Tunisia’s constitutional assembly holds the nation’s first session

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Tunisia’s constitutional assembly, elected after a revolution that inspired the “Arab Spring” uprisings, held its opening session on Tuesday, described by officials as an historic step toward democracy.

The assembly, which will sit for a year to draft a new constitution, is dominated by a moderate Islamist party whose election win last month resonated in other countries in the region where Islamists are gaining ground after the popular protests which swept three Arab heads of state from power.

Members of the assembly, senior officials in the incoming coalition government, and ministers in the outgoing cabinet stood for the Tunisian national anthem in a ceremony to open the 217-seat assembly.

This is an historic moment…for the transition to democracy,” Fouad Mebazza, the outgoing interim president, said at the ceremony, in the same building where the previous rubber-stamp parliament sat before the revolution…

Tunisia’s government will be dominated by the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, which emerged from the election with the biggest contingent in the assembly, but short of a majority…

Ennahda has shared out the top three state posts with two smaller, secularist parties. Hamadi Jbeli, Ennahda’s secretary general, will be prime minister, the most powerful role.

Moncef Marzouki, head of coalition partner the Congress for the Republic, will have the largely ceremonial post of Tunisian president. Mustafa Ben Jaafar, leader of the Ettakatol party, was nominated as speaker of the new assembly. A new cabinet line-up, with posts shared out between the three coalition partners, is to be announced soon.

In its first act, the assembly voted to confirm Ben Jaafar as speaker.

RTFA for details of this and that. I’ve made myself a bit of a permanent note to follow the difficult process of growing into democracy. There are foreseeable cultural problems at every turn. We must give credit where and when due to this brave nation setting forth on a new path.

Fraley’s Robot Repair Shop

Fraley’s Robot Repair is a fictional business set up as a public art installation. The Artist behind this installation is Toby Atticus Fraley, a multidisciplinary artist based in the Pittsburgh area.

This installation opened for a year long run on Duquesne Light Light Up Night®, November 18, 2011.

The shop depicts what appears to be a robot repair shop where the owners have left for vacation, leaving robots in various stages of repair, including one peering through the store windows longing for life in the outside world. The scene appears to be set in the future, where robot ownership is commonplace, with a 1950’s aesthetic. Interactive QR codes and a website allow smartphone and internet users a behind-the-scenes view of the creation of the art piece. Those who frequent the area will see the installation change and evolve over the course of the year…

The project seeks to dovetail recent investments in downtown by revitalizing and occupying vacant storefronts, making for a more attractive, safe and vibrant downtown corridor while adding to local economy.

Terrific idea. Eminently successful concept. Should be managed by someone like Ray Bradbury. 🙂

Thanks, Ursarodina

So, you check out this parked car and there’s $15 million in cash and 3 kilos of coke inside – WTF?

Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

Soldiers in Mexico have seized $15.3 million in cash, believed to belong to the country’s most wanted drug lord, Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman.

The security forces said they found the money when they searched a car in a well-to do neighbourhood of Tijuana, on the US-Mexico border. They said the money was being taken to a safe house used by Shorty Guzman and his gang, the powerful Sinaloa cartel.

It is the second largest cash seizure since Felipe Calderon became president.

Defence Ministry spokesman Gen Ricardo Trevilla said the find was made during a “surprise operation” in the Cumbres de Juarez neighbourhood of Tijuana, in Baja California state.

He said the soldiers found $15.35m in cash, 3kg of cocaine, four weapons, and jewellery inside the car…

He did not say what led the troops to the cash. No arrests were made.

No arrests were made? No idea who the car belonged to? No search of nearby houses?

Are we to think the drogas drop a car full of cash and coke blocks away from easy access?

Pizza Hut blunders set up CIA informants for execution

More than a dozen CIA informants in the Middle East are thought to be facing execution after being caught by Iran and Hizbollah, due to a string of embarrassing failures by US spies.

Agents working for the US in Lebanon and Iran are said to have been outed after their handlers used trackable mobile phones and used the code-word “pizza” when agreeing to meet at a Pizza Hut.

The breaking of the two spy rings – one in the Beirut-based militant group that has killed hundreds of Americans, the other looking into the Iranian nuclear programme – amounts to a serious setback to US security. It may also make it difficult for US spies to recruit local informants in future…

Hizbollah counter-intelligence detected several mobile phones in Beirut that “were used rarely or always from specific locations and only for a short period of time”, according to the Associated Press.

Two Hizbollah double-agents, meanwhile, discovered the pizza restaurant where genuine informants were being met by pretending to work for the CIA, according to ABC News.

The leader of Hizbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, alleged in June that two high-ranking members of his group had been caught spying for the CIA, but the claims were denied by the US embassy. Iranian authorities also claimed to have discovered 30 Israeli and US agents in May.

The apparent blow comes almost two years after a suicide bomber posing as an informant killed seven CIA employees and wounded six others by gaining entry to a US base in Khost, Afghanistan.

A spokesman for the CIA declined to comment on operations.

What could he say other than offering up the usual crap arguments for slithering around in the Middle East. Historically, the CIA’s essential political function in the region has been to assure safety for Western oil companies by impeding any moves towards removing rulers-by-birthright and instituting democracy.

American generally aren’t aware of that – folks in the Middle East never forget.

Religion-based lobbyists multiply like rabbits in Washington

The number of religion-related lobbying groups in Washington has grown five-fold in the past 40 years, with their spending reaching almost $400 million annually…

The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life study identified 212 groups, up from 158 a decade ago and 40 in 1970. Their collective budgets for lobbying efforts in Washington were estimated at $390 million a year…

Forty groups accounted for the bulk of the spending, led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which spent nearly $88 million in 2008, the last year for which data was provided.

Also in 2008, the Family Research Council spent $14 million and the American Jewish Committee $13 million.

In 2009, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops spent $27 million, Concerned Women for America $13 million, Bread for the World $11 million, the National Right to Life Committee $11 million and the Home School Legal Defense Association $11 million.

Issues the various groups lobbied on included support of Israel, church-state issues, and religious rights.

The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life said other topics were bioethics, abortion, capital punishment, and end-of-life and family-marriage issues. Many of the groups also addressed international issues such as poverty.

But, don’t count on many of the issues that are supposed to concern the holier-than-thou-and-everyone-else. The core issue of most of these religio-political hacks is preventing someone else from exercising individual liberties.

Bamboo to be grown at Edinburgh Zoo for panda incomers

Edinburgh Zoo is to grow its own bamboo to feed its eagerly-awaited giant pandas.

It will initially cultivate 15% of the 18,000kg of bamboo required to feed the animals annually. The plant will be grown on the grounds of the zoo, with the rest being provided by specialist German firm Reiner Winkendick.

It is hoped Tian Tian and Yang Guang will arrive in Edinburgh before the end of the year.

The breeding pair will consume 20 three-metre bamboo stems each day and be given about 25 different species of the plant over the year to replicate their diet in the wild.

While bamboo forms almost all of their diet, they also have an appetite for rats, mice, pikas, insects and other vegetation…

Our starting point was to ensure a long-term supply of fresh bamboo that was both sustainable and cost-effective…”

Simon Jones added: “Our German supplier grows exclusively for zoos across Europe and has a proven track-record in the large-scale provision of specialist animal feed – including for giant pandas currently in captivity in Berlin and Vienna.

“But we also wanted to procure a supply nearer to home, which is why we have five growing sites spread across the zoo’s grounds…At any one time, our home-grown supply can provide up to three weeks’ worth of bamboo – enough to cover any emergency situation.”

My personal experience with growing bamboo is – “Look out! Here it comes!”

I’ve lived in communities where neighbors have sued each other over invasive bamboo. 🙂