Archive for the ‘Human Rights’ Category

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.


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.


[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



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.


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.


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


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


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-mapSome 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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.

Today is the 800th birthday of Magna Carta

June 15, 2015

No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.

To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.

via Magna Carta.

Today is the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta – the Great Charter of British liberties – by King John of England.

Britons and Americans historically have seen this as the beginning of the concept of the rule of law—the idea that anyone, no matter how powerful, is above obedience to the law, and no-one, no matter how powerless, is below the protection of the law.

These ideas are embedded in the United States Constitution in Section One, Article 9, which guarantees the right of habeas corpus, and forbids bills of attainder and ex post facto laws.

The right of habeas corpus means that a person cannot be imprisoned unless charged with violation of a specific law, and told which laws he or she is accused of breaking.

The forbidding of bills of attainder means that the government is forbidden to pass a law aimed at one specific person or family.  The forbidding of ex post facto laws means the government is forbidden to pass a law making something illegal after the fact.

What these mean is that under the written American Constitution, as under the unwritten British constitution, individuals should be safe from harm, no matter how much they displease the rulers or displease public opinion, so long as they refrain from violating the written laws.

This concept was considered so fundamental that it was incorporated into the Constitution before there was a Bill of Rights guaranteeing freedom of worship, freedom of speech, the right to bear arms and other basic rights.

It also is the basis of the idea of “due process of law” in the Fourth Amendment, which protects the people against unreasonable searches and seizures, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which forbids state governments to arbitrarily deprive anyone of life, liberty or property.

The idea of Magna Carta ought to be remembered and honored by the people of the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries in the British legal tradition.  Liberty under law will only exist so long as people are willing to defend it.


Subjects of the American empire

June 9, 2015

Hat tip to Jack C

We Americans don’t usually think of ourselves as rulers of an overseas empire, but the people of Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and other island territories might disagree.

A three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has ruled that people born on American island territories do not enjoy birthright citizenship rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

However, Mother Jones reported there is a good chance this decision will be reversed on appeal.  I find it troublesome that lawyers for the Obama administration argued against birthright citizenship.   Just because the people of Samoa or Guam are not potential Democratic voters in federal elections doesn’t mean they don’t have rights.


A Federal Appeals Court Just Denied Birthright Citizenship to American Samoans Using Racist Case Law by Pema Levy for Mother Jones.

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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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


‘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


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.


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.



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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