Archive for the ‘Human Rights’ Category

Are we governed by the electorate or by CEOs?

April 4, 2015

Indiana’s quick modification of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act shows much clout corporate CEOs have when a state government does something that displeases them.

jm040315_COLOR_GOP_Business_Religious_FreedomMany of us liberals worry about the power of the so-called religious right.  But what happened in Indiana shows who holds the real power.

I’m glad the law was modified.  I think it went beyond the legitimate purpose of not forcing people to support or participate in religious rites they don’t believe in.  But I’m not happy about how easily CEOs of large corporations can force elected officials to cave in when they displease the CEOs.

Of course there’s no way of knowing whether the CEOs were bluffing or making symbolic gestures or threatening to do things they were planning to do anyway.  I doubt that institutional investors would tolerate a CEO doing something that would reduce profits just for reasons of personal conviction.

LINKS

A CEO champions gays (and CEOcracy): “The Party of CEOs” is emerging by Steve Sailer for the Unz Review.

The Hypocrisy of Mark Benioff and Co. by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.

Should Mon and Pops That Forgo Gay Weddings Be Destroyed? by Conor Friedersdorf for The Atlantic.

Indiana and the Constitution by Andrew Napolitano for the Unz Review.  Why the law needed to be changed.

Gay marriage and religious liberty

March 31, 2015

Marriage is both a legal contract and a religious sacrament.   The dual nature of marriage makes it a more complicated question than, say, voting rights.

same sex weddingNobody should be denied access to the benefits of the marriage contract based on race, nationality, religion or sexual orientation.  Gay married couples should have the same rights as any other couples in regard to pensions, insurance, credit, hospital visitation or anything else.

Neither should anybody be required to support or participate in a religious ritual they don’t believe in, for the same reason that nobody should be required to recite the Lord’s Prayer in a public ceremony if they don’t believe in it.

For example, an independent photographer who believes on religious grounds that marriage is only between a man and a woman should not be required to take photographs as a gay wedding.

I think that religious institutions should be free to set their own internal rules of moral conduct, including sexual conduct.

On the other hand, I do not believe that owners of a business corporation have the right to impose their private moral beliefs on employees, or to use religion as an excuse for depriving employees of their legal rights, as was done by the Hobby Lobby corporation.

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Liberals, the left and academic freedom

February 6, 2015

quote-i-disapprove-of-what-you-say-but-will-defend-to-the-death-your-right-to-say-it-voltaire-334856I was a college student in the 1950s, the heyday of Joe McCarthy, and strongly believed in academic freedom, which was under attack.

The idea was that Communists, and people thought to be in sympathy with Communists, did not have the right to freedom of speech because they—by definition—did not believe in it themselves.

We liberals insisted that free speech was for everyone.  We frequently quoted John Milton, Thomas Jefferson, John Stuart Mill and others who insisted that freedom meant that people on all sides of a question had a right to be heard.

The big issue was whether a student organization called the Labor Youth League, which was on the attorney-general’s list of subversive organizations, should be permitted on campus.  We liberals said it should.  The correct response to Communist arguments was to refute them, not to suppress them.

Our principles were that any student organization that followed impartial university rules should be permitted, and any college professor who was met impartial academic standards should be permitted to teach.  True education meant exposure to a diverse ideas, including ideas we might not like.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been been a part of the academic world.  But I get the idea that my concept of academic freedom is no longer taken for granted on campus.   There is a whole campus sub-culture based on a vocabulary that is new to me—”cis-gender,” “tone police,” “micro-aggression”, and, by some accounts, little tolerance for deviation from the new norms.

A graduate student named Fredrick deBoer wrote:

I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 19 year old white woman — smart, well-meaning, passionate — literally run crying from a classroom because she was so ruthlessly brow-beaten for using the word “disabled.”  Not repeatedly.  Not with malice.  Not because of privilege.  She used the word once and was excoriated for it.  She never came back.  I watched that happen.

I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 20 year old black man, a track athlete who tried to fit organizing meetings around classes and his ridiculous practice schedule (for which he received a scholarship worth a quarter of tuition), be told not to return to those meetings because he said he thought there were such a thing as innate gender differences.  He wasn’t a homophobe, or transphobic, or a misogynist.  It turns out that 20 year olds from rural South Carolina aren’t born with an innate understanding of the intersectionality playbook.  But those were the terms deployed against him, those and worse. So that was it; he was gone.

I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 33 year old Hispanic man, an Iraq war veteran who had served three tours and had become an outspoken critic of our presence there, be lectured about patriarchy by an affluent 22 year old white liberal arts college student, because he had said that other vets have to “man up” and speak out about the war.  Because apparently we have to pretend that we don’t know how metaphorical language works or else we’re bad people.  I watched his eyes glaze over as this woman with $300 shoes berated him.  I saw that.  Myself.

via Fredrik deBoer.

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France is jailing people for the crime of irony

January 21, 2015

charlie-hebdo-cest-de-la-merdeA 16-year-old French high school student was taken into custody last Thursday for posting a cartoon on his Facebook page “representing a person holding the magazine Charlie Hebdo, being hit by bullets and accompanied by an ‘ironic’ comment.”

French newspapers haven’t reprinted the cartoon, but the description fits the cartoon above, which was taken from the Facebook page of the French comedian Dieudonne.  He has been arrested meanwhile for a different comment he made on his Facebook page.

The caption reads “Charlie Hebdo is crap.  It doesn’t stop bullets.”

The irony in the cartoon is that the Charlie Hebdo magazine is the July, 2013, issue, whose cover mocks Egyptian protesters who were killed in Cairo.  The Hebdo cover caption reads “The Koran is crap.  It doesn’t stop bullets.”

charlie-hebdo-le-coran-cest-de-la-merde

I think mocking the victims of murder is in bad taste in both cases, but bad taste shouldn’t be a crime.  I don’t think of any principle that forbids the one cartoon and tolerates the other.

In France, there are fences around free speech.  It is illegal to deny that the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews occurred or that the Turkish massacre of the Armenians occurred.  It is illegal to incite racial hatred or to glorify terrorism.

Anti-semitism is considered a form of racial hatred, I suppose because Jews are an ethnic group as well as a religion.

A Charlie Hebdo staff member, Maurice Sinet, was fired in 2009 for mocking Jean Sarkozy, the son of France’s president, who was rumored (falsely) to be converting to Judaism after marrying a wealthy Jewish heiress.  Sinet also was charged with “inciting racial hatred.”  He was acquitted of that charge and also won damages for wrongful dismissal.

But blasphemy is permitted, so attacks on Christians and Muslims are all right, as are attacks on French politicians and bankers.

I don’t think that the peaceful expression of any opinion should be suppressed by the government.  Forbidding people to deny that the Holocaust occurred, for example, will only make people wonder what facts the government is afraid to let them learn.  The best cure for falsehood is truth, and that can best be accomplished be free and open debate.

LINKS

France begins jailing people for making ironic comments by Ali Abudimah for the Electronic Intifada.  This is where I found the cartoons.

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‘Even if torture works, it cannot be tolerated’

December 11, 2014
John Kiriakou

John Kiriakou

Even if torture works, it cannot be tolerated — not in one case or a thousand or a million.  If their efficacy becomes the measure of abhorrent acts, all sorts of unspeakable crimes somehow become acceptable.  
I may have found myself on the wrong side of government on torture.  But I’m on the right side of history. …
There are things we should not do, even in the name of national security.  One of them, I now firmly believe is torture.
        ==John Kiriakou, former CIA officer.

We probably don’t know the worst about torture

December 11, 2014

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Via The Real News Network

Every time something has come out about torture by Americans, starting with the original Abu Ghraib reports, it has been worse than I thought it was, and I have felt I did not know the whole story.

guardian.senatetorturereportThat’s how I feel about the Senate torture report.  It gives official confirmation to a lot of things that have been reported, but some of the details are worse than I would have imagined.

I don’t have anything important to say about torture that I haven’t said before and I can’t imagine that making another post on my web log is going to make much difference in the total scheme of things.

I post partly out of a sense of honor.  I don’t want people in the future to be able to say that no American in this era spoke out against crimes against humanity.  I realize this is a pretentious thing to say.

I don’t believe I am a dangerous enough truth-teller to draw the wrath of the U.S. government, and reading and writing about torture will not, in themselves, change anything.  But it is better than not doing or saying anything.

We Americans must not let ourselves accept torture as the new normal.  If we do, the torturers will have won.

∞∞∞

The Ethics of Torture 101 by Ian Welsh.  The moral issue defined.

10 Craziest Things in the Senate Report on Torture by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

Torture report highlights consequences of permanent war by Andrew Bacevich for the Boston Globe.

The American people have a right – indeed a responsibility – to know what was done in their name by Senator John McCain on the Senate floor.   I disagree with Senator McCain about a lot of things, but he knows from personal experience what torture is.

Torture and the Myth of ‘Never Again': the Persecution of John Kiriakou by Peter Van Buren.  President Obama is doing more to deter truth-tellers than torturers.

Thoughts about the Senate torture report

December 10, 2014

Cowardice is the mother of cruelty.
        ==Essays of Montaigne

When I was younger, I liked to watch action movies about World War Two.  The heroes would fall into the hands of a Nazi officer who would say in a thick accent, “Ve have vays of making you talk.”

Years from now action movies will be made in which the villainous torturer will be an American.

CIACROP-480x270I have always understood that the United States has a history of vigilantism, lynching and lawless violence, but I never thought, until 10 or 12 years ago, that Americans were capable of the cold cruelty of the Spanish Inquisition or the Soviet and fascist dictators.

Torture is the ultimate crime against human dignity.  It is worse than the taking of human life, because it is aimed at killing the human mind and spirit while keeping the body alive.

The Founders of the United States understood this well.  That is why the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution states that no one can be “compelled” to testify against themselves and the Eighth Amendment forbids “cruel and unusual punishment.”

I remember conversations 10 years back with friends of mine who call themselves liberals.  What if there were an atomic bomb under Manhattan Island attached to a timing device to blow it up, and what if I had the person who knew about the bomb in custody?  Wouldn’t I torture the person?

I would rather live under some small risk, or even a great risk, than live in a country that institutionalized torture, like some European dictatorship in the 1930s.   I would be ashamed to be part of the generation of Americans that gave up the Constitution out of fear.

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The silence of the Democrats

November 19, 2014

It is not hard to understand the Republican motive for wanting to make it more difficult for poor people, minorities and young people to vote.

ap219250776125Neither is it hard to understand the motive for wanting to remove minorities from voting rolls by fair means or foul.  I don’t respect the motive, but I understand it.

What I do not understand is why the Democrats are so passive about this.  Why aren’t Democrats fighting against the obstacles that keep their constituent groups from voting, and fighting to get their supporters registered and to the polls?  It’s almost as if they don’t care about winning.

Remembering Heinlein’s Rule, I never attribute to malice what can adequately be explained by stupidity and inertia.

But if I were more cynical than I actually am, I would say it as if the Democratic leaders fear being identified with poor people, minorities and the young more than they want their votes.

If I were even more cynical than that, I would say it is as if Democratic leaders would rather lose than increase the influence of poor people, minorities and the young within their party.

Voter purge may have decided Senate election

November 19, 2014

Statistician Nate Silver called the 2012 elections with almost pinpoint accuracy.  But this time around he underestimated the Republican margins of victory by an average of 4 percentage points.

Greg Palast, an independent reporter, wrote that the explanation may be less in Silver’s forecasting methods than in the systematic disqualification of Democratic-tending voters by Republican state governments as a system called CrossCheck.

CrossCheck is a system for comparing the names of voters in different states.  The assumption (if it were in effect in New York state) would be that if there is a record of a Phil Ebersole voting in Pennsylvania, Ohio or some other state as well as here in Rochester, N.Y., which is quite likely, they are all the same person voting in multiple states.

Just stop and think a minute about how crazy an idea this is.

Driving to anywhere in Pennsylvania would take two to five hours one way.  The political consultant Dick Morris said on Fox News that up to 1 million Americans are doing this.  That is, up to 1 million Americans have taken the trouble to register and vote in multiple states and then to go vote on election day.

This is—how shall I put it?—stark raving lunatic mad.

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Citizenfour

November 18, 2014

Full Democracy Now broadcast and transcript

Last night I saw Citizenfour, the documentary movie about Edward Snowden.  Laura Poitras, the maker of the documentary, never appears on camera, but, next to Snowden himself, she deserves the most credit for bringing his information to light.  She  understood that she had to adopt the same mentality and procedures as somebody in an earlier era operating behind the Iron Curtain.

Poitras lives in Berlin, Germany.  The journalist Glenn Greenwald, who wrote most of the articles about the Snowden leaks, lives in Rio de Janeiro.  Snowden had to flee to Hong Kong and then to Moscow.  It is striking that these truth-tellers live outside the United States so as to be outside the reach of the U.S. government, while people who have committed actual crimes have nothing to fear.

§§§

The Question of Edward Snowden by David Bromwich for the New York Review of Books.  [added 11/21/14]

The passing scene: Links & comments 11/18/14

November 18, 2014

Why US fracking companies are licking their lips over Ukraine by Naomi Klein for The Guardian (hat tip to Bill Harvey)

American oil and gas companies are using the Ukraine crisis to press for an increase on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas and construction of LNG (liquified natural gas) terminals at U.S. seaports.

Supposedly this will enable the United States to export gas to Europe as a substitute for Russian gas cut off by sanctions.  The problem with this, as Naomi Klein pointed out, is that the Ukraine crisis probably will be long over by the time the LNG terminals are constructed.

This is an example of what Klein calls the “shock doctrine”—use of crises by special interests to manipulate people into agreeing to do things they don’t want to do.

The siege of Julian Assange is a farce by Australian journalist John Pilger.

Julian Assange has been living in a room in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for two years to avoid extradition to Sweden to answer questioning in a sexual misconduct case because he fears re-extradition to the United States for prosecution on his Wikileaks disclosures.

Pilger showed the case against Assange is bogus and his fears are well-founded.  Assange’s alleged victims haven’t accused him of any crime nor did the original investigators.  There is ample precedent for Swedish investigators to come to London to question Assange if they wish.  And the U.S. and Swedish governments have discussed his re-extradition.

Afghan Opium Production Hits All-Time High by Mike Whitney for Counterpunch.

The CIA would rather see Afghanistan dominated by drug lords than by the Taliban.

Reproductive justice and infant mortality

November 15, 2014

Liberals believe in a woman’s right to choose whether to become pregnant or not.  This right includes access to sex education, birth control and legal abortion.  But if the right to choose is to be fully realized, it should include the right to have a child and ensure the child is well cared for.

imrsThe United States in general, and my home city of Rochester, NY, in particular, have an unusually high rate of infant mortality, especially among poor African-American women.  It’s not quite as bad as the statistics indicate, because the USA counts as infant deaths what many other industrial countries count as miscarriages.  But even taking that into account, it’s pretty bad.

If you break down the figures, the American problem is mainly a high infant mortality rate among African-Americans.  In 2010, 614 out of every 100,000 American babies died in the first year of life.  Broken down by race, the rate per 100,000 was 1,146 black babies, 518 non-Hispanic white babies and 528 Hispanic babies.

This is partly due to lack of good medical care and advice, and partly due to a much higher rate of premature births among African-American mothers.  Nobody is sure why African American women have more premature births, but one factor is stress.  Women in Medicaid, single mothers and mothers whose husbands are deployed in the military are more likely to have premature births.

infantmortalitybyraceethnicitySome people think that the stress of racism is a factor.  I would not dismiss that idea out of hand.  I’ve felt extremely self-conscious on occasions when I was the only white person in the room, and I have often wondered what it would be like to be black and have to deal with this feeling all the time.

Immigrant black women have fewer premature births than native-born black women, which supports the theory, although, as the third chart indicates, immigrant white women also have fewer premature births.  Another fact that supports the stress theory is there is the same disparity between upper-class black and white mothers as among the poor.

My city of Rochester, NY, is known for medical research and excellent medical care.  Back in the 1990s, First Lady Hillary Clinton visited to praise Rochester’s community-rated health insurance.  But the figures indicate that our city as a whole, and our African-American residents are much worse and that, for some reason, the infant mortality rate among Hispanics is unusually high.

infantmortalitybyraceimmigrationstatus12The infant mortality rate in Monroe County is reported 1,420 per 100,000 births for African-Americans, 1,170 for Hispanics and 450 for whites.  The infant mortality rate in the city of Rochester is also 1,170 per 100,000, but 420 in the predominantly white Monroe County suburbs.

I don’t see anything obvious to be done about the stress of racism, but there is a lot that can be done to make sure pregnant women and new mothers get medical help and adequate nutrition.

The infant mortality rate is going down, although slowly, and there are programs that have made dramatic improvements, such as Kaiser Permanente Northeast California Early Start, Syracuse’s Health Start and the University of Rochester’s Baby Love.  The Affordable Care Act includes the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, which provides grants for such local programs.

It seems to me that if you believe in women’s right to choose, the right to choice does not end at birth.  If you believe in the right to life, the right to life does not end at birth, either.  Preventing deaths of infants in childbirth should be a purpose all Americans support.

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How difficult is it, really, to get voter photo ID?

November 13, 2014

Getting photo ID for voting is damned difficult if the process is set up intentionally to make it hard for you.

pennsylvania_voter_id_rally-thumb-640xauto-6483-thumb-640xauto-6766Richard Sobel, a researcher for Harvard’s Institute for Race and Justice, looked at what some people in Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas went through as they tried to get photo ID.  He wrote a report on what he found, which was published in June.

steve-frank67FAC2A7-A14C-4F72-D3C8-71613E397404He said “free” ID cost $75 to $150 if you figure in the cost of getting birth certificates, naturalization documents and other documents, the cost of travel, and time spent traveling and waiting.   Sometimes there were legal fees as well.

Sobel noted that this is considerably more than the poll taxes that were outlawed by Twenty-Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1964.  I don’t see how any requirement to pay money in order to vote can considered anything but a poll tax.

Here are some examples from his report of what would-be voters ran into.

In Pennsylvania

According to a September 13, 2012 letter to The Morning Call in Scranton, a Pennsylvania resident seeking a “free” voter ID had incurred costs of $94.61 so far, which were likely to eventually reach $133.61. The potential voter traveled 34 miles round trip to and from the PennDOT agency in Bethlehem, an estimated hour of travel time.

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There are worse things than an evil tyrant’s rule

October 13, 2014

Although I had misgivings that the U.S. rationale for invading Iraq in 2003 was based on lies, I thought the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was a good thing, not a bad thing.

Saddam HusseinHe had massacred his own people, the Kurdish people in the north and the Marsh Arabs in the south.  I felt ashamed that the U.S. government in 1991 called upon these people to rise up against Saddam and then left them to their fate.  I thought the invasion could be a way of making things right.

One thing that stuck in my mind is that Saddam issued an edict that those who insulted him or his sons would have their tongues cut out.  Amnesty International tracked down someone who suffered that fate.  Surely, I thought, nothing could be worse than such a tyrant’s rule.

But I was wrong.  The people of Iraq are worse off now than they were under Saddam.  At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed in the fighting in Iraq, and some claim as much as a million.  Nobody knows.  There are a million Iraqi refugees.  The age-old Christian community in Iraq is threatened with extinction.

There is something worse than the rule of an evil tyrant, and that is the collapse of governmental authority and, in extreme cases, the whole structure of society.   When people are faced with chaos and unpredictable, uncontrollable killing, robbery and rape, they will turn to anybody that offers protection and order—even the Taliban in Afghanistan, even (perhaps) ISIS in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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What would William Wilberforce do?

July 22, 2014

Refugees from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala are fleeing to Mexico and many other countries, not just the United States.  But there is a particular reason, besides the obvious economic reason, why so many of the refugees are unaccompanied children.

This is the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Re-authorization Act, passed with broad Democratic and Republican support and signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008.  Children were already turning up at the border then, and Central American children turned back into Mexico were easy prey for prostitution rings and other human traffickers.

William Wilberforce

William Wilberforce

It provided that any child caught crossing the border, if not from Mexico or Canada, would be granted a hearing to determine whether they were genuine refugees.

Under the international Refugee Convention, signing nations are required to give refuge to persons with a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of race, religion, nationality, group membership or political opinion, and no protection from their own government.

The law was appropriately named for William Wilberforce, the great British Evangelical Christian reformer, who campaigned for the abolition of the African slave trade and then for the abolition of slavery in the British West Indies.

I think he would have approved of the law that was enacted in his name, and I think he would have been sad to see American politicians breaking their nation’s promise to give refuge to children.

Of course once the law was enacted, word filtered down to Central America that unaccompanied children, if caught by the Border Patrol, would have a shot at being able to stay in the United States—even though somebody fleeing criminal gangs does not really fit the technical definition of refugee.

We Americans remember how in 1939 our government turned away ships carrying Jewish refugees because of our immigration restrictions, and how many of these Jewish people were later killed by the Nazis.  We will have further cause for shame if we turn away children who wind up being killed or forced into prostitution and crime.

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