Archive for the ‘Human Rights’ Category

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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David Brion Davis on the history of slavery

November 2, 2016

One of the things I’ve come to realize is the central importance of African slavery not only in the history of the United States, but of the whole New World and the British, French, Spanish and Portuguese empires.

My understanding has been greatly helped by the historian David Brion Davis.   He wrote about slavery as a moral issue—how it was justified in the first place, and how the Western world came to turn against it.

I’ve read his principal books—The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (1966), The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution (1975), Slavery and Human Progress (1984), Inhuman Bondage: the Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World (2006) and his latest book, which I finished reading last week, The Problem of Slavery in The Age of Emancipation (2014).

davisslaveryemancipationbwoakes02161391905742Slavery is a problem because in Western culture because of the heritage of the Greeks and Romans, who regarded freedom as necessary to human dignity, and because of the Christian religion, which taught that all human beings are equally children of God.

In the ancient Mediterranean world, there were two kinds of slaves—debt slaves and war captives.  Selling yourself or your children into slavery was the ultimate form of bankruptcy, and it exists in the world today.  I read somewhere that the world’s largest concentration of slaves are debt slaves in India.

Ancient armies did not have facilities for keeping prisoners of war.  Their choices for dealing with defeated enemies were to kill them (or at least kill all the adult males) or to enslave them.

When the Atlantic slave trade began, the rationalization was that the African slaves had been defeated in war in their own homelands and already forfeited their lives.

The first white opponents of Western slavery were the Quakers and other peace churches.  Since war was anti-Christian, the Quakers believed, then slavery, as the fruit of war, also was wrong.

Quakers were leaders of the anti-slavery movement in both Great Britain and the United States; many and maybe most white members of the Underground Railroad were Quakers.

Another strain of opposition to slavery came from the rationalistic thinkers of the 18th century, who opposed hereditary privilege and believed that government should should be based on recognition of human rights.

They were not as wholehearted as the Quakers.  Slaveowners such as Thomas Jefferson admitted that slavery was in theory a great evil, but insisted that the times and conditions for emancipation weren’t right.

The invention of so-called scientific racism was in part a response to qualms of people like Jefferson.  If black Africans are not as human as white Europeans, then slavery does not have to be justified.  There is no reason not to treat enslaved people as if they were livestock.

This argument did not touch the Quakers and other religious opponents of slavery because they opposed slavery on moral grounds, not scientific grounds.

Black people, both free and enslaved, meanwhile fought for their own liberation, in slave uprisings and in appeals to white people for the abolition of slavery.   Without their struggle, the majority of white people might have been able to ignore the moral issue indefinitely.

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Should we be intolerant of the intolerant?

September 29, 2016
Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a writer and thinker whom I greatly respect, wrote an interesting theoretical explanation of how it is that an intransigent minority can impose its will on an apathetic minority.

He argued that the only way for the majority to protect itself is to refuse to tolerate the intolerant.

I have thought about this issue most of my life.  I came of age in the 1950s, when liberals as well as conservatives said we should outlaw the American Communist Party inasmuch as the Communists themselves rejected freedom of speech and other democratic norms.

One problem with this is: Who decides what intolerant minority should not be tolerated?  Aren’t the deciders likely to be an equal and opposite intolerant minority.

How do you identify the intolerant?  Do you assume an individual is intolerant because of that person’s political affiliation or religious heritage?

If you outlaw the intolerant, they do not necessarily disappear.  How do you identify the hidden intolerant?  Doesn’t it then become necessary to become intolerant of those who are tolerant of the intolerant?

Then, too, effective intolerance of the intolerant is possible only when the allegedly intolerant are a powerless minority.   When the intolerant are powerful enough to actually threaten freedom, they cannot be suppressed.

But I don’t deny that it’s possible for an intolerant minority to impose its will on the majority.  It’s complicated.  I thank Peteybee of Spread an Idea for linking to Taleb’s articles.

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Ted Rall on the death of Uzbekistan’s tyrant

September 7, 2016

Ted Rall, who has traveled in Central Asia, had this to say about the death of Uzbekistan’s ruler Islam Karimov.

uzbekistan-C-Asia-MAPGiven Uzbekistan’s tremendous oil, gas and mineral wealth and its geographically and geopolitically strategic importance, its citizens ought to enjoy a high standard of living.  Instead, the average Uzbek subsists on $3 to $8 per day.

Where does all that energy wealth go? Karimov, his family and cronies steal it.  Gulnara Karimova, the deceased despot’s flamboyant chanteuse daughter, is accused of breaking in over $1 billion in bribes from telecommunications companies seeking permits to do business.  Another daughter, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, is linked to shell companies that own gaudy multimillion estates in the U.S.  [snip]

Uzbekistan is routinely awarded the world’s “Worst of the Worst” status for its extreme corruption and violations of fundamental human rights.  Phones are tapped and militsia goons shake down motorists at innumerable checkpoints.  Print and broadcast media are completely state-controlled. There’s a zero tolerance policy toward political opposition.  [snip]

At least 10,000 political prisoners are rotting in the nation’s prisons. Torture is standard and endemic; Team Karimov landed a rare spot in the news for boiling dissidents to death.  In 2005, President Karimov asked security forces confronting protesters in the southern city of Andijon to wait for his arrival from the capital of Tashkent so he could personally witness and coordinate their massacre.  An estimated 700 to 1200 Uzbeks were slaughtered.  “People have less freedom here than under Brezhnev,” a U.S. official admitted.  [snip]

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Islam Karimov: death of a dictator

September 3, 2016

Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, who died a few days ago, was a ruthless dictator comparable to the Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

uzbekistan-C-Asia-MAPA holdover from the Soviet era (appointed by Mikhail Gorbachev, no less), Karimov was known for his repression of the Muslim religion and of dissent of all kinds, and for forced child labor in cotton fields, his country’s chief export industry.

Craig Murray, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, said growing a beard or being seen praying five times a day could be enough to get you thrown in jail or to “disappear” mysteriously.

Yet Karimov was courted by Russia, China and the USA as an ally against radical Islamic terrorism.   Uzbekistan was an important transit point for supplies going to U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

What should US policy have been?  Should our government be like China’s, which scrupulously refrains from interfering in the internal affairs of other countries, no matter how odious their governments?

Or should the US have armed Karimov’s opponents, as was done in Libya and Syria, to being about a change in the regime?

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Newton Knight, an American hero

July 22, 2016

My friend Hal Bauer urged all his friends to see the movie, Free State of Jones.  I saw it, and it is as good as Hal said it is.

The movie tells the story of Newton Knight, a white farmer in southern Mississippi, who led a rebellion against the Confederacy itself.

Newton Knight

Newton Knight

Knight was 6-foot-4 with black curly hair and a full beard—“big heavyset man, quick as a cat,” as one of his friends described him.  He was a nightmarish opponent in a backwoods wrestling match, and one of the great unsung guerrilla fighters in American history.  So many men tried so hard to kill him that perhaps his most remarkable achievement was to reach old age.

“He was a Primitive Baptist who didn’t drink, didn’t cuss, doted on children and could reload and fire a double-barreled, muzzle-loading shotgun faster than anyone else around,” said [local historian Wyatt] Moulds. 

“Even as an old man, if someone rubbed him the wrong way, he’d have a knife at their throat in a heartbeat.  A lot of people will tell you that Newt was just a renegade, out for himself, but there’s good evidence that he was a man of strong principles who was against secession, against slavery and pro-Union.”

Source: Richard Grant | Smithsonian

Knight hated the 20-slave rule, which gave slave-owning families one exemption from military service for every 20 slaves they owned.  He also hated Confederate confiscations of livestock, crops and food from small farmers.

For a time, his Knight Company drove the Confederate Army out of Jones County and surrounding areas of southern Mississippi.  Contrary to the impression given by the movie title, he didn’t intend to set up Jones County as an independent nation.  He was loyal to the Union.

He didn’t only fight for independent white farmers.  He fought against slavery himself.  He defended the rights of newly-freed slaves after the Civil War.  After the triumph of the Ku Klux Klan, he retreated to his homestead where he lived with his inter-racial family.

I had no idea Newton Knight existed until I saw the movie.

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The radicalism of the Declaration

July 4, 2016

Signing of the Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

–That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness

==In Congress: the unanimous Declaration of the 13 united States of America, July 4, 1776

These words are among the most radical statements ever written.   It denies that government is established by divine right or ancient custom, and that subjects have no choice but to obey.   It affirms that people have the right to form a government by free decision, and proceeds to do just that.

It is a philosophy that is hard for many people to accept—including, as I have found through experience, many supposedly well-educated 21st century Americans.

Our Declaration.inddI have believed in the basic ideas of the Declaration’s since I was old enough to understand them.  My interpretation of American history is that it consists of (1) a series of events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the ratification of the Constitution and (2) a playing out of the consequences of those two actions.

Recently I read a book, OUR DECLARATION: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality by Danielle Allen which both reinforced and clarified my understanding of the Declaration.

What, Allen asked, does it mean to say “all men are created equal”?  Obviously people are not the same in virtue, or ability, or wealth and social standing.

As she pointed out, we are all equal in the desire to live, in the desire to live free of subjugation to someone else’s will and in the desire (this is more controversial) to define for ourselves what we need to make us happy.  If I demand these rights for myself, I have no standing to deny these rights to you.

The Declaration gives two possible sources of these rights – “the Laws of Nature” and “Nature’s God.”  The first reflects the ideas of the 18th century Enlightenment; the second of radical Protestant Christianity.

All Christians believe that human beings are made in the image of God, and are in some sense descended from Adam and Eve and then from Noah.  Protestants believe that human beings can have a direct relationship to God without the need for a priesthood to serve as intermediary.  Radical Protestants such as the Congregationalists, Baptists and Quakers practiced democracy in their congregations, and in town meetings.

The rationalist thinkers of the Enlightenment thought in the same manner, except without the Biblical scaffolding.  They held that all human beings, regardless of their other differences, had a moral sense.   They thought people should think of government as a social contract—a mutual agreement based on mutual benefit.

The social contract was only a theory for John Locke and other 18th century philosophers.  But social contracts were made by the American colonists—first in the Mayflower Compact of the Pilgrims as they voyaged to Plymouth Rock, then of various frontier communities, and finally the Constitution of the United States.

The most radical of the Declaration’s affirmations is the right of revolution.  The United States of America is founded not on a principle of authority or national unity, but on principles of freedom and equality to which the government itself must submit or risk dissolution.

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What’s so remarkable about Harriet Tubman?

June 5, 2016
This is not how Harriet Tubman will appear on the $20 bill

This is NOT how Harriet Tubman will appear on the $20 bill

I knew hardly anything Harriet Tubman before the current announcement that her face will appear on the $20 bill.  During the past couple of weeks, I’ve read books that help me appreciate her for what she was.

What’s remarkable about Harriet Tubman is how she risked her life, not once but many times, in order to achieve her own freedom and the freedom of others—as a gun-toting conductor for the Underground Railroad and then as a scout and spy for the Union Army.

She did all of this at her own initiative and much at her own expense.  She financed her first slave rescue expeditions with money she earned as a cook and cleaner, and her work for the Union Army by making and selling pies and root beer.  A poor illiterate black woman who suffered blackouts probably due to a childhood head injury, she earned the respect of intellectuals and generals.

larson.harriettubman519Qj41qP2L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

She was born a slave in Dorchester County, Maryland, sometime from 1820 to 1825 under the name of Amarinta Ross.  At the age of five or six, she was hired out as a nursemaid to keep watch on a baby; whenever the baby woke up and cried, she was whipped.  Once she was whipped five times before breakfast.

Later jobs included muskrat trapping, field and forest work, driving oxen, plowing and hauling logs.

Once an irate slave owner threw a heavy metal weight at another slave and hit her instead.  She said the blow “broke my skull.”  She suffered dizziness, pain and blackouts throughout the rest of her life.  A devout Christian, she also experienced strange visions, vivid dreams and premonitions that she thought were the voice of God.

Harriet_Tubman_Locations_MapIn 1849, she escaped to Philadelphia, and adopted the name of Harriet Tubman.  Many escaped slaves changed their names in order to make recapture difficult.   She was married to John Tubman, a free black man about 10 years older than her, but he refused to go with her.

Her position was as precarious as that of an illegal immigrant today.  Under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 as well as previous law, she could have been arrested and returned to slavery at any time.

Rather than playing it safe, she returned to Maryland to rescue members of her family, not just once, but at least 13 times.  Slowly, one group at a time, with the help of the Underground Railroad, she brought an estimated 60 or 70 slaves to freedom, and helped possibly 60 or 70 more by showing them the route.

Among them were brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces and her aged parents who by that time were free, but were under suspicion of aiding the others to flee.   She sought out her husband, but he had meanwhile found a new partner.

She may have been the only fugitive slave who regularly ventured back into slave territory to bring other enslaved people out.  This is especially remarkable because she went back to a place where she was known by sight to white people in the community.

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The basic principle of the rule of law

May 19, 2016

magnacartadsc05777

Magna Carta is the inspiration for the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states that “no person shall … be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law …”

How is this compatible, as Laurie Calhoun asked in the article linked below, with the President of the United States claiming the right to order the killing of anybody anywhere in the world based on his personal judgment that the killing his warranted?

LINK

Remembering the Magna Carta by Laurie Calhoun for We Kill Because We Can.

Voter suppression in Brooklyn, USA

April 21, 2016

Democratic election officials in Brooklyn aremay be using the same tactics to purge voter rolls as used by Republicans in Florida, Wisconsin and other states.  Investigative reporter Greg Palast has the story.

Greg Palast

Greg Palast

Francesca Rheannon, whom you may know as the host of Writers’ Voice radio, did the civic thing by volunteering to work the polls in a town east of New York City.

“I just got off my 17 hour shift as an election official. In my election district, out of 166 Democratic voters, 39 were forced to file affidavit ballots. The last [election] I worked in, exactly ONE voter needed an affidavit ballot.”

That’s nearly one of four voters. Why? Their names had gone missing from the voter rolls.

An affidavit ballot (called a “provisional” ballot in most other states) is a kind of placebo ballot.  You get to pretend to vote – but the chance it will actually be counted is …well, good luck.  If your name is wrongly removed, kiss your vote – affidavit or not—goodbye.

Rheannon’s experience was hardly unique.  In Brooklyn alone, over 125,000 names were quietly scrubbed from the voter rolls in the five months leading up to the primary.

To put it in prospective, the number of voters purged equals about half of the number who got to vote. Scott Stringer, the New York City Comptroller will now audit the Elections Board–now that the election is over. Hey thanks, Scott.

Neal Rosenstein, the lead voting rights attorney for the New York Public Interest Research Group, which plans legal action, notes that part of the problem is that partisan hacks sit on the Elections board in New York—hacks from both parties.

Brooklyn is under the control of the Kings County Democratic Party, one of the last of the big city machines.  Would they attack their opponents’ voter registrations? 

I don’t have to guess: in my wasted younger days, I was in the Brooklyn County elections office with the hacks where we were assigned by the Party to challenge voters’ signatures en masse.  (I wouldn’t and nearly lost my state job.)

Am I saying the machine “fixed” the election for Hillary Clinton?  Without further investigation, it would be irresponsible for me to pronounce judgment.  Some of the purged may have moved, some have died.  But those who waited in line only to fill out affidavit ballots are unlikely to be deceased.

If the Machine had been aware of the mass purge underway, would they have stopped it? As they say in Brooklyn, Fahgeddabouddit.

Source: Greg Palast.

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Malik Jalal tries to get off Obama’s Kill List

April 15, 2016

Malik Jalal has traveled from Pakistan’s Waziristan border region to Britain so as to plead with President Obama to stop trying to kill him.

Malik Jalal

Malik Jalal

Malik is an honorary title that means “village leader”.  He is a member of the North Waziristan Peace Committee, whose mission is to negotiate with the Pakistan Taliban to reduce violence in the region.  The committee’s work is sanctioned by the government of Pakistan.

He has survived four attacks by Hellfire missiles and now sleeps out in the woods with his six-year-old son.  He wrote in The Independent that he has information that the U.S. military wants to stop the work of the Peace Committee because they think peace would give the Taliban a secure sanctuary.

Jalal wrote that the first attack came in 2010, when his nephew took his vehicle to a service  station  to get an oil change and to have the tires checked.   A Hellfire missile hit Jalal’s vehicle and another vehicle parked just beside it.  The nephew was injured and four innocent bystanders were killed.

The next time he was driving to a peace conference, with another vehicle on the road behind, which happened to be the same shade of red as Jalal’s.  A Hellfire missile destroyed the trailing vehicle and all four occupants, all innocent bystanders, were killed.

Jalal became sure that he was the target after the next attack.  He accepted a dinner invitation by cell phone and, while he was on the way, a Hellfire missile struck, killing three innocent people, including a father of three and a mentally retarded man.

The fourth attack came early in 2011, when the Hellfire missile struck a meeting of community leaders, killing 40 people, none of whom, according to Jalal were engaged in acts of violence.

Since then he has taken to sleeping out of doors on a mountainside far from his house and always parking his vehicle a long distance from any destination.  Recently, he said, his six-year-old son has joined him on the mountainside.  The little boy said it was unrealistic to think that the U.S. military would refrain from killing Jalal’s family just because he wasn’t at home.

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Muslim asylum seekers already being deported

April 8, 2016

Hat tip to Oidin

How to promote democracy

March 14, 2016

If the United States government were interested in promoting democracy and freedom, a simple, safe and cheap way to do it would be to stop giving military and economic aid to governments that practice rape, torture and murder.

This doesn’t require invasions, bombings or funding of foreign fighters.  Nor economic sanctions.  Just stop writing checks.

This is my deal-breaker. What’s yours?

March 1, 2016

torturediagram-300x222I think that torture is the ultimate evil.  To kill someone is to make something happen that was going to happen anyway sometime.  To torture someone is to try to destroy the mind and soul while leaving the body alive.

That is why I will not vote for any political candidate who advocates torture, no matter how bad the alternative candidate might be.

That is my deal-breaker.  What’s yours?

 

Why so few Christians among the refugees?

November 21, 2015
Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.  Source: Newsweek.

The Christian community in Syria dates back to the time of St. Paul, who was converted on the road to Damascus.

Today the survival of Christianity in Syria and other Middle Eastern countries is under threat.  Syria has lost 700,000 Christians in the past five year, nearly two-thirds of its Christian population.  Iraq has lost more than a million Christians since the 2003 invasion.

The so-called Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL or Da’esh) singles out Christians for beheading and rape.  It calls them “crusaders,” meaning that they are supposedly part of an age-old European invasion of the Middle East.  Yet Syria was a Christian country for centuries before Mohammad was even born.

20150327cover600x800revMany religious scholars fear for the survival of the ancient Christian communities in Syria and Iraq.  This is something new, not a centuries-old conflict.

Christians and Muslims mostly lived together in peace during the Arab Caliphates, the Ottoman Empire and European colonial rule, and, if there was persecution, it fell short of genocide.

Despite all this, there are relatively few Christians among the Syrian and other Middle Eastern refugees knocking on the doors of Europe and the United States.

An estimated 10 percent of Syria’s population is Christian, yet they constitute only 2.5 percent of the Syrian applicants for asylum in Europe.   I would have expected more, if only because, unlike with Muslims, there are no predominantly Christian nations in the Middle East region.

I don’t think this is because of intentional discrimination.   Asylum seekers are screened in refugee camps, and Middle Eastern Christians reportedly are reluctant to enter refugee camps because of persecution and abuse by Muslim refugees.

Certain American and European politicians have called for asylum of Syrian refugees to be limited to Christians. [1]

Barring refugees solely on the  basis of religion is wrong and possibly a violation of international law.  But there surely is justification for an affirmative action program for some of the world’s most persecuted people.

LINKS

The New Exodus: Christians Flee ISIS in the Middle East by Janine Di Giovanni and Conor Gaffey for Newsweek.

Syria’s Beleaguered Christians by the BBC.

Christian refugees discriminated against by US and UK governments by Harry Farley for Christianity Today.

Why So Few Syrian Christian Refugees by Jonathan Witt for The Stream.

Why the question of Christian vs. Muslim refugees has become so incredibly divisive by Michelle Boorstein for the Washington Post.

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[1]  Actually, I think it would be a fine thing if Texas, Hungary or some other place became a haven for the world’s persecuted Christians.

ISIS law and Saudi law

November 21, 2015

Punishments_FINAL-01

LINKS

The Shared History of Saudi Arabia and ISIS by Madawi Al-Rasheed for Hurst Publishers.

Crime and punishment: Islamic State vs. Saudi Arabia by Rori Donaghy and Mary Atkinson for Middle East Eye.

Inhuman Monsters: Islamic State vs. Saudi Arabia by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.

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John Kerry woos Uzbekistan’s dictator

November 5, 2015

#Uzbekistan an important partner in bringing peace, prosperity to Central Asia.  Good discussion w/President Karimov                          ==Secretary of State John Kerry on Twitter 11/1/2015

uzbekistanU.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has just returned from a tour of Central Asia, trying to woo leaders of countries under the political influence of Russia and the economic influence of China.

This means tip-toeing around the issue of human rights, particularly in Uzbekistan.  Carol Morello of the Washington Post noted that the State Department’s own reports accuse the Uzbek government of corruption, forced labor, torture and detention of hundreds of political prisoners.

The United States government once sanctioned Uzbekistan for human rights violations, but these sanctions were lifted in 2011 by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to reward Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan’s long-time ruler, for supporting the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan.

Kerry said last weekend that there is great potential for increased cooperation between the U.S. and Uzbekistan on trade, security and the environment provided Uzbekistan improves its human rights record.

I doubt that Kerry will press Karimov about the torture of dissidents so long as there is a chance of detaching Karimov from Russia.   Certainly Vladimir Putin will raise no such concerns.

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Genocide of Burma’s Muslim minority?

October 28, 2015

Hat tip to my expatriate friend Jack.

The excellent investigative documentary shows what happens when political leaders use religion to solidify their power by promoting nationalism and ethnic hatred.

Courageous Malaysian cartoonist risks prison

October 27, 2015

18-cartoon4

A courageous Malaysian cartoonist, Zulkifee Sm Anwar Ulhaque, who draws using the name Zumar, faces a possible 43 years in prison for sedition.

His offense was to charge that Malaysia’s judiciary is controlled by the government, and that Malaysia is ruled not by Prime Minister Najib Razak, but his wife Rusmah Mansur.

He is in Britain for an exhibition of his cartoons, but he will return to Malaysia to face charges.  That takes a lot of guts.

∞∞∞

Hat tip for these links to my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack.

Zunar: Cartoonist arrives in Britain as he faces 43 years in Malaysian prison for ‘sedition’ by Ian Burrell for The Independent.

Malaysian cartoonist faces 43 years in prison by Index on Censorship.

The origins of the world refugee crisis

September 8, 2015

chartoftheday_3632_syria_is_the_worst_refugee_crisis_of_our_generation_n

Once a majority of the world’s refugees came from U.S.-occupied Afghanistan and Iraq.  Now these countries are overshadowed by refugees pouring out of Syria.

The top chart shows a history of refugee crises in the past generation.  Patrick Cockburn, writing in The Independent, noted that most of the world’s current refugees come from majority-Muslim or partly-Muslim countries, most of them in the grip of civil war, as indicated in the chart at the right.

refugees-map

Some people I know say that these conflicts are part of age-old hatreds that go back to the split between the Sunnis and the Shiites soon after the death of Mohammad.

But there have been many centuries in which the varied religious and ethnic communities lived together in peace.  They mostly did so under the Ottoman Empire.

Cockburn wrote that the conflicts grew out of the breakdown of Middle Eastern governments, which created a lawless environment in which terrorist movements such as the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL and Da’esh), Al Qaeda and their imitators could flourish.

He attributed this to the fact that these governments were organized around Western ideals such as nationalism and socialism, which failed to win the loyalty of the Muslim masses.  No Iraqi was willing to die in defense of the Iraqi government, although many Iraqis were willing to fight and die on behalf of their religious sect, their family or their local community.

I think there is truth in this, but he overlooks the role of the U.S. and other governments in breaking down the social order.

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The passing scene – August 24, 2015

August 24, 2015

White supremacist gathering underscores Russia’s nationalist trend by Masur Mirovalev for the Los Angeles Times.  Hat tip to Oidin.

Racism, xenophobia and extreme nationalism are on the rise among ethnic Russians, who are 81 percent of the population of the Russian Federation.  The victims are Russia’s ethnic minorities, such as the Tatars, and its immigrants, who are mainly from the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Vladimir Putin has cracked down on hate killings while trying to harness Russian nationalism to support his struggle with NATO nations over Ukraine.  He aligns himself with the Russian Orthodox Church, Cossack paramilitaries and the extreme right-wing parties.

Putin Cracks Down on Christians in Crimea by Geraldine Fagan for Newsweek.

Russian authorities in Crimea are building up the Russian Orthodox Church while persecuting Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Eastern Rite Catholics.

A suspiciously “European” solution by Tom Sullivan for Hullabaloo.

The French National Front and Donald Trump by Paul Gottfried for the Unz Review.

Anti-foreign and anti-immigrant sentiment are on the rise throughout Europe as well as the USA.

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Julian Assange’s epic struggle for justice

July 31, 2015

jul650Julian Assange is a great hero of our time.

Subject to a 24-hour police siege, confined to a single windowless room, he continues to fight, and fight effectively, for truth and justice.

WikiLeaks continues to provide a means by which whistle-blowers can reveal how governments, corporations and other organizations conspire against the public.  Most of what the American public knows about the toxic Trans Pacific Partnership, for example, has been made known by WikiLeaks.

John Pilger wrote an excellent article, updated on Counterpunch, about the how the U.S. government, abetted by the governments of the United Kingdom and Sweden, are bending international law and their own laws to deprive Assange of his freedom.

He is wanted for extradition to Sweden for questioning in a sexual misconduct case.  He has not been charged with any crime, and the alleged victims in the case do not accuse him of any crime.  He has offered to testify in London, or to go to Sweden to testify if he can be assured that he won’t be extradited to the United States.

A grand jury has been meeting in secret in Alexandria, Va., for five years trying to figure out ways to define Assange’s truth-telling as a crime.   The details of the ongoing investigation of Assange have been defined themselves as a state secret.  One of the crimes the grand jury is pondering is violation of the U.S. Espionage Act, which carries a maximum penalty of death or life imprisonment.

Assange might be in a U.S. prison today, or worse, if not for the courage of the Ecuadorian government, which despite all pressure and threats offered him refuge in its London embassy.

The U.S. government treats Assange as it might treat a terrorist.  And in fact, to a government whose policies are based on secrecy and lies, truth-tellers and whistle-blowers are more terrifying than killers or suicide bombers.

I think a good litmus test for whether an individual believes in freedom and democracy is the person’s attitude toward Julian Assange.   President Obama most certainly fails that test.   I think Assange will be remembered when Obama is forgotten.

LINK

Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice by John Pilger for Counterpunch.

A nun on the meaning of being “pro-life”

July 31, 2015

Slide1_3Source: Daily Kos.

Hat tip to Bill Elwell.

Nothing in this statement implies that Sister Joan Chittister supports the pro-choice movement.  Rather she indicates where pro-choicers and pro-lifers ought to agree..

Life under the Islamic State

July 10, 2015

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Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine has published a grim and terrifying account of life under the so-called Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL or Daesh).

It reminds me of reports of life in Nazi-occupied Europe during the Second World War or in the USSR under Stalin’s terror.

I think that U.S. efforts against ISIS will be futile so long as they are conditional—that is, conditional on not doing anything to offend Saudi Arabia or help Iran or Syria.

Iran and Syria are not democracies, nor was Libya before the overthrow of Qaddafi, but in these countries it was possible for a normal person to lead a normal life without day-to-day horrors.

The result of destruction of Libya, the proxy war in Syria and any attack on Iran are to create conditions of lawless violence from which movements such as ISIS can emerge.

LINK

Reports of Everyday Life Under the Islamic State by Uwe Buse and Katrin Kunz for Spiegel Online.

The U.S. Senate votes against torture

June 20, 2015

Torture is the ultimate crime against humanity.  It aims at the destruction not just of human life or the human body, but of the human spirit.

So it’s a good thing that the U.S. Senate last Tuesday voted, 78-21, to ban torture by the U.S. government, codifying into law an executive order by President Obama.  As The Guardian explained:

Should the McCain-Feinstein amendment be made law … it will be harder for future administrations to repeat the actions of the Bush administration, which used controversial legal opinions to justify torturing detainees.

Sadly, that’s the most that can be hoped.  A law against torture will not guarantee that the government will not use torture, but it will make it harder to do so.  If law were enough, the Constitution of the United States and international treaties would have been enough to prevent the George W. Bush administration from engaging in torture in the first place.

tortureimageAll 21 Senators who voted in favor of retaining the power to torture were Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Senate Majority Whip John Comyn of Texas and Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, one of the Republican presidential candidates.

However, the bill was co-sponsored by Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, along with Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California.  To their credit, two other Republican presidential candidates, Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and (to my surprise) Senator Ted Cruz of Texas voted in favor.

On the campaign trail, ex-Gov. Jeb Bush said “enhanced interrogation techniques” were necessary during his brother’s administration, but are no longer needed now—leaving open the possibility that torture may be needed in the future.

The very worst statement about the bill was made by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Republican presidential candidate, who said he’d have voted against the bill if he hadn’t been campaigning.

The fundamental problem we have in America is that nothing matters if we’re not safe.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument ordinary Americans are in serious danger from the likes of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State—which we’re not.  Let’s also assume for the sake of argument that that the Bush torture program made us safer—which it didn’t.

That still wouldn’t make it right to torture prisoners and suspects.   George Washington and Abraham Lincoln led the United States when it was in real danger, and they didn’t stoop to authorizing torture.

The fundamental problem we have in America is that nothing matters if we’re too fearful to care about fundamental human rights and human decency.

LINKS

Senate passes torture ban despite Republican opposition by Paul Lewis for The Guardian.

Marco Rubio’s Fear-Mongering Slogan by Charles P. Pierce for Esquire.