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Opposition Detainee Abuse and Iran's Power Struggle

For this week's Global Pulse episode, Iran’s Power Players, host Erin Coker asks the question: Are Khamenei and Ahmadinejad playing "good cop, bad cop"? Share your thoughts below!

In the nearly three months since Iran's disputed election and the massive street protests that followed, global media have turned their attention to the internal factional bickering within Iran's ruling party. Allegations of detainee abuse have created further fissures within Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's conservative government, with the country's leadership offering conflicting responses to the allegations.

Reacting to claims made by opposition candidate Mehdi Karroubi of detainee torture and sexual abuse, Iran's parliament speaker Ali Larijani vehemently dismissed the allegations as "sheer lies," according to a CNN report. Larijani's remarks contradicted police and judiciary officials who acknowledged detainee abuse at the now-shuttered Kahrizak prison and promised to investigate the claims. According to The Guardian, an unnamed Iranian MP said he had proof of the abuse, further contradicting Larijani.

As this week's episode points out, Ahmadinejad and the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have also appeared at odds over abuse allegations. According to a report that ran on the state-controlled Press TV website on August 28th, Ahmadinejad blamed the abuse on an enemy plot, saying that he had evidence which "exonerated revolutionary, military, security and intelligence forces." But three days later, following a report that the detained son of a conservative political advisor had died as a result of abuse, the BBC reported that Ayatollah Khamenei promised the young man's father that those responsible would be brought to justice.

The confusing signals reflect factional struggles at the highest levels of government, which can only be aggravated by the Iranian blogosphere's relentless pursuit of allegations of torture, sexual abuse and killings of detained protesters, often through chilling personal accounts. On September 2, the independent Radio Zamanah’s website reported that a rape victim and key witness in the case had disappeared. Mentions of the story surfaced several times throughout the day on the microblogging site Twitter, alongside posts like "Regime, No matter how many you execute, torture, or rape. We will never stop. We will never give up on our right to freedom," and, "Saeedeh's body was burned & almost unrecognizable (note that she was arrested from her house, so burning was deliberate)."

Even after the dust has settled on the present internal political struggle, it may take more than damage control to bridge the divisions between the Iranian government and its people.



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The Health Care Debate in the U.S. and Why I Care

Do you have a health care story? Visit Link TV's Real Conversations webcam site and tell us about it.


Health care reform is the hottest topic in U.S. news media this summer. One question that arises in this debate is whether the government should spend the money to overhaul the old system, or use the money to pay off federal deficits?
As one of the 47 million uninsured Americans, I think that the health care system in the U.S. is terrible. I earn barely enough to cover my expenses, and at the end of the month, I am left with very little extra cash to spend on something as important and necessary as health insurance.
I looked into buying insurance, and since I’m very healthy with no prior medical conditions, I expected to see insurance premiums of $50 - $85 a month. I was shocked to find that the lowest premiums started at $150 - $200, excluding dental or vision!! There was no way I could afford those prices.
Fortunately, I live in San Francisco, a very conscious and progressive city, where two years ago the City and County introduced a program called "Healthy San Francisco." This program covers primary care for all city residents, and the pay structure is based on income. I have now been with this program for one year and, although it doesn’t include major medical care, I’m happy.
But I began to wonder what would happen if I broke my leg. Would I be able to afford the hospital bills, or would they bankrupt me? A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation [PDF link] found that: "Every week, thousands of Americans file for bankruptcy related to medical costs [and] 42% of adults report having problems accessing health care due to cost." I definitely favor a system of health care that benefits everyone, especially those that cannot afford it. After all, the rich will always be able to afford health care whether it is universal or not.

Here’s a cartoon that says it all.
How do other developed countries manage their citizens’ health care? PBS Frontline’s "Sick Around the World" website describes how five of the world’s developed nations go about taking care of their sick.
A completely socialized health care system might not work in the U.S., but universal care with regulated options that are based on fair-market values just might work. While providing access to all, it will create motivation for insurers and providers to offer the best service they can.
In this week's Global Pulse episode, Health Care: America and the World, host John Hamilton asks for your health care stories. Share your thoughts at Link's Real Conversations site!



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Women's Rights in Afghanistan, Then and Now: Has Anything Changed?

Is misogyny an inherent part of Afghan culture? No, it's not. As far back as the 1920s, the Afghan government showed support for women. Mahmud Tarzi, Afghanistan's Foreign Minister and the King's father-in-law, was an "ardent supporter" of women’s education. In the late 1970s the Soviet-backed People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan gained power and expanded women’s rights substantially.

After the Soviet war, fundamentalist "Mujahideen" warlords gained power. "Serious wide-spread violations of 'women's rights' by Mujahideen soldiers included rape and torture," writes Sonali Kolhatkar in Change Links. Eventually, the Taliban seized power, further eroding human rights and basic freedoms, especially for women.

The situation of women in Afghanistan has improved since the Taliban rule, but even now remains desperate. Many are still routinely raped, abused and treated like second-class citizens. Then it was the Taliban, now President Karzai has passed a law backed by fundamentalist parliamentarians and clerics that legalizes abuse towards Shiite women.

When boys grows up seeing how their fathers, uncles or brothers mistreat women in the family, they cannot be expected to see that a women has rights or opinions. By passing laws that further instill abusive treatment of women, Afghan men find justification to continue mistreating them. Karzai himself is part of this mindset, as is indicated in this Times of London editorial: "[Karzai's] wife, Zinat Karzai, a medical doctor...has no voice, is rarely seen in public and is reported to have told an activist that she did not leave the house because her husband did not like it and did not give his permission."

Malalai Joya, an Afghan ex-MP and champion for justice and women’s rights who is featured in this week's Global Pulse episode, said in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, "Karzai rules only with the permission of the warlords. He is 'a shameless puppet'...the only people who get to serve as president are those selected by the US government and the mafia that holds power in our country." She goes on to say that there is no difference between the Taliban and the warlords that are in power now, and that they were the ones that introduced the "laws oppressing women followed by the Taliban."

In a country where 85% of women have no formal education, where women are so desperate for justice that they set themselves ablaze and where women cannot even step outside of their house without their husband's permission, how can we in the West really believe that Afghanistan is really a democracy and that things are getting better for Afghan women?


In this week's Global Pulse episode, Afghan Women: Far From Equal, host Erin Coker asks whether the media should pay more attention to the struggle of women in Afghanistan. Share your thoughts below!




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Naked Politicians = Truth + Honesty


In my opinion, nakedness lays bare a person's true nature. It strips away hidden agendas, dishonesty and any sense that the person is untouchable. I could see nakedness playing an important role in the world of politics. I am tired of the deception of politicos. I want the naked truth.

 A humorous article on the Guardian website speculates that many political careers would end if politicians made speeches in the nude. For example, "If Robert Mugabe had to stand naked before the people of Zimbabwe and justify his actions he'd be gone in seconds." The writer, Richard Smith, muses that nakedness among politicians could go so far as to abolish tyranny. It makes me laugh to think of that.

Vladimir Putin has turned heads by gallivanting shirtless around Siberia. Sure, it's easy for Western media to poke fun at the Russian PM, but as reported by Spiegel Online, the Russian newspaper Komsomolskaja Pravda "ran a 'Be Like Putin' article, instructing men about exercises they can do to develop a robust torso like Putin's.” Seems like Putin has found a way to motivate young Russian men to be fit and healthy by showing off his own naked torso!

In Belgium, politician Tania Derveaux, the leading candidate of the NEE party for the senate, posed nude in a billboard campaign. Sexy and suggestive, these posters might just gain the support Tania needs to win the senate seat.

And in Poland, the Polish Women's Party used a similar tactic as Tania, albeit a little less suggestive and more political, in their campaign posters. In a Telegraph article, party founder and writer, Manuela Gretkowska said, "This poster is intended to shatter stereotypes in the anachronistic world of politics, which is more often dominated by uncommunicative men." According to Lara Kattan, a writer and professor at Northwestern University, "Most of the major [Polish] parties list female candidates' names on the bottom of electoral lists so they're not seen and not voted for."

Nakedness shows that politicians can relax, be at ease and be human like the rest of us.

Do we need more nudity in government? Does seeing our politicians without their clothes on give us more confidence in their leadership abilities? I think so. What do you think?





In this week's Global Pulse episode, World Leaders - NAKED!, host Erin Coker asks why we are so fascinated by seeing our politicians in the buff. Share your thoughts on "Naked Politicians = Truth + Honesty"!




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Bill Clinton Pleases North Korea's Kim Jong Il

For this week's Global Pulse episode, Mr. Clinton Goes to Pyongyang, host Erin Coker asks the question: Did Kim Jong Il win this one? Share your thoughts and read our blog post, "Bill Clinton's Unique Position as U.S. Humanitarian and Diplomat", below!




Bill Clinton's Unique Position as U.S. Humanitarian and Diplomat

Did Kim Jong Il win this one? After being held in North Korea for several months, two American journalists finally returned home, thanks to Bill Clinton's deft negotiations with Kim Jong Il. Ultimately, the release of the two young women served the interests of both of these poweful men on the international political stage. 
One question that remains is whether it should have been the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, negotiating the return of U.S. citizens. An article on CNN's website commented that, "Former presidents are used as envoys and undertake humanitarian missions all the time," and, "Hillary herself has said she considered her husband a trusted adviser and could even consider using him where appropriate." In the world of international diplomacy and humanitarianism, acheiving the goal is more important than who achieves it.


Bill Clinton might be the perfect candidate to create an opening on the crucial nuclear issue. As a former president and husband of the current Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, he is in a unique position to be a humanitarian ambassador. He also has charm and recognition that allow him to gain access to the most difficult of places.

The video below, from Al Jazeera English, outlines the U.S. media debate sparked by the visit. Not surprisingly, the Obama administration is calling it a humanitarian mission, while former Bush administration officials say Pyonyang is using the reporters as "pawns" to "enhance [the] regime's legitimacy." You decide:  




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