teacher training manual from the Council of Europe which contains a section on how to educate against homophobia and how to better understand the subject of homosexuality. The manual urged collaboration between schools and LGBT groups that could lead to representatives of those organizations speaking to student assemblies.

The largest Polish teachers union, the ZNP, defended Sielatycki and his distribution of the training manual as legitimate.

Following the firing of Sielatycki by Giertych, the secretary-general of the Council of Terry_davis Europe, Terry Davis (right), officially demanded an explanation from the Polish government, and expressed his regret that Poland and other member countries of the Council of Europe had done nothing to combat and eradicate homophobia within their borders.

Last week, the League of Polish Families’ youth arm, the All-Polish Youth, filed a legal proceeding with the minister of justice against the Warsaw Pride-Equality March for "creating a danger for the inhabitants" of Warsaw. Giertych was the founder, and remains honorary president, of the All Polish Youth, many of whose members are skinheads, and which is noted for its violent homophobia and its thuggish physical assaults on gay demonstrations and events.

The Pride-Equality March, Poland’s largest ever, drew between 6,000 and 10,000 participants on June 10, including many from other European countries, among them more than 1,000 Germans, mostly from Berlin, and delegations from Sweden, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, the U.K., the Czech Republic, and Latvia.

Twenty members of the EuroParliament from various countries also joined the Pride-Equality March.

The Polish press last week reported that another notoriously homophobic member of Krzysztof_bosak the Polish Parliament affiliated with the League of Polish Families, Krzysztof Bosak (left), led a group from the League’s All Polish Youth in taking photographs of the gay marchers and their supporters in the Warsaw Pride-Equality March. This is not the first time that the extreme right has taken hundreds of photographs of participants in gay and anti-fascist demonstrations, and some Polish media are asking whether there is a link between Bosak’s photo-taking and the Web site Redwatch, which has published names, photos, and addresses of gay and left-wing activists and called for their murder.

Redwatch is a front group for the Polish branch of the neo-Nazi international Blood andBlood_and_honor_logo_2  Honor movement; and many members of the All-Polish Youth are also members of Blood and Honor. A young ecology activist was recently stabbed after his name and photo appeared on the Redwatch Web site.

Posted by Direland at 09:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

TEHRAN: 2 WOMEN'S RIGHTS ACTIVISTS CHARGED WITH "NATIONAL SECURITY" VIOLATIONS

Leading Iranian women's rights activists Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani and Parvin Ardalan have been charged with acting "against national security" by calling for an Tehran_womenfemale_police "illegal" gathering to promote equal rights and publishing related statements, according to Iranian news reports," says Radio Liberty today. The charges stem from a June 12 women's rights gathering in Tehran that was forcefully dispersed by police forces, including baton-wielding female officers (photo left, female police with batons beat women demonstrators at the June 12 demonstration.) Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani and Parvin Ardalan were the 2004 winners of the Latifeh Yarshater Award, given by the Persian Heritage Foundation, for a book they co-authored about a leading Iranian political figure.

I normally would not rely solely on a report from Radio Liberty, since it is a U.S. government-funded operation, but I have received independent confirmation of the arrests of the two women. A leading Iranian feminist in exile also informs me that the two women have been released on bail for now, but there is great concern in Tehran women's rights circles for their future. More news as we get it.

Posted by Direland at 04:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 19, 2006

BUSH'S SECRET ASSAULT ON THE WORLD'S POOREST AIDS PATIENTS (Updated)

The following is a slightly expanded version of a column I wrote for the July issue of POZ magazine:

Ignored by the national media, and without a word of protest from the U.S. national AIDS organizations, the Bush administration -- behind closed doors -- has been secretly sabotaging the ability of the world’s poorest countries to produce or buy cheap, generic AIDS-fighting drugs.

Here’s the background: Back in 2001, after a long fight against Big Pharma’s Pills_3 monopolization of the production of AIDS drugs, a World Trade Organization meeting in Doha, Qatar, agreed that poor countries should have the right to break the multinational drug companies’ patent monopoly on those drugs if they declared a national health emergency due to the AIDS pandemic. The U.S. was one of the 142 countries that signed on to this breakthrough agreement, under which poor countries could make their own AIDS-fighting medications cheaply, or buy generic versions of them from a country that produced them, thus bypassing Big Pharma.

This was a huge victory, won after years of struggle by AIDS and non-governmental public health advocacy organizations from around the world. And the Doha agreement began to save thousands of lives, by getting cheap, life-prolonging AIDS meds into the hands of the HIV-positive in the poorer nations who so desperately needed them but couldn’t afford them.

Aids_ribbon_blwh_hands_1 But the Bush administration is morbidly blackmailing poor countries into giving up their rights to make cheap AIDS meds under that international treaty if they want the benefits of so-called Free Trade Agreements with the U.S. Either the poor countries refuse to knuckle under and scuttle these bi-lateral and regional trade deals with Washington -- which are worth billions of dollars -- or they accept these deals and raise the price of AIDS meds beyond the reach of the poor.

This unconscionable blackmail has already resulted in many countries giving up their rights to break the Big Pharma AIDS drug monopoly in these secretly-negotiated deals, including six countries in Latin America. And tough negotiations are now under way with a raft of poor countries hard hit by AIDS, from Thailand to five southern African countries, including South Africa and Botswana. If Thailand signs the trade agreement the U.S. has proposed, “Those who require the essential drugs but cannot afford them, they will have to die,” says Dr. Suwit Wibulpolpraset, the Thai Public Health Ministry official who is coordinating his country’s response to the Bush administration’s arm-breaking trade deal that rolls back the Doha agreement. And the same goes for the other countries being beaten with Washington’s big stick.

Bush and his cronies “began this trade blackmail in 2002, after a group of the largest Big Pharma companies -- headed by Pfizer CEO Hank McConnell -- raised $30 Jamie_love_1 million for the Republicans congressional campaigns that year,” says Jamie Love (right) of the Consumer Project on Technology, the international point man in winning the patent-breaking Doha agreement and an unsung hero in the fight for cheap AIDS meds. "The effect of these deals, Love says, is to force countries to enact “superpatents” that prolong U.S. drug makers’ monopolies and limit the conditions under Joshua_bolten which their patents can be broken. And the initial organizer and the Bush administration's enforcer of this odiferous sweetheart deal with Big Pharma was none other than Joshua Bolten (left) -- who is now the Bush White House chief of staff.

But, even though millions of lives are at stake in these sordid and lethal trade deals, Aids_action_2 the major U.S. AIDS organizations -- like AIDS Action (which calls itself “the national voice on AIDS”) and the National Association of People With AIDS -- have been AWOL from the fight aginst them. And since the AIDS advocacy groups are silent, these malicious, murderous trade deals are being negotiated at economic gun-point by Washington with little notice from the media.

I’m angry at our national AIDS groups for their isolationism, for not leading a huge public outcry against these iniquitous Bush administration trade deals that put Big Pharma’s profits ahead of the lives of poor people with HIV in the developing countries. And because our AIDS orgs are silent on this story, the national media feel they've been given permission to ignore it. But Washington should not be allowed to tear up its commitments under the Doha agreement by extorting trade deals that protect Big Pharma from countries too penniless to resist, without any protest from those who pretend to speak for us on AIDS.

UPDATE, July 20: The Bangkok Post reports today on how the U.S. pressured the World Health Organization into ousting a WHO official from his post in Thailand after the official, William Aldis, published an article in the newspaper criticizing the trade deal the U.S. had proposed with Thailand and pointing out how it would dramatically increase the price of generic drugs. Aldis "said anti-viral HIV drugs would be extremely expensive after the FTA went into force," the Bangkok Post says, adding: "The critical piece was published as the sixth round of Thai-US FTA negotiations took place in Chiang Mai. " To read the entire article on this U.S. gag initiative, click here.

Posted by Direland at 07:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

BUSH'S SECRET WAR ON WORLD'S POOREST AIDS PATIENTS

I wrote the following article for the July issue of POZ magazine:

Without a word of protest from the national AIDS organizations, the Bush administration -- behind closed doors -- has been secretly sabotaging the ability of the world’s poorest countries to produce or buy cheap, generic AIDS-fighting drugs.

Here’s the background: Back in 2001, after a long fight against Big Pharma’s monopolization of the production of AIDS drugs, a World Trade Organization meeting in Doha, Qatar, agreed that poor countries should have the right to break the multinational drug companies’ patent monopoly on those drugs if they declared a national health emergency due to the AIDS pandemic. The U.S. was one of the 142 countries that signed on to this breakthrough agreement, under which poor countries could make their own AIDS-fighting medications cheaply, or buy generic versions of them from a country that produced them, thus bypassing Big Pharma.

This was a huge victory, won after years of struggle by AIDS and non-governmental public health advocacy organizations from around the world. And the Doha agreement began to save thousands of lives, by getting cheap, life-prolonging AIDS meds into the hands of the HIV-positive in the poorer nations who so desperately needed them but couldn’t afford them.

But the Bush administration is morbidly blackmailing poor countries into giving up their rights to make cheap AIDS meds under that international treaty if they want the benefits of so-called Free Trade Agreements with the U.S. Either the poor countries refuse to knuckle under and scuttle these bi-lateral and regional trade deals with Washington -- which are worth billions of dollars -- or they accept these deals and raise the price of AIDS meds beyond the reach of the poor.

This unconscionable blackmail has already resulted in many countries giving up their rights to break the Big Pharma AIDS drug monopoly in these secretly-negotiated deals, including six countries in Latin America. And tough negotiations are now under way with a raft of poor countries hard hit by AIDS, from Thailand to five southern African countries, including South Africa and Botswana. If Thailand signs the trade agreement the U.S. has proposed, “Those who require the essential drugs but cannot afford them, they will have to die,” says Dr. Suwit Wibulpolpraset, the Thai Public Health Ministry official who is coordinating his country’s response to the Bush administration’s arm-breaking trade deal that rolls back the Doha agreement. And the same goes for the other countries being beaten with Washington’s big stick.

Bush and his cronies “began this trade blackmail in 2002, after a group of the largest Big Pharma companies -- headed by Pfizer CEO Hank McConnell -- raised $30 million for the Republicans congressional campaigns that year,” says Jamie Love of the Consumer Project on Technology, the international point man in winning the patent-breaking Doha agreement and an unsung hero in the fight for cheap AIDS meds. "The effect of these deals, Love says, is to force countries to enact “superpatents” that prolong U.S. drug makers’ monopolies and limit the conditions under which their patents can be broken. And the initial point man, the Bush administration's enforcer of this odiferous sweetheart deal with Big Pharmas, was none other than Joshua Bolten -- who is now the Bush White House chief of staff.

But, even though millions of lives are at stake in these sordid and lethal trade deals, the major U.S. AIDS organizations -- like AIDS Action (which calls itself “the national voice on AIDS”) and the National Association of People With AIDS -- have been AWOL from the fight aginst them. And since the AIDS advocacy groups are silent, these malicious, murderous trade deals are being negotiated at economic gun-point by Washington with little notice from the media.

I’m angry at our national AIDS groups for their isolationism, for not leading a huge public outcry against these iniquitous Bush administration trade deals that put Big Pharma’s profits ahead of the lives of poor people with HIV in the developing countries. Washington should not be allowed to tear up its commitments under the Doha agreement by extorting trade deals that protect Big Pharma from countries too penniless to resist, without any protest from those who pretend to speak for us on AIDS. -- Doug Ireland

DOUG IRELAND can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at http://direland.typepad.com/direland/

Posted by Direland at 07:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

June 14, 2006

AN IRANIAN GAY ACTIVIST'S MOVING PLEA

Yesterday, on June 13 in Toronto, Arsham Parsi, human rights secretary of the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization (PGLO), was the featured speaker at the gala dinner jointly held by Egale_canada_logo Egale Canada (Canada's national gay rights group) and ARC International (the Canadian-based organization that works on international gay projects). Parsi, who is under death sentence in Iran for being a gay activist, was recently granted permanent asylum in Canada, and moved there lastArc_international_logo  month from Turkey, where he had been coordinating the efforts to support gay refugees from Iran's anti-gay reign of terror. I've been working with Parsi for a year now as I've been reporting on the lethal anti-gay pogrom in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and I've been deeply impressed by this selfless young man's dedication to the Iranian gay freedom struggle, and by his courage. Below is the text of his moving speech to the Canadian gay activists:

Arsham_parsi_2 My name is Arsham Parsi (photo left).  I am the spokesperson and secretary of human rights affairs of the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization.  We have been in existence for three years, and through this period we have become recognized by many gay and lesbian organizations throughout the world.  We based most of our activities through internet communication.   We must communicate solely by internet as we do not have the freedom to work in a public forum in our country.  We do not have any sponsors locally in Iran as the religious extremists do not support gay rights, but would rather see all LGBT people silenced.  However, we are recognized by individuals and organizations that have been generous in their financial, political, and moral support.  Our main objective in the PGLO is to bring about a safe environment for all LGBTs in Iran whether it be at home, work, school, or in public; Freedom from harassment, torture, imprisonment, and religious intolerance.  

  I mentioned that I am the spokesperson of this organization, but let me add that I see and value this job far beyond what a regular employee might assume its organizational position to be and work for it.  It is the most important thing in my life to be the spokesperson.  It is a strong love and devotion that I have within me.  There is a Music of Freedom that is in my heart.  It is bursting inside me.  I want everybody to hear this music, this music of freedom that my brothers and sisters in Iran cannot hear or are not allowed to hear.  I became the spokespersonPglo_logo_8  voluntarily because a voice was needed to be heard above the shrill cries of gay condemnation of the Islamic government.   When my transsexual friend committed suicide under the pressure of her society and her family, and I saw her withered body and cold contracted hands on her breast I became the spokesperson.  When my friend, Nima, a young gay man took his life due to police brutality and under the pressure of his family by eating arsenic, and I saw his lifeless body that slept like a beautiful angel I heavily cried and I became the spokesperson.  When I saw my friends in the hallways of the central court of Shiraz, and heard their cries of pain from the lashes that had tortured them I cried too.  But this also made me stronger in my desire to speak out.  I learned about a gay couple who had celebrated with a private function their new lives together.  The security forces discovered this celebration and started to trace this couple.  Fortunately, this couple were able to escape detention, and one of them could escape to Turkey.

. 

But we surely know that not many other gay people in Iran have been as successful in getting through their cases and saving their lives.  When the Islamic government forbade the access of transsexuals to the public buildings in the big cities of Iran, when a gay man was severely beaten in a park in the central Tehran, when another gay was sentenced to the lash in Esfahan, when a group of my friends were detected in chat rooms and entrapped by the police, when another transsexual was severely beaten to the point where she lost 50 percent of her hearing in one ear, when gays were verbally and sexually abused in a police station in some cities of Iran, and in many other outrageous instances there was no one to speak for them and to reveal to the world what Iranian LGBTs suffer.  We have a critical situation in Iran that must be resolved.  Thus, I became the spokesperson of the PGLO to air the grievances and to show the world the true situation of persecutions that we suffer.  I call upon all noble-minded people to stop, listen, and make an effort to help us.   

  I had to escape from my homeland as a death warrant was issued by the Islamic government.  That is how the Islamic government rewards members of LGBT community for speaking out for human rights.  I have gone through many hardships in reaching my new homeland.  Today, I am truly glad to be in a supportive and modern society that is progressive and which understands exactly how I feel.  I am speaking tonight because so many of my brothers and sisters are caged birds, unable to sing a song of freedom.  I was able to take a flight of freedom through the efforts of PGLO and your help and reach here.  Other birds are waiting to fly freely.  They need to see a dawn of freedom in Iran

.  I am positive that this glorious dawn is not too far from now. 

I am determined to register the PGLO in Toronto Iranian LGBT people need to be in a direct and tangible relationship with an organization that claims to be their voice in a broader spectrum.  How can they finely experience the sweet taste of unity and togetherness while seating lonely in their rooms?  I have arrived in Canada with a burden of responsibility of working for my LGBT friends.  With your help we can achieve all we set out to do. I have received a welcome to Canada by very warm hands and I am sure that my hands will be taken with more hands.  Where are those arms that will open and embrace my tired and tormented body?  Where are those ears that will listen to my painful stories?  And where are those eyes and lips that will console my pains through the words that they can tell me?  They exist and I will find them. 

I am ready to give my hands and offer my shoulders to all my LGBT fellows and friends to put their heads on and cry for their time that has brought them this much of injustice.  I will summon their tears and motivate them to change their sighs of regret to the shouts for freedom in the battle against ignorance, outrage and injustice in our society.

   

These lonely shivering hands are the representatives of all of the Iranian LGBTs hands.  Take my hands as their representatives and support us. Do Not Forget Iranian LGBTs , Do Not Leave Us Alone!

If you would like to help support the Iranian gay freedom struggle, contact the PGLO through its tri-lingual website, which has English, Spanish, and Persian versions, by clicking here.

For background on the new wave of anti-gay repression in Iran, see my previous articles: July 21, 2005 -- Iran Executes Two Gay Teenagers (Updated); August 11 -- Iran Sources Question Rape Charges in Teen Executions; August 12 -- Two New Gay Executions Scheduled in Iran, Says Iranian Exile Group; August 17 -- Iran's Deadly Anti-Gay Crackdown: With Two More Executions Scheduled, the Pace of Repression Steps Up.August 25 -- Iran's Anti-Gay Purge Grows: Reports of New Executions. September 8 -- Iran and the Death of Gay Activism. September 20 -- "They'll Kill Me" -- A Gay Iranian Torture Victim Speaks of His Ordeal ; September 29 -- Iranian Gays Urgently Appeal for Help ; October 6 -- Canada Introduces UN Resolution Condemning Iran's Human Rights Record; November 24, "Save Us"-- A Gay Iranian Who Married His Partner Begs for Help from the West ; January 12, 2006 -- "Kidnapped: Another Gay Iranian Torture Victim Speaks".....January 27, 2006 -- "A Call to Solidarity: U.S. Gay Groups Must End Their Isolationism; February 8, 2006 -- "An Iranian Trans Torture Victim Speaks from Inside Iran."  February 9, Stop the Deportation of Saba Rawi; March 3, "Dutch to End Freeze on Deportation of Gay Iranians"; March 4, "Commotion in Dutch Parliament Over Deportation of Gay Iranians."; March 16, "England: Another Gay Iranian Faces Deportation"; April 20, "Dutch Deportations of Gay Iranians on Hold"; April 26, "iran Hacks Websites to Bury Anti-Gay Pogrom"; Also, don't miss Rob Anderson's excellent article in the November 10, 2005 New Republic, "How America's Gay Rights Establishment is Failing Gay Iranians."

Posted by Direland at 08:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)