Most activists combat current threats to justice, but last Friday, at a private screening in San Francisco, the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell demanded activism by revealing an egregious historic omission: women's central role in the Liberian peace process. The film has been touring festivals since 2008 and has racked up a few awards, including Best Documentary at Tribeca. Its producer, Abigail Disney, granddaughter of Walt, heard about the Women's Peace Initiative in 2006, when she was in Liberia "like a typical American do-gooder who didn't really know much of anything." As it turns out, neither did the rest of the world.

The story goes like this: Since 1980 Liberia had been in and out of brutal civil wars, mainly between the leader of child-soldier battalions, Charles Taylor, elected president in 1995, and rebel groups. As fighting approached Monrovia in 2003, Leymah Gbowee began organizing women in her church and in neighboring Muslim communities to stage a protest. Eventually, there were two thousand women sitting for days outside Taylor's offices, holding signs demanding peace. When Taylor finally agreed to speak with them, Gbowee gave a statement requesting that he immediately engage in peace talks with the rebels. He conceded. Gbowee then sent two delegates to Sierra Leone to convince the Liberian warlords to come to the talks. Skeptical and unimpressed, they agreed.

As a hundred Liberian women sat outside the peace hall in Ghana, war raged back in Liberia. International media picked up on the talks when Sierra Leone indicted Taylor for war crimes. Taylor fled back to Liberia, leaving the warlords to plan a transitional government. The women had been sitting outside every day for six weeks when they got news that the American embassy in Monrovia had been hit by a missile, killing several members of their families. Spurred into action, Gbowee sent for reinforcements, and the women physically blocked the rebel leaders from leaving the hall before making progress.

It worked. In less than two weeks, an interim government was established and war subsided. Charles Jackson, a Liberian journalist who now lives in the U.S. and was in Accra at the time, told me he thinks "without the women, there would have been no peace agreement." Yet no major news networks covering the peace talks or Taylor's indictment showed the women. Because of this, much of the film's 2003 footage came from hand-held cameras used by the women themselves. Disney found one box of film that a local TV channel had abandoned being used to keep open a window at a Ghanian NGO.

Back in 2006, Disney was surprised when the story of these women became more real the deeper she investigated. She expected the narrative to turn out to be false or an exaggeration—that it would "just puff away and disappear." But it didn't—and Pray the Devil, which is concise and stunning to boot, has now made sure that it never will. 

 

Google Reader Bleg

I guess I should have done this over the weekend, but I have a technical bleg.  I use Google Reader for my RSS feeds, and it seems to work fine for every RSS feed except one: mine. Here's the problem: Instead of showing up a few minutes after I write them, my posts seem to sit in limbo for a few hours and then show up in batches all at once.  I've checked the feed itself, and it goes out within a few minutes of publishing a post, so the problem appears to be with the reader, not the feed.

Some people seem to have this same problem and some people don't.  So two questions.  First: if you use Google Reader, does this happen to you?  Second: does anybody have any idea what might cause this?  Thanks!

I guess I shouldn't really be surprised at anything Andy McCarthy says these days, but he somehow manages to surprise me anyway with some regularity.  Here he is telling us the real reason Barack Obama has been restrained in his public statements about Iran:

The fact is that, as a man of the hard Left, Obama is more comfortable with a totalitarian Islamic regime than he would be with a free Iranian society.

Believe it or not, it goes downhill from there: McCarthy thinks Obama actually wanted to make a statement supporting the mullahs, but that wouldn't have gone over well with Joe Sixpack.  So he did the next best thing and stayed quiet.  Still, "Obama has a preferred outcome here, one that is more in line with his worldview, and it is not victory for the freedom fighters."

Also worth noting is that in the spirit of true paranoids everywhere, McCarthy manages to twist his theory so that it explains all of Obama's actions, both past and future.  No matter what Obama does — whether he speaks up or not — it will be in service of his overarching hard Left ideology and the volcanic anger and resentment that controls his life.

Somebody really needs to have a little chat with Rich Lowry.  I don't expect a lot from National Review these days, but McCarthy's public descent into madness isn't pretty to watch and doesn't do the magazine any favors.  Maybe it's time to ask him to work out his issues a little more privately.

UPDATE: I missed this the first time around, but to his credit, Lowry does respond to McCarthy here.  Remarkably (or not, perhaps), McCarthy then digs himself in even deeper here.  "I detect in your post a sense that I'm this close to the fringe," he says.  Well, there's no need to sense what I'm saying in my post, Andy.  You are batshit crazy.

As long as we're on the subject of liberals being their own worst enemies — and we were on that subject, weren't we? — check out Josh Harkinson's piece on the civil war over Waxman-Markey among enviros.  It's been brewing for a while, but it's now starting to go mainstream.  For a look at what they're fighting over, a handy W-M checklist is here.

Monopoly Healthcare

Republicans pretty much oppose all Democratic proposals to reform healthcare.  So naturally they oppose the creation of a public option as part of healthcare reform too. No mystery there.  But why do so many Democrats oppose it?  Paul Krugman speculates:

I may have a new hypothesis about the political economy of the health care fight. One thing that’s obvious, if you look at the balking Democrats I chided in today’s column, is that almost all of them come from states with small population. These are also, by and large, states in which one or at most two private insurers dominate the market.

So here’s a suggestion: while the opponents of a private plan say that they’re trying to defend market competition, what they’re actually doing is defending lucrative local monopolies.

There's probably something to this.  It doesn't even have to be especially sinister: politicians routinely pay outsize attention to companies with a big presence in their state even if they aren't outsize campaign contributors.  Though the latter certainly doesn't hurt.

Anyway — interesting theory.

Quote of the Day

From Sen. John Thune (R–SD), commenting on his disappointment with the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court:

"She doesn't have the punch out there in terms of fundraising and recruiting, I think — at least so far."

That's a real shame, isn't it?  But don't lose hope. I'm sure there's still plenty of mileage left in pretending that Obama wants to take away your guns, force your daughters to abort their babies, and outlaw the Bible.

Shahram Kholdi, a graduate student in Middle Eastern studies at the University of Manchester with extensive contacts in Iran, has been sharing reports he has managed to get from Iran. His latest:

A Baseeji opened fire on four people, two of them young women, in front of
Shariati Hospital on Amir Abad Street, during protest. The enraged people
attacked and snatched the Baeeji and pistolwhipped him with his
Kalashnikov. The Baseeji was killed as a result.

This happened on Saturday. It was a quick call and unfortunately I do not
know exactly at what time the incident happened.

Also, there are reports that Saaydo-Shohda division has moved into Tehran
and deployed tanks in Azadi square in anticipation of Tuesday universal
strikes. This report is still to be verified.

On Monday, it was police forces that were trying to break up ongoing protests in Tehran. But there were media reports on Sunday that military helicopters had replaced police helicopters in the skies of Tehran. Is a street-fight clash coming between the opposition and the Iranian military?
 

 

 

Who Resurrected the F-22?

Last week the House Armed Services Committee approved, by a mere one-vote margin, more money for the F-22 fighter jet. (Too bad the plane's not as invincible in the air as it is in Congress). This is one of the programs that the Obama administration most wants to cut, and so the vote was basically the committee's way of collectively mooning Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his audacious suggestion that we should do something about the bloated defense budget.

Who are the lawmakers keeping the F-22 on life-support? All of the committee's Republican members voted for extra funding for the planes, in addition to six Dems, all from states where some part of the F-22 is manufactured. Travis Sharp at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation has the full list here. And for more on how the Gates budget is faring on Capitol Hill, check out our special report on defense spending—first installment here.

Was Sunday's calm the beginning of the end in Iran, or just the calm before the storm? This video of a teenage girl being gunned down suggests the latter. Meanwhile, the EPA declared an environmental emergency in Montana, there's beef in KFC chicken, and Tuesday's debut of the film New Muslim Cool shows how Bush-era Islamophobia affected one Latino family's daily life.

Nine years ago, Mother Jones reported on the damage done to the town of Libby, Montana, and its inhabitants by the asbestos in W.R. Grace's nearby mine. In 2008, Grace settled with the people sickened and killed and their families for some $3 billion. Last Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency finally declared an environmental emergency in Libby, invoking a clause of the 1980 Superfund law for the first time in the agency's history. The EPA will spend over $100 million trying to clean up the town. 

The EPA declaration represents some long-delayed good news for the people of Libby. But if they were hoping for accountability for Grace's executives, they're out of luck. Federal prosecutors brought charges against four Grace employees for criminal conspiracy to cover up the risks from the asbestos contamination from the company's mine. But three execs were acquitted, and charges against the final Grace defendant, O. Mario Favorito, were dismissed last week. It now seems that no one will go to jail for the conduct that has been linked to the deaths of over 200 people and the sickening of thousands more.