Archive for the ‘Human Rights’ Category

Does the USA need a new founding myth?

September 7, 2021

The U.S Constitutional Convention, 1789

A myth is not necessarily false.  It is a story that people tell about themselves.

The founding myth of the USA is the idea that we are a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

The American dilemma, as Gunnar Myrdal wrote in his classic 1944 book on race and racism in the USA, is the incompatibility of what he called the American creed with American reality.  The great sin of us contemporary white Americans as a group is the refusal to face up to this contradiction.

Most of us Americans like to think of the USA as the land of the free and the home of the brave, and don’t like to look at evidence that this isn’t so.  That’s why, for example, so many white Southerners insist that the Civil War was fought over state’s rights, not slavery.

As a boy, I was taught by my parents and teachers, including my Sunday school teachers, that everyone deserved equal rights regardless of race, creed or color, and that everyone, regardless of social standing, should be treated with courtesy and respect. I believed that being a good person and a good American were one and the same thing.

My core beliefs are still the same.  My opinions have changed radically over the course of my life, and especially within the past 10 or 20 years.  Like Albert Camus, I want to love justice and still love my country, and struggle to reconcile these loves.

But the USA as a nation is turning its back on the historic American creed even as an aspirational goal.

MAGA Republicans normalize voter suppression.  Woke Democrats normalize censorship.

We have normalized military aggression, torture, assassinations, bombing of civilians, corporate crime and imprisonment of dissidents and whistleblowers.

Although the American founding myth is fading, a new myth cannot be conjured up just by calling for one.  The power of a myth depends on believers thinking of it, not as a myth, but as just the way things are.

If you recognize a myth as a myth, it has no power over you, although the afterglow of your previous belief may persist for a time.

The most likely candidate for a new unifying myth is a patriotism based on American exceptionalism rather than historic American ideals.  During the past 20 years, we Americans have been called upon to take pride in the USA not because of our freedom and democracy, but our might and power.

Patriotism is defined as unconditional support for war and domination.  The military is our most respected institution.

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Glenn Greenwald in Brazil

May 19, 2021

SECURING DEMOCRACY: My fight for Press Freedom and Justice in Bolsonaro’s Brazil by Glenn Greenwald (2021)

Glenn Greenwald’s new book tells the story of his latest exploit, the publication in 2019 of leaked information exposing corruption and abuse of power in Brazil, his adopted country.

His reporting on leaked information about abuses of power by President Jair Bolsonro and Justice Minister Sérgio Moro threatens their political power.

The risks he faces—prison and death—are possibly greater than in 2013, when he helped publish Edward Snowden’s leaked information about abuses of power by the NSA, CIA and Britain’s GCHQ.

I’ve long been an admirer of Greenwald, and Securing Democracy is doubly interesting to me because it tells something of his back story.

I started reading his blog, Unclaimed Territory, in the mid-2000s.  Its theme was the Bush administration’s abuse of power.

When Barack Obama succeeded George W. Bush, Greenwald held Obama to the same strict standard that he applied to Bush.  This won him a following across the political spectrum.

Greenwald was, and is, very lawyer-like.  His writing focused on the relevant law and facts, without any evident personal bias.  His judgments were without fear or favor.

In fact, I don’t know Greenwald’s political beliefs, beyond a general belief in democracy, freedom of speech and equal justice under law.

I followed Greenwald as his blog was picked up by Salon, then as he became a columnist for The Guardian.

I didn’t know at the time that he was (1) gay and (2) living in Brazil.

In the book, he told how, after quitting his job in a New York law firm in 2005, at age, he went to Rio de Janeiro to unwind on its famous Ipanema beach. 

A volleyball knocked over his drink, and a handsome 20-year-old man named David Miranda came up to apologize.

It was love at first sight, and they’ve been together ever since.  It is like an ideal love relationship out of Plato’s Socratic dialogues—a mature older man loving and mentoring a handsome and noble younger man.

Miranda grew up in a favela, one of the squatter shantytowns that have grown up around Brazil’s big cities. 

Favela residents typically live in shacks build of scrap wood, bricks and other scavenged materials.  They usually lack electricity, a public water supply or sewerage, although residents sometimes tap into the electrical grid illegally.

Drug gangs have more power in the favelas that the legal government does, Greenwald wrote.  They also are sometimes invaded by private militias financed by wealthy right-wing Brazilians.

Miranda was born in a favela to a poor woman who worked as a prostitute.  He never knew his father.  His mother died when he was five, and he was raised by an aunt, until he left home at age 13.

At first he slept in the street, but, by means of hard work, talent and charm, he had worked his way up to a stable job in offices at the time he met Greenwald.

After they met, Miranda got through junior high and high school, then got a degree in marketing from a top Brazilian university.

Miranda’s ambition was to design and promote video games.  Greenwald was unimpressed by that ambition, until Edward Snowden told him that he got his first ideas of duty, morality and purpose by playing video games as a child.

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HRW calls Israel an apartheid state

May 17, 2021

Human Rights Watch, in its new report, A Threshold Crossed, presented some powerful graphics to illustrate its claim that Israel is an apartheid state.

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The fallacy of the single evil

January 13, 2021

C.S. Lewis wrote somewhere that the devil always sends his temptations in twos, so that in backing away from one, you are liable to stumble into the other.

That’s very true of political temptations.

The cult-like behavior of hard-core Donald Trump loyalists, and of Q-Anon followers in particular, is a great danger to functioning of American democracy.

How can I engage in democratic discourse with people who are disconnected from reality as I see it?

But the drive to censor MAGA Republicans, including Q-Anon, is an equal danger.

How can I engage in democratic discourse with people and at the same time deny them a voice?

People who are silenced do not think they are refuted.

And I would be naive if I thought that censorship will be limited to persons and causes I disapprove of.

LINKS

Q-Anon and the Fragility of Truth by Nathan J. Robinson for Current Affairs.

The Man Who Saw the Coup Coming Is Surprised It Wasn’t Much Worse by Cam Wolf for GQ.

QAnon Woke Up the Real Deep State by Nicolas Grossman for Arcdigital Media.

The Terror of Liberals in a Time of Insurrection by Ian Welsh.

The Boot Is Coming Down Hard and Fast by Caitlin Johnstone.

Images via vitaliketh on Twitter.

Assange’s martyrdom for truth continues

January 7, 2021

I should have seen this coming.

After ruling against extraditing Julian Assange to the United States to be tried for espionage and computer hacking, British Judge Vanessa Baraitser has ruled that he must stay in prison.

One technique of the old Soviet Union for tormenting imprisoned political dissidents was to give them hope that they would be released by a certain date and then, when the date came due, tell them their sentences would be extended.

This is what has happened to Assange.

Julian Assange faces an array of charges in the United States, mostly related to his publication of secret U.S. documents that reveal war crimes. He accepted political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012 to avoid possible extradition to the United states.

In 2019, Ecuador withdrew its protection and Assange was confined to Belmarsh prison, which is reserved for the most dangerous and violent criminals. He has been in solitary confinement 23 hours a day, and cut off from contact with family, friends and lawyers. A United States expert on torture has said that his conditions amount to torture.

Judge Baraitser ruled that the United States has a legal right to extradite Assange, but denied the extradition request on the grounds that his mental and physical health would be threatened if he were sentenced, as would likely happen, to the supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. But conditions are nearly as bad, or maybe just as bad, in Belmarsh.

She possibly had a point when she declared Assange a flight risk. He did skip bail in 2012 when he took refuge in the embassy.

But there is no need or justification for subjecting him to the conditions in which he is being confined in Belmarsh. He could be confined without solitary confinement, lack of exercise, and lack of contact with visitors.

It was unrealistic to expect Judge Baraitser to refuse to extradite Assange on freedom of the press grounds. The British Official Secrets Act is even more far reaching than the U.S. Espionage Act of 1917.

There has been an informal policy in the United States of prosecuting whistleblowers, while refraining from prosecuting journalists and news organizations that publish the secrets the whistleblowers reveal. But this, too, has little foundation in logic or law.

The basic issue is that if a government can commit crimes in secret, and punish those who reveal the crimes, there is no limit to its tyrannical power.

The only way to address this issue for once and for all is to pay laws limiting secrecy. One way to do this would be allow accused whistle-blowers and journalists to go free if they can convince a judge or jury that the information they revealed was kept secret only to conceal crime, wrongdoing or incompetence.

LINK

British Judge Keeps Assange in Prison, Despite Ruling Against Extradition by Kevin Gotsztola for Shadowproof.

Wednesday’s Other Story: On the case of Julian Assange, and fearing empire more than Trump by Matt Taibbi on TX News. [Added 1/8/2021]

In Russia, too, truth-telling can be a crime

October 12, 2020

] Historian Yuri Dmitriev at work (2008)

Oliver Rolin, writing in the New York Review of Books, told about  the Russian historian, Yuri Dmitriev and his effort to identify the remains of persons killed and thrown into mass graves during the Stalin era.

He told me how he had found his vocation as a researcher—a word that can be understood in several senses: in archives, but also on the ground, in the cemetery-forests of Karelia.

In 1989, he told me, a mechanical digger had unearthed some bones by chance.  Since no one, no authority, was prepared to take on the task of burying with dignity those remains, which he recognized as being of the victims of what is known there as “the repression” (repressia), he undertook to do so himself.  Dmitriev’s father had then revealed to him that his own father, Yuri’s grandfather, had been shot in 1938.

“Then,” Dmitriev told me, “I wanted to find out about the fate of those people.”  After several years’ digging in the FSB archive, he published The Karelian Lists of Remembrance in 2002, which, at the time, contained notes on 15,000 victims of the Terror.

“I was not allowed to photocopy.  I brought a dictaphone to record the names and then I wrote them out at home,” he said. “For four or five years, I went to bed with one word in my head: rastrelian—shot.  Then, I and two fellow researchers from the Memorial association, Irina Flighe and Veniamin Ioffe (and my dog Witch), discovered the Sandarmokh mass burial ground: hundreds of graves in the forest near Medvejegorsk, more than 7,000 so-called enemies of the people killed there with a bullet through the base of the skull at the end of the 1930s.”

Germans have bravely faced up to facts of the Nazi era, and we Americans are starting to face up to our history of slavery and repression of black people and our ethnic cleansing and dispossession of indigenous peoples

But Vladimir Putin’s Russia is not willing to face up to the truth about the Stalin terror.  The state’s response was to reailroad Dmitriev on trumped-up charges of sexually abusing his adopted daughter.

Not content to persecute and dishonor the man who discovered Sandarmokh, the Russian authorities are now trying to repeat the same lie the Soviet authorities told about Katyn, the forest in Poland where NKVD troops executed some 22,000 Poles, virtually the country’s entire officer corps and intelligentsia—an atrocity that for decades they blamed on the Nazis. 

Stalin’s heirs today claim that the dead lying there in Karelia were not victims of the Terror but Soviet prisoners of war executed during the Finnish occupation of the region at the beginning of World War II.  Historical revisionism, under Putin, knows no bounds.

LINKS

Yuri Dmitriev: Historian of Stalin’s Gulag, Victim of Putin’s Repression by Olivier Rolin for The New York Review of Books.

The Dmitriev Affair: The Life’s Work and Trials of Yuri Dmitriev.

Russian court extends prison sentence for historian of Stalinist terror to 13 years by Clara Weiss for the World Socialist Web Site [Added 10/26/2020]

Banned in Pakistan

July 14, 2020

WordPress notified me that one of my posts from 2015, France is jailing people for the crime of irony, has been banned in Pakistan.   This means that anybody in Pakistan who clicks on the link to that particular post will receive a notice that the post has been blocked by government order.

I assume the reason is that one of the illustrations is a blasphemous (to Muslims) cover of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, many of whose staff members were murdered five years ago because of such blasphemies.

Charlie Hebdo is still publishing, at an undisclosed and secure location, and still giving offense.  The magazine’s target on the anniversary of the massacre was “political correctness.”

LINK

Charlie Hebdo targets “new censorship,” five years after terror attacks, by Zeenat Hansrod for RFI.

Muslims in India scapegoated for the pandemic

June 21, 2020

Muslims in India are being accused of deliberately spreading the coronavirus.  By stirring up prejudice against India’s largest religious minority, Prime Minister Narendra Modi solidifies his own political power and escapes blame for the spread of the disease.

The treatment of Muslims in India is a major human rights crisis.  Modi advocates an Indian nationalism based on the Hindu religion.  He says Muslims cannot be patriotic because their holy places are located outside India.

Nationalism based on religion is dangerous because it tells people that they should regard themselves, collectively, as sacred.  They are asked to, in effect, worship themselves.  They are asked to give the nation the kind of unconditional loyalty that would be due to a superhumanly wise and good infinite being, and to exclude those not part of the nation from human sympathy.

Modi’s government has drawn up a new refugee law that admits fast-tracks admission Christians, Buddhists and other types of believes, but excludes Muslims. It has suspended self-government in Kashmir, the only majority-Muslim state under Indian rule.

It also is drawing up a new citizenship list, and asking Indians to provide proof of citizenship—a big hardship for poor people.  Muslims fear it may be aimed at them.  There have been a number of lynchings of Muslims, mainly on suspicion of having eaten beef.

Modi was chief minister of Gujarat state in 2002 during a three-day anti-Muslim riot.  By some estimates, as many as 2,000 were killed.  Mobs engaged in vandalism, looting and rape, 230 mosques and 274 Muslim shrines were destroyed and thousands were made homeless.

Modi was barred from entering the United States in 2005 under the International Religious Freedom Act, which denies visas to officials guilty of “severe violations of religious freedom.”  He is reportedly the only foreigner barred under this law.

Since being elected Prime Minister of India in 2014, he was welcomed by both President Obama and President Trump.

The U.S. government is trying to form an anti-Chinese alliance, with India, Japan and Australia the key members.

Because of this, we Americans are likely to hear a lot about the persecuted Muslim Uighurs in China’s far west Xinjiang province and very little about Muslims in India.

The Uighurs, like the Tibetans, are being forcibly assimilated into the Chinese culture by brutal means.  But in Modi’s India, the Muslims will never be assimilated.  They will be forever outcasts and targets of persecution, like Jews in Tsarist Russia, African-Americans in the USA during the Jim Crow era or Central Asian migrants in the Russia of today.

LINKS

The Rise of Narendra Modi by Zahir Mohammad for Boston Review (2013)

Inside Delhi: beaten, lynched and burned alive by Hannah Ellis-Petersen for The Guardian.

How Indian Muslims are being scapegoated for the coronavirus by Namrata Kolachalam for Slate.

India’s treatment of Muslims and migrants puts lives at risk during COVID-19 by Jay Ramasubramanyan for The Conversation.

The plight of Muslims in Narendra Modi’s India

December 13, 2019

Muslims in the USA are subject to unfair prejudices and unfair treatment, but, all things considered, I’d rather be a Muslim in this country than a Coptic Christian in Egypt, a Baha’i in Iran or a Muslim in India or Burma.

Narendra Modi

India’s 200 million Muslims are just under 15 percent of the population.  Hindus are about 80 percent.  Yet Prime Minister Narendra Modi has convinced a majority of the voters that Muslims comprise some kind of existential threat to the majority.

India’s newly-enacted refugee law bars admission of Muslims, but allows refugees of other religions.  Proponents argue that victims of religious persecution in neighboring Muslim countries deserve special consideration.

The problem with that argument is the context.  Modi’s government is explicitly anti-Muslim.  The law would help dilute the Muslim populations in India’s border areas and In Kashmir.

There is an overall pattern of discrimination against Muslims and of excluding Muslims from protection of the law.  The world justly condemned the USA for its treatment of African-Americans during the Jim Crow era.  Modi’s government also deserves to be condemned.

Update [12/24/2019]  India’s new policy is worse than I thought, as Ian Welsh pointed out on his web log.

In addition to barring Muslim refugees, it calls (in practice) for purging of Muslims from citizenship rolls, much as African-Americans were purged from voter registration rolls in the start of the Jim Crow era.

Welsh pointed out that India faces a future refugee crisis as Muslim-majority Bangladesh goes under water due to climate change.  Bangladesh’s fleeing millions will be killed or put in internment camps.

LINKS

Blood and soil in Narendra Modi’s India by Dexter Filkins for the New Yorker.

The Coming Ethnic Cleansing and Genocide in India by Ian Welsh.  [Added 12/24/2019]

The Rape of India’s Soul by Jayati Ghosh for Project Syndicate.  [Added 12/15/2019]

India military deployed and protests rage against citizenship bill by Jessie Yeung, Helen Regan and Omar Khan for CNN.

The Islamophobic roots of population control efforts in India by Kunal Purohit for Al Jazeera.

And in neighboring Burma –

Aung San Suu Kyi Defends Myanmar Against Rohingya Genocide Accusations by Marlise Simons and Hannah Beech for the New York Times.

Ilhan Omar holds Elliott Abrams to account

February 14, 2019

Elliott Abrams in the 1980s carried out U.S. support for central American dictatorships that massacred their own people.  He is justly hated for his actions to this day.  For the Trump administration to put him in charge of U.S. policy toward Venezuela is an insult to the people of Latin America and a signal that the U.S. government does not care about human rights.

In the video above, Rep. Ilhan Omar, a new member of Congress from Minneapolis, questions Abrams about his record.  Along with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, she is a new voice in Congress, who speaks truths that others fear to state.

Omar referred to a notorious massacre in which more than 800 civilians, including two-year-old children, were killed by U.S.-trained troops.  The Intercept had details on this:

On December 11, 1981 in El Salvador, a Salvadoran military unit created and trained by the U.S. Army began slaughtering everyone they could find in a remote village called El Mozote.  Before murdering the women and girls, the soldiers raped them repeatedly, including some as young as 10 years old, and joked that their favorites were the 12-year-olds.  One witness described a soldier tossing a 3-year-old child into the air and impaling him with his bayonet.  The final death toll was over 800 people.

The next day, December 12, was the first day on the job for Elliott Abrams as assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs in the Reagan administration. Abrams snapped into action, helping to lead a cover-up of the massacre.  News reports of what had happened, Abrams told the Senate, were “not credible,” and the whole thing was being “significantly misused” as propaganda by anti-government guerillas.  [snip]

The extermination of El Mozote was just a drop in the river of what happened in El Salvador during the 1980s. About 75,000 Salvadorans died during what’s called a “civil war,” although almost all the killing was done by the government and its associated death squads. The numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. El Salvador is a small country, about the size of New Jersey. The equivalent number of deaths in the U.S. would be almost 5 million. 

Moreover, the Salvadoran regime continually engaged in acts of barbarism so heinous that there is no contemporary equivalent, except perhaps ISIS.

In one instance, a Catholic priest reported that a peasant woman briefly left her three small children in the care of her mother and sister. When she returned, she found that all five had been decapitated by the Salvadoran National Guard. Their bodies were sitting around a table, with their hands placed on their heads in front of them, “as though each body was stroking its own head.”  The hand of one, a toddler, apparently kept slipping off her small head, so it had been nailed onto it.  At the center of the table was a large bowl full of blood.

Criticism of U.S. policy at the time was not confined to the left. During this period, Charles Maechling Jr., who had led State Department planning for counterinsurgencies during the 1960s, wrote in the Los Angeles Times that the U.S. was supporting “Mafia-like oligarchies” in El Salvador and elsewhere and was directly complicit in “the methods of Heinrich Himmler’s extermination squads.”

Source: The Intercept

Similar stories could be told about U.S. support for the dictatorship in Guatemala and Panama and for the Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

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Jill Stein wins a battle for paper ballots

December 3, 2018

Back in 2016, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein filed lawsuits after complaints that tens of thousands of votes had gone uncounted on touch-screen voting machines in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

She lost in Wisconsin and Michigan, but recently won a decision that Pennsylvania must use paper ballots.  The state government, along with a number of others, already had decided to use paper ballots, so Stein won after all.

Stein is regarded by many as a fringe candidate, but she jumped in at a time the Democratic Party leaders couldn’t be bothered.  Now the nation is coming around to her way of thinking on this one issue.

Never dismiss anybody as unimportant if they happen to be right!

LINKS

Pennsylvania commits to new voting machines, election audits by Marc Levy for the Associated Press.

Jill Stein wins election reform in PA by David Schwab for OpEd News.  [Added 12/4/2018]

Jill Stein Lawsuit Forces Adoption of Paper Ballots and Election Audits in Pennsylvania by Bruce A. Dixon for the Black Agenda Report.

Fourteen states can’t guarantee accurate election results by Shannon Vavra for Axios (from August 2018)

Bernie Sanders wants to crusade for democracy

November 9, 2018

The big weakness of Bernie Sanders as a political leader has been the lack of a consistent peace policy.  His tendency has been to oppose wars launched by Republican Presidents and support wars launched by Democratic Presidents.

Now, according to an article in POLITICO, he is rethinking foreign policy.  His idea is to make American foreign policy a crusade in favor of human rights and democracy.

Bernie Sanders

The problem with that is that all the recent disastrous U.S. military interventions have been justified as a duty to support human rights and democracy.  What would keep Sanders from being led down the same path?

The Clinton administration bombed Serbia supposedly to protect the human rights of the Bosniak Muslims and Kosovar Albanians.  The George W. Bush administration invaded Afghanistan and Iraq supposedly to free the Afghan and Iraqi people from the tyrannies of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein.  The Obama administration engineered the overthrow of Qaddafi and attempted the overthrow of Assad supposedly to protect pro-democracy people.

Economic warfare against Venezuela and Iran, with a goal of reducing their people to destitution and misery, is justified in the name of protecting their human rights.  A ramp-up to military confrontation to Russia, with the risk of triggering nuclear war, is justified as resistance to the tyrant Vladimir Putin.

Here’s what Sanders had to say in a speech last September—

“Today, I say to Mr. Putin: We will not allow you to undermine American democracy or democracies around the world. In fact, our goal is to not only strengthen American democracy, but to work in solidarity with supporters of democracy around the globe, including in Russia.  In the struggle of democracy versus authoritarianism, we intend to win,” Sanders thundered.

He continued: “Inequality, corruption, oligarchy and authoritarianism are inseparable. They must be understood as part of the same system, and fought in the same way … Kleptocrats like Putin in Russia use divisiveness and abuse as a tool for enriching themselves and those loyal to them.”

Source: POLITICO Magazine

What statements like this imply is some kind of support for anti-Putin forces in Russia, continuation of sanctions against Russian oligarchs and possibly attempting to draw Ukraine and Georgia into NATO.

We’d be telling Vladimir Putin that our goal is to drive him from power.  That means it would be a matter of survival for him to interfere in U.S. politics and try to change that goal.

If I were part of the liberal democracy movement in Russia, the last thing I would want is some American politician announcing support for people like me.  It would be poison.

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Patrisse Cullors’ Black Lives Matter memoir

October 14, 2018

Patrisse Khan-Cullors, an artist and activist from Los Angeles, was one of three black women who started the Black Lives Matter movement.   She co-wrote WHEN THEY CALL YOU A TERRORIST: a Black Lives Matter Memoir (2017) to tell what it’s like to grow up and live in a world in which black lives don’t seem to matter.

She wrote about her childhood and coming of age, about her mother struggling in multiple low-age jobs to allow her four children to survive, about her vocations as an activist and a performance artist, and about finding love as a Queer person who doesn’t recognize gender boundaries.

The over-riding theme of the book is surviving as a poor black person in an unforgiving society, in which employers, governmental institutions and especially the police were indifferent or hostile.

When she was nine, she saw her older brothers, Paul, 13, and Monte, 11 (her third sibling is baby sister Jasmine), set upon and humiliated by police for no reason.  All they were doing was hanging out with other boys, none over 14, in an alley because they had no playground or vacant lot or any place else to so.  Police screamed at them, forced them up against a wall and half-stripped them in public—just for being boys with nothing to do.

The same thing happened to her when she was 12 years old.  Police entered her classroom, handcuffed her, took her to the dean’s office and had her searched, just like her brothers, because somebody had reported she’d smoked marijuana.

Later she visited a rich white friend, whose brother was a drug dealer was a high school student who kept marijuana in garbage bags.  He said he never was stopped by police, and never feared police.

The main thing she had going for her were sympathetic and supportive teachers, in elementary school and in a social justice-oriented charter high school she was able to attend.

Every time she writes about something awful that happened to herself, her family or her friends, she refers to some news article or academic study that indicates it was not an isolated event, but part of a pattern.

Her older brother Monte, was actually called a terrorist.

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The case for Julian Assange

July 25, 2018

The case for Julian Assange in a nutshell is that it should not be a crime to expose abuse of power by government.

The I Am WikiLeaks web site, established by the Courage Foundation, gives a more detailed account of Julian Assange’s life and work, and the various charges against him.  Courage has prepared  infographics that give the essence of Assange’s case.

Click to enlage

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Click to enlarge

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The rule of law and Julian Assange

July 25, 2018

The rule of law is a fundamental principle, at least as basic or maybe more basic than voting rights and freedom of the press.

This is part of our British heritage, going back to Magna Carta—the idea that nobody, not even the King, is above the law, and nobody, not even the humblest cottager, is below the protection of the law.

For us Americans, the rule of law was part of our Constitution even before we had a specific Bill of Rights.

The Constitution from the beginning has guaranteed the right of habeas corpus, which means the right of  arrested persons to be told what law they are accused of breaking, and forbid ex post facto laws, which declared things illegal after they were done, and bills of attainder, which declared certain persons outside the protection of the law.

I was shocked and disillusioned by how easily, after the 9/11 attacks, these fundamental principles were forgotten.

The Bush administration, the Obama administration and now the Trump administration claim the right to order the killing of anyone they deem a threat to the state, based on secret criteria and without accountability to anyone.

George W. Bush had a kill list.  Barack Obama called has a “disposition matrix”.  I don’t know what Trump calls it.  Most of us middle-class white Americans of have come to regard it as normal, possibly because we think only people with dark skins and Arab names will ever be on it.

I read a chilling article by Matt Taibbi about a journalist who figured out he is on the kill list, and is trying to get off it.  He doesn’t know what he is accused of nor how to appeal.

Julian Assange is in a situation in some ways similar to this journalist.  A grand jury has been meeting in Alexandria, Va., since 2010 to consider his case.  James Comey, when he was FBI director, and Attorney-General Jeff Sessions have said they intend to apprehend Assange.

Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking Democratic member of the House intelligence committee, has said he’s not interested in testimony from Assange until Assange is in custody.  Yet no charges against Assange have ever been announced.  If the grand jury has indicted him, those indictments are sealed.

Neither the US nor the UK government has been willing to say whether an extradition request is on file.

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In defense of Julian Assange

July 21, 2018

Suppose a government claimed the right to commit crimes, make those crimes state secrets and prosecute anyone who revealed them to the public.

Could you call such a government democratic?  Could you say its people enjoyed freedom of the press?

Yet that is what the U.S. government wants to do to Julian Assange.

Assange is the founder of Wikileaks, which makes it possible for whistle-blowers to reveal secret documents without their identity being traced.  Wikileaks publications revealed, among other things, the secret bibles of Scientology, censored videos of protests in Tibet, secret neo-Nazi passwords, offshore tax scams by Barclay’s bank, the inside story of the crashing of Iceland’s economy and texts of the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.

What got him into trouble was publication of information of crimes committed by the U.S. government, notably the killing of civilians in Iraq, and secret surveillance of the public by U.S. intelligence agencies.  That is why the U.S. government is determined to capture and imprison him.

The espionage laws are intended to punish those who give military secrets to a hostile foreign power.   In the case of Julian Assange, it is we, the people, who were given the secrets.  We are the supposed enemy.

A U.S. grand jury investigation of Assange has been ongoing since 2010.  It is widely believed that it has made sealed indictments against Assange.

He sought political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012 to avoid extradition to the United States.  Since March, the Ecuadorian government has cut him off from communicating with the outside world, except for his lawyers and Australian consular officials.

Reportedly the government is planning to expel him from the embassy, leaving him subject to arrest by British police and extradition to the USA.  There his likely fate will be imprisonment, probably for life, or execution.

What can be done to Assange can be done to anyone who reveals information the U.S. government wants kept secret.  Anyone who cares about freedom of the press, or their own freedom, should stand with Julian Assange.

LINKS

I Am WikiLeaks.

Ecuador Will Immediately Withdraw Asylum for Julian Assange and Hand Him Over to the UK. What Comes Next? by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept.

Be Prepared to Shake the Earth If Julian Assange Is Arrested by Caitlin Johnstone.

Inside WikiLeaks: Working With the Publisher That Changed the World by Stefania Maurizi for Consortium News.  [Added 7/23/2018]

The War on Assange Is a War on Press Freedom by Chris Hedges for TruthDig.  [Added 7/23/2018]

The best way to retaliate against Russia

July 16, 2018

Robert Mueller’s latest indictment charges Russian covert agents with conspiring to reveal e-mails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair John Podesta.

These e-mails reveal embarrassing truthful information about Hillary Clinton’s ties to Wall Street and manipulation of the Democratic Party to thwart the candidacy of Bernie Sanders.

An appropriate way to retaliate is for the U.S. government and the American press to reveal embarrassing true information about Vladimir Putin and his government’s corruption and human rights violations.  It is certainly more focused and less dangerous than economic warfare or escalating a nuclear arms race.

The video above and links below indicate some things Putin doesn’t want discussed.  The video is from 2012.

I don’t think U.S. sanctions and the U.S.-backed military buildup on Russia’s borders will improve anything in Russia.  Rather they will make Russians think they need to rally behind their strong leader.

And if Putin were somehow to be struck by lightning, I don’t think his successor would be any better, either from the standpoint of honest government and human rights or from the standpoint of U.S. interests.

One of my mother’s favorite sayings was, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”   The crimes of other countries’ leaders are not a justification for U.S. militarism and war.  I focus on my own country partly because the United States has more impact on the world, at least for now, than any other country, but mainly because the U.S. government is the one that I as an American citizen am responsible for.

LINKS

Vladimir Putin and Russian Human Rights Violations by David Satter for National Review.

Here are 10 critics of Vladimir Putin who died violently or in suspicious ways by David Filipov for The Washington Post.

Alexander Litvinenko: the man who solved his own murder by Luke Harding for The Guardian.

Who Killed Boris Nemtsov? by David Satter for National Review.

Putin and the Panama Papers, an interview with Alexey Navalny for Süddeustsche Zeitung.  An example of leaked information embarrassing to Vladimir Putin.

Central Asian migrants describe injustice, racism in Russia by Arman Kaliyev for Caravanserai

The Unsolved Mystery Behind the Apartment House Bombings That Brought Putin to Power by David Satter for National Review.

Finally We Know About the Moscow Bombings by Amy Knight for the New York Review of Books.

Witch hunting then and now

June 14, 2018

Puritans in 17th century New England believed that Satan was real and ever present.  To doubt that the devil was a clear and present danger was an indication that you yourself were under the influence of the devil.

In 1692, in and around Salem, Massachusetts, many people, mostly women, were accused of being witches.  Nineteen were executed and six more died awaiting trial.

If you were accused of being a witch, the way to save your life was to confess your sin and accuse other people of being witches.

The great playwright, Arthur Miller, saw a parallel with the search for hidden Communists in his own time, and wrote The Curcible, which was staged in 1953, in order to bring this out.   I read this play as part of a monthly play-reading group hosted by my friend Walter Uhrman.

The events of the play did not follow the exact historical record, but Miller did a good job of depicting the Puritan culture and attitudes, especially its pervasive sense of sin and guilt.

Possibly the central character, John Procter, like the Thomas More character in A Man for All Seasons, was more concerned with his individual integrity, like a 20th century person, and less with salvation a 17th century Puritan would have been.

Miller did not explicitly draw a parallel with events of his own time, but the parallel was there to see.  Intellectuals and other public figures accused of being Communists or former Communists were blacklisted if they refused to confess or name others, just like accused witches in 1692 Salem.

His play drew the ire of the government.  He was denied a passport to view the opening of the play in London in 1954.  When he applied for a passport renewal in 1956, he was subpoened to testify before the House un-American Activities Committee.  He readily told about his own past political activities, but refused to testify about anybody else.

He was charged with contempt of Congress, and a federal judge sentenced him to a fine and prison term, but his conviction was overturned on appeal in 1958.

The same syndrome of accusation, confession and new accusations, but on a larger and more lethal scale, operated in the Soviet purge trials in the 1930s and in the Spanish Inquisition.  There were many witch trials.  An estimated 40,000 to 60,000 people were executed for witchcraft from the 14th through the 18th centuries.

In the 1990s, many Americans were caught up in a literal witch hunt.  Satanic cults were thought to be a real menace, and innocent people went to prison on false charges of abusing children in Satanic rituals.

Today the threat to basic civil liberties in the United States is greater than it was in the 1950s, although it doesn’t involve rituals of confession and naming names as in the Salem witch trials or the Congressional investigations of the 1950s.  In that sense, The Crucible is yesterday’s news.

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Who’s afraid of Julian Assange?

May 16, 2018

The Guardian reported that Ecuador has spent more than $5 million on closed-circuit TV cameras, 24-hour monitoring and other surveillance of Julian Assange, who took refuge in their London embassy in 2012.

Every communication by Assange with the outside world was monitored and recorded.  Guardian reporters were given access to this information.  I imagine British and U.S. intelligence services also have access to it.

The thrust of the articles is what a nuisance Assange has become to the Ecuadorian government and how understandable it is that they want to get rid of their unwelcome guest.  I am sure this is true.  If I were president of a small, vulnerable country such as Ecuador, I would not wish to antagonize the United States and other great powers.

What the articles also show is Assange’s uncompromising loyalty to his self-appointed mission.  The government of Ecuador expected him to refrain from “interfering” with other countries’ politics.  Assange’s publication of confidential e-mails embarrassing to Hillary Clinton was regarded as a violation of that, as was his protest against the arrest of a Catalan independen

Then Assange went on to destroy any hope of a pardon from the Trump administration by publishing more confidential CIA information.  He published new information about Russian intelligence surveillance.  Like him or not, you can’t reasonably say Wikileaks is a tool of any government or political faction.

All of this shows that the campaign against Assange is political.  It is not about criminal justice.  No routine bail bond case would ever result in the huge and expensive effort mounted by the British and Ecuadorian governments to bring Assange under control.  Only the naive would think that his only risk is punishment for bail bond violations.

He is a lone individual, standing up to the world’s most powerful governments and calling them to account.  He is hated and feared for telling inconvenient truths.  How can anyone who cares about political freedom not defend him?  It is Assange’s enemies, not him, who have to justify themselves.

LINKS

How Julian Assange became an unwelcome guest in Ecuador’s embassy by Luke Harding, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Dan Collyns for The Guardian.

Ecuador spent millions on spy operation for Julian Assange by Dan Collyns, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Luke Harding for The Guardian.

Why does Ecuador want Assange out of its London embassy? by Dan Collyns for The Guardian.

The Guardian Rejoices in the Silencing of Assange by Craig Murray.  [Added 5/17/2018]

Ecuador Under Lenin Moreno: an Interview With Andrez Arauz by Joe Emersberger for Counterpunch.

Ecuador’s Ex-President Rafael Correa Denounces Treatment of Julian Assange as “Torture” by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept.  [Added 5/17/2018]

JULIAN ASSANGE’S DEFENSE STATEMENT.  Statement to the Swedish prosecutor after questioning at the Ecuadorian embassy in November 14-15, 2017.

Understanding Julian Assange and US Media by Mike Swanson.  Good background on Wikileaks and older Wikileaks controversies up to early 2016.

The abandonment of Julian Assange

May 15, 2018

These may be the last days of Julian Assange.   He is under virtual solitary confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, cut off from contact with the outside world, while the Ecuadorian government is reportedly discussing handing him over to the British government.

He faces arrest jumping bail in a case in which no criminal charges were ever brought, but his real offense has been to publish information embarrassing to U.S. military and intelligence services.

You would think that liberals, progressives and war protestors would rally to the support of Assange, but, for the most part, they don’t.

I know people who in their youth protested the Vietnam War and supported the release of the Pentagon Papers, but can’t forgive Assange for publishing inconvenient truths about Hillary Clinton—as if Clinton were an advocate of peace!

It is not as if the Trump administration considers Assange a friend.  Attorney-General Jeff Sessions said arresting Assange is “a priority.”   Mike Pompeo, former CIA director and now Secretary of State, called Wikileaks a “hostile intelligence service”, as if it were equivalent to a foreign government.

Assange is not a perfect person.  Who is?  He is a lone wolf who is not aligned with any of the established political parties or movements.  He sometimes expresses himself in offensive ways.  He hangs out with doubtful people.  A relentless propaganda campaign has uncovered everything he has even done that might seem to be wrong.

Grant for the sake of argument that everything said against him is true (which I don’t believe).  Weigh that against the hundreds of thousands of innocent lives taken in the wars of the Bush and Obama administrations, and in the wars we can expect to be waged in the Trump administration.

In Wikileaks, he has created a technology by which whistle-blowers can expose crimes and abuses without being hunted down and jailed.  This technology will live on when Assange the individual has vanished from the scene.

Assange’s possible fate is to be turned over to U.S. authorities, followed by execution or life imprisonment.  But that hasn’t happened yet.  If you care about peace, or if you care about freedom of the press, demand freedom for Julian Assange.

LINKS

Being Julian Assange by Suzie Dawson.  This is a review and rebuttal of most or all the accusations that have been made against Assange.

On the Silencing of Julian Assange, interviews with John Pilger and Christine Assange (Julian’s mother) for Consortium News.

Ecuador hints it may hand over Julian Assange to Britain and the US by James Cogan for the World Socialist Web Site.

People Lie to Themselves About Julian Assange to Justify His Persecution by Caitlin Johnstone on her web page.

North Korea: totalitarianism in action

September 19, 2017

When I was young, I was haunted by the specter of totalitarianism—the idea of an all-powerful state that not only could regulate its subjects’ every action, but get inside their minds and convince them this was normal.

As a college student, I read Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, Erich Fromm’s Escape from Freedom, Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer, Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon and George Orwell’s 1984 and most of his essays.

I thought the future held three great perils: (1) the collapse of civilization due to overpopulation and resource exhaustion, (2) the destruction of civilization through nuclear war and (3) the triumph of totalitarianism, as manifested in Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s USSR and Mao’s China.

None of these fears came true, although the first two are still very much with us.   As for totalitarianism, there are many cruel and bloody governments in the world, but they are not, in the strict definition of the word, totalitarian.   Totalitarianism exists in only one place—North Korea—where it has endured for 70 years.

I got an inside view of North Korea by reading WITHOUT YOU THERE IS NO US: My Time With the Sons of North Korea’s Elite by Suki Kim.   She is an American of Korean heritage who taught English for six months in 2011 at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUSH).

The title of the book is taken from an anthem the students sang at different times each day.    The “you” was Kim Jong-il, then the ruler of North Korea, and the “us” is everyone else in North Korea.

Suki Kim said the whole idea of individual thinking was alien to her students.   For example, they found it incredibly difficult to write a five-paragraph essay, because this involved stating an argument and then presenting evidence in support of the argument.   What they were accustomed to writing was unstructured praise of their country, their leaders and the official Juche ideology.

PUSH was founded and financed by evangelical Christians, many of Korean extraction, who agreed to build and staff a university at no cost to the North Korean government, and to refrain from proselytizing.   Presumably their hope was that they could subtly plant the seeds of Christianity and that they would be on the scene when and if North Korea ever granted religious freedom.

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Uzbekistan’s cotton picked by forced labor

September 15, 2017

Uzbekistan is the most populous country in Central Asia and a crossroads of China’s so-called New Silk Roads—railroads and pipelines uniting the heartland of Asia and Europe.

This Human Rights Watch documentary shows how the Uzbek government uses forced labor and child labor in its cotton fields.

Students, teachers, medical workers, other government employees, private sector employees and sometimes children were ordered into the fields to harvest cotton in 2015 and 2016, HRW reported; they also were forced to plant cotton and weed fields early in 2016.

The World Bank has invested $500 million in Uzbekistan’s cotton industry.   Supposedly it should withdraw the money if Uzbekistan uses child labor or forced labor, but HRW says this is not enforced.

Is it fair to call Vladimir Putin a killer?

February 7, 2017

In a word, yes.

Vladimir Putin is clearly implicated in killings of Russian citizens.

It is true that Barack Obama also initiated a policy of killing individuals he deemed a threat to the United States, and a couple of those were American citizens.   It is true that the U.S. supports dictatorships that use death squads.  But changing the subject to the U.S.  doesn’t change the facts about Putin.

2014-03-07-PUTINIs the fact that Vladimir Putin is a killer a reason not to have diplomatic relations with Russia?  It certainly is a reason not to be naive in dealing with Putin.  It is a reason not to regard him as a friend.

But President Franklin Roosevelt formed an alliance with Joseph Stalin, one of the greatest mass killers of the 20th century, in order to defeat Nazi Germany.  President Richard Nixon flew to China to open U.S. relations with Mao Zedong, another mass killer, in order to checkmate Soviet Russia.

If working with Putin can eliminate the danger of nuclear war over Ukraine or defeat the Islamic State, that would be a good thing, not a bad thing.

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A tyrant is dead, a tyranny continues

December 4, 2016

Hat tip to O.

The legacy of Fidel Castro

November 26, 2016

Fidel Castro died yesterday at the age of 90.  He ruled Cuba from 1959 to 2006 and was widely admired as a brave patriot and revolutionary who defied the power of the United States.

He was indeed a patriot and a brave man, but I never believed in him or what he stood for.

Fidel Castro in 1964 (Magnum)

Fidel Castro in 1964 (Magnum Photos)

Human beings cannot flourish under any system based on giving absolute power for life to a single person or small group of people can work.  Human life is too varied and complex to be subject to the will of a tiny elite of self-selected masterminds.

A number of people asked me at different times whether giving people bread was more important than freedom of the press or voting in contested elections.  I answered that I didn’t see the connection between giving people bread and denying them the right to ask for bread.

They asked me whether a nation has a right to change its political and economic system.  I answered that they do, and they have a right to change their minds if the first change doesn’t work out.

The Communist dictatorship was established supposedly to safeguard the ideals of socialism.  That was the purpose of all the suppression and regimentation.

Now the government of Cuba, like the governments of China and Vietnam before it, is renouncing socialism and opening itself to the capitalist world market, but the dictatorship remains.

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