Thursday, June 26, 2014

Pause and Consider

Some thoughts to consider:

From Pres. Truman - 
"You know that being an American is more than a matter of where your parents came from. It is a belief that all men are created free and equal and that everyone deserves an even break.”

And an echo from Edward Snowden -

"Some say I'm a man without a country, but that's not true. America has always been an ideal, and though I'm far away, I've never felt as connected to it as I do now..." (written on the occasion of the first anniversary of the first publication of his NSA leaks;  it was first published by ACLU; the full statement can also be found here )

 We must keep finding ways to truly honor the ideals of America and the magic words of the Declaration of Independence.  We must continue to demand that our Constitution and Bill of Rights be honored.  These quotes remind us that "American" goes so much deeper than one's place of birth, residence, or even citizenship.  People all over the world long for these ideals, even though circumstances might make it hard for them to stand up for them.  We must continually remind our officials that not adhering to our ideals is unacceptable and also counterproductive. Revelations of NSA spying, ill treatment of protesters, horrible drone strikes, and more show that we are not practicing what we have been preaching. We must insist that America realign its actions in more positive directions.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Some Current Human Rights Issues

Lately we've looked at mainly what has been going on in the U. S.  But there are problems all over. 

Things in Egypt are getting very dangerous for protesters and dissenters - and journalists. A key Egyptian activist was jailed after a questionable trial. Read about it here.   This is in addition to the death sentences handed down to some dissenters.  The U. N. is concerned with these developments.  At least some have taken note.  There was a protest in London reported on in photos.  Latest word is that some journalists were jailed. This from the article:
"That a guilty verdict was still reached hours later, despite Kerry confirming the return of US military and economic aid to Egypt, represented an embarrassment for US diplomacy, analysts argued."

What were we thinking - didn't Washington read about those death sentences?  What, no sanctions?  Unbelievable!

Also, read this which talks a bit more about the situation in Egypt, including the fact that hundreds of political prisoners are being detained.

Elsewhere, China arrested a well-known dissident and sent a white paper to Hong Kong, asserting its final jurisdiction over that special district.  This white paper was distributed days after protests commemorating Tienanmen Square and before activists hold an unofficial referendum on options for 2017 elections in Hong Kong.

Then there are the protests against the World Cup in Brazil.  Here's one article from The Guardian about the experience of some activists.  Why aren't "we" condemning this? In the latest story from Reuters it was noted that the protests are smaller now, peaceful, and the protesters are definitely outnumbered by riot police. Riot police, really?  Why are governments so threatened by small, peaceful protests?  And I wonder why World Cup fever seems to drown out the important message they have.

 Look around.  Be aware that dissent and protest are seen as threatening in so many places around the world.  We all should take a stand for the right to speak freely, assemble freely,  and protest peacefully both at home and elsewhere.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Significance of Today

Really, I wasn't planing to post today - until I saw online some reminders of the significance of this date.  

June 21.  On June 21, 1964, three civil rights workers were murdered in Philadelphia, Mississippi during Freedom Summer.  The murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner  marked one of the defining moments of the Civil Rights Movement.  Today, 50 years later, the incident still teaches lessons of commitment to civil rights, full citizenship, and equal justice for all.  Let us remember them and their legacy.

Today is also the 31st birthday of one Edward Snowden.  Happy Birthday, Edward; may you have many blessings!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Why Care?

 Is anyone asking why we should care if someone gets a fair trial? Is anyone wondering why it matters if evidence "against" a defendant is shielded by being "classified?"  Is anyone wondering why we should care about indefinite detention provisions in the NDAA?  Is anyone asking why we should care if assassination of U.S. citizens with no due process goes on and many innocents are killed as a result?

Here's one clue form Orwell.  It sounds as though he could have written it today:

“Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side.” (Notes on Nationalism, 1945) - George Orwell

Haven't Americans - even American leaders- condemned those sorts of things when done by other countries?  If it was wrong for "the other side", how did the view of those behaviors magically change if "we" do them?  If we want to stop a race to the bottom, we need to examine our policies and actions and start to bring them in line with the values we preach.

Another clue: imagine how your would want to be treated or would hope your loved ones would be treated.  Would you not want all the provisions of the law to be followed both openly and fairly?  Yes, that would include both the First and Fourth Amendments to our Constitution.

I'm reminded of one episode of the old tv show "The Commish."  In it, the defense attorney (who had a recurring role) was assaulted.  They caught a suspect.  Even after what she went through, her commitment to making sure accused persons get a defense didn't falter.  Incredibly, she gave the suspect a card with information to contact someone who would see he got a defense.  That type of commitment is necessary to make sure that our imperfect justice system does what should be its job - getting at truth.

I don't believe most folks want to see people get away with crimes. But in our zeal to catch and punish "The Terrorists" or  "The Bad Guys"; let's make sure we do things correctly.  Justice isn't done in secret.  Openness, transparency, and respect for the rights of all must be the hallmarks of a fair justice system.  We need to be sure we keep working toward that ideal.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Another Disturbing Court Decision

What passes for justice these days?  A Federal Appeals Court has overturned a lower court ruling and so denied the defense access to FISA court material which may shed light on the case against Adel Daoud.  Defense counsel are seeking to see if there is evidence Daoud was entrapped.

The Guardian has a good overview of things in this article.  Kevin Gosztola at the Firedoglake site has a very good report.

We should all take note of the sentiments of Defense counsel Thomas Durkin:  "The adversary system is the foundation of civil liberties in this country, and this opinion drives another significant wedge into that time honored process..." 

Again, I'm left shaking my head at the arrogance of the "national security state."

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Great Article

Came across this article on economic inequality via the common dreams website.  The author really lays a lot out there as to the reality of the current wealth inequity in the U. S..

 Mr. Van Buren answers some of the unsympathetic questions one hears about the unemployed and working poor.  This should be required reading for some of those commenters who heap such scorn on those who are still struggling economically.

The latest jobs reports are mixed to be sure. According to The Guardian article, over 200,000 jobs were added in May, a good sign.  But unemployment is still "officially" at 6.3%.  The number of full-time jobs is lower than pre-recession, and the labor participation rate is only 62.8%.  Is is possible, as some have been suggesting, that many long-term unemployed have given up looking for work and are no longer counted, thus the actual unemployment rate would be higher?

Nevertheless, there are pin-prick lights of hope.  Seattle voted to increase their minimum wage.  As our first article referenced suggests, this might really be a good thing for the local economy.  Let's hope so.  I've long thought that real economic recovery would start with us 99%ers having more disposable income to spread around.  Many studies have revealed that in such cases, the spending really does go to consumer goods, such as food and clothing, and other expenses such as housing and utility costs. Folks enabled to better meet the basic needs of their families - THAT sounds like an economic stimulus to me!

Friday, June 6, 2014

It's Been Over a Year Now...

It certainly hasn't gone unnoticed that it's been one year (yesterday) since the first disclosure from Edward Snowden.  In his recent interview with Brian Williams and in his videos and statements, he comes across as thoughtful, eloquent, and very poised.  I applaud his courage in upending his life to make us aware of what was being done in our name to us!  Sorry that I didn't commemorate this on the exact date, but then again I'm not always the most punctual person on the planet :-)  So here goes:

                   A Year's Gentle Flurries

            Snow falling on secrets
            Flake by crystalline flake
            Revealing the spider's web
                   .......dedicated to Edward Snowden

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Can This Supreme Court Ever Get it Right?

Well, the outrages just keep on coming, don't they?  The Supreme Court declined to review the case of James Risen, NYT reporter who might face jail for protecting a source.  This is especially troubling as it seems his testimony really isn't needed to pursue the case against the source!

In how many ways is this wrong?  How can a Free Press (yes, capitals are deserved) do its job without protecting sources which often might face retribution, prosecution, or even other dangers?  How can the press serve the public in making transparent government misconduct if sources are afraid to talk to the media?  How is allowing only government sanctioned reporting in the public interest?  And why do we have to keep fighting this battle?

As you ponder those questions, here are two quotes which are germane:

First: Justice Hugo Black in the Pentagon Papers case (NYT v. United States) -
"Both the history and language of the First Amendment support the view that the press must be left free to publish news, whatever the source, without censorship, injunctions, or prior restraints."

Second: from James Alexander in the Weekly Journal printed by John Peter Zenger back in the 1730's -
"The loss of liberty in general would soon follow the suppression of the liberty of the press; for it is an essential branch of liberty, so perhaps it is the best preservative of the whole.  Even a restraint of the press would have a fatal influence.  No nation ancient or modern has ever lost the liberty of freely speaking, writing or publishing their sentiments, but forthwith lost their liberty in general and became slaves."
You can find out more about the Zenger trial here .

Now back to the case of Mr. Risen.  Many organizations have voiced support for him.  The Freedom of the Press Foundation has a fine post about his case on its blog.  In whatever ways we can, we need to support him.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

More Intrusions

This story seems to have gotten lost in the larger shuffle, but the NYT published a major story this weekend.  The NSA is collecting millions of images for a facial recognition program.

The NPR article has an overview and a link to the NYT article.  The photos come from e-mails, texts, social media, videoconferences and other digital sources.  It also seems that law enforcement is being encouraged to create or access programs using facial recognition and/or other biometric data.

This should trouble all of us.  In the article you can read of concerns of the reliability of facial recognition.  Please make note that photos are also being linked to other data about the person.  Doesn't anyone else find this even a bit chilling?

So when is enough spying enough?  Will we ever be able to reign in such intrusions?  Will our voices be heard?  I'm not sure but I really hope so.