Chechnya Survivors Tell Their Stories of Horror

From The Advocate:

By Yezmin Villarreal
April 21 2017

Despite Russian President Vladmir Putin’s public statements denying that gay men in the semiauttonomous Russian republic of Chechnya are being persecuted, survivors are speaking out about the horrific treatement they faced in concentration camps, where it is said that at least 100 men have been detained and three men killed.

Human Right First and RUSA LGBT released a video of stories from gay men who survived torture in the camps. The stories are read by gay Russian asylees who live in the United States.

In a written statement, Shawn Gaylord of Human Rights First explained why the group made the video:

“Gay men are being treated like animals. They’re rounded up, they’re detained, they’re tortured, a few have been murdered. All of this has been inflicted upon them by the very people sworn to protect them. The world needs to act. We’re calling on the administration and Congress to speak out against these horrific human rights abuses. The stories coming from those lucky enough to survive and make it out are harrowing. We felt that by sharing them we could put this nightmare in perspective for the many people that have only read about it in a newspaper. We partnered with gay Russian men from the Russian-Speaking American LGBT Association because who better to share these accounts than those who have fled similar persecution. Our hope is that this will drive action, our hope is that it will help achieve justice.”

The New York Times also interviewed several gay men who were arrested and endured beatings and torture in Chechnya.

One man said he experienced beatings over the course of two weeks. He was found out after chatting online with a man online who asked to meet in person. When he arrived at the man’s apartment, there was a group of agents who began beating him. He says he was also strapped to a chair and interrogated.

Alvi Karimov, a spokesman for Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, told the Times that the reports could not be true because gay people do not exist in the region.

“In Grozny, have you ever noticed people who, by their appearance or manners, resemble people who are oriented in the wrong way?” said Karimov.

“A policy is developed for a problem,” Karimov told the paper when asked if it was official policy to arrest gay men. “I can officially say there is no policy because there is no problem. If there were a problem, there would be a policy.”

Putin Wednesday called the media reports “libelous.”

The Russian LGBT Network is helping gay men escape from Chechnya. Gay men who were rescued by the network said they didn’t believe them at first and thought it was another trap. “They say, ‘We didn’t believe you were real,’” said Olga Baranova, director of the Moscow Community Center, a group that is also helping gay men escape the region. “‘We thought this was the last effort to round up whoever was left.’”

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LGBT survivors of torture in Chechnya speak out

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Yes, “The Handmaid’s Tale” Is Feminist

From The New Yorker:

April 27, 2017

In the fourth episode of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the gripping new Hulu adaption of Margaret Atwood’s novel, Offred, our narrator and heroine, goes to the gynecologist. She lies on an examining table, her lower body, and the male doctor poking at it, concealed from her view by a gauzy white curtain. Offred, played by Elisabeth Moss, is a handmaid in Gilead, the brutally repressive patriarchy that has subsumed the place formerly known as the United States, and a handmaid’s job is to reproduce; she is “a womb on two legs,” solemnly raped once a month by her Commander, Fred (Joseph Fiennes), as she lies rigid in the lap of his “barren” wife. At least the official explanation is that she’s barren. The nation’s plummeting birth rates are blamed on its women. Offred’s doctor has a different idea. The Commander is probably sterile, he says. Most high-ranking men in Gilead are. “Sterile. That’s a forbidden word,” Offred thinks. For a woman, to speak it could mean death.

As in the Oceania of George Orwell’s “1984”—as in all authoritarian regimes, and those that would emulate them—language, in Gilead, is a weapon of the state. Handmaids are the chattel “of” their commanders in name as well as fact, and are forbidden from reading or writing on pain of losing a hand. Undesirable words, like undesirable people, are made to disappear by the government; even “hello” and “goodbye” have been replaced by the creepy pieties “Under His eye” and “Blessed be the fruit.” When the Commander breaks the law to ask Offred to see him alone in his office, she thinks that he is after a blow job. What he actually wants is to play Scrabble, and as Offred moves her hands over the contraband tiles you can almost see her brain, dull from neglect, light up with happiness.

I thought of these scenes when I read that another word has apparently been struck from the vocabulary of “The Handmaid’s Tale”: feminism. Last week, at a panel discussion at the Tribeca Film Festival, members of the cast were asked whether they considered the show to be feminist. As Laura Bradley reported for Vanity Fair, the answers came in various shades of “hell, no.” Madeline Brewer, who plays Janine, a handmaid subjected to particularly grotesque abuse—when she scoffs at the new regime’s restrictions on women, her right eye is plucked out—replied that “any story that’s just a powerful woman owning herself in any way is automatically deemed ‘feminist,’ ” and said that the show is “just a story about a woman,” not “feminist propaganda.” Ann Dowd, terrific and terrifying as the Trunchbullesque Aunt Lydia, one of an army of potato-sack-clad matrons who indoctrinate the handmaids with the help of a cattle prod, felt comfortable enough to call on viewers inspired by the show to picket the White House, but not to use the F-word, which she dodged. Weirder still was Elisabeth Moss, who said that Offred’s tale, like that of her character Peggy Olson, on “Mad Men,” is “a human story because women’s rights are human rights.” This is as clear and succinct a definition of feminism as any—Hillary Clinton famously used it in her 1995 speech at the U.N.’s World Congress on Women, in Beijing—except that Moss, too, insisted that “The Handmaid’s Tale” is “not a feminist story.”

All this smacks of some Gilead-style prohibition. Had the cast members been explicitly instructed to distance themselves from the feminism label, maybe for marketing purposes? That seems improbable, considering that in our age of pussy-grabbing Presidents and pussyhats, the word has been rehabilitated from its commercially toxic status and spun into marketing gold. You can find the phrase “feminist as fuck” emblazoned on everything from hoodies to hoop earrings; Dior is selling T-shirts printed with the sentence “We should all be feminists,” after the title of Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s TEDx Talk turned book, for a cool seven hundred and ten dollars each. (Proceeds go to charity: Rihanna’s.) Then there are companies, such as the embattled Thinx, peddler of period-absorbent underwear, that proudly brand themselves feminist even as their business practices suggest otherwise. We have corporate feminism, consumer feminism, life-style feminism. In current adspeak, a feminist is someone who buys bras, not burns them.

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Your Brain On Drug Policy | Rachael Leigh Cook (2017)

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Sebastian Gorka’s Ties To Nazi-Allied Group Stretch Back Decades

From The Forward:

Larry Cohler-Esses
April 24, 2017

President Trump’s top counter-terrorism aide, Sebastian Gorka, has offered varied and sometimes contradictory accounts of his association with the Vitézi Rend, a far-right Hungarian group that is on a U.S. State Department “watch list.”

Now, new research by the Forward has revealed that Gorka’s use of a special lower-case “v.” insignia in his signature, which the Vitézi Rend allows only sworn members to use, goes back much further than previously known.

In articles he published in 1998, when he was 28 years old, and then in 1999, Gorka signed his name “Sebestyén L. v. Gorka,” using the Hungarian honorific abbreviation for “Vitez,” which is reserved exclusively for sworn members of the Vitézi Rend order.

The articles predated the death of Gorka’s father by several years, making his assertion that he simply inherited the title from his father, as he has claimed, seemingly impossible.

Gorka, who immigrated to America from Hungary nine years before he landed in the White House, has given contradictory information about his ties to the group, which the State Department labeled as having been “under the direction of the Nazi Government of Germany” during World War II. In one interview, he denied he was a member of one of the organization’s two modern-day incarnations, known as the Historical Vitézi Rend. At other times, he said he merely “inherited the title of Vitez through the merits of my father.”

“I never swore allegiance formally,” he told the British newspaper the Telegraph.

The question is not academic; Gorka would have been required to reveal his membership in the far-right group both when he applied to enter the United States in 2008 and when he became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2012. He has declined to respond to questions about whether he did so.

He has also not responded to questions about his 2007 endorsement, while leading a political party in Hungary, of an extreme right-wing paramilitary militia led by anti-Semites. The militia was later banned by court orders for seeking to promote an “essentially racist” legal order. An investigation by the Forward also found that Gorka wrote regularly for a well-known anti-Semitic paper while active in Hungary, and that he co-founded his political party with prominent former members of Jobbik, a party with a long record of anti-Semitism and racism against Hungary’s Roma minority.

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We owe our planet this climate march. But we also owe it – very faint – hope

From The Guardian UK:

Trump is the worst thing that could have happened to the planet. That’s all the more reason to fight on – and celebrate even the smallest successes

Friday 28 April 2017

There is no upside to the Trump presidency. To be in DC – I’ve come for Saturday’s giant climate march – is to be reminded up close what all Americans have known for months: we’ve put the country in the hands of a man completely unequal to the task. A man so cluelessly over his head that he keeps telling reporters he’s in over his head.

But if you want a few grayish linings to the dark-orange cloud, you can find them. In fact, the last few days have given those of us in the climate fight a few glimmers of light.

At midweek, and quite unexpectedly, the man who invests Harvard’s billions announced at a seminar that the world’s richest and most famous educational institution had more or less divested from fossil fuels. Of course he didn’t say that explicitly since it would require backtracking on the university’s strident declaration that it would never do such a thing. But close enough – Harvard had “paused” investing in fossil fuels, and was unlikely “ever” to resume.

Credit a remarkable campaign. Harvard students – like those at so many other places, including Penn and Cal where campaigners are currently sitting in –waged a relentless fight, even as officials told them no over and over again. Great credit is due them, and the alumni and faculty they enlisted. Leaders like Chloe Maxmin, who I met while she was still in high school, spent their entire college years on the fight, showing what persistence looks like.

But they were aided, I think, by Trump’s unlikely victory. In the past, plenty of players could look for someone else to pass the buck to: surely dealing with climate change was the government’s responsibility, not Harvard’s? That was always a moral lapse, but in the Trump era it’s completely absurd. We’re ruled by a man who thinks global warming is a hoax manufactured by the Chinese – clearly the rest of us are going to have to step up.

And that rest of us includes Democratic politicians, too many of whom have tried to straddle the climate issue in the past. Barack Obama, remember, spent his years in office championing an “all of the above” energy policy that saw America vault past Russia and Saudi Arabia as the biggest hydrocarbon producer on the planet. But Trump throws such temporizing into sharper relief.

That’s why Oregon senator Jeff Merkley and Bernie Sanders felt empowered Thursday to introduce legislation that, for the very first time, draws the line where it should be. Their bill demands that America move to 100% renewable energy. Not some solar panels but also some frack wells, not some windmills but also some new pipelines. 100%.

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Right-Wing Foot Soldiers Are Routinely Escalating to Violent Behavior in the Streets

From Alternet:

Behind the far-right’s “counter-resistance.”

By Rick Perlstein The Washington Spectator
April 28, 2017

A friend writes, “For basically the past six months or so I’ve been trying to tell my lefty friends in so many words, ‘Hey, there are a bunch of people on the Internet who are waiting for someone to tell them it’s okay to start shooting at you.’” He became concerned when a thread at the non-political firearms-enthusiasts website he regularly follows became filled with comments in all caps referring to liberals as enemies who must be shot. Developments both online and off following Donald Trump’s election have caused me to share his concern.

In December, an author at the biggest and most explicitly non-political gun site, the Firearms Blog (its tagline is “Firearms, not politics”), recounted his experience with an outfit that offers tactical training based on the methods of the Israel Defense Forces. The moderator soon had to begin deleting comments. One that remains protested, “as if through the millennia, hundreds of nations, principalities and city-states reached the same conclusions,” and urged the curious to check out where one can watch the film Jewish Ritual Murder Revisited: The Hidden Cult.

Four days after Donald Trump’s inauguration, a community member on a moderate firearms law site, PAGunBlog, a civil redoubt welcoming “active participation by both firearms enthusiasts and people who hate them,” described his shock from that morning’s web-surf when “a long-time commenter who I recognized as right-leaning but mostly moderate commented that ‘The Jews own and control everything in America…’ Not many months ago no one except a flaming neo-Nazi would have dreamed of expressing such an opinion, but today it seems to have become an acceptable element of our discourse. I noticed that no one replied to or castigated the comment.”

Then came February 1 in Berkeley and things really started getting scary.

The saga of what happened when Milo Yiannopoulos came to speak at the flagship campus of the University of California has since become foundational, not just with the alt-right but with quite nearly the entire right. Alt-right provocateur Yiannopoulos was turned back by violent protests, which culminated in the burning of a portable generator. Stuffed down the wingnut memory hole are the events that preceded the mêlée. The violence was, in fact, preceded by peaceful protests by approximately 1,500 Berkeley students, until they were waylaid by a tiny handful of off-campus “Black Bloc” and “antifa,” or anti-fascist, cadres who believe racist speech licenses violent resistance. It was also preceded, less than two weeks earlier, by the shooting of a Milo protester in Seattle, by a gunman who has yet to be charged with any crime.

The Battle of Berkeley accelerated the construction of a body of mythology: the left has escalated its resistance to Trump into literal war, so Trump supporters must be prepared to resort to violence to oppose it.

How afraid of this should you be? The most interesting answers to that question do not come from the left. They come from concerned voices on the right, who’ve been monitoring the chatter with mounting alarm, going public with pleas to liberals to still the antifa renegades before bodies begin piling up. The most convincing evidence that they have a point comes in the ensuing comment threads, where the need to prepare for armed force is taken as gospel.

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