10 Human Rights Causes to Support in 2018

“Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.” ― Benjamin Franklin

🎉 Happy New Year! May your new year be filled with happiness, health and prosperity.

Today I continue a tradition started four years ago, whereby I dedicate the first post of the new year to noteworthy causes, organizations, and individuals committed to the advancement of human rights or the protection of Mother Earth. Last year was a particularly daunting one for those, who like myself, believe in and fight for the advancement human rights, civil rights, social justice, environmental justice and the rule of law.

Every hour of every day, it felt like my sensories were constantly being overloaded by a deluge of “Breaking News” stories. Add to this the seemingly endless number of unprecedented natural disasters that struck almost every continent on the planet: torrential rainfalls, flooding, mudslides, fires, earthquakes and hurricanes. These disasters were responsible for thousands of deaths, billions of dollars in property damage, scarity in resources, and social instability.

Perhaps the only silver lining to a year fraught with upheavals and tragedies was the ingenuity and indefatigable spirit of human beings. We rose to every occasion and proved (yet again) that we are stronger when we respect, support, and uplift each other. This truth as well as the organizations and individuals highlighted below give me great hope and a renewed sense of purpose for the year that lies ahead.

So, without further ado, here are 10 human rights causes worthy of your support in 2018.

1. Unidos Por Puerto Rico (United For Puerto Rico) is an organization created by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s wife Beatriz Rosselló in collaboration with the private sector, is providing a way for anyone to help victims in Puerto Rico.  The initiative aims to provide aid and support to those affected in Puerto Rico by the impact of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane María. The organization also has a list of needed construction materials and other supplies for those who would rather donate goods instead of money. Some of the pressing supply needs in Puerto Rico include bottled water, baby wipes, diapers, baby formula, pain relief medication for adults and children, canned milk, mosquito repellant, stomach relief and diarrhea medication, first-aid kits, blankets, and pillows. People can also donate through One America Appeal, a fundraising campaign originally launched by all five living former U.S. Presidents. The campaign lets donors contribute funds to Unidos Por Puerto Rico and the Fund for the Virgin Islands, a non-profit organization that was established 25 years ago by the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands for relief efforts.

2. The Islamic Relief USA (IRUSA) is a nonprofit humanitarian agency and member of the Islamic Relief Worldwide group of organizations. IRUSA was founded in California in 1993. In addition to international relief and development initiatives, Islamic Relief USA also sponsors and funds domestic projects ranging from emergency disaster responses to assisting the American homeless population and supporting those who cannot afford basic healthcare. In 2005, IRUSA aided the victims of Hurricane Katrina by providing over $2 million in assistance and sending field workers to distribute aid and assess the needs of the victims. Partnering with IRUSA for the 2006 Yogyakarta earthquake that struck Indonesia, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints donated $1.6 million worth of emergency supplies. After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, IRUSA staff and volunteers worked at shelters in New Jersey to house displaced residents. In 2014, IRUSA’s disaster response team assisted Alabama residents affected by tornadoes. In 2015, IRUSA gave $50,000 to assist Detroit residents whose water had been turned off due to difficulty paying their bills.

Recent international emergency projects include assisting displaced Syrians in Syria and neighboring countries, and assisting refugees arriving in Greece in 2015. In 2016, IRUSA’s Disaster Response Team responded to emergencies in the United States including the Flint water crisis, Louisiana flooding, and Hurricane Matthew in North Carolina. Recent non-emergency projects IRUSA have implemented or supported in the U.S. include after-school meal programs, a prison re-entry program, food aid on American Indian reservations, and assistance for victims of domestic violence. Besides the Virginia headquarters, IRUSA maintains regional offices in Illinois, New Jersey, Texas, Florida and two in California. In 2015, IRUSA was named a Top-Rated Nonprofit by Great Nonprofits. In 2016, IRUSA was awarded four out of four stars by Charity Navigator.

3. The International Organization for Migration is an intergovernmental organization that provides services and advice concerning migration to governments and migrants, including internally displaced persons, refugees, and migrant workers. In September 2016, IOM became a related organization of the United Nations. It was initially established in 1951 as the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM) to help resettle people displaced by World War II.  It is the principal intergovernmental organization in the field of migration, with 166 member states and eight observer states.  IOM’s stated mission is to promote humane and orderly migration by providing services and advice to governments and migrants. IOM works to help ensure the orderly and humane management of migration, to promote international cooperation on migration issues, to assist in the search for practical solutions to migration problems and to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in need, be they refugees, displaced persons or other uprooted people.

The IOM Constitution gives explicit recognition to the link between migration and economic, social and cultural development, as well as to the right of freedom of movement of persons. IOM works in the four broad areas of migration management: migration and development, facilitating migration, regulating migration, and addressing forced migration. Cross-cutting activities include the promotion of international migration law, policy debate and guidance, protection of migrants’ rights, migration health and the gender dimension of migration. In addition, IOM has often organized elections for refugees out of their home country, as was the case in the 2004 Afghan elections and the 2005 Iraqi elections. IOM works closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners.

4. The Global Fund for Women is a non-profit foundation funding women’s human rights initiatives. It was founded in 1987 by New Zealander Anne Firth Murray, and co-founded by Frances Kissling and Laura Lederer to fund women’s initiatives around the world. The Global Fund for Women is an international grantmaking foundation that supports groups working to advance the human rights of women and girls. They advocate for and defend women’s human rights by making grants to support women’s groups around the world. Funds that support the Global Fund for Women are raised from a variety of sources and are awarded to women-led organizations that promote economic security, health, safety, education and leadership of women and girls. The Global Fund for Women accepts grant proposals in any language and in any format. It also publishes “Impact Reports” which focus on specific issues impacting women and girls. The Global Fund for Women headquartered in San Francisco, California. Since 1988, the foundation has awarded over $100 million in grants to over 4,000 organizations supporting progressive women’s rights in over 170 countries.

5. FACE Africa is a nonprofit organization founded by Liberian national Saran Kaba Jones in 2009 that provides access to clean and safe drinking water for rural communities in Liberia using an innovative social enterprise model to fund water projects. In 2003, Liberia emerged from a long and devastating civil war that took the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions. The country suffered massive destruction and the very fabric of society was torn apart; infrastructures were in ruins – roads, buildings, health clinics, communications networks, schools, farms and factories were almost totally destroyed. With an 80% unemployment rate; extreme poverty with average earnings of $1 a day; no electricity; no running water or sewage system; and an inadequate education system, the country had enormous needs.

It was a conflict that forced Saran Kaba Jones and her own family to flee the devastation when she was just 8 years old. In 2008, a then 26 years old Saran, returned to her home country and saw the remnants of war and its attendant ills.  She promised herself that she would work to contribute to the improvement of the human condition of her people. Saran, along with many others including FACE Africa’s Country Manager Emmett G. Wilson, began the difficult process of trying to rebuild their society… one piece at a time.

FACE Africa was born from the ashes of this conflict, out of a need to help others reclaim the means to build a better life and prosper. It began with Fund a Child’s Education (FACE) but Saran quickly realized that one of the major impediments to education was the lack of access to safe drinking water. In a majority of cases, children contracted one of the many illnesses caused by unsafe water or that the school’s facilities were inadequate to attend to a child’s sanitation needs. Overall, the social and economic consequences of unsafe water penetrate into realms of education, opportunities for gainful employment, physical strength and health, agricultural and industrial development, and thus the overall productive potential of a community, nation, and/or region.

FACE Africa, which relies on fundraising events and donations for its projects, focuses on implementing low-tech water solutions in the country’s hard-to-reach rural areas. The organization is currently working as part of the WASH in Schools (WinS) Initiative, which the Liberian Government identified as the first step to recovery from the Ebola outbreak. FACE Africa’s first target has been Rivercess County’s Central C1 Education District, where only 9 of the district’s 26 schools had access to safe water before the initiative was launched. Thus far, FACE Africa has completed 5 additional safe water points and are stepping up their efforts to ensure that the remainder of the district’s 2,300 students gain access to safe water for drinking, cleaning, hand washing and hygiene purposes. Over the next few months, FACE Africa will be working with the county’s education authorities to conduct a comprehensive WASH assessment of all other education districts, with the eventual aim of rolling out its initiative throughout the county.

6. Charity: Water is a non-profit organization that provides clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations. The organization was founded in 2006 and has benefitted over 7.3 million people. Based in New York City, Charity: Water uses both mainstream and social media platforms to raise awareness, including annual galas and events arranged via Twitter. The initiative, which has received donations from 300,000 individuals, provides GPS coordinates and photos of the wells it builds. The organization has 70 full-time staff members, 10 interns and more than 800 volunteers. 100% of its public donations are used to fund clean water projects, as its operating costs are funded by private donors, foundations and sponsors. Charity: Water has raised more than $252 million for more than 24,537 water projects in 24 countries, including Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Malawi. As of May 2017, Charity Navigator rates the organization among their highest-rated charities, with a full 4 out of 4 stars, and an overall rating of 92.29 out of 100 – with an ‘Accountability & Transparency’ score of a maximum of 100.

7. Re-Plate is a nonprofit and technological innovation that matches surplus food from local businesses to communities in need. A technology company at its core, Re-Plate has developed an app through which companies (mostly tech ones so far) can alert the organization when they have food leftover from meetings or company provided meals. A driver is dispatched to safely collect the often gourmet meals and deliver them to willing shelters or pantries, or sometimes even provides them directly to those living on the streets. The organization was founded in Berkerly, California on January 1, 2016 by Maen Mahfoud. Mahfoud grew up in Syria and saw the effects of poor access to food nearly every day. When he immigrated to California, he was surprised to find similar disparities within San Francisco. Mahfoud believes food is a great way to bridge the gap between income levels and become more aware of problems in our communities. To datem Re-Plate has rescued close to a million of high-quality meals for low-income communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. It has created 833,000 meals, saved 277,000 gallons of water, and diverted 13,770 pounds of CO2 from the environment. By 2020 Re-Plate projects it will recover 30M pounds of food a year.

8. Plant-for-the-Planet is a children’s initiative that aims to raise awareness amongst children and adults about the issues of climate change and global justice. The initiative also works to plant trees, and considers this to be both a practical and symbolic action in efforts to reduce the effect of climate change. In 2011, it reached a goal of planting a million trees. The idea for Plant-for-the-Planet was first developed in Germany in 2007 by Felix Finkbeiner, a nine-year old boy, who was instructed by a teacher to prepare a school report on the issue of climate change. While conducting his research, Finkbeiner came across the story of Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate from Kenya who had worked to plant over 30 million trees across Africa as part of her ‘Green Belt Movement‘.  At the end of his presentation, Finkbeiner shared the idea that the children of the world could plant 1 million trees in every country on Earth. On the 28th of March 2007 the first tree was planted at Finkbeiner’s school, thus marking the official launch of Plant-for-the-Planet. Students in Bavaria and across Germany also got involved and continued to plant trees under the initiatives name. Colin Mummert helped spearhead the Munich campaign for Plant-for-the-Planet. After one year 150,000 trees were planted and, in 2008, Finkbeiner was able to reach a larger audience becasue he was elected to the UNEP children’s board during the International UNEP Children’s Conference in Norway.

Since its creation in 2007, Plant-for-the-Planet effectively developed into a worldwide movement. In August 2009, when Finkbeiner spoke at the UNEP Tunza Children and Youth Conference in Daejeon, South Korea. There he promoted Plant-for-the-Planet and was able to gain support from children all around the world, who also promised to plant the 1 million trees in their own countries. Plant-for-the-Planet participants see each tree as an act of social justice as well as a contribution towards environmental and climate protection.  The goal of planting 1 million trees was reached in 2011 by children in 93 countries. As the organization has grown so has its main goal. As of December 2017, children have planted 15,205,240,958 trees around the world.

9. Too Young to Wed is a nonprofit organization that traces its official launch back to October 11, 2012 – the first International Day of the Girl Child. Dignitaries from around the world gathered at the United Nations in New York City that day and, surrounded by photographs of child brides as young as 5, pledged to do whatever it took to end child marriage. But the campaign’s roots stretch back another decade, to Herat, Afghanistan, where visual journalist Stephanie Sinclair was working on a story about girls and women who set themselves on fire. There, she discovered a disturbing pattern among the scarred patients in the hospital’s burn ward: Most of them had been forced into marriage as children. Horrified to learn that child marriage was common in communities throughout the world, Sinclair dedicated the next 10 years of her life to documenting the practice in the hopes of inspiring change. Sinclair joined forces with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) to create a transmedia campaign aimed at raising awareness of the problem, supporting girls who are already married and ultimately halting the practice that affects one girl every two seconds—or an estimated 142 million more girls over the next decade. In addition, child marriage is inextricably linked to many of the world’s ills: child and maternal mortality, poverty, gender inequality, and the spread of HIV/AIDS—and ending the practice will help stamp out many of these problems.

Too Young to Wed’s traveling photo exhibit is the centerpiece of its advocacy effort and features the haunting stories of child brides from Nepal, India, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Yemen, Afghanistan and yes, even the United States. The exhibition continues to travel the world and partner with the UNFPA as well as other organizations such as Equality Now, the Population Council, Timret LeHiwot Ethiopia and the Canadian and UK governments. Together, Too Young to Wed not only advocates for an end to child marriage, but provides on-the-ground support to the girls in the communities where these pictures were made. Its first pilot project is a livelihood initiative in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia that employs women who have escaped child marriage and/or have been trafficked. By producing and selling high-quality soaps, these women generate a sustainable income for themselves and their families. By increasing the visibility of child marriage, Too Young to Wed hopes to provoke thoughtful dialogue and ACTION to end the practice and eradicate its consequences.

10. Life After Hate, Inc. (LAH) is U.S. nonprofit created in 2011 by former members of the American violent far-right extremist movement. Through powerful stories of transformation and unique insight gleaned from decades of experience, LAH seeks to inspire, educate, guide, and counsel. Whether working with individuals who wish to leave a life of hate and violence or by helping organizations (community, educational, civic, government, etc.) grapple with the causes of intolerance and racism, Life After Hate works to counter the seeds of hate we once planted. Through personal experience and highly unique skill sets, the organization has developed a sophisticated understanding about what draws individuals to extremist groups and, equally important, why they leave. Inspired by the organization’s work, Former San Francisco Quarterback Colin Kaepernnick  donated $50,000 to Life After Hate in May 2017.

Before leaving office in January, the Obama administration announced that it had awarded $400,000 to a Chicago-based organization dedicated to combating right-wing domestic extremists. Jeh Johnson, then the Homeland Security Secretary, singled out the work of the group, Life After Hate, when the announcement was made. But days later, the incoming Trump administration reversed course, stopping the grant pending a review. In June 2017, when the Trump administration announced its own grants to fight extremism, Life After Hate was not on the list. The move to pull back the money from LAH received renewed scrutiny after the violent, deadly clash in Charlottesville, Virginia left dozen injured and one dead. It also prompted more than 8,000 supporters of LAH to donate more than $500,000.


Use the Contact form to submit corrections or to nominate a cause, organization, or individual you believe should be acknowledged and featured in next year’s edition. All nominations must be submitted by November 15, 2018.


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Rohingyas: The Most Persecuted People on Earth

Rohingya refugees wait to receive aid in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh on September 24, 2017 (Photo: Cathal McNaughton/ Reuters); Background: Rohingya refugee Azida Begum, 11, was shot twice, under her arm and her leg, by the Burmese military when they killed her mother as she was fleeing her village in Burma. This photograph was taken in Palongkhali, Bangladesh on October 10, 2017 (Photo: Paula Bronstein / Getty).

Background
The Rohingya trace their origins in the region to the fifteenth century, when thousands of Muslims came to the former Arakan Kingdom. Many others arrived during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when Rakhine was governed by colonial rule as part of British India. Since independence in 1948, successive governments in Burma, renamed Myanmar in 1989, have refuted the Rohingya’s historical claims and denied the group recognition as one of the country’s 135 ethnic groups. The Rohingya are largely considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even though many trace their roots in Myanmar back centuries.

Neither the central government nor Rakhine’s dominant ethnic Buddhist group, known as the Rakhine, recognize the label “Rohingya,” a self-identifying term [PDF] that surfaced in the 1950s, which experts say provides the group with a collective political identity. Though the etymological root of the word is disputed, the most widely accepted theory is that Rohang derives from the word “Arakan” in the Rohingya dialect and ga or gya means “from.” By identifying as Rohingya, the ethnic Muslim group asserts its ties to land that was once under the control of the Arakan Kingdom, according to Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, a Thailand-based advocacy group.

The Legal Status of Rhonigya
The government refuses to grant the Rohingya citizenship, and as a result the vast majority of the group’s members have no legal documentation, effectively making them stateless. Myanmar’s 1948 citizenship law was already exclusionary, and the military junta, which seized power in 1962, introduced a law twenty years later stripping the Rohingya of access to full citizenship. Until recently, the Rohingya had been able to register as temporary residents with identification cards, known as white cards, that the junta began issuing to many Muslims, both Rohingya and non-Rohingya, in the 1990s. The white cards conferred [PDF] limited rights but were not recognized as proof of citizenship. Still, Lewa says that they did provide some recognition of temporary stay for the Rohingya in Myanmar.

In 2014 the government held a UN-backed national census, its first in thirty years. The Muslim minority group was initially permitted to identify as Rohingya, but after Buddhist nationalists threatened to boycott the census, the government decided the Rohingya could only register if they identified as Bengali instead.

Similarly, under pressure from Buddhist nationalists protesting the Rohingya’s right to vote in a 2015 constitutional referendum, then-President Thein Sein canceled the temporary identity cards in February 2015, effectively revoking their newly gained right to vote. (White card holders were allowed to vote in Myanmar’s 2008 constitutional referendum and 2010 general elections.) In the 2015 elections, which were widely touted by international monitors as free and fair, no parliamentary candidate was of the Muslim faith. “Country-wide anti-Muslim sentiment [PDF] makes it politically difficult for the government to take steps seen as supportive of Muslim rights,” writes the International Crisis Group.

Muslim minorities continue to “consolidate under one Rohingya identity,” says Lewa, despite documentation by rights groups and researchers of systematic disenfranchisement, violence, and instances of anti-Muslim campaigns.

Watch The Rohingya: Silent Abuse: Part II | Al Jazeera World (aired 8.13.2017).

Fleeing in Fear
The Myanmar government has effectively institutionalized discrimination against the ethnic group through restrictions on marriage, family planning, employment, education, religious choice, and freedom of movement. For example, Rohingya couples in the northern towns of Maungdaw and Buthidaung are only allowed to have two children [PDF]. Rohingya must also seek permission to marry, which may require them to bribe authorities and provide photographs of the bride without a headscarf and the groom with a clean-shaven face, practices that conflict with Muslim customs. To move to a new home or travel outside their townships, Rohingya must gain government approval.

Moreover, Rakhine State is Myanmar’s least developed state, with a poverty rate of 78 percent, compared to the 37.5 percent national average, according to World Bank estimates. Widespread poverty, poor infrastructure, and a lack of employment opportunities in Rakhine have exacerbated the cleavage between Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya. This tension is deepened by religious differences that have at times erupted into conflict.

The 2017 Exodus
Clashes in Rakhine broke out in August 2017, killing more than five hundred people after a militant group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) claimed responsibility for attacks on police and army posts. As many as 18,500 Rohingya Muslims fled their homes in less than one week, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The government declared ARSA a terrorist organization and the military mounted a brutal campaign that destroyed hundreds of Rohingya villages and forced more than six hundred thousand Rohingya to leave Myanmar, more than half of the estimated Rohingya population in the country. Myanmar’s security forces allegedly opened fire on fleeing civilians and planted land mines near border crossings used by Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh.

Rights groups and UN leaders have condemned the escalating violence and atrocities, which have been described by a number of observers as ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The clashes and exodus have created what UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calls a “humanitarian and human rights nightmare.” At an emergency UN Security Council meeting, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Myanmar authorities have carried out “brutal, sustained campaign to cleanse the country of an ethnic minority,” and she called on members to suspend weapons provisions to the military. Other Security Council members, like Russia and China, have resisted increasing pressure on Myanmar’s government because they say it is trying to restore stability.

Sectarian violence is not new to Rakhine State. Security campaigns in the past five years, notably in 2012 and 2016, also resulted in the flight of tens of thousands of Rohingya from their homes.

The Rohingyas: The World’s Fastest-Growing Refugee Crisis | 40 Photos
Click images  to enlarge or read caption. Newsletter recipients should visit website for better viewing experience.

40 Photos | Click images above to enlarge or read caption.  

MSF: At Least 67,000 Killed in a Single Month
On December 14, Doctors Without Borders estimated that at least 6,700 members of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority, including 730 children below age 5, had met violent deaths there in the month after a military crackdown on their villages. Survivors who fled to neighboring Bangladesh gave consistent accounts of executions, gang rapes and burned homes. But with Myanmar’s government blocking international access to the area of western Myanmar where the Rohingya once lived, estimates of the toll have been hard to ascertain. Doctors Without Borders, the international medical charity also known as Médecins Sans Frontières, said that nearly 70 percent of the victims it had tallied died of gunshot and that 9 percent were burned to death in their homes. The group said its mortality figure was almost certainly an underestimate. The estimate was a summary of findings from six surveys carried out last month with refugees who had fled Myanmar for Bangladesh.

Forced Marriages, Child Brides & Sex Trafficking
In Malaysia, the demographics of the Rohingya population skews heavily male. The situation created a troubling demand for young Rohingya women in places like Ampang—a suburban neighborhood on the edge of Kuala Lumpur, with a large population of Rohingya men. Human traffickers quickly targeted young girls in Rohingya camps in Myanmar, often offering them safe journey to Malaysia for a fraction of the normal cost. But once they set sail, the terms of the agreement would often change. Suddenly, the girls owed more than $1,000 and those who couldn’t pay would be held in jungle camps. Many were raped by their traffickers. Others were sold into marriages in Malaysia.

“We know women have been recruited by brokers in Rakhine State either for free or at a very reduced cost because their traffickers were anticipating that they could charge men in Malaysia a lot higher fee,” explained Amy Smith, of Fortify Rights—a nonprofit that documents human rights abuses in Southeast Asia.

It’s difficult to determine exactly how many women have been sold into forced marriages, experts say.  Arranged marriages are common in Rohingya society. The custom of a man paying his bride’s way to Malaysia is frequently practiced. It’s a tradition that feels similar to a forced marriage, but while the women set up on arranged marriages have had some previous connection with their spouse and the approval of their families, the victims of forced marriages have had no prior contact with their husband and no intentions of getting married when they set out from Myanmar.  An investigation by the International Organization for Migration recently uncovered documented accounts of Rohingya girls as young as 11 getting married, and families at refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar are forcing their girls to marry early to reduce the number of mouths to feed and secure more food for themselves.

Sharifah Shakirah, a Rohingya woman who works with the victims of forced marriages in Malaysia, said the situation is the symptom of a cruel system. And for the women who refuse to accept the marriages, their future can look even worse: “The agents, they sell them into prostitution and then they have to work in bars and clubs. Some traffickers use these girls as beggars. They cut their hands or gouge their eyes out to incite sympathy. I’ve seen it happen so many times. I cannot explain to you how difficult life is for these girls,” sighed Shakirah.

Myanmar’s Civilian Response…or Lack Thereof
In 2016, Myanmar’s first democratically elected government in a generation came to power, but critics say it has been reluctant to advocate for Rohingya and other Muslims for fear of alienating Buddhist nationalists and threatening the power-sharing agreement the civilian government maintains with the military. Some observers saw the establishment in August 2016 of an advisory commission on ethnic strife led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as a positive development, but subsequent outbreaks of violence have curbed this optimism.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader, has denied that ethnic cleansing is taking place and dismissed international criticism of her handling of the crisis, accusing critics of fueling resentment between Buddhists and Muslims in the country. In September 2017, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate said her government had “already started defending all the people in Rakhine in the best way possible.”

Regional Response
Protesters have at times gathered in cities in Pakistan, India, Thailand, Indonesia, and Bangladesh to condemn the killing and persecution of Rohingya. Bangladesh’s foreign minister condemned the violence in Rakhine as “genocide” in September 2017 and Indonesia called on the Myanmar authorities to halt their campaign and bring an end to the violence. Yet governments in Southeast Asia lack established legal frameworks to protect refugees’ rights, and the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have not coordinated a response to the deepening crisis.

Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Thailand—all ASEAN members—have yet to ratify the UN Refugee Convention or its protocol. ASEAN itself has been silent on the plight of the Rohingya and on the growing numbers of asylum seekers in member countries, largely because of its members’ commitment to the principle of noninterference in each other’s internal affairs.

International Response
In December 2016, U.S. President Barack Obama lifted sanctions against Myanmar, saying that the country had made strides in improving human rights. The move came amid a crackdown on Rohingya and was criticized by some as premature. In September 2017, the United States committed $32 million to supply food, medical care, water, and shelter for Rohingya who have fled. Yet, while U.S. lawmakers have proposed new measures targeting Myanmar military members and the State Department has withdrawn military assistance, no sanctions have been reimposed.

Advocacy groups including Human Rights Watch, the Arakan Project, and Fortify Rights continue to appeal to major international players to exert pressure on Myanmar’s government. Others, such as Priscilla Clapp, a former U.S. diplomat in Myanmar, say that placing sole blame on Myanmar oversimplifies and misrepresents the complexities of the country’s historical ethnic diversity. “An international response that consists primarily of assigning blame for this humanitarian tragedy is no longer tenable. It is time for the international community to organize a realistic, workable solution,” writes Clapp.

Annan’s advisory commission published its findings in late August 2017, after a year of investigation. It recommended that Myanmar lift restrictions on movement and citizenship. “Tensions remain high and they risk becoming worse. Violence will not bring lasting solutions to the acute problems that afflict the Rakhine State,” Annan said.

Resentment of the minority group has run deep for generations. Without overhauling “a culture of pervasive prejudice” and ensuring that Rohingya are treated as human beings, the situation in Rakhine State is unlikely to improve, says journalist and author Francis Wade.

Sources
The Rhonigya Crisis -Eleanor Albert | Council on Foreign Relations
The Misunderstood Roots of Burma’s Rohingya Crisis -By Krishnadev Calamur | The Atlantic
At Least 6,700 Rohingya Died in Myanmar Crackdown, Aid Group Says -By Hannah Beech | The New York Times

U.S. Says Myanmar’s Rohingya Assault Appears to Be Ethnic Cleansing -By Farnaz Fassihi | The Wall Street Journal
What It’s Like to Be a Rohingya Child Bride -By Jonathan Vit | VICE
Child Marriage in the Rohingya Camps in Bangladesh -By Photographer Allison Joyce | The Atlantic (Photos)

Rape of Rohingya Sweeping, Methodical | AP Investigation via ABC News


Recommended….
Free Detained Journalists in Myanmar | NY Times Editorial Board
The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide | Azeem Ibrahim (Book)
Aung San Suu Kyi’s Clearest Act of Complicity | New York Times Editorial Board
Rohingya Recount Atrocities: ‘They Threw My Baby Into a Fire’ -By Jeffrey Gettlemen | The New York Times
Satellite Images Show More Than 200 Rohingya Villages Burned in Myanmar -By Sergio Peçanha & Jeremy White | The New York Times
Rohingya Activist: ‘Rohingya Are Not Safe Anywhere’-By Ashley Westerman | NPR

White Resentment and Whites-Only Representation

A University of Maryland professor reported seeing white nationalist posters, like the one pictured above, in the Chemistry Building (Photo courtesy of Osvaldo Gutierrez); Featured background image: ​A flag for sale outside a Trump rally in Texas last year (Photo: Eric Thayer for The New York Times​).

White resentment put Donald Trump in the White House.  And there is every indication that it will keep him there, especially as he continues to transform that seething, irrational fear about an increasingly diverse America into policies that feed his supporters’ worst racial anxieties.

If there is one consistent thread through Trump’s political career, it is his overt connection to white resentment and white nationalism. Trump’s fixation on Barack Obama’s birth certificate gave him the white nationalist street cred that no other Republican candidate could match, and that credibility has sustained him in office — no amount of scandal or evidence of incompetence will undermine his followers’ belief that he, and he alone, could Make America White Again.

The guiding principle in Trump’s government is to turn the politics of white resentment into the policies of white rage — that calculated mechanism of executive orders, laws and agency directives that undermines and punishes minority achievement and aspiration. No wonder that, even while his White House sinks deeper into chaos, scandal and legislative mismanagement, Trump’s approval rating among whites (and only whites) has remained unnaturally high.* Washington may obsess over Obamacare repeal, Russian sanctions and the debt ceiling, but Trump’s base sees something different — and, to them, inspiring.

Like on Christmas morning, every day brings his supporters presents: travel bans against Muslims, Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in Hispanic communities and brutal, family-gutting deportations, a crackdown on sanctuary cities, an Election Integrity Commission stacked with notorious vote suppressors, announcements of a ban on transgender personnel in the military, approval of police brutality against “thugs,” a denial of citizenship to immigrants who serve in the armed forces and a renewed war on drugs that, if it is anything like the last one, will single out African-Americans and Latinos although they are not the primary drug users in this country. Last week,  Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions put the latest package under the tree: a staffing call for a case on reverse discrimination in college admissions, likely the first step in a federal assault on affirmative action and a determination to hunt for colleges and universities that discriminate against white applicants.

That so many of these policies are based on perception and lies rather than reality is nothing new. White resentment has long thrived on the fantasy of being under siege and having to fight back, as the mass lynchings and destruction of thriving, politically active black communities in Colfax, La. (1873), Wilmington, N.C. (1898), Ocoee, Fla. (1920), and Tulsa, Okla. (1921), attest. White resentment needs the boogeyman of job-taking, maiden-ravaging, tax-evading, criminally inclined others to justify the policies that thwart the upward mobility and success of people of color.

The last half-century hasn’t changed that. The war on drugs, for example,  branded  African-Americans and Latinos as felons, which stripped them of voting rights and access to housing and education just when the civil rights movement had pushed open the doors to those opportunities in the United States.

Similarly, the intensified war on immigrants comes, not coincidentally, at the moment when Latinos have gained visible political power, asserted their place in American society and achieved greater access to schools and colleges. The ICE raids have terrorized these communities, led to attendance drop-offs in schools and silenced many from even seeking their legal rights when abused.

The so-called Election Integrity Commission falls in the same category. It is a direct response to the election of Mr. Obama as president. Despite the howls from Mr. Trump and the Republicans, there was no widespread voter fraud then or now. Instead, what happened was that millions of new voters, overwhelmingly African-American, Hispanic and Asian, cast the ballots that put a black man in the White House. The punishment for participating in democracy has been a rash of voter ID laws, the purging of names from the voter rolls, redrawn district boundaries and closed and moved polling places.

Affirmative action is no different. It, too, requires a narrative of white legitimate grievance, a sense of being wronged by the presence of blacks, Latinos and Asians in positions that had once been whites only. Lawsuit after lawsuit, most recently Abigail Fisher’s suit against the University of Texas, feed the myth of unqualified minorities taking a valuable resource — a college education — away from deserving whites.

In order to make that plausible, Ms. Fisher and her lawyers had to ignore the large number of whites who were admitted to the university with scores lower than hers. And they had to ignore the sizable number of blacks and Latinos who were denied admission although their SAT scores and grade point averages were higher than hers. They also had to ignore Texas’ unsavory racial history and its impact. The Brown decision came down in 1954, yet the Dallas public school system remained under a federal desegregation order from 1971 to 2003.

The university was slow to end its whites-only admissions policy, and its practice of automatically admitting the top 10 percent of each Texas public high school’s graduating class has actually led to an overrepresentation of whites. Meanwhile, African-Americans represent only 4 percent of the University of Texas student body, despite making up about 14 percent of the state’s graduating high school students.

Although you will never hear this from Jeff Sessions, men are the greatest beneficiaries of affirmative action in college admissions: Their combination of test scores, grades and achievements is simply no match for that of women, whose academic profiles are much stronger. Yet to provide some semblance of gender balance on campuses, admissions directors have to dig down deep into the applicant pool to cobble together enough males to form an incoming class.

Part of what has been essential in this narrative of affirmative action as theft of white resources — my college acceptance, my job — is the notion of “merit,” where whites have it but others don’t. When California banned affirmative action in college admissions and relied solely on standardized test scores and grades as the definition of “qualified,” black and Latino enrollments plummeted. Whites, however, were not the beneficiaries of this “merit-based” system. Instead, Asian enrollments soared and with that came white resentment at both “the hordes of Asians” at places like the University of California, Los Angeles, and an admissions process that stressed grades over other criteria.

That white resentment simply found a new target for its ire is no coincidence; white identity is often defined by its sense of being ever under attack, with the system stacked against it. That’s why Trump’s policies are not aimed at ameliorating white resentment, but deepening it. His agenda is not, fundamentally, about creating jobs or protecting programs that benefit everyone, including whites; it’s about creating purported enemies and then attacking them.

In the end, white resentment is so myopic and selfish that it cannot see that when the larger nation is thriving, whites are, too. Instead, it favors policies and politicians that may make America white again, but also hobbled and weakened, a nation that has squandered its greatest assets — its people and its democracy.

Source: The Policies of White Resentment -By Carol Anderson | The New York Times

Carol Anderson is a professor of African-American studies at Emory University and the author of “White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide.”

*Update: More recent polls show that Trump’s approval rate among non-college educated whites is starting to plummet. Quinnipiac University released a poll on Aug. 2 that showed Trump reaching a new low point in his approval numbers, with 61 percent of Americans disapproving of the job he is doing compared to 33 percent approving. That is down from Quinnipiac’s June 29 survey, which showed the president with 55 percent disapproval and 40 percent approval. The organization said that the latest numbers marked Trump’s “lowest approval and highest disapproval number since he was inaugurated.” The new poll also showed a drop in the approval rating among groups that form the president’s base — Republicans and whites who are not college graduates. Republicans’ approval of Trump is still high at 76 percent in the latest numbers but that is down from 81 percent in January. Similarly, among non-college whites, the president’s approval rating fell from 52 percent in January to 43 percent this month. Source: ABC News. Additional sources below.


Recommended…
✻​ Economic Anxiety Didn’t Make People Vote Trump, Racism Did -By Sean McElwee and Jason McDaniel | The Nation
✻​ Let’s Not Be Shy About Why Trump is President -By Leonard Pitts, Jr. | The Washington Post
✻​ We Have Entered Trump’s Era Of Deep, Racist, American Tribalism -By P.L. Thomas | Huffington Post
✻​ ‘Hail Trump!’: White Nationalists Salute the President-Elect -By Daniel Lombroso and Yoni Applebaum | The Atlantic
✻​ Inside the Secret, Strange Origins of Steve Bannon’s Nationalist Fantasia -By Joshua Green | Vanity Fair
✻​ A White Nationalist & Anti-Semite in the Oval Office: Trump Taps Breitbart’s Bannon as Top Aide | Democracy Now! (Video)
✻​ Trump Is on Track to Insult 650 People, Places and Things on Twitter by the End of His First Term | Upshot | The New York Time
My Party is in Denial About Donald Trump -By Jeff Flake | Politico
✻​ Trump, Party of One – Donald Trump Defenders’ Rationalizing Failure -By Jonah Goldberg | The National Review
Trump Hits New Low With White Non-College Voters -By Danielle Kurtzleben | NPR
Trump’s Support Among White Voters Plummeted and His Approval Rating Sunk -By Tim Marcin | Newsweek
✻​ Coretta Scott King’s Letter Judiciary Committee re the Nomination of Jefferson B. Session for U.S. Judge, Southern District of Alabama Jeff Sessions, 19 March 1986 | Coretta Scott King

Venezuela in Crisis

A woman with her face painted in the colors of Venezuela’s national flag takes part in the blockade of a highway in Caracas on April 24, 2017. (Photo: Fernando Llano/ AP); Background image: A demonstrator against President Nicolas Maduro’s government during a protest on the east side of Caracas on April 19, 2017. (Photo: Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP / Getty)

Introduction
Venezuela is in the midst of an unprecedented economic and political crisis marked by severe food and medicine shortages, soaring crime rates, and an increasingly authoritarian executive. Critics of President Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, say Venezuela’s economic woes are the fruit of years of economic mismanagement; Maduro’s supporters blame falling oil prices and the country’s “corrupt” business elites.

In January 2016, opposition lawmakers took a majority in the legislature—the National Assembly—for the first time in nearly two decades. However, the Maduro government has taken steps since to consolidate his power, including usurping some of the legislature’s powers. Maduro’s actions have been met with massive protests and international condemnation, including threats of expulsion from the Organization of American States.

I. Chavez’s ‘Bolivarian Revolution’

Chavez, a former military officer who launched an ill-fated coup in 1992, was elected president of Venezuela in 1998 on a populist platform. As a candidate, he railed against the country’s elites for widespread corruption, and pledged to use Venezuela’s vast oil wealth to reduce poverty and inequality. During his presidency, which lasted until his death in 2013, Chavez expropriated millions of acres of land and nationalized hundreds of private businesses and foreign-owned assets, including oil projects run by ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips.

Chavez, whose rhetoric often drew inspiration from Simon Bolivar, the Venezuela-born revolutionary of the nineteenth century, aimed to align Latin American countries against the United States. He led the formation of ALBA, a bloc of socialist and leftist Latin American governments, and established the Petrocaribe alliance, in which Venezuela agreed to export petroleum at discounted rates to eighteen Central American and Caribbean states.

Chavez also greatly expanded the powers of the presidency. Shortly after he took office, voters approved a new constitution that allowed him to run for another term, removed one chamber of Congress, and reduced civilian control over the military. In 2004, two years after he was briefly removed from office in a coup, Chavez effectively took control of the Supreme Court by expanding its size and appointing twelve justices. In 2009, he led a successful referendum ending presidential term limits.

Chavez remained popular among the country’s poor throughout his presidency, expanding social services including food and housing subsidies, health care, and educational programs. The country’s poverty rate fell from roughly 50 percent in 1998, the year before he was elected, to 30 percent in 2012, the year before his death.

Maduro, who narrowly won the presidency in 2013, pledged to continue his former boss’s socialist revolution. “I am ensuring the legacy of my commander, Chavez, the eternal father,” he said after the vote.

In Pictures – Crisis in Venezuela
Click on images to enlarge and read caption.

II. An Oil-Based Economy
Venezuela is highly vulnerable to external shocks due to its heavy dependence on oil revenues. Oil accounts for about 95 percent of Venezuela’s export earnings and 25 percent of its GDP, according to figures from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

The state-run petroleum company, Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), controls all the country’s oil exploration, production, and exportation. Critics say PDVSA is grossly mismanaged and suffers from cronyism, a bloated payroll, underinvestment in infrastructure, and a lack of budgetary oversight.

As global oil prices fell from $111 per barrel in 2014 to a low of $27 per barrel in 2016, Venezuela’s already shaky economy went into free fall. That year, GDP dropped 12 percent while inflation soared to 800 percent. By early 2017, the country owed $140 billion to foreign creditors while it held only $10 billion in reserves, raising fears of a default.

Many critics fault the Chavez government for squandering years of record oil income. “Chavez did not use the massive oil price boom between 2004 and 2013 to put money aside for a rainy day,” wrote Harvard University economist Ricardo Hausmann in 2016. Instead, he “used the boom to expropriate large swaths of the economy, impose draconian foreign currency and price controls, and to subsidize imports. All this weakened the economy and made the country more dependent on imports, which Venezuelans can no longer afford.”

III. Price Controls and Shortages
Venezuela’s economic crisis is marked by soaring inflation and shortages of food, medical supplies, and staples like toilet paper and soap. Experts say the government’s strict price controls, which were meant to keep basic goods affordable for the country’s poor, are partly to blame. Many manufacturers in the country cut production because of the limits on what they could charge for their goods.

Another policy contributing to the country’s economic problems, many experts say, are currency controls, which were first introduced by Chavez in 2003 to curb capital flight. By selling U.S. dollars at different rates, the government effectively created a black market and increased opportunities for corruption. For instance, a business that is authorized to buy dollars at preferential rates in order to purchase priority goods like food or medicine could instead sell those dollars for a significant profit to third parties. In April 2017, the official exchange rate was ten bolivars to the dollar, while the black market rate was more than four thousand bolivars to the dollar.

Imports reportedly fell to $18 billion in 2016, down from $66 billion in 2012, as foreign-made goods became increasingly expensive. Many consumers are faced with the choice of waiting for hours in line for basic goods or paying exorbitant prices to so-called bachaqueros, or black market traffickers.

Experts say widespread expropriations have further diminished productivity. Transparency International, which ranks Venezuela 166 out of 176 on its perceived corruption index, reports that the government controls more than five hundred companies, most of which are operating at a loss. (By comparison, Brazil, which is more than six times as populous as Venezuela, has 130 state-run companies.)

IV. A Humanitarian Crisis

Observers have characterized the situation in Venezuela as a humanitarian crisis. In 2016, the head of the Venezuelan Pharmaceutical Federation estimated that 85 percent of basic medicines were unavailable or difficult to obtain. Hospitals reportedly lack supplies like antibiotics, gauze, and soap. Infant mortality rates reportedly reached 18.1 per 1,000 live births in early 2016, up from 11.6 in 2011, while maternal mortality reached 130 per 100,000, more than twice the 2008 rate. Diseases like diphtheria and malaria, which had been previously eliminated from the country, have reemerged.

Poverty has also spiked. In 2016, a local university study found that more than 87 percent of the population said it did not have enough money to buy necessary food. Another study by a local nutrition organization found that 30 percent of school-aged children were malnourished. According to a 2016 report from Human Rights Watch, the Maduro administration “has vehemently denied the extent of the need for help and has blocked an effort by the opposition-led National Assembly to seek international assistance.”

Poverty and lack of opportunity are exacerbating Venezuela’s high rates of violence. Long one of the world’s most violent countries, in 2016 Venezuela experienced its highest-ever number of homicides: 28,479, or roughly 91.8 homicides per 100,000 residents, according to the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, an independent monitoring group. (The U.S. rate, by comparison, is 5 per 100,000.) Maduro’s administration has deployed the military to combat street crime, but rights groups and foreign media have reported widespread abuses, including extrajudicial killings.

The humanitarian crisis has spilled across Venezuela’s borders, with thousands of desperate people crossing into neighboring Brazil and Colombia; others have left by boat to the nearby island of Curaçao. By some estimates, as many as 150,000 Venezuelans left the country in 2016 alone.

V. Political Turmoil

Amid the crisis, the Maduro administration has become increasingly autocratic. Opposition lawmakers, under the Democratic Unity Roundtable coalition, won a majority in the National Assembly in 2015 for the first time in sixteen years, but Maduro has taken several steps to undermine them. In September 2016, Venezuela’s electoral authority, which is considered loyal to Maduro, ordered the opposition to suspend a campaign to recall the president, sparking protests and international condemnation. The following month, the Supreme Court stripped the National Assembly of powers to oversee the economy and annulled a law that would have freed eighty political prisoners, including opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. The president and the opposition subsequently entered into Vatican-brokered reconciliation talks, but those were declared “frozen” in November after Maduro administration officials stopped attending meetings. Maduro said he plans to stay in office until his term ends in 2019.

In March 2017, the judicial branch briefly dissolved the National Assembly. The court revised its order days later following an international outcry, but kept the legislature in contempt, effectively preventing lawmakers from passing laws. A week later the government barred opposition politician Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost to Maduro in the 2013 presidential election, from running for office for fifteen years, citing Capriles’s failure to secure proper approval for budgets and contracts.

Government security forces have attacked journalists, and several foreign reporters have been detained and, in some cases, expelled, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. In 2017, Freedom House rated Venezuela as “not free,” making it one of two countries in the Western Hemisphere, along with Cuba, with the democracy watchdog’s lowest ranking.

VI. The Region Reacts
Mercosur, an economic and political bloc comprising Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela, suspended Venezuela in 2016. In March 2017, the secretary-general of the Organization of the American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, recommended suspending Venezuela from the bloc unless the Maduro administration moved quickly to hold elections. The last time OAS suspended a member country was 2009, when it did so to Honduras following a military coup.

U.S. policy under Donald J. Trump appears to follow that of former President Barack Obama, writes CFR Adjunct Senior Fellow Matthew Taylor. In February 2017, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on Vice President Tareck El Aissami for his alleged involvement in international drug trafficking. Later that month Trump met with Lilian Tintori, the wife of Leopoldo Lopez, and called for his release. In April 2017, as protests continued in Caracas, the U.S. State Department issued a statement voicing concern over government actions against Capriles and demonstrators.

On May 19, The Trump administration sanctioned eight members of Venezuela’s Supreme Court, including the court’s president, Maikel Moreno, the U.S. Treasury Department announced. U.S. officials said the sanctions were a direct response to an incident in March in which the Supreme Court annulled the nation’s democratically elected National Assembly, which is controlled by Venezuela’s opposition party. At the time, the Supreme Court, which remains loyal to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, justified the takeover by claiming that the National Assembly was in contempt of its rulings. The court ultimately sought to authorize Maduro’s oil joint ventures by bypassing congressional approval. Despite tensions between Washington and Caracas, the United States remains Venezuela’s largest trading partner.

Meanwhile, the Maduro administration retains the support of allies in Bolivia, Ecuador, and several Caribbean nations. China has lent Venezuela more than $60 billion since 2001, and is the South American country’s largest creditor. Meanwhile, Venezuela has sought significant ties with Russia. Before oil prices fell in 2014, Venezuela was set to become the largest importer of Russian military equipment by 2025. In February 2017, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reaffirmed Moscow’s support for the Maduro government, saying bilateral relations “are on the rise.”

Reprint (w/ relevant updates added by blogger): Venezuela in Crisis -By by Danielle Renwick and Brianna Lee | Council on Foreign Relations

Recommended…
✻​ Venezuela Is Falling Apart – By Moisés Naím & Francisco Toro | The Atlantic
✻​ Internal Splits, Immolations, and Burning Houses: Venezuela Gets Worse -By Emily Tamkin | Foreign Policy
✻​ Venezuela’s Crisis | Human Rights Watch
✻​ Thousands Protest Human Rights Crisis in Venezuela -By Tamara Taraciuk Broner | HRW
✻ ​Crisis Upon Crisis in Venezuela | New York Times Editorial Board
✻​ U.S. Sanctions Venezuela’s Supreme Court -By Aria Bendix | The Atlantic

Charles Blow: War as Political Weapon

Injured boys at a field hospital after airstrikes on the rebel held areas of Aleppo, Syria November 18, 2016 (Photo by Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters/TPX IMAGES). Background image: The Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, pictured above in a 2014 photo, has been described as a “living hell” and “the “worst place on Earth.” (Photo by United Nation Relief and Works Agency/Getty Images)

Donald Trump has turned his back on pretty much everything he has ever said about United States military involvement in Syria and launched nearly 60 missiles at an air base in the country.

Trump’s official statement claimed that the strikes were in response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s monstrous chemical weapons attack against his own people. But the statement also went further into the fiction of fear often touted to buttress humanitarian missions: “It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”

This has echoes of the George W. Bush warning about Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction,” a lie that led us into a near decade-long war.

Not to be indelicate here, but atrocities happen in the world all the time (and have happened on an even larger scale before in Syria). Humans are capable of unimaginable cruelty. Sometimes the victims die quickly and are made visible by media for the world to see. Other times, they die in slow motion, out of sight and out of mind. Sometimes banned weapons are used; sometimes conventional weapons; sometimes, neglect, isolation and starvation.

And the world in general, and America in particular, has a way of being wishy-washy about which atrocities deserve responses and which ones don’t. These decisions can be capricious at best and calculated camouflages for ulterior motives at worst. Indeed, the motivations for military action needn’t be singular at all, but are often multiple, tucked one inside the other like nesting dolls.

Acts of war can themselves be used as political weapons. They can distract attention, quell acrimony, increase appetite for military spending and give a boost to sagging approval ratings. This “rally-around-the-flag” (or “rally”) effect is well documented by pollsters.

As Gallup wrote in 2001 after the attack of 9/11: “In the wake of the terrorist attacks Tuesday, American approval of the way President George W. Bush is handling his job has surged to 86 percent, the fourth highest approval rating ever measured by Gallup in the six decades it has been asking Americans to make that evaluation. Only Presidents George H. W. Bush and Harry Truman received higher ratings — the elder Bush twice during the Gulf War, with 89 percent (the highest ever) and 87 percent ratings, and Truman with 87 percent just after the Germans surrendered in World War II.”

It’s easy to sell the heroism of a humanitarian mission or the fear of terror or the two in tandem, as Trump attempted in this case.

The temptation to unleash America’s massive war machine is seductive and also addictive. Put that power in the hands of a man like Trump, who operates more on impulse and intuition than intellect, and the world should shiver.

The problem comes when the initial glow dims and darkness descends. We punch holes in some place on the other side of the world and the war hawks — many beholden to the military-industrial complex — squawk and parade about with chests swollen. But, feeding the beast of war only amplifies its appetite. Market Watch reported last week, “It could cost about $60 million to replace the cruise missiles that the U.S. military rained on Syrian targets Thursday night,” but Fortune reported that shares of weapons manufacturers, as soon as they began trading Friday, were “collectively gaining nearly $5 billion in market value.”

War is a business, a lucrative one.

Americans, who rightly are appalled by the images of dead children, applaud. They feel proud to slap the hand of a villain without risking American bodies. But now American might is irrevocably engaged. Our thumb is on the scale, and our reputation on the line.

Often, action begets more action, as unintended consequences sprout like weeds. In the most extreme cases, we take down a bad leader in some poor country. In theory, this helps the citizens of that country. But in the complex reality that we have had to keep learning over and over in recent history, it often creates a vacuum where one bad man can be replaced by even worse men.

We are then already in waist-deep. We have to make an impossible choice: stay and try to fix what we broke or abandon it and watch our nightmares multiply. Nobility of the crusade is consumed by the quagmire.

This is why we would all do well to temper the self-congratulatory war speeches and thrusting of pom-poms of our politicians and pundits, some of whom hypocritically opposed the use of military force by President Obama following an even worse chemical attack in Syria in 2013.

As righteous as we may feel about punishing Assad, Syria is a hornet’s nest of forces hostile to America: Assad, Russia, and Iran on one flank and ISIS on another. You can’t afflict one faction without assisting the other. In this way, Syria is a nearly unwinnable state.

We’ve been down this road before. Just over the horizon is a hill: Steep and greased with political motives, military ambitions, American blood and squandered treasury.

Being weary here isn’t a sign of weakness; to the contrary, it’s a display of hard-won wisdom.

Source: War as Political Weapon -By Charles M. Blow | The New York Times


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Donald Trump’s Syrian Civil War Paradox -By Owen Matthews and Sophia Slater | Newsweek
Obama Was Right to Abandon ‘Red Line’ on Syria’s Chemical Weapons -By Christopher Dickey | The Daily Beast
The Real Targets of Trump’s Strike Were His Domestic Critics -By Greg Grandin | The Nation
18 Times Donald Trump Said the U.S. Shouldn’t Bomb Syria -By Ashley Hoffman | TIME

The NMAAHC Explores the Beauty and Brutality of African-American History

shackles-worn-by-childrenSlave shackles used to chain children (Credit: All Artifacts from the collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture)

The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) is a Smithsonian Institution museum established in December 2003. The museum’s building, designed by David Adjaye, is located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. at 14th Street and Constitution Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20001. Historian Lonnie Bunch is the museum’s founding director; Jacquelyn Serwer is its chief curator.

Early efforts to establish a federally owned museum featuring African-American history and culture can be traced to 1915, although the modern push for such an organization did not begin until the 1970s. After years of little success, a much more serious legislative push began in 1988 that led to authorization of the museum in 2003. A site was selected in 2006. The museum opened September 24, 2016, in a ceremony led by U.S. President Barack Obama.

The museum confronts head-on America’s history of slavery and racial oppression. Yet, while memorializing suffering, the museum wants even the bleakest artifacts to have a positive message. As visitors face an auction block where slaves stood to be bought and sold, they can also imagine the strength slaves summoned to survive.

Unusually, the museum had to start from scratch without a collection. It ran an “Antiques Roadshow”- style project in 15 cities that encouraged people to give heirlooms from their closets and attics, and yielded some of the 40,000 objects the museum now holds. About 3,500 artifacts will be on display in the opening exhibitions, many of them treasures donated by ordinary people.

Click the images above to enlarge or read the caption.

The museum tells its story in part chronologically rather than thematically. This decision is written into the architecture itself, as visitors descend 70 feet below ground to begin the historical journey centuries ago with the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The museum displays the original coffin of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old savagely killed in Mississippi in 1955; Ku Klux Klan hoods; and a piece of rope used in a lynching. The museum tells a history that continues to evolve. It documents the presidency of Barack Obama, but artifacts reflecting events like Black Lives Matter protests underscore persistent inequality and police brutality.

Above ground, the museum departs from the chronological narrative to examine African-American achievements in fields like music, art, sports and the military. Visitors can tour these brighter third-floor and fourth-floor themed Culture and Community galleries without venturing into the history sections below.

Some exhibitions depict the diverse experiences of African-Americans in regions across the nation, from the birth of hip-hop in the Bronx, for example, to life in the South Carolina rice fields. Though here, too, the exhibitions refer to the oppression and discrimination that African-Americans experienced and highlight their fight to overcome segregation and bring about social change.

From the building’s upper levels, visitors can view the Washington Monument, Arlington National Cemetery, the White House and the National Mall — a symbolic reminder, officials say, that the museum is a lens on the broader American experience.

Visitors are able to leave their own thoughts at public video booths. After such powerful displays, they can also sit in a space called the Contemplative Court to come to terms with what they have witnessed.

Appropriately for a public museum at the heart of Washington’s cultural landscape, the museum’s creators did not want to build a space for a black audience alone, but for all Americans. In the spirit of Langston Hughes’s poem “I, Too, Sing America,” the museum and all of the artifacts within it make a powerful declaration: The African-American story is an American story, as central to the country’s narrative as any other, and understanding black history and culture is essential to understanding American history and culture.


The National Museum of African American History and Culture
I, Too, Sing America | The National Museum of African American History and Culture | New York Times (Interactive)

Court After Court Refuses to Reinstate Donald Trump’s Travel Ban

Featured image: Protesters assemble at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017, after earlier in the day two Iraqi refugees were detained while trying to enter the country. On Friday, Jan. 27, President Donald Trump signed an executive order suspending all immigration from countries with terrorism concerns for 90 days. Countries included in the ban are Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen, which are all Muslim-majority nations. (Photo: AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

On January 27, Donald J. Trump signed an executive order that banned immigrants from seven Muslim nations (Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia) from entering the United States for the next 90 days. New refugee admissions are suspended for 120 days. The Syrian refugee resettlement program was suspended indefinitely. Trump’s ill-conceived and illegal order has, predictably, thrown thousands of lives into chaos. Immigrants and refugees with visas are either being prevented from entering the country or are being detained when they arrive.

On February 1, I posted a blog titled “18 Ways to Help Immigrants & Refugees Impacted by Donald Trump’s Executive Order“. The post was my “reply all” to the many people who have reached out to me, asking how they can help. Consider this an update of sorts. This post chronicles the foreseeable journey of Trump’s  executive order through America’s co-equal branch of government: the judiciary. Spoiler alert: It hasn’t gone well for the Trump administration. Predictably, Trump  attacked the judges, cursed the rule of law, and blamed the media  for the many problems he created. I’ll continue to update this post as major events happen on this topic, but please keep one thing in mind as you read the content below: This is Not Normal!


February 4
United States District Senior Judge James Robart for the Western District of Washington State issued a nationwide restraining order blocking the travel ban put in place by Donald Trump’s January 27 executive order.

Washington became the first state to sue Trump over his controversial executive order on immigration, with a number of states, including New York, joining the effort this week.  The Seattle decision comes after other federal judges in Boston, Virginia and New York granted restraining orders preventing the government from deporting people affected by Trump’s travel ban.

In issuing his decision, Robart was siding with Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who filed a suit to block key provisions of Trump’s executive order, including the travel ban and sections that bars Syrian refugees from entering the country.

Judge Robart suggested in court that Trump’s 90-day entry ban on people from the countries of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen was not “rationally based,” since no one from any those countries had been arrested in the U.S. on terrorism-related charges since 9/11. Additionally, Judge Robart’s order argues Trump’s executive action “adversely” affects “areas of employment, education, business, family relations and freedom to travel.” Reversing the action, the suit concluded, is thereby in the public interest: “These harms are significant and ongoing,” the order states.

Naturally, Mr. Trump to lashed out at Judge Robart  throughout the day, prompting criticism that Trump failed to respect the judicial branch and its power to check on his authority.  In a Twitter post on Saturday, Mr. Trump wrote, “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!”

The Justice Department filed an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The DOJ’s appellate brief asked the 9th Circuit to stay Judge Robart’s order pending the appeal, arguing Trump has an “unreviewable” constitutional authority to suspend the entry of any class of foreigners into the United States. The DOJ further argued that any judicial ruling contrary to Trump’s executive order “second-guesses the president’s national security judgment.”

The Ninth Circuit court moved quickly to reject the administration’s appeal, a measure of the urgency and intense interest in the case.

free-attorneyPro bono lawyers and protesters at Los Angeles International Airport on January 29, 2017, rally against the Muslim immigration ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump. (Photo: Amanda Edwards / Getty).

February 9
A federal appeals panel has maintained the freeze on Trump’s controversial immigration order, meaning previously barred refugees and citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries can continue entering the United States.

In a unanimous 29-page opinion, three judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit flatly rejected the government’s argument that suspension of the order should be lifted immediately for national security reasons, and they forcefully asserted their ability to serve as a check on the president’s power.

The judges wrote that any suggestion that they could not “runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.”

Trump reacted angrily on social media. He posted a Tweet just minutes after the ruling, “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!”

Hillary Clinton, who lost the presidency to Trump in November, posted on Twitter simply, “3-0.”

The Justice Department could now ask the Supreme Court — which often defers to the president on matters of immigration and national security — to intervene. The Supreme Court, though, remains one justice short, and many see it as ideologically split 4 to 4. A tie would keep in place whatever the appeals court decides. The Justice Department could also ask the full 9th Circuit to consider the matter.

The appeals court opinion was written by Judge Michelle T. Friedland, who was appointed by President Barack Obama; Judge Richard R. Clifton, who was appointed by President George W. Bush; and Judge William C. Canby, who was appointed by President Jimmy Carter. It was detailed, but it does not represent a final judgment on Trump’s immigration ban.

Last Friday, U.S. District Judge James L. Robart granted the states of Washington and Minnesota a temporary restraining order on the ban. The appeals court judges noted their ruling was a “preliminary one,” and they were deciding only whether the government had “made a strong showing of its likely success” in getting the restraining order thrown out.

Federal courts in New York, California and elsewhere already had blocked aspects of the ban from being implemented, although one federal judge in Massachusetts declared that he did not think that challengers had demonstrated that they had a high likelihood of success. The case before the 9th Circuit, though, was much broader than the others, because it stemmed from a federal judge’s outright halting of the ban.

The court ruling did not affect one part of the executive order: the cap of 50,000 refugees to be admitted in the 2017 fiscal year. That is down from the 110,000 ceiling put in place under President Barack Obama. The order also directed the secretary of state and the secretary of homeland security to prioritize refugee claims made by persecuted members of religious minorities.

As of February 9, that means the United States will be allowed to accept only about 16,000 more refugees this fiscal year. Since Oct. 1, the start of the fiscal year, 33,929 refugees have been admitted, 5,179 of them Syrians.

sarah-assaliSarah Assali, 19, left, who just arrived from Syria, is embraced by her brother Tawfik Assali, 21, of Allentown, Pennsylvania, upon her and other family members’ arrival from Syria at Terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on February 6, 2017. Attorneys said Dr. Assali’s brothers, their wives and their two teenage children returned to Syria after they were denied entrance to the United States on January 28 although they had visas in hand after a 13-year effort. (Photo: Craig Ruttle/AP).

February 13
A federal judge in Virginia just handed down one of the biggest defeats yet to Donald Trump’s travel ban. Judge Leonie Brinkema issued a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the ban in Virginia until it can be fully argued out in court. That means it could be weeks or months before overseas travelers are again blocked from coming into the country via Virginia’s international airports.

The case pitted the federal government, represented by lawyers from the Justice Department’s Civil Division, against the Commonwealth of Virginia, represented by State Solicitor General Stuart Raphael and Attorney General Mark Herring.

Unlike temporary restraining orders, preliminary injunctions can become permanent. Some legal experts say the fact that Brinkema has issued this injunction means the Virginia case could potentially reach the Supreme Court before the Washington case—a possibility that reporters brought up to Herring when he held a press conference after the last round of oral arguments in that case on Feb. 10.

In her ruling, Brinkema wrote that it’s likely Virginia will successfully argue that Trump’s travel ban violates the First Amendment. The ruling cited Trump’s interview with Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody, where he said his administration would prioritize the asylum claims of Christian refugees over refugees of other religions.

“The ‘Muslim ban’ was a centerpiece of Trump’s campaign for months,” she wrote, “and the press release calling for it was still available on his website as of the day this Memorandum Opinion is being entered.” And she wrote that just because the travel ban doesn’t impact all Muslims doesn’t mean it isn’t discriminatory.

“[T]he Supreme Court has never reduced its Establishment Clause jurisprudence to a mathematical exercise,” she wrote. “It is a discriminatory purpose that matters, no matter how inefficient the execution.”

Trump Travel Ban AtlantaA demonstrator holds a sign at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport during a demonstration on January 29, 2017, in Atlanta. (Photo: Branden Camp/AP)

February 16
Donald Trump said Thursday that he will issue a new executive order on immigration by next week, and Justice Department lawyers asked a federal appeals court to hold off on taking action in the legal battle over his initial travel ban until that new order is in place.

In a news conference at the White House, Trump said the new order would “comprehensively protect our country,” and he hinted that it might contain new vetting measures for travelers. Trump’s first order temporarily barred citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries and refugees from entering the United States, ostensibly so officials could review and tighten screening procedures.

“Extreme vetting will be put in place, and it already is in place in many places,” Trump said. He said the administration “had to go quicker than we thought” because a federal appeals court refused to lift the suspension on his travel ban.

Trump’s comments and the Justice Department’s request to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit mean that the administration – at least for now – is pumping the brakes on the furious court battle to restore the travel ban. Instead, the administration indicated in its filing that it expects that a revamped executive order will eliminate judges’ concerns, even those the Justice Department views as unfounded.

Sources: Virginia Judge Blocks Trump’s Travel Ban—Maybe Forever -By Betsy Woodruff | The Daily Beast

Federal Appeals Court Rules 3 to 0 Against Trump on Travel Ban – By Matt Zapotosky | Washington Post

Appeals Court Rejects Request to Immediately Restore Travel Ban -By Mark Lander | New York Times

Trump Promises New Immigration Order as DOJ Holds Off Appeals Court -By Laura Jarrett, Allie Malloy and Dan Merica | CNN


Recommended…
Syrian Family Forced To Return To Middle East After Arriving In Philadelphia | All Things Considered | NPR

Trump’s Executive Order On Immigration, Annotated | NPR

How Trump’s Travel Ban broke from the Normal Executive Order Process -By Kim Soffen and Darla Cameron | Washington Post

Trump’s Immigration Ban: Who Is Barred and Who Is Not -By Anjali Singhvi and Alicia Parlapiano | New York Times

 

Vice President Joe Biden Awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom🏅

President Obama surprised Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Thursday by bestowing the Presidential Medal of Freedom on him, calling Mr. Biden “my brother” in a tearful goodbye in the East Room of the White House.

Having called Mr. Biden and his wife, Jill, to the White House for a private farewell, the president instead brought him into a room filled with his friends, family and colleagues to present him with the honor, the nation’s highest.

For the first time, President Obama awarded the medal with distinction, an added level of veneration that previous presidents had reserved for recipients like Pope John Paul II and Colin L. Powell, the former secretary of state.

Moments later, as the president called up a military aide to read the proclamation, Mr. Biden appeared to break down, turning his back to the audience to compose himself. After Obama hung the medal around his neck, the vice president cried openly.

The citation with the medal noted Mr. Biden’s “charm, candor, unabashed optimism and deep and abiding patriotism,” as well as his “strength and grace to overcome great personal adversity.” It called him one of the most “consequential vice presidents in American history.”

Addressing President Obama, who stood to his side, Mr. Biden said that he had never met anyone who had “the integrity and the decency and the sense of other people’s needs like you do.” The ceremony was an emotional conclusion to an improbable partnership that began in 2008 when Obama asked his former presidential rival to be his running mate. The two men became close during eight years in the White House.

While paying tribute to Biden during the ceremony, Obama said, “To know Joe Biden is to know love without pretense, service without self regard and to live life fully. As one of his longtime colleagues in the Senate said — who happened to be a Republican — if you can’t admire Joe Biden, you have a problem.”

President Obama spoke emotionally about the relationship between his own family and the extended Biden clan, many of whom had gathered for the ceremony. “My family is so proud to call ourselves honorary Bidens,” he said. Mr. Biden sought to return the compliment. He noted that the Constitution did not grant the vice president any inherent powers — “for good reason,” he said. But he said that Obama had made good on a pledge to make sure that Mr. Biden had a job that mattered.

“You have more than kept your commitment to me by saying you wanted me to help govern,” Mr. Biden said, adding that he hoped the history books would record that he was an asterisk in Obama’s historic presidency.

“I can say I was part of a journey of a remarkable man who did remarkable things for this country,” Mr. Biden said.

Click here to read the full transcript of the event.


Background image: President Barack Obama surprises Vice President Joe Biden with a special send-off. In a White House ceremony honoring his Vice President, President Obama surprised an emotional Joe Biden by presenting him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom on January 12, 2017. (Photo: Yuri Gripas/ Reuters)

The Death Penalty, America, and the Rest of the World

Candle

Had it not been for slavery, the death penalty would have likely been abolished in America. Slavery became a haven for the death penalty. -Angela Davis

On December 19, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution calling for a worldwide “moratorium on the use of the death penalty”—the sixth that the U.N. has approved in the past decade. Each one has gained the support of more of the organization’s members. The latest vote was a hundred and seventeen countries in favor to forty against. (Thirty-one abstained, and five did not vote.) In addition to a call for a halt to executions worldwide, the resolution urges countries that maintain the death penalty to increasingly restrict its imposition and to apply international laws that protect the rights of those facing the penalty. The rights include that a death sentence may be imposed only for the “most serious crimes,” defined as intentional crimes that have “lethal or other extremely grave consequences,” and that execution be carried out only after “a final judgment rendered by a competent court,” following a legal process that insures a fair trial and that provides access to appeal to a higher court and the opportunity to seek a pardon or a commutation of the sentence.

At the General Assembly, the United States cast one of the nay votes. Stefanie Amadeo, the deputy representative to the U.N. Economic and Social Council, explained the country’s position, which is basically unchanged since the U.S. opposed the first resolution against the death penalty, in 2007: “The ultimate decision regarding these issues must be addressed through the domestic democratic processes of individual Member States and be consistent with their obligations under international law,” which does not prohibit capital punishment. The position reflects the American reality of supporting the death penalty in principle, but increasingly outlawing it in practice. As Jeffrey Toobin reported recently, the U.S. maintains the death penalty under federal and military law and under the laws of thirty-one states—even though only five states conducted executions in 2016 and executed only twenty people in total, the lowest number in twenty-five years.

The U.S. stresses the importance of observing global norms. “Just as the United States is committed to complying with its international obligations,” Amadeo said, “we strongly urge other countries that employ the death penalty to do so only in full compliance with their international obligations.” Meanwhile, in the past forty years, the U.S. Supreme Court has increasingly sought to restrict the application of the death penalty to the worst of the worst offenders—first, to people who commit the most heinous murders and, then, only to adults who commit them, excluding youth under the age of eighteen. In addition, it generally takes a decade or more for a state to carry out an execution because of challenges to a death sentence allowed under due process of law.

Among the states with the death penalty, twelve have not carried out an execution for a decade or more, and another five have not executed anyone for at least five years. In California, where the last execution was in 2006, there were seven hundred and fifty people on death row as of December 2nd. Rather than being executed (the state has executed only thirteen people since 1978) it is much more likely that a death-row inmate will die as a result of natural causes or suicide.

Roger Hood, an emeritus professor at Oxford, and Carolyn Hoyle, who directs Oxford’s Centre for Criminology, last year published the fifth edition of “The Death Penalty: A Worldwide Perspective.” Their book documents the many ways that people are sentenced to death in violation of international law—for drug-trafficking, for example, rather than for “the most serious crimes,” in unfair proceedings and with no opportunity to ask for clemency, and while imprisoned in terrible conditions. These and other realities, they write, are moving “the debate about capital punishment beyond the view that each nation has, if it wishes, the sovereign right to retain the death penalty” to persuading “countries that retain the death penalty that it inevitably, and however administered, violates universally accepted human rights.” Countries that employ the death penalty and insist that they are abiding by international law, including the U.S., decline to join in making the most important international commitment about the penalty, which is to reject it as a violation of human rights.

There has long been a gap between the idealism that the U.S. expresses when boasting of its dedication to the rule of law, especially the protection of individual rights, and the reality of its persistent refusal to abide by major international human-rights commitments. The U.S. was a leader in the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the U.N. adopted in 1948, but stopped supporting the international system to carry it out because, among other reasons, Jim Crow laws directly violated the declaration. There is a sizable list of human-rights treaties—on the Rights of the Child, for example, and on the International Criminal Court—that the U.S. has signed but not ratified. Even when the U.S. ratifies treaties, the government often adds a caveat that excludes protection of some basic rights.

As a result, the U.S. has ended up in some rough company, particularly when it comes to the death penalty. In the past generation, the number of countries that have stopping using the death penalty has doubled, from about fifty to about a hundred. Of the fifty-seven member states of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and of the thirty-five member states of the Organization of American States, only the U.S. carried out executions last year. The countries that executed the most offenders were, in order, China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. China executed thousands of people, though its secrecy about its use of capital punishment makes it impossible to know exactly how many. Excluding China, Iran (with close to a thousand or more), Pakistan (three hundred and twenty-six), and Saudi Arabia (a hundred and fifty-eight) executed almost nine out of ten people put to death worldwide—“often after grossly unfair trials,” according to Amnesty International, and “for crimes—including drug trafficking, corruption, ‘adultery,’ and ‘blasphemy’—that do not meet the international legal standards for the use of the death penalty.” In 2015, according to Amnesty International, at least a thousand six hundred and thirty-four people were executed, an increase of more than fifty per cent from the year before and the highest number in a quarter of a century. (The organization expects to release figures for 2016 in the spring.)

The United States, in other words, ranks with countries that conspicuously are not in full compliance with their international obligations. And its responsibility is sometimes worse than guilt by association. As Maya Foa, the director of the death-penalty team at Reprieve, an international human-rights organization, told me, “The U.S. clearly leads and influences global death-penalty practice. Our partners, who are lawyers and human-rights defenders in jurisdictions that retain the penalty, tell us that the use of the death penalty by the U.S., a ‘developed’ nation, is used to justify the death-penalty practice in the jurisdictions they work in.” Reprieve is providing legal and investigative assistance to people facing execution in eleven countries, in Africa, the Middle East, and South and Southeast Asia, and in the U.S.

In August at a rally in Istanbul, after the failed coup attempt in Turkey, the BBC reported, the country’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said, “They say there is no death penalty in the E.U. … Well, the U.S. has it; Japan has it; China has it; most of the world has it. So they are allowed to have it. We used to have it until 1984. Sovereignty belongs to the people, so if the people make this decision I am sure the political parties will comply.” He said that the Turkish people might want to restore the death penalty to punish those responsible for killing hundreds of citizens during the attempted coup. That has not happened yet, but, if it does, its purpose, Erdogan suggested, will be a display of cold-blooded power.

The influence of the U.S. on the death penalty worldwide has sometimes been constructive. In 1976, for example, when the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for a state to make the death penalty mandatory for any crime, it marked the beginning of the decline of mandatory death sentences around the world. “The fundamental respect for humanity underlying the Eighth Amendment,” the Court said, “requires consideration of the character and record of the individual offender and the circumstances of the particular offense.”

The Indian Supreme Court employed this logic when it struck down the mandatory death sentence in the country’s penal code, in 1983. The legislature, it held, could not compel judges “to shut their eyes to mitigating circumstances and inflict upon them the dubious and unconscionable duty of imposing a preordained sentence of death.” More recently, the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide reports, eighteen other countries have followed suit and struck down the mandatory death penalty, including almost every Caribbean nation and Uganda, Malawi, and Kenya.

In their latest edition of “The Death Penalty,” Hood and Hoyle write optimistically about the U.S. example: “Those who campaign for abolition worldwide can hope that it will not be many years before the U.S. Supreme Court will be able to find that the majority of states, in line with a majority of countries worldwide, does not support the death penalty for anyone.” Donald Trump has said that he will replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia—the Court’s most vehement defender of the death penalty for almost thirty years—with someone in his mold. But, even when that happens, there will be a possibility that Justice Anthony Kennedy will join the Court’s moderate liberals in striking down the death penalty, for reasons Justice Stephen Breyer articulated in 2015: “The Court in effect delegated significant responsibility to the States to develop procedures that would” insure the fairness of the capital-punishment system, he wrote. “Almost 40 years of studies, surveys, and experience strongly indicate, however, that this effort has failed.” If the Court continues to uphold the death penalty, on the other hand, the gap between the U.S. and a large and growing majority of the rest of the world will continue to increase.

Source: The Growing Gap Between the U.S. and the International Anti-Death Penalty Consensus -By Lincoln Caplan | The New Yorker


Recommended…
General Assembly Adopts 50 Third Committee Resolutions, as Diverging Views on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity Animate Voting | UN General Assembly (Dec 16, 2016)

General Assembly Adopts Landmark Text Calling for Moratorium on Death Penalty | UN General Assembly (Dec 18, 2007)

Death Penalty | Equal Justice Institute (EJI)

U.S. Death Penalty Facts | Amnesty International

✿ The Guilty Plea Problem Campaign | The Innocence Project

The Death Penalty, Nearing Its End -By Editorial Board | New York Times

The Strange Case of the American Death Penalty -By Jeffrey Toobin | The New Yorker

Why Are So Many Veterans on Death Row? -By Jeffrey Toobin | The New Yorker

A Strong Case Against the Death Penalty -By Jeffrey Toobin | The New Yorker

The Decline of Democracy and Rise of Fascism in Turkey

erdogan_reutersTurkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Photo: Reuters/ Files).

One year has passed since 1,128 academics raised their voices for an end to the violence against the Kurdish population in Turkey, demanding an international, independent investigation of the occurrences during the 24-hour curfews declared in Kurdish towns and districts from August 2015 onward. The now well-known ‘peace petition’ had been a reaction to the violence, an outcry against the unbearable way in which the military had taken over towns and districts in the predominantly Kurdish south-eastern provinces of the Turkish state. Children and elderly people had been assassinated on the streets and in their homes, bodies left on the streets, the injured denied medical treatment. Despite the decisive and clear wording accusing the state of committing a massacre and refusing to be party to this crime, the petition was nevertheless a modest form of protest, because all other forms of democratic contestation had already been radically impeded since a suicide bomb attack on a previous attempt to demand peace with a large demonstration on October 10, 2015 in Ankara. A hundred demonstrators from various political factions were killed, hundreds injured and scarred.

Government’s Reaction
However, even this comparably simple form of critique was not tolerated by the government. The reaction was a concerted mass smear campaign triggered by the words of the President Recep Tayyip Erdogan leading to arrests, police investigations and ongoing dismissals of scholars. Denouncing the signatories as traitors, as ‘pseudo academics’ who were enemies of the nation, the pro-government media took up Erdogan’s discourse, picturing the signatories individually on their web and print outlets, making them perfect targets for goaded Erdogan-supporters. The homes of a number of signatories were raided in the early morning hours; some were taken into custody on campus and the wave of dismissals commenced, starting with those in the most precarious working conditions.

This harsh reaction, however, prompted a wave of solidarity both in Turkey and beyond. Defying the threat of persecution, over another thousand scholars added their names to the petition. Academic and non-academic associations from all over the world expressed their critique of the state’s course of action in open letters to the Turkish government and solidarity messages. However, continuing its politics of spreading fear, the state had four signatories exemplarily arrested on charges of terrorism propaganda. Professors Esra Mungan, Muzaffer Kaya, Kivanc Ersoy and Meral Camci remained detained for over a month, enduring solitary confinement and strip searches. (Meral Camci was in fact in France at the time of the detainment of the other three, but decided to return knowing she could also be imprisoned upon arrival. She was released with the others after the first court hearing, after 23 days in prison.

A year later, the trial is still ongoing. Police investigations have been commenced against all signatories, including those abroad. Nearly 500 signatories have faced disciplinary investigations within their institutions. The number of those dismissed is increasing every month, currently at 182. Others have been forced to resign or retire, have lost administrative positions, are sidelined and excluded from standard academic procedures such as participating in thesis committees, are disinvited from conferences and refused funding for research projects and conference attendance. Dozens have had to leave the country, while others cannot leave the country due to travel bans and the cancellation of their passports. The most worrying fact, however, is that this repression towards the academics is unfortunately part and parcel of the state’s authoritarian regime to silence all critical voices left.

In the months following the petition, the state further accelerated its war-strategy against the Kurdish population, a strategy which has radically turned its back on the previous more liberal discourses of the government emphasising the brotherhood between Kurds and Turks, and the initial peace talks between state officials and the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party which had lasted until February 2015.

The violence reached its preliminary climax when military special forces killed around 170 people who had sought shelter in the two or three basements in Cizre, a small border-town to Syria. For days, critical media had published video messages and telephone calls in which those trapped were calling for help. However, the military officials permitted neither ambulances to access the area nor the wounded to leave, finally burning the building to the ground. The shocking brutality of the state exceeded all expectations. Following this, hardly any people remained in those towns and districts under curfew. Over a million people were forced to leave their homes only to return to a heap of rubble. Whole districts have been razed to the ground; bulldozers carrying away the remains even before the owners were allowed to return, including all personal belongings. Having left for what they thought would be a week, these people now have nothing to return to.

A Concerted Effort Against the Kurdish Movement
This comprehensive strategy is definitely not a limited operation against an armed group. Instead, it aims at destroying the successful politics of the Kurdish movement and the trust and support the population has in it. Since the mid-2000s, the Kurdish movement had particularly focused on empowering civil society with help of the municipalities in the region which are run by the Kurdish party and formed a ‘coalition’ party HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) with other left and marginalised ethnic, faith and LGBT groups. This politics had been very successful receiving strong support for the municipalities and gaining a landslide 13.2% in the national elections of June 2015, which left the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) without a majority. Re-elections were held five months later and the AKP made a decisive shift to the right, becoming increasingly authoritarian by the minute.

The aftermath of the attempted coup six months ago has been a welcome excuse not only to rid the state institutions of anyone in contact with the Gülen Community, held responsible for the attempted coup, but also to imprison mayors of the Kurdish municipalities, council members and municipality employees, as well as currently 12 MPs of the Kurdish-leftwing party HDP. Since the declaration of emergency rule, the elected mayors of over 50 towns and districts have been ousted out of power and replaced by state-assigned ‘trustees’, as they are euphemistically called. The media has been severely intimidated, with around 200 journalists currently in prison and over 177 different newspapers, magazines and TV channels shut down. Self-censorship is at its peak. The parliament has been practically by-passed through emergency decrees, most of them listing pages and pages of individual names of those to be dismissed. Overall, more than 80,000 state employees have been sacked so far, among them military and police personnel, but the highest number interestingly in the field of education.

A constant pledge to national unity, loyalty and militarism is the dominant discourse today, turning all critical voices into traitors and internal and external threats to the nation. The legal system has become a farce; the number of prisons is being increased; torture and deprivation of imprisoned back on the agenda. And as I am writing these lines, the parliament is voting on the end of parliamentary democracy, the concentration of power in the hands of the president alone, lacking the simplest mechanisms of checks and balances; MPs demonstrating their loyalty to the president by overtly waving their voting tokens for everyone to see and the prime minister celebrates the proposed abolishment of his post as an act of heroism adding the words “relax and obey”.

Looking back at this past year in Turkey, we see an increasingly overt development towards a more and more authoritarian society and government. Rudimentarily masked by arguments of counter-terrorism, society has been put into a straitjacket. Critique in any form has become increasingly impossible to voice, let alone make it heard. The few acts of protest remain limited, often with only few participants or even individual. With a mixture of disbelief and fear, people hope for this to be a phase, which is soon to end. However, according to law expert and honorary president of the Turkish Supreme Court Sami Selcuk, if the amendment of the constitution is accepted in the proposed form, the president to come “can become nothing other a dictator”.

Source: Steady Progress Into Fascism? Turkey, a Year After the Peace Petition -By Ulrike Flader | The Wire

Ulrike Flader is research coordinator for social movement studies at DEMOS Research Centre for Peace, Democracy and Alternative Politics, Turkey.


Recommended…
Turkey: Alarming Deterioration of Rights | 2017 World Report | Human Rights Watch

“Dreadful Year” of Attacks in Turkey Capped by 39 Dead in Istanbul Nightclub Attack | Democracy Now!

The End of Democracy in Turkey -By Dexter Filkins | The New Yorker

Erdogan’s Turkey: The End of Democracy? -By Ruadhán Mac Cormaic | The Irish Times

It Is, By Far, The Worst Time to Be a Turkish Journalist -By Berivan Orucoglu | Foreign Policy

Turkey’s Free Press Withers as Erdogan Jails 120 Journalists -By Rod Nordland | New York Times