Thursday, February 6, 2014

LGBT activism is 'propaganda' and Russia is trying to make gay people disappear - "НЕ ДОЖДЁТЕСЬ !"

As the Sochi Olympics commence, learn the stories of Russians like Andrei Tanichev and Roman Kochagov | Joseph Huff-Hannon 

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LGBT activism is
'propaganda' and Russia is trying to make gay people disappear, we have a message: we exist
Under recent Russian law, "gay propaganda" looks a bit something like this:
I've lived with Sasha for eight years, we love each other. He's the first and only one I've been with, and I've never regretted connecting his life to mine … no matter how bad it gets, do not give up. Live for love!
This snippet is from a letter by Andrei, 22, one of thousands posted to an online forum called "Children 404: We Exist," a year-old community for queer teens and adult allies on Russia's, as well as Facebook (the name comes from the online "404 not found" error code). Most posts to the site are coming-out stories, others detail battles with depression or trouble with family, and some are sweet confessions about crushes and first loves.
Last week the young journalist who launched the site, Lena Klimova, was charged with violating the country's new ban on "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations." A trial date will be set soon, and if Klimova is found guilty, and she almost certainly will be, she'll be fined and the "Children 404" page on will be shut down. On her Facebook page, Klimova described the consequences: "If it will be closed, LGBT teenagers will lose the only place where they can openly speak about themselves and receive advice they need to live. It will be a catastrophe."
This is how the work of trying to make LGBT people in Russia disappear is playing out: a bureaucratic battle against websites, against journalism, against free speech, and against storytelling. It's a battle against millions of Russians and it's a depressing spectacle to watch, even more so when Russian officialdom declares victory preemptively. In the Olympic city of Sochi the mayor recently told the BBCthat his town is blessedly gay-free. Given that Sochi has historically been one of the more gay-friendly resort towns in Russia, and is home to a couple of gay bars, it's a curious assertion.
The problem with trying to disappear people who refuse to disappear is that their stories find a way of getting told. That's the case with Andrei Tanichev and Roman Kochagov, owners of a thriving gay friendly cabaret in Sochi. Andrei and Roman, along with dozens of other Russian LGBT men and women, opened up about their relationships in a new book publishing next week, in English and in Russian, called Gay Propaganda: Russian Love Stories. The book is edited by myself and award-winning Russian journalist Masha Gessen.
As Andrei told us in an interview:
We're completely open about our lifestyle. Not only our parents, but also the municipal administration is aware of who we are … right before the Olympics, they've even paid special attention to us. They call and ask whether we've had the menu translated into English, whether we've been training our staff to speak foreign languages. My mother lives with us and helps us out a lot. I told her I was gay when I was eighteen. My brother knows as well. He works at our club.
In a society where the government has made any and all positive or sympathetic portrayals of LGBT life illegal, stories like this say something elemental: we exist. To set the record straight, next week we'll be mailing copies to the mayor of Sochi as well as the Russian lawmakers who authored the "propaganda" ban. The Russian version of the book will be available as a free download for anybody who wants it, and we're working with partners to get print books to Sochi, and to cities across Russia.
There's a reason stories like this are threatening. The propaganda law comes out of a shrewd analysis by conservatives about the powerful role that culture has played in softening attitudes toward gays and lesbians. Reactionaries in Russia, and in the US, have taken note of how reporting, literature, television, theater and film have helped normalize the idea for the mainstream that yes, LGBT people exist, they're mostly just like you and me, and you probably have at least one in the family. Going after a relatively small target, like the "Children 404" online support community, may seem absurd, but it comes from an awareness that stories and portrayals and reporting change hearts and minds (or in the parlance of anti-gay activists, "recruit" vulnerable young people in to the gay lifestyle). The fact that these are young people sharing stories with each other doesn't seem to matter under the law, this kind of "propaganda" must be nipped in the bud wherever it takes root. The Russian government is waging an information war, and up to now, they're winning it.
That's why a number of the people interviewed in Gay Propaganda have chosen to leave Russia, as has my co-editor Masha Gessen, who moved her entire family from Moscow to New York last month for fear that the government may crack down even further once the Olympics come and go, with a law to take children away from gay parents. A notable consequence is an increasingly vocal emigré community of LGBT Russians in big cities like New York, many of whom have been on the front lines of protests against the Russian government or corporate sponsors of the Olympics.
But the war footing of the government has also mobilized LGBT Russians inside Russia in equally remarkable and unprecedented ways. The week after the Sochi Olympics, activists are hosting a first ever LGBT sports competition in Moscow, the "Open Games." Last week a Russian actor who had publicly called for gays to be put "all he gays alive into an oven," was slapped with a lawsuit by a prominent gay rights activist. And it's fair to assume, if the government is able to shut down the "Children 404" site, a similar service or forum will pop up in its place, getting the simple message across in one way or another: we exist.
• The sub-head on this commentary was modified on 6 February 2014. © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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Brazilian journalist's murderers jailed 

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Two men accused of murdering Brazilian political reporter Decio Sa last April have been sentenced to lengthy jail terms.
Jonathan Silva, who confessed to firing the shots that killed the journalist, and Marcos Bruno Silva, who was driving the motorcycle used in the attack, were sentenced to 25 years and 18 years respectively.
Sa, 42, a reporter for the Estado de Maranhao daily, was killed after a series of investigative articles about a criminal gang.
The jailed pair were among 11 people accused of the murder in a bar San Luis, capital city of the state of Maranhao in north-eastern Brazil.
Two of those charged were police officers who attended meetings at which the murder was planned. © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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US military sniffer dog captured in Afghanistan, Taliban claim

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Video of canine wearing complex harness, along with weapons that Taliban say they captured from US forces,
are posted online
The Taliban say they have captured an American military sniffer dog in Afghanistan, and posted a video of the forlorn-looking animal in a video online.
Bearded fighters, showing off weapons they say were also captured from US forces in eastern Laghman province just before Christmas, mill around the chocolate-brown dog.
Glossier and better fed than most guard dogs kept in Afghan villages, it is wearing a complex harness similar to ones used by some Nato forces.
A Taliban Twitter account shared video of the dog. An experienced dog handler who has worked in Afghanistan said it appeared to be a Belgian shepherd, a breed popular with soldiers because of its ability to work for hours without a break.
"You see the ears? They are down, that tells you that the dog is not aggressive and just wants to feel safe. Right now the dog is terrified," said the handler, who asked not to be named while talking about Nato.
"I can see in his eyes he just wants to get his handler," he added.
A spokesman for Nato forces in Afghanistan said they were aware of the reports, and looking into them, but had no immediate comment.
Dogs have been widely used by western forces in Afghanistan to sniff out buried bombs and hidden narcotics, as well as help search homes.
They usually stay close to the men and women who manage them, but can occasionally be separated by a heavy
gun battle or large bomb, the handler said.
He remembered at least one other incident when Afghan insurgents captured a dog alive, and held it for several months. © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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Ukrainian activist forced to admit being U.S. spy under torture

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VILNIUS (Reuters) - A Ukrainian anti-government activist who fled the country after being abducted said on Thursday he had been forced under torture to declare himself an American spy.

Europe warns of Turkey Internet censorship - USA TODAY

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Economic Times

Europe warns of Turkey Internet censorship
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The new GI Bill's strangest provisions: from surveillance to diseases 

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Citing covert smoke detector cameras and banning bonuses from the boss, the new GI Bill covers much more than college tuition

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Deadly python found dead under fallen tree in Kent

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RSPCA investigators say it is not clear if falling tree killed three-metre-long snake or if it was placed there
A three-metre-long (10ft) Burmese python has been found dead beneath a fallen tree on a suburban street.
The giant reptile was found by a member of the public trapped under the tree in Wallis Park in Northfleet, Kent, on Wednesday morning.
RSPCA investigators are trying to locate its owner and find out how it came to rest there. They believe it died at least 24 hours before it was found.
An RSPCA spokeswoman said: "It's a bit of a strange one. Our first assumption was that it became trapped under the tree after being released.
"But it then became apparent that it had been dead for some time, at least 24 hours before it was found. The injury to its skull was caused by blunt trauma.
"What we don't know for sure is whether that injury occurred because of the fallen tree or happened before and the snake was then placed underneath the branch."
Burmese pythons are among the five largest species of snake in the world. Males grow to an average size of about four metres and females slightly larger.
They are normally found in the marshlands, swamps, grasslands and woodland of southern and south-east Asia, and can prove deadly.
The RSPCA spokeswoman said: "A snake of this size could easily crush a child. A fully grown one would have the capability of seriously injuring or even killing a fully grown adult. It's their crush instinct that's particularly dangerous."
The RSPCA has possession of the dead snake and officials appealed to anyone with information about its owner to call 0300 123 8018. © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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Pussy Riot members attack bandmates for appearing at Amnesty concert

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Letter on Russian punk collective's blog says Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina 'are no longer Pussy Riot'
Members of the Russian punk collective Pussy Riot have accused their previously imprisoned bandmates of undermining the group's ideals by appearing at a charity concert introduced by Madonna.
A letter posted on the group's blog lashed out at Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina for taking part in the concert organised by Amnesty International in New York on Wednesday.
Madonna introduced the women, who were dressed in tunics with crucifixes emblazoned on the front.
They delivered a furious and emotional rebuke of the regime of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, chanting: "Russia will be free!" to an ecstatic crowd.
But the appearance was poorly received by others in the group, which has a fluctuating membership that has never been fully revealed.
Selling concert tickets "is highly contradictory to the principles of Pussy Riot," said the letter, which was signed with six nicknames.
"We're a female separatist collective," it said. "We never accept money for our performances" and "we only stage illegal performances in unexpected public places".
The letter also took issue with posters for the concert that showed a male guitarist in a balaclava, a trademark of the feminist group.
Tolokonnikova, 24, and Alyokhina, 25, were freed from Russian penal colonies in December three months before the end of their two-year sentences for staging an anti-Putin "punk prayer" performance in a Moscow cathedral.
They said on their release that they would focus on campaigning for the rights of prisoners.
Wednesday's concert in Brooklyn also included performances by the Flaming Lips and Blondie. Ticket prices started at $27 (£17).
"They have said in every interview that they have quit the group and no longer represent Pussy Riot," said the letter. "But all of their appearances are announced as appearances by Pussy Riot."
"They are no longer Pussy Riot," said the appeal signed by Cat, Garadzha, Fara, Shayba, Serafima and Shumakher.
"We have lost two friends, two ideological teammates, but the world has gained two brave rights activists," they said.
Five members in colourful tights and balaclavas staged the cathedral performance in February 2012. Three were arrested the following month.
One, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was freed with a suspended sentence after a successful appeal.
The other two performers have never been identified.
Since the women were arrested, there have been no more guerrilla Pussy Riot performances in public places, although a music video targeting Russia's oil industry was published in July 2013, apparently by a splinter group that had set up a new website. © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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India warns US of consequences on visa reform

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India warns the United States of consequences for its companies if lawmakers tighten visa rules on high-tech firms as part of an immigration overhaul. Durati...
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Sochi 2014: Channel 4 rebrands to back gay rights

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Broadcaster to change logo for a day and run 'Gay Mountain' advert in support of gay athletes at Winter Olympics in Russia
Channel 4 is to rebrand its on-screen logo with rainbow colours of the gay pride flag – and launch a TV ad campaign called "Gay Mountain" – joining the rising wave of protests about Russia's anti-gay laws on the eve of the opening of the Sochi Winter Olympics.
Channel 4, which has the TV broadcast rights to the Winter Paralympics, joins the growing ranks showing their support for gay athletes and protest against Russia's anti-gay laws.
The broadcaster's distinctive logo will be rebranded on Friday, the day of the opening ceremony, and the "what's on next" screens that air between shows will be similarly rainbow-emblazoned for the day.
Channel 4 is also launching a 90-second TV ad that will debut in prime time at 7pm on Friday – as BBC2's live coverage of the opening ceremony nears its climax – in a "roadblock" across its main channel, E4, More4 and catch-up station 4Seven.
The tongue-in-cheek ad, which will run for a week, features a "bear" cabaret act singing a song which features lyrics including "good luck gays, on gay mountain".
Using a play on the term "out", denoting when a person admits publicly that they are gay, the TV ad runs with the strapline "good luck to everyone out in Sochi".
"This is a typically Channel 4 way of celebrating the start of the Winter Games and showing our support to all of the athletes out in Sochi, gay or straight," said the Channel 4 chief marketing and communications officer, Dan Brooke.
Channel 4 has also used the rainbow motif to redesign the large-scale physical installation of its logo that sits outside its headquarters in London's Victoria.
There has been a rising swell of protest since Russia introduced the new anti-gay laws, which prohibit the "promotion" of hommosexuality to under-18s, last year.
On Thursday an open letter signed by more than 200 writers, including Jonathan Franzen and Salman Rushdie, protesting against the anti-gay and blasphemy laws was published in the Guardian.
The gay advocacy group All Out organised protests against the law in 19 cities worldwide on Wednesday, and has also released a list of athletes, including 12 who will compete at these Olympics, who are calling on Russia to change the law.
The International Olympic Committeehas said athletes will be free to speak out as long as they do so away from accredited areas.
Vladimir Putin has claimed that the laws are not discriminatory, but aimed at protecting Russian children from dangerous information about homosexuality and paedophilia.
The broadcaster also intends to air a short interview with ex-England rugby player Ben Cohen, founder of the StandUp anti-bullying foundation, which will air just before the TV ad breaks on Friday night.
Earlier this week Channel 4 aired a Dispatches investigation into gangs that target gay men and women.
Later this year Queer as Folk creator Russell T Davies returns to Channel 4 with two new dramas looking at gay life, Cucumber and Banana.
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Pope's Harley-Davidson sold at auction for more than £200,000

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Proceeds of bike that was given to Pope Francis by motorcycle company – and signed by the pontiff – to be given to charity
It was always a little difficult to see how he would get much use out of them – black leather is hardly papal style and revving engines don't chime well with quiet contemplation.
So the auction in Paris on Thursday of the pope's
Harley-Davidson motorcycle and jacket – with the combined proceeds of almost €300,000 (£250,000) going to
charity– seemed to make a lot more sense.
After a bidding war lasting six minutes,
the auctioneer Bonhams said the 1,585cc bike – given to Pope Francis by
Harley-Davidson last June and signed by the
Argentinian pontiff – was sold to a private buyer in Europe for €241,500.
The jacket, meanwhile, also signed by Francis, went to an anonymous "overseas buyer" for €57,500, Bonhams said.
The money will go towards the renovation of a hostel and soup kitchen in Rome run by the charity Caritas.
Ben Walker, head of motorcycles at Bonhams, said: "I am thrilled with the result achieved and am very pleased for the charity. It has to be a world record for a 21st-century Harley-Davidson and certainly for a Harley-Davidson leather jacket."
The reserve price for the Dyna Super Glide had been just €12,000, but Walker had acknowledged that it was unknown how much the identity of its previous owner would affect the sale price.
"In my whole career I've never had more interest in one motorcycle than this one and it's gone viral. I've had
inquiries from across the globe," he told the BBC before the auction. © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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US Jobless Claims Fall, Point to Firming Labor Market

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The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, in a boost to the labor market outlook and the broader economy.   Initial claims for state unemployment benefits declined 20,000 to a seasonally adjusted 331,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims for the prior week were revised to show 3,000 more applications received than previously reported.   Economists polled by Reuters had forecast first-time applications for...

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Syria Rebels Seize Jail 'Freeing Hundreds'

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A large-scale offensive reportedly leaves the rebels in control, but state TV says a "terrorist attack" has been thwarted.

Senior Democrats set out strategy in preparation for tough Senate battle 

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Presidents Clinton and Obama met Wednesday with senators nervously trying to plan out a way to maintain control of at least one house of Congress

Family of castaway's dead companion wants answers

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The fisherman who says he survived a 13-month journey in the Pacific should return to Mexico to explain the death of a young man who accompanied him, the vic...
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Twitter Shares Plummet 23% On Market Opening

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The flight to safety by investors comes as Twitter reveals a marked slowdown in new users compared to recent years.

Obama: Religious Freedom Matters to 'National Security'

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President Barack Obama says freedom of religion matters to U.S. national security, and promoting religious freedom abroad is a key part in the country's foreign
policy. Obama spoke Thursday at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, saying anyone who harms someone in the name of faith diminishes their relationship with
God. "Around the world, freedom of religion is under threat, and that is what I want to reflect on this
morning," the president told the...

General Motors' fourth quarter profit badly misses Wall Street expectations

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Automaker reported a slight increase in quarterly profits but performed poorly in its international 

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