Category: Human Rights

Hey, Progressives! Watch the Language!

Today I return to one of my recurring themes. I’ve been saying this for years. In political confrontations with conservatives, we progressives (aka liberals) consistently concede the other side too much of the argument credibility by defaulting on the labels.

Labels as political shorthand are not going away. Unless we learn to master them the way the other side has, we’re destined to start out with a language deficit on important issues. This has been particularly evident in the culture wars battles over a woman’s reproductive rights.

pro-choiceFrom the beginning, those who would deny a woman the right to determine whether and how to give birth have called themselves “pro-life.” Meanwhile, progressives have been for the most part unwilling to clearly differentiate ourselves as “pro-choice”. Instead, we find ourselves being labeled “pro-abortion”, “anti-life”, and “abortion rights supporters,” which seems to be the latest label being used by journalists like Dana Milbank who are supporters of pro-choice. I do not know of a single pro-choice person who would accept or embody any of those labels. It’s not the right to abortion — and by implication, in the conservatives’ minds, abortions themselves — for which we stand, but the woman’s right to choose whether to have an abortion.

If those who are anti-choice (the only proper label for their perspective on this issue) were truly pro-life, they would oppose capital punishment and they’d be concerned with what happens to newborns, infants, toddlers and children. But these are consistently the very same people who support the death penalty and oppose childhood health programs as well as early childhood education and other government-funded activities designed to enable children and young people to live healthy, productive lives.

They hide behind a completely bogus label in a futile effort to disguise themselves as “pro” anything. They are, in fact, anti-government. Except, of course, when it comes to inviting that same government into the most private aspects of their lives to intrude where there’s no room for anyone other than the prospective mother, her doctor and her God.

 

Predictably, Gun Nuts Blame Dead Pastor for SC Church Shootings

“If only he’d supported the right to carry in churches, eight of his parishioners would still be alive.” That’s the pronouncement from a number of nationally prominent gun nuts in the wake of Wednesday’s mass killing at an historic African-American church in Charlotte, South Carolina.

According to this piece on Huffington Post, National Rifle Association board member Charles L. Cotton took that position on a Texas discussion board. The NRA seldom comments diretly on mass shootings. Also voicing that indefensible and insensitive position as right-wing radio talk show host Bryan Fischer (who stopped just short of directly blaming the Rev. and State Sen. Clementa Pinckney). Conservatives rushed to the airwaves all over the nation to express the same insanity.

The underlying theory that you can stop violence with violence has never once been true in the history of humanity and it still is not today. Violence is a cycle. Someone — generally someone more civilized, more enlightened, more compassionate — must be the first to say, “Enough!” The NRA’s political clout is a myth. It’s time to call their bluff and pass meaningful outright registration and permitting rules for gun ownership. As President Obama pointed out — again — yesterday, we are the only developed nation in the world that still allows the private ownership and indiscriminate use of guns.

Enough, dammit!

Why America’s Heartland is Conservative: A Lesson from Vietnam

I was chatting today with one of the doctors at the VA clinic where I get my healthcare. We were discussing the “old days”, by which we meant 1963 to 1965 when I was serving a two-tour stint in the Vietnam War.

Part of my job in Vietnam involved helping to craft propaganda for leaflet drops on remote hamlets and I was discussing how we discovered that those farmers simply couldn’t be made to care whether the government in Saigon or the Viet Cong were in charge of the country. All they wanted was for whoever was in charge to leave them alone, let them harvest their rice, and raise their families in peace.

My doctor, who hails from the Midwest, suggested there was a parallel in both Iraq and Afghanistan and then he pointed out that the same could be said of the vast heartland of the United States. “Basically everything from the Appalacians to the Rockies,” he said, “is much the same way. Many of those people are farmers and all they want is the right to be left alone to work their farms and raise their families without government interference.”

He pointed out that these people are accustomed to taking care of their own, by which he meant their families and their neighbors. When they oppose social programs, it’s not because they dislike other people in need or have a fundamental ideological disagreement with the Left. Rather, they see the problems of hunger and poverty being better solved by interpersonal outreach than by government intervention.

While it remains difficult for me to understand the mentality that would judge others in need as being objects which could be ignored in the absence of strong family and community support and essentially allowed to starve or worse, his comments gave me a somewhat better perspective on the underlying rationale. I think I have often been too quick to ascribe bad motives to such people, when in fact we were simply disagree about the scope of the definition of “my brother.”

Laos: The Land of Unexploded Ordinance

I was reading a piece today on former Secretary of State Henry “Big Lie” Kissinger and how he’s out revising history…again…as he travels around promoting his new book. I’m not going to mention the title or link to it.

In the article, I caught this snippet:

At the end of the bombings, an estimated 80 million unexploded bombs remained in the ground just in Laos.

I figured that was a typo. So I went and researched it. According to Wikipedia‘s article on unexploded ordinance:

Some 288 million cluster munitions and about 75 million unexploded bombs were left across Laos after the war ended. Between 1999 and 2008, there were 2,184 casualties (including 834 deaths) from UXO incidents.

In fact, the article begins by saying:

Laos has the dubious distinction of being the world’s most heavily bombed nation. During the period of the American Vietnam War, over half a million American bombing missions dropped more than 2 million tons of ordnance on Laos….

What did Laos ever do to us? We were fighting a secret, covert, anti-Communist war there through much of the Vietnam War Era. No declaration of war (which the President almost certainly could not have gotten). ground troops confined mostly (if the sources are to be believed) to military advisers. And yet we dropped more bombs on this tiny nation during Vietnam than on any other nation in the history of the world?

Unexploded ordinance has rendered millions of acres of fertile ground unsuitable for farming in addition to the thousands of deaths and injuries from ordinance that is still exploding all these years later.

Don’t we have a moral obligation here? What is the excuse or rationale for us leaving this poor country to subsist? We don’t like their government? Really?

 

UN Commission Blasts U.S. for Racism

A United Nations commission on racial discrimination has strongly criticized the United States for consistent and persistent bias in our culture. According to news reports, “The committee found that minority communities in the U.S. are disproportionately disadvantaged in all areas of life, including education, criminal justice, voting, housing and access to health care.” (My emphasis)

The United Nations Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) drew its conclusions after a series of public hearings in the U.S. and based its report on documents submitted by the U.S. government and other interested parties in addition to hearing testimony.

There was a time in our nation’s history when the publication of a U.N. report severely critical of our enemies’ behavior and policies would have drawn strong and immediate rebuke along with calls for reform. Don’t expect Washington, which submitted a State Department report that painted a “sanguine picture of progress,” to react much if at all to this report finding that we are guilty of behaior we already acknowledge explicitly and tacitly.

CERD, as it turns out, is one of only three human rights accords or treaties that we’ve even bothered to ratify. And we can’t even live up to its elementary provisions.

‘Tis a sad commentary on our culture.

Hooray! Death Penalty in CA Takes First Step on Its Own Death Row!

Just a few hours ago, a Federal Court judge in California ruled the state’s death penalty unconstitutional. The state will undoubtedly appeal but for now, at least, it is illegal for the state of California to kill someone in my name. I am delighted!

U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney ruled on a petition by death row inmate Ernest Dewayne Jones, who was sentenced to die nearly two decades ago. Carney said the state’s death penalty has created long delays and uncertainty for inmates, most of whom will never be executed.

A moratorium on the death penalty has been in effect since 2006, but this new ruling raises the stakes a good bit and requires the state to overcome a finding that the very process creates a cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Constitution.

The Border Presents a Refugee Problem, Not an Immigration Issue

When millions of Arabs and Palestinians and other Middle Easterners flee civil war and guerrilla attacks across international borders, we treat them as refugees and expect their unsuspecting (and sometimes unwilling) host countries to do the humane thing. Through our own diplomacy and our contributions to the United Nations, we claim to be compassionate when it comes to the refugee crisis in the Mideast and in Africa in particular.

(Photo: NBCDFW.com)

(Photo: NBCDFW.com)

But when a few thousand children fleeing gang and criminal violence in their Central American homes seek entry into our United States, we call them “illegals” instead of “refugees” and we ship them back so fast it’s as if they had strings attached. As New York Times reporter Sonia Nazario reported Friday, “a vast majority of child migrants are fleeing not poverty, but violence. As a result, what the United States is seeing on its borders now is not an immigration crisis. It is a refugee crisis.”

How can we behave with such hypocrisy? How can we explain to a watching world our complete lack of compassion in dealing with children — children!!?? — who want nothing more than a chance to grow up in a society where their chance of surviving to the age of 13 are better than they are in their ravaged home countries? Particularly when, as is the case with Honduras, our senseless and dysfunctional foreign and drug policies are at least contributing causes to the unrest that leads to their lack of safety at home? Are we really so blind as to think that a poor six- or eight- or 11-year-old child wants to leave the only home they’ve ever known, their families and friends, for an unknown future across a thousand or more miles of dangerous territory just so they can cross an international border illegally?

Some days, I am ashamed to be an American.

Mr. President, where are you on this? Why do you continue to deport people at a faster rate than any of your predecessors? Where is your attitude of “Hope we can believe in” and “Yes we can” when it comes to compassionate treatment of our fellow human beings? Are you, in the final analysis, no more compassionate or hopeful than your much-despised predecessor? Is this the legacy you really want as our nation’s first President of color?

Please, please, please: someone in Washington wake up. Grow a heart. Exhibit compassion. Care for these children. It’s a simple matter of humanity!

 

‘Right to be Forgotten’ Runs Into Its First Gnarly Mess

The European Union’s Luddite-inspired attempt to create a never-before-existent “right to be forgotten” on the Internet is already beginning to have its backfires in the first days of its attempted implementation.

bbc_logoThe BBC has been notified that one of its articles from a few years ago has been removed from some search results by Google in response to a request by someone Google won’t or can’t identify. The article in question was an op-ed piece that put former Merrill Lynch boss Stan O’Neal in a bad light. The column, by one Robert Preston, was hidden from search results, but not at O’Neal’s request. In fact, as the story unfolded, it became quite clear that the level of difficulty in investigating, implementing and enforcing this ridiculous new “right” is greater even than imagined by those who (like me) found it at first blush to be just plain stupid.

Apparently — and we still don’t have any official word on this and may never — someone who wrote a comment on the published BBC piece requested that the item be disassociated from searches for his name on the Internet. So, let’s say the offended (and presumably offensive) commenter’s name is Joe Blowhard. What Google did — as requested — was to remove from search results for Joe Blowhard that particular article. But if you search for O’Neal or Preston or Merrill Lynch or any of dozens of other terms, the article is still very much alive and “findable.”

The initial responses to Google’s action were hysterical claims of censorship by one of the Fat Cats (presumably O’Neal or his company) and assumed the article had been obliterated. But as i pointed out when the EU’s first idiotic finding on this subject was published, one cannot simply remove all traces of any piece of information from the Internet.

So what has been accomplished here — presumably at some non-trivial cost to Google — is that one search term found in one comment to one article has been de-linked from that article. (If there were a way to de-link from the comment only, presumably that would have sufficed.) Do you begin to see the idiocy of this idea?

I have no idea how the EU works administratively. But someone “across the pond” as they say needs to wake up and smell the Web links and undo this ignorance before it sinks the Net and grinds it to a mind-numbing halt to no useful purpose whatsoever.

Whaddya Mean My Pension’s Gone? We Have a Contract!

The City of Detroit has reached a tentative agreement with leaders of some of its unions to reduce pension payouts. The possible deal still needs approval of a bankruptcy judge.

I’m sure I’m missing something here, but this sure sounds like breach of contract — even wage theft — from where I’m sitting.

John Doe goes to work for the City of Detroit. He gets a decent wage, though not nearly as much as he might make in the private sector. But the benefits are good, his job is more or less guaranteed, and the retirement plan is great. So he settles for less near-term income in exchange for security and long-term benefits.

Finally, he retires after 25 or 30 year of service. And the city comes along and says, “You know that retirement plan we promised you? Yeah, well, see, we blew a bunch of it on executive salaries, benefits for the rich contributors to mayoral elections, and other crap nobody really deserved. Now there’s not enough money to pay you. So you have two choices: settle for far less than you were promised and counted on or walk away with zip and we’ll just go bankrupt.”

In what universe should that be legal?

 

Obama Can’t Stand the Heat…Maybe He Shouldn’t Have Gone Into the Kitchen?

One of America’s stanchest allies on the world stage for the past 60+ years has been Germany. At a press conference at the White House today the chill that has emerged between our two nations was palpable and below freezing. But our esteemed President cannot step up and take responsibility for the cause of that rift, choosing instead to blame a man who leaked documents rather than shouldering the blame for what was in those documents.

After German Chancellor Angela Merkel coolly told reporters that it was too soon for the U.S. and her nation to return to “business as usual,” Obama tried to whitewash and sidestep in one easy dance move. “It has pained me to see the degree to which the Snowden disclosures have created strains in the relationship,” he mealy-mouthed.

This is the big-people variation on the playground theme of “It’s your fault! If you hadn’t told on me, I wouldn’t be in this trouble!”obamagrimace.

Mr. President, Chancellor Merkel is not pissed at Edward Snowden. She’s pissed at you. And she should be. On your watch — and you can’t convince me that it wasn’t also with your knowledge and tacit approval — your spy agency eavesdropped on her personal communications. The fact that she found out about it via some documents that Snowden leaked is immaterial. And as a lawyer, you damn well know that.

Sir, I fear that this is just one of dozens of reasons your historical legacy will be as the President who had so much potential and squandered it in timidity and desire for power, the President who was almost as good as he could have been. Only the fact that your predecessor was a buffoon and his party composed largely of bigoted nincompoops gives you any credibility any more.