Saturday, December 08, 2007

More on the Westboro Baptist Church....

This link is a documentary about the Westboro Baptist Church. A BBC reporter went to live with them for a few weeks and everything was filmed for this report...it is going to make you mad.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

US Supreme Court ponders gun law

It has been 70 years since the U.S. Supreme Court has considered the right of Americans to bear firearms. However, recent tragedies have provoked considering banning handguns once again. Many argue that they have the right to protect themselves and feel safe as the Second Amendment states, "...the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." Some opponents to firearms interpret the Second Amendment as meaning that only the militia and police forces are entitled to bearing arms.

Two-thirds of murders use firearms and about 42.2% of robberies within the country use firearms according to the FBI. Therefore, it can be argued that guns are the root of a lot of crimes in the U.S. Do you think that people should have the right to feel protected and in control by bearing arms? Or would people feel more safe if everyday citizens were prohibitted from owning firearms? Could probitting the ownership of firearms put an end to tragedies such as today's horrible news from a shopping centre in Nebraska that resulted in the murder of eight people, five people wounded, two people in critical condition and the suicide of the murderer?

Children Accused of Witchcraft

In parts of Angola, Congo, and the Congo Republic, thousands of children are identified as witches and beaten, abused, or abandoned. Their families are shunning them because they are afraid of them. For example, in Angola “it is socially unacceptable to push a child out because of poverty, but not if they are possessed.” There are shelters for the shunned children, but the shelters are not in the best condition. What is surprising is that there are no shelters for girls. Moreover, since July, many children have been turned away from shelters because there are no rooms. What should be done for these children if their parents disown them and they have no one to turn to?

High court probes Guantanamo prisoners' rights

The issue of Guantanamo Bay and prisoners' rights is in the news again. On Wednesday, the constitutionality of how the prisoners were detained without a right to trial, some with little knowledge of what they were being held for was disussed. The Bus administration has been holding fast to the fact that this is what needs to be done, it is a "new style war on terror". Further, they have been claiming that the situation now is better than it was in the past, with war prisoners having more rights now that for example during the World Wars. This was on terror has seen prisoners' rights be affected, but so have the rights of individual US citizens. Are you willing to give up one right for the right of security? Are you willing to be silenced in order to maintain peace? Should you be suspicious or accepting of an administration that slowly undermines civil rights, whether of war prisoners or citizens "for your own good"?

Angel from Heaven

Recently, big news in Detroit comes from a young 7 year old girl by the name of Alexis Goggins currently being hailed as "an angel from heaven" after being shot six times in a valiant effort to protect her mother from being killed by an old ex-boyfriend, Calvin Tillie, a four-time convicted felon. Because of her efforts, her mother is alive, having only sustained a wound to the head and to her bicep, and even after sustaining damage to her eye, left temple, chin, cheek, chest and right arm is now in stable condition at a Detroit children's hospital. While how a person could commit such a ruthlessly heinous act as "pumping" six shots into Alexis without hesitation, I find it even more amazing how a girl so young would sacrifice herself in an attempt to save her mothers life. Some people could sight this as evidence to the nature of people. Many questions come to mind concerning what was going through her mind when she did this act of heroism. Did she think that Tillie would shoot her? If she did think he was going to shoot her, what drove her to make a move towards Tillie? Was it merely a reaction seeing the gun fired the first time or was this a conscious effort? Or, is it that she cared so deeply for her mother that she was willing to sacrifice herself in order to save her? If you or I were placed in the same situation with our own mother would we do the same or does Alexis and her mother share a far closer bond than most parents and their children? I think that this was truly an act of altruism with Alexis protecting her mother the way she did. I think that her actions are something that many people (or at least myself) who have a healthy relationship with their parents would do. Would you take 6 bullets for one or both of your parents?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

During last week's Republican debate, the issue of gays in the military was raised. (Watch the youtube clip by clicking on the title above) The responses given by the Republicans are not all that surprising. I think that the Republican candidates are being shortsighted and close-minded. They argue that openly homosexual soldiers have a negative impact on unit cohesion. It very well might negatively impact unit cohesion to some degree. However, the truth is that we do not know what the net impact would be on unit cohesion, on the military in general, and on Americans' support for and outlook on the military -- that is, considering all the positive effects and the negative effects, on balancing the impact (maybe not on day #1 of a new policy) will yield a net positive gain. Indeed, support for homosexuality in America is growing, and this support should be reflected in the country's military policy. It is only a matter of time until the US military changes its stance on "don't ask, don't tell." It will change, and the military will be better and the country safer because of this change. One could question whether that time should be now. I believe that the sooner, the better.

The military is indeed a changing institution; it strives for change, for improvement, everyday. The military has evolved with technological developments and has adapted to social developments over the course of the country's history.

My question to everyone else: Much is spoken about the negative impact of allowing openly homosexual people serve in the military. What is the negative impact of NOT allowing openly homosexual people serve in the military. The answer to this question is key to arguing successfully against the Republican candidates.

Should We Even Bother?

Several weeks ago I made a post related to the Pay It Forward project Nikki and I are doing about Coca Cola's many human rights and environmental abuses in several under-developed countries, especially India and Colombia. One comment on the post brought up the fact that there are many other companies with whom F&M is affiliated that commit many of these same attrocities. With so many of these powerful multi-national corporations out there, is it even worth trying to stop them?

I immediately responded to the post saying of course it's worth the effort to stop these abuses. Just because there are so many companies doing the same wrong thing, that doesn't make it right, and it certainly shouldn't mean that we look the other way. But so many people still buy the products, right? I mean these are some of the largest manufacturers out there. What can we really do to stop them? Will ONE project at ONE school targeting just ONE of these companies truly make a difference? Should we stop trying, or should we realize that maybe everything has to start with "one"..........

Monday, December 03, 2007

MORE Trouble in Sudan

If an ongoing Genocide and the incarceration of an elementary school-teacher were not enough to keep Sudan in the news, this may seal the deal. On November 28, Jean-Marie Guehenno, the UN's Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, reported to the UN Security Council that Sudan has been making excessive demands that block Unamid (the 26,000 person peacekeeping coalition in Darfur) from effectively operating. Among other things, the Sudanese government wants advance notice of troop movements and the ability to shut down communication. Although Unamid is due to take over protecting the people of Darfur in a month's time, the Sudanese government has been reluctant to facilitate this takeover. Guehenno also said that Sudan's demands "create serious uncertainty with regard to the government's commitment to the deployment of Unamid." Despite the government's denial of such claims, it is very evident that Sudan is not fully committed to fixing the situation in Darfur. How much longer will this denial last? Is it Unamid's job to secure Darfur and fight for peace, or should individual nations begin assisting in peacekeeping measures?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

More Trouble in the Sudan

As if the crisis in Darfur is not enough, the Sudan has now played host to another questionable human rights situation. Gillian Gibbons, a British teacher who had come to the Sudan to teach Sudanese children, has been arrested and sentenced to 15 days in jail for allowing her students to name the class teddy bear Muhammad. Sudanese prisons are among the worlds worst due to their lack of beds and clean drinking water as well as very poor quality food. The prisons in Sudan are apparently so bad that the people who are used to the poor conditions of life in the Sudan would find the conditions of the prisons to be deplorable. Should the Sudanese government be allowed to keep its prisons in such a poor condition? Should the British government do anything to intervene in this case on behalf of Gibbons? Should the Sudanese government be able to commit such an obvious breach of Gibbons' human right to free speech or is her "crime" culturally relative?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Oxford University: Host to Anti-Semitism?

Oxford University, host to famous individuals such as Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama, plans to feature David Irving and Nick Griffin, two openly anti-Semitic men, in an open debate on the college campus. David Irving is a historian who spent a year in an Austrian jail after denying the Holocaust. Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party, was convicted for publishing material denying the Holocaust.

Voltaire once said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Should this approach be taken with Irving and Griffin? Does the issue of freedom of speech apply to these openly anti-Semitic men? Will hosting this debate at Oxford University serve only to spread fear throughout the British community? Or, is an open debate the most effective means of discrediting the men? Perhaps exposing racial or religious hatred is the solution to eradicating it.

The students of Oxford voted in favor of the men speaking. How would you vote?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Honor Killings on the rise in Palestine

As order has disintegrated in Palestine their has been a rise in killings known as "Honor Killings." An Honor Killing occurs when a woman is suspected of having an "illicit relationship" family members kill the woman in order to cleanse the families honor. Over the last 50 years these types of killings have increased. If someone admits to an Honor Killing the sentence is just 6 months in jail. This is not a fair punishment for killing someone. This sentence encourages future Honor Killings because the sentence is so light. A member of a particular family doesn't mind spending 6 months in jail if it means cleansing the family. There have already been 21 Honor Killings on the West Back and 25 more in Gaza.

One may argue that these Honor Killings can be justified by cultural relativism, because in Islamic law an unmarried woman found guilty of having an affair can be sentenced to 100 lashes, and for a married woman, the sentence is death by stoning. However, some of these killings may not even be Honor Killings, may not even be Honor Killings. The killings of Wafa Wahda and her sisters Sima and Eman el-Adel by their brother was said to be Honor killings, but it is believed that they had an inheritance dispute.

What is to be done about these killings when the government is in such array that it has other matters to attend to? The sentence is astonishingly light and something needs to be done, so that these killings do not continue.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Psychologists to endorse gay marriage

At a meeting in Honolulu last Wednesday, the American Psychological Association officially endorsed the idea that Gay couples should be able to get married. Currently, the APA is the worlds largest group of psychologists. This new endorsement is important to the on going question as to whether or not Gay's should have equal civil rights. Many people who oppose Gay marriage believe that it is wrong, and mainly a psychological problem; the APA's endorsement of the situation basically throws a wrench into that argument. The APA also believes that Gay couples should have just as many equal parental rights. Gay marriage is an issue that will continue to be argued for many years. Gay couples are humans just like everyone else, and should not be denied rights just because of sexual orientation. Will the APA's endorsement of Gay marriage change people's opinions and eventually make Gay marriage legal, or will the ongoing argument continue to be a social and political issue with no resolution?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

When is it appropriate to intervene? How much faith do you, personally, put in "cultural relativism"?

A 19 year old Saudi girl was sentenced to 6 months in prison and 200 lashes.

Her only crime? Meeting with an unrelated man (and getting gang raped by 7 others).

The court claims that they upped her sentence because she spoke to the media. However, the fact remains that a sentence was imposed upon the victim of a heinous crime simply because she had the guts to speak to the media about her presumably harrowing ordeal.

We've discussed cultural relativism, but how much is too much? Can we admonish a country for punishing a victim?

First Amendment Right for South African scholar fighting denied visa?

After being denied a visa to attend an academic conference, a prominent South African scholar named Adam Habid pressed the US embassy to provide him with a reason as to why he could not obtain a visa. The embassy would only point to the statute of US Immigration and Nationality Act which grants the right for the US to deny entry to anyone who has engaged in terrorist acts or is signaled to engage in them.

Adam Habid says he is not a terrorist. Instead, he is a critic of the current administration and he believes, backed by the ACLU that is in charge of his case, that this is the reason he is being denied a visa. Since 9/11, writers, artists and others have found it much harder to get in the US. Like Habib, many of this people have in common being vocal critics of US foreign policy. Habib is arguing that his first amendment right is being violated because he has the right to speak out against the US government and the people at the conference he is trying to attend have the right to hear what he has to say.

Habid’s case raises many questions about free speech and due process. A spokesman for the US government states that “The US would never sacrifice civil liberties, but life is the liberty on which all others depend.” Does national security override free speech? Are Habid’s rights being violated? Does he have the right to speak and be heard in the United States? Is it ok for an American to criticize US foreign policy without being labeled a terrorist or does this only apply to foreigners?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Don't Discrimiante Against Them, Just Disinherit Them

The Prime Minister of Cambodia, Hun Sen, disowns his adopted daughter because she is gay. He was quoted saying, "My adopted daughter now has a wife. I'm quite disappointed". Furthermore, he is planning to file a civil case to disown his daughter, so she cannot claim any inheritance from his family.

Generally, the Cambodian society is tolerant of homosexuality. Even so, in 2004, “then-King Norodom Sihanouk announced his support for gay rights, including the right to marry."

In spite of his actions towards his daughter, the Prime Minister in his speech to a graduating class pleaded to parents and society not to discriminate against homosexuals.

How can he disown his daughter because of her sexual orientation and then tell others not to discriminate against homosexuals? What do you think about his actions? What is your view towards homosexuals?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

'I was forced to kill my baby'

Africa is a continent known for its rich culture and tradition. Millions of people around the world are fascinated with the traditional practices and cultural beliefs African societies possess. However, such practices and beliefs contain elements that simultaneously shock Western communities. An example of this is evident in the terrible use of human body parts for black magic. These body parts are used by magic men, otherwise known as sangomas or muti-men in South Africa, as ingredients in concoctions and traditional medicine’s. The body parts of children are primarily demanded by sangomas as they are believed to be the most potent. Children are therefore brutally murdered and mutilated. Their body parts are either sold to these magic men, or stored.

In South Africa, a young mother named Helen Madide was forced by her husband, a muti-man himself, to kill their child. Her husband believed that his ancestors demanded that both the child and the mother die. According to these ancestors, once the two were dead, he would become rich. The man forced the woman and the child down a path where he then told the mother to hold the baby while he cut its throat. After the baby was dead he began to remove its various limbs and sexual organs. Helen survived the ordeal, however, she is plagued by the fact that she participated in hers child’s brutal death.

Jeffery Mkhonto is a survivor of an attack by gang members who removed his sexual organs. Jeffery was coerced into going to a neighbour’s house to get some food. His neighbour, along with a few other men instead removed his genitals with the intention to sell them later on.

In many cases, the body parts of these children are removed while the child is still alive. This is done as magic/muti men believe that the screams of the child enhance the strength of the magic.
This is a practice that receives little attention from the international community. Investigators believe that it is something that occurs far more frequently than we think. A prominent South African human rights activist states that “… children [go] missing every week from our townships… The assumption is that those missing children are being put into prostitution and also that they are being used for muti murder."
As believers in the ideal that all deserve the protection of their human rights, and that one is entitled to live life free from, what is our responsibility to these victims? The rights of these children are being sickeningly abused. Consider the possibility that these events may very well exist in this society. Consider the notion that everyone is at risk. In this regard, this is something that may happen to you, as well as it may happen to anyone around you. Therefore, we are all affected. What chances does the youth of South Africa, and the youth of the world for that matter, have in building a bright future for themselves?

Rendition Considered "Outsourcing"

Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, was detained at Kennedy Airport in 2002 and questioned for ten months in Syria under suspicion of Al Qaeda ties. Last Friday, in a lawsuit appeal, a New York federal appeals court justice characterized Arar’s rendition as “outsourcing.” Arar maintained that he was tortured in Syria and forced to issue a false confession before he was finally released in 2003. Canadian authorities apologized to Arar and paid millions of dollars in damages to him for falsely informing the U.S. that he was a suspected terrorist. However, Arar’s original lawsuit against U.S. authorities was thrown out of court because the court would not decide a case involving national security.

The case is controversial for a multitude of reasons. First, it raises the question of the human rights issues associated with the questioning techniques utilized by U.S. authorities on Mr. Arar in Syria. Also, how does the fact that Arar was not a U.S. citizen, but a Canadian citizen, factor into the case? A Justice Department lawyer stated that the Constitution is not applicable in Arar’s case because his torture took place in a foreign country and because he was not a U.S. citizen. What role does state sovereignty play when a country violates the human rights of a citizen of another nation? The appeals court is still in the process of deciding Arar’s lawsuit appeal, a decision that will have ramifications on a universal scale.

Westboro Baptist Church to protest in our backyard

Well folks. There here, or at least they will be on Thursday, November 15. Here in our backyard. Yes, the hate-spewing, God-fearing opportunists are going to picket at a local decorated war hero's funeral.
From the Lebanon Daily News:
Members of the radical Kansas-based organization will protest at the funeral of Nelson Long Jr., which is scheduled for 3:15 p.m. Thursday at Grose Funeral Home in Myerstown, according to a news release from the group.
The funeral home is located at 358 W. Washington Ave.
Long, who graduated from Elco High School in 1990, was killed early Thursday morning when his sport utility vehicle failed to negotiate a curve in the road and struck two trees along Route 501 just south of Rosebud Road. He was 36.
A sergeant first class in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, Long was awarded a Bronze Star for valor for pulling two wounded soldiers out of a vehicle that was hit by a roadside bomb in Iraq in October 2006.
The Westboro Baptist Church believes God’s wrath is killing U.S. service members because of America’s tolerance of homosexuality. Its members travel around the country protesting at funerals of service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, carrying signs that say things like “Thank God for IEDs” and “God Hates Fags.”
Long’s mother, Shirley Long, said yesterday she is not happy that the organization plans to protest.
“It’s sad enough as his mother. I’m thinking, ‘How am I going to get through Thursday?’ Now, this,” she said yesterday.
Although she acknowledges the group’s members have a right to protest, Long said, she’s hoping that somehow they’ll be held back or just won’t show up.
“I’m just so distraught,” she said. “To lose my son at that age, and he had only been back for a month, and I didn’t get to spend quality time with him, then to have somebody make a circus out of his memorial service. Maybe God will intervene.”
Shirley Phelps-Roper, daughter of Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps, said in a phone interview yesterday there wouldn’t be more than eight protesters at Long’s funeral, because church members are scattered around the country protesting at other funerals.
Phelps-Roper said it doesn’t matter that Long was not killed in action.
“He is the face of the doomed American military,” she said. “God is executing his judgment on the nation, and he’s focusing in on the military, so we’re focusing in on the military.”
Phelps-Roper said the organization doesn’t just protest service members killed in Iraq. This week, its members are also protesting funerals of soldiers killed in a helicopter crash in Italy and others killed in Afghanistan.
Kathy Grose, owner of Grose Funeral Home, said she has notified the Myerstown police department and the National Guard about the planned protest.
“I’m taking all the precautions I can,” Grose said. “There’s not a whole lot we can do.”
Members of the Patriot Guard — a group of motorcyclists that attends funerals of service members to shield the mourning family and friends from interruptions created by protesters — will attend Thursday’s funeral, state captain Bud Roberts said.
Cpl. George Peach of the Jonestown barracks said the state police are aware of the situation.
“The state police have assigned a number of troopers to be in attendance, if necessary,” Peach said. “If there is a protest, if this group does indeed show up, there will be a state-police presence there.”
Another reason the group decided to protest Long’s funeral, Phelps-Roper said, is its proximity to last month’s court case in Baltimore that made national headlines. Jurors in a case in the U.S. District Court in Baltimore found that Westboro members intentionally harmed the grieving family of a Marine killed in Iraq by holding a demonstration at his funeral in March 2006 and by a subsequent Internet posting about his family background.
The fallen Marine’s family was awarded nearly $10.9 million in damages.
“You guys need to understand that it changes nothing,” Phelps-Roper said, adding that the organization plans to appeal the ruling. “Soldiers are still dying, and America is still doomed.”
In addition to slogans used in the past, Phelps-Roper said group members will also carry signs Thursday that read “Thank God for $10.9 million.”
Meanwhile, Shirley Long said she was aware of the Baltimore ruling but added that she doesn’t believe in filing a lawsuit. She said she did not know whether or not her son’s wife, Daphne, would consider it.
Regardless, Long said, her faith is helping her get through these trying times.
“We’re a very Christian family,” she said. “I believe that my only son is in heaven with God’s only son. That can give me some peace, because he knew the Lord.”
This will be the third time Westboro Baptist Church members have visited Lebanon County. They protested following the 2003 screening of a documentary film about a gay Cornwall teenager who killed himself in 1997, and returned in 2004 when they protested in front of Cedar Crest High School because students had formed a gay-straight alliance.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Is torture effective?

(If the link doesn't take you directly to the video click on "Alleged Victim Sues U.S.")

"They that would give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither." - Benjamin Franklin

Several posts this semester have commented on the controversy surrounding the U.S. using torture. The video from CNN tells the story of a Canadian citizen, Maher Arar, who was deported from the U.S. on suspicion of attending an al-Qaeda traning camp in Afghanistan and sent to Syria. He was held there for over 10 months and tortured until he finally "confessed" to being affiliated with the terrorist organization. Upon his confession he was released from Syria and sent back to Canada.

Proponents of torture argue that it is a necessary evil in the struggle for national security. But exactly how is someone confessing to something they didn't do just to make the torture end making us any safer? Is this man's experience a price we're willing to pay for what supposedly will bring us increased security?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Is support of democracy worth losing Pakistan as an ally?

Benazir Bhutto is the leader of the Pakistan People’s Party and became the first woman leader of an Islamic country in 1988. Despite the fact that she left Pakistan after being dismissed from office early in 1996, Bhutto has recently been discussing setting up a “power-sharing arrangement” with Pakistan’s current president under martial law, General Pervez Musharraf.

Unfortunately, today Pakistani police, in an attempt to prevent a protest rally lead by Bhutto, issued a seven-day detention order. Government spokesman Tariq Azim Khan has expressed that there is sufficient evidence that Bhutto is indeed a target should she go through with the protest. Similarly to how the police prevented a previous protest planned by Benazir Bhutto, the government will confine her to her home, most likely using barricades.

Bhutto stands for democracy in a country that is now deprived of democracy. She is fighting for a cause that will benefit the people and allow them to have a voice where right now they certainly do not. The United States is put in a difficult position because Pakistan is an important ally of ours and General Musharraf has been somewhat helpful in the war against terrorism and the fight against Al Queda. Pakistan is likewise in a very strategic location surrounded by Afghanistan, Iran and India. It will be hard for the United States to continue to support a non-democratic Pakistan, but if we don’t, we could lose an ally in a very important area.

Should the US support Benazir Bhutto and her fight for Democracy and risk losing Pakistan as an ally?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

WHO Global Polio Eradication Initiative and Nigeria: A History of Poor Planning

The World Health Organization (WHO) began its Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) in 2003, targeting Nigeria and distributing its oral polio vaccine (OPV) with the goal of eliminating the disease by 2005. Muslim leaders in the Nigerian state of Kano expressed their concerns about the distribution of OPVs, and warned the government against cooperation because they believed the vaccines were a Western ploy to spread infertility and disease. Their fears of infertility were based in test reports that some of the final OPVs produced had traces of oestrogen and progesterone, reproductive hormones that inhibit fertility, within them. The WHO released a positions statement in January 14, 2004, denying these claims. The fear of “Western” vaccinations is not empty, however, as residents of Kano were subject to poorly tested meningitis vaccinations in 1996 that lead to the deaths of some 11 children.

In 2004, half of all new polio cases originated in Nigeria, many in the northern states, especially Kano. While the WHO was spreading the oral vaccine throughout the nation, Kano officials refused to participate in the initiative for eight months, spurning the spread of polio into twelve countries that previously had been declared polio-free (such as Sudan, where a child was diagnosed with polio in Darfur for the first time in 3 years). Under great pressure, the northern state bent, and in October of 2004 President Olusegun Obasanjo showed his support for the initiative by giving OPVs to children in Kano.

By 2006, the vaccination initiative was on the rise, but so was the polio virus. Children in Nigeria need to be immunized over and over again to ensure they do not contract the virus, and this need to repeat doses makes families very nervous; oftentimes they refuse to let their children be repeatedly immunized. There are many factors that impede the efforts to immunize children repeatedly: Only women can distribute the vaccines in certain areas and they make meager wages; workers often report a 100% success rate, even when that is far from true; because children need to immunized between eight and ten times for OPVs to be effective in the long-term, it is hard to know which children have been and have not been immunized; and, finally, widespread sewage inefficiencies increase the exposure of children, who play in filthy streets, to the polio virus.

Today, as reported October 10, 2007, Nigeria faces an outbreak of rare, vaccine-derived form of the polio virus. Some children who had received vaccinations have excreted a mutated form of the polio virus and have infected other children who, likely, were not immunized or only given OPVs a few times. There are now, and rightly so, many questions in the air surrounding the issue of oral vaccinations in Nigeria:

Were the OPVs properly tested before they were administered to children in Nigeria?

Were the OPVs tested for repeated administration, as they were anticipated to be distributed in Nigeria, before they were given to children?

Did the WHO anticipate the mutations that occurred?

How should this new strain of polio be addressed?

Where could this new strain of polio spread if not properly addressed?

How can it be contained?

Jerry Yang, Yahoo, and China

On November 6, CEO and co-founder of Yahoo!, Jerry Yang, went before congress and answered for his company's role in imprisoning a Chinese reporter, Shi Tao. Tao was imprisoned by the government of China for the contents of an email obtained with the help of Yahoo. The email discussed practices of the government in dealing with the reporting of the anniversary of Tianamen Square. Tao was sentenced to a ten year prison sentence and has already served two years in a Chinese prison.
Yahoo has also aided the Chinese government in the arrests of three men accused of anonymous postings online. Two of these three men are still serving multi-year sentences for crimes against the government. General Counsel for Yahoo, Micheal Callahan has also been accused of offering false information to Congress regarding these issues. He, along with Yang, have offered public apologies, but neither has offered any future changes to Yahoo's practices that would resolve the issues at hand.
These cases raise the issue of which laws become more powerful when dealing with American companies abroad. China does not offer the same protections of speech and expression as the United States does, and American companies become pressured into following the local laws of a nation. Only when companies like Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft agreed to follow Chinese restrictions were the companies allowed to operate in China.
By cooperating with Chinese officials, Yahoo helped violate the human rights of Shi Tao. International law didn't seem matter here, when Yahoo was looking to keep itself operating within Chinese borders. Is it right for companies to lessen the protection of human rights in order to do business? Are internet companies under any obligation to protect its users? Or is it ok for these companies to do what they have to in order to access potential markets, regardless of human rights?

State of Confusion

Over the past few days, Pakistani General Perez Musharraf has issued a state of emergency, taking sole control of the Pakistani government in order to “help combat terrorism”. His emergency rule includes dismissing members on the Supreme Court (Mr. Chaudhry has been put under house arrest), censoring privately owned television stations and administering widespread arrests of protesting lawyers. While Musharraf states emergency rule is needed to fight Islamic extremists, he seems to be arresting only lawyers and liberal political activists.

The United States is in a difficult position. Pakistan is one of our strongest allies in the war against terror, Al Queda and the Taliban. We’ve given them over 10 billion dollars since 2001, mostly for military aid. Yet, martial law is far from democracy and the United States should and has pushed for a return to democracy as soon as possible.

Should the United States withdraw their aid to Pakistan (therefore losing a key ally) to fight for democracy and the right for election, free speech and protest for all? “Extraordinarily heavy-handed measures” are being used to unjustly arrest lawyers and human rights activists each day (New York Times). The United States government says human rights are for all, but how important are they when money, power and influence come into play?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Waterboarding is all fun & games until someone gets Caught

Why would we want to confirm an Attorney General nominee that cannot seem to take a firm stance on what is legal/illegal? Have we stooped so low and do we have so few brilliant lawyers and judges in America that we have to scrap the bottom of the barrel?
Am I the only one here that doesn't get it?!

Jena 6 Sheds Light on Civil Rights in U.S.

Due to recent events dealing with the Jena 6, many have found that the Justice system in the U.S. is unfair and impartial. In this article, I found it interesting that out of every 100,000 black men in America, 3,145 are in prison. Compared to the 471 white men in prison (taken from evey 100,000). The Jena 6 case has brought the chance for people in America to have conversations about the current state of civil rights. There have been countless hearings about this event, however on 10/16, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing to discuss the implications of the Jena 6 incident as well as others in the U.S. that have caused racial tension. The panel questioned U.S. attorney Donald Washington, in the hearing that as said to be very emotional. "Washington said in his testimony that the Justice Department rarely brings cases against juveniles, and when it does they are not open to the press or public." The question that is on my mind is, in a situation that involves the human rights of every individual in the U.S., why must we keep it private? There is a growing tension in the U.S. dealing with civil rights, not to mention human rights. When will we take the proper action to spear head this problem?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

To Charge or Not to Charge: The Hate Crime Question

Saturday, November 3rd, Charleston, West Virginia was filled with people urging prosecutors to add a hate crime charge to a case against six white individuals who beat, tortured and assaulted a 20-year-old black woman. Megan Williams, the victim, joined in the protests. Protests are all fine and good; however, the N.A.A.C.P. and the prosecution begged Williams and others to not stage the protest seeing as it might harm the prosecution's case. The three men and three women are already being charged with assault and kidnapping. Kidnapping in West Virginia could land them with a life sentence. Hate crimes, on the other hand, only carry ten years. Why would they protest for a charge that could minimize the amount of time spent in jail?

Is there a value placed on a court case labeled "hate crime?" Do we judge the court case any differently even though the defendants are being tried for kidnapping and sexual assault instead of hate crimes? Is it about the status of a court case, or does the victim feel the need to provoke and expose hatred on a national scale?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Noose: CNN does good

Hope you all had the opportunity to view the CNN special on "The Noose in America". It gave a history of the use of the noose, and its negative connotations. Lancaster, Pennsylvania was also featured in the special -- Penn Manor and Warwick schools. Hate is alive and well in America, and even in rural Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Hate Church Ordered to Pay $10.9 for Funeral Protest

The Westboro Baptist Church, a hate group located in Topeka, Kansas has been ordered to pay almost $11 million in damages to Albert Snyder of York, PA as the result of an ongoing lawsuit. The Westboro Baptist Church, known for its slogans "God Hates Fags" and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers", recieved much attention for its protests to the criminal trial of the men who killed Matthew Shepard in 1998. Recently, the Church has been picketting the funerals of fallen soldiers in Iraq. They feel that the death of America's soldiers is God's way of punishing us for our tolerance of homosexuality. The suit was filed by Snyder to compensate for a protest that was held at his son's funeral. Snyder's son was killed in Iraq while serving for our country.
According to the article, "the jury first awarded $2.9 million in compensatory damages. It returned later in the afternoon with its decision to award $6 million in punitive damages for invasion of privacy and $2 million for causing emotional distress."
The Westboro Baptist Church defines hate groups as we learned in class. They are clearly fanatic religous zealots with no tolerance for those who are not a part of their cause. While this group is a quintessensial hate group in the purest sense of the term, should they be allowed to practice free speech, or do they deserve to be sued for expressing their (quite laughable, I must add) opinion. Is protesting a funeral an abuse of free speech? Is there even such a thing as an abuse of free speech? In addition, should $10.9 million be awarded to Mr. Snyder in this case, or was the jury being as extreme in their condemnation of the Church as the Church is in their condemnation of America? These are very touchy questions that need to be addressed. On one hand, our right to the freedom of speech is called into question. On another hand, the issues of frivolous lawsuits and overcompensation are being addressed. Personally, I feel that picketting a funeral is emotionally damaging and should be awarded compensation in a civil court. However, I think that $10.9 million may be a bit excessive in this case. Should a civil jury be allowed to make a socio-political statement in their verdict? I will leave that up to you.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Spanish Politicians condemn Franco's rule

The Spanish parliament has approved a bill that will formally condemn the 40 year dictatorship of Francisco Franco and all the executions and imprisonments that occured under Franco's rule. This bill declares General Franco's military trials and the resulting executions and imprisonments as illegitamate and requires that all statues, plaques and symbols of Franco's rule should be removed from all public buildings. The conservative opposition has decried this bill for reopening old wounds and trying to divide Spaniards. This bill, which is being called the Law of Historical Memory, has yet to pass in the Spanish senate but it is believed that the bill most likely will be passed by the senate. This bill would also call for the government to fund efforts to try locate and dig up mass graves of victims from the Spanish Civil War. It seems ridiculous that the government wants legally condemn the Franco government when there are plenty of other human rights abuses that have occured in Spanish history, including the murder of countless thousands of political opponents and religious individuals by the previous democratic Spanish Republican government that Franco overthrew. Is it right to condemn one side in a war where both sides were clearly commiting war crimes? Was the Franco Government truely illegitmate? Its one thing to condemn human rights violations of the past but why should we try to supress our history and waste government money on trying to find mass graves that are well over 70 years old, if those graves even do exist to the extent which historians claim?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Killer Coke

The Coca Cola Company has been consistently committing human rights violations around the world. In Plachimada, a small agrarian town in India, Coke built a plant promising jobs for the people in the town. Although the factory held to this agreement in part, it extracted so much of the town's ground water that there was virtually no clean, drinkable water for the people in the town to use. The factory also produced a large amount of waste product, as all manufacturing companies do; and, rather than disposing of it responsibly, Coke decided to give it to the people in the town as fertilizer. The people in the town, who did not know any better, proceeded to use this toxic waste on their crops. After many people in the town had gotten sick and many babies were born with birth defects, they figured out the origin of the illnesses. The people in Plachimada then organized a dilligent, peaceful protest until the Coke factory shut down.

And it doesn't stop there. In Colombia, Coke has been charged with hiring paramilitaries to act violently against anyone who opposes their bottling companies. There are on-going investigations of the murders of many union workers and protestors. Coke has been using similar fear tactics in many other under-developed countries around the world.

In order to "Pay It Forward," we want to Kick Coke off of F&M's campus as the exclusive vendor, following the example of the protestors in Plachimada. We want to use our power as consumers to make a difference and hold Coke accountable for its human rights and environmental transgressions. We can do our part to send a message to Coke by joining the initiative to Kick Coke off College Campuses. Several colleges in the immediate area, including Swarthmore, have already done so, and many other schools are following suit. To get more information check out our blog (linked to the post) and our display in the Atrium which will be up all week. Also, look for emails about the documentary we will be showing in the upcoming weeks.

Global Warming vs. Global Hunger: Which is more important?

Last week, Jean Zigler, a U.N. expert on the right to food, declared the creation of biofuels as a "crime against humanity." Biofuels are made using such essential foodstuffs as corn and sugar. Because of the increased demand for these crops, food prices have gone up to record highs over the past few months. Zigler declared that this act is a "crime against humanity" because it is not only destroying food crops that are essential to those who are poor but also raising the prices of the crops that are left and thus making them harder to afford for poor people. His solution to the problem is to ban the creation of biofuels for five years so that scientists may develop a process where they could be created using food waste instead of actual food. However, seeing as the U.S. would like to end its dependence on foreign oil as soon as possible as well as stop burning fuel that would contribute to global warming, five years is a lot of time that the U.S. does not have if it wants to make a reasonable change in the amount of fossil fuels that it burns. This brings up a very interesting and controversial question: should the U.S. stop creating biofuels so that the poor have food to eat or is the starvation of the world's poor a reasonable sacrifice to be made for the wellbeing of our planet's environment?

Is the use of the death penalty ever appropriate?

This weekend, Russia's "Chessboard killer," a man who claimed to have been responsible for 60 murders (although he could only be indisputably convicted of 48 of them and 3 attempted ones) was sentenced to life in prison. Alexander Pichushkin murdered his victims in extremely gruesome ways. His usual method involved asking the victim to take a walk to a park with him, where they shared some alcohol, usually vodka. When the victim was at least partially intoxicated, Pichushkin bludgeoned them with a hammer and stuck the remains of the bottle of alcohol in their skull (at this point, the victim was usually still alive and then was left to die). Pichushkin earned his nickname by taking the cap to each bottle of vodka that he used to get his victims drunk and placing each on a separate square of a numbered chessboard.

Disgusting? Gruesome? Yes. Deserving of the death penalty? Russia says no. We've talked about how "civilized" countries have abolished the death penalty -- but when a serial killer who has killed at least 48 people (and probably more) clearly cannot EVER be rebahilitated or released back into society, wouldn't the use of the death penalty be appropriate? Opponents of the death penalty argue that prison is for rehabilitation, but I very much doubt the death penatly's opponents would feel safe and secure if this man was "rehabilitated" and then moved in next door. Furthermore, we keep hearing that "an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind," but there isn't there a point at which we should draw the line? How about "an eye for 48 pairs of eyes makes the world a safer place"?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Dream Act and Immigration Solutions

The Dream Act was supposed to offer a way for children of illegal immigrants (who entered the U.S. before the age of 16) to become legal. They would have to have an "unblemished record" and could obtain conditional legal status for 6 years. During that 6 year period, they would have to spend at least 2 years in college or in the military. Only then could they qualify to become legal permanent residents.
The bill was defeated in Congress.

Would this proposed act provide a "special path to citizenship that is unavailable to other prospective immigrants -- including young people whose parents respected the nation's immigration laws"?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Tasering of Student -- Justified?

Remember our discussion about the freedom of speech in regards to the student who spoke out at the Kerry lecture - and got tasered? After an extended investigation, the police force concluded that the use of a taser on a student at the University of Florida was justified. Before you jump to conclusions as to his rights to free speech, however, consider this - the police invesigation uncovered evidence of a confrontation between the student and supporters of Rudy Giuliani that nearly turned violent, as well as a statement from a goundskeeper that the student involved in the conflict told another student that if he liked what he'd seen (in regards to the conflict with the Giuliani supporters) that he should attend the Kerry rally the following week. In light of this information, Meyer's verbal confrontation with Kerry seems entirely premeditated and more like political shenanigans than a student whose free speech has been imposed upon. In hindsight, was it right to use force to contain a situation that could have quickly gotten out of hand (especially when the perpetrator was known to incite arguments and confrontations amongst other political figures and their supporters)?

Citizens Wait, Worry in Junta's Climate of Fear

In Rangoon, Burma, soldiers are taking photos of people at pro-democracy demonstrations. They look at the photos and then take you at night, if you are identified. These nighttime raids began last month after Burma's military put down the country's largest protest in about twenty years which was led my Buddhist monks.

Thousands have been arrested and citizens live under this harsh military dictatorship and constantly live in fear. The people are only allowed to talk in whispers about the government. As a 66 year old man in Rangoon states, "The people, we all feel so cramped up inside. We cannot talk. We cannot do anything. This government, they are killers. They have guns, but the people have nothing."

Daily routines have somewhat returned though constant reminders remain such as the barbed wire at the entrance to Sule Pagoda. Tourists have not been visiting Rangoon and it is almost like a forgotten city. The streets are filled with holes, buses have wheezing engines, and electricity is constantly flickering on and off.

Hundreds of people are missing and as many as 200 people have been killed. Conditions are horrible with scarce drinking water and one person, "...was given one egg to share with eight people, one bottle of water. No one was allowed to sleep. They had to sit, and if they lay down, they were hit." Basic human rights such as freedom from fear, freedom from speech and freedom from unreasonable searches are constantly being violated.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Should We Call It Genocide?

The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee has raised the issue of whether to condemn the mass killings of 1 million Armenians, at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, as ‘genocide.’ The issue is being carefully reconsidered because it has created a dispute with Turkey, a key ally to the U.S. in the Middle East. Turkey has continually rejected characterizing this event as genocide and has threatened to end the use of its air bases by the U.S if this vote passes. Furthermore, the Turkish government is considering sending troops into Iraq to fight Kurdish rebels, a move that the U.S. is adamantly against. So, the question remains: Should the U.S. take the moral high ground and condemn the mass killings in 1923 as genocide? Or, should the U.S. look after its national interests and do what pleases Turkey?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Effort In Eliminating The Death Penalty In Africa


Edmary Mpagi served 18 years on death row in Uganda for the murder of a man who in fact was alive. In July 2000, Mr. Mpagi was finally free after enough evidence was found to prove his innocence. 



“It was 18 years and three months that I spent in there,” Mr. Mpagi said. “There wasn't one day I didn't think I was going to die. Others should not go through what I went through - the guilty ones or the other innocent ones like me.”



Now that Mr. Mpagi is out of jail, he spends much of his time on a campaign against government-sponsored killing. 


Even though opponents of capital punishment, like Mr. Mpagi, face obstacles such as religion, politicians, and citizens who are fed up with criminals. Their effort in trying to eradicate the death penalty in Africa is making headway. For example, eighteen years ago only one country in Africa, the island of Cape Verde, did not practice capital punishment. Today, according to Amnesty International, 13 African countries have now abolished the death penalty for all crimes. However, 20 countries retain the death penalty but are no longer carrying out executions and 20 countries retain and use the death penalty.

Those who are advocates of death penalty in Africa say, what about “those who dare to take the life of another, violate a woman or commit a crime while wielding a gun ought to pay with their lives.” Mr. Mpagi’s asks, “What about false prosecutions. What about cruel and unusual punishment? What about evidence that suggests that having a death penalty does not deter people from killing, raping or robbing?” 



What do you think about the death penalty? Will the death penalty ever be eliminated in America?

Senior Khmer Rouge leader arrested

Noun Chea, the senior most living Khmer Rouge leader has been arrested in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge was responsible for the deaths of 1.7- 2.5 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979. Noun Chea, now 82 was second in command only to the notorious Pol Pot. Whether the Khmer Rouge is an example of communism gone wrong, or ordinary people reacting to their situation and "following orders" the wounds in Cambodia are still glaring. I visited Cambodia this summer, and it is very much a nation still recovering from the memories of a horrendous genocide.
To this date, none of the Khmer Rouge leaders have been put on trial. In fact many leaders such as Pol Pot and To Mok have died, and many of them led comfortable lives in Cambodia even after the genocide. In 2006, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia or the Khmer Rouge tribunal was established, to try senior Khmer Rouge leaders or those "most responsible" for the crimes committed against the Cambodian people between 1975 and 1979. There are a number of concerns about the tribunal especially since it is being established nearly thirty years after the end of the genocide, and only has a three year mandate. However, Noun Chea is among the first to be indicted for crimes against humanity. The link has numerous pictures of Cambodia today, and documentation of the genocide. It will be interesting to see the role that international law and the tribunal plays for Cambodia today.

State Run Iranian TV Adapts




Iranian State TV has introduced the very shelter Iranian community a new mini-series based on the Iranian Embassy in Paris during World War II. The state run television has been trying to attract more viewers since the early 1990's. In the new mini-series called " Zero Degree Turn" portray highly controversial political messages that previously would have never be accepted. Iranian media expert explained that the government have finally adapted this new type of TV to instill unity among the Iranian community in the time were they face such intense international pressure for its nuclear program.
The series depicts the Iranian Embassy in Paris during World War II, when employees forged Iranian passports for European Jews to flee to Iran. The series is built around a love story between an Iranian-Palestinian man and a Jewish Frenchwoman he helps escape to Iran.
Is the Iranian government using sensitive issues such as the Holocaust to indirectly achieve national pride for their current government choices?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Dowry Deaths in India

Dowry is a gift of money or valuables given by the family of the bride, to the family of the groom at the time of marriage. Though initially implemented by the wealthy, it is now a form of insurance in the case of the in-laws mistreating the wife. Though legally prohibited in 1961, dowry also known as dahej, continues to be highly institutionalized. What resulted from increased dowry demands were dowry deaths or bride burning which is the burning of women whose dowries were not considered sufficient by their husband or in-laws. Every 12 hours a dowry related death claimed to have taken the lives of over 20,000 women across India between 1990 and 1993. Most of these incidents are reported as accidental burns in the kitchen or are disguised as suicide. It is evident that there exist deep rooted prejudices against women in India. Cultural practices such as the payment of dowry tend to subordinate women in Indian society.

It is ironic that in India, dowry was originally designed to safeguard the woman in the form of money, property or gifts given solely to the woman by her parents at the time of her marriage. The abuse of this custom eroded and aborted the original meaningful function of dowry as a safety net for the woman and was corrupted to become the price tag for the groom and consequently the noose for the bride. The price of the Indian groom astronomically increased and was based on his qualifications, profession and income.

Though prohibited, dowries are commonly asked for by the families of the groom. The families of the daughter have to comply in order for families to get their daughters married. This leads to further problems like those of child infanticide which is the killing of female infants because of the problems families have to face in getting her married some day. It also solidifies the position of woman as subordinate to the man. Brides are being sold like market commodities and being tortured when the greed of the groom and his family is not satisfied. What can be done to stop such customs if the law isn’t enough? The punishment for dowry death is already 7 yrs which most certainly isn’t enough time for murder. Then again, the Indian Government does not recognize dowry death to be murder. Also, a lot of women who are subject to torture do not lodge a police complaint as it would bring dishonor to their family.

Social laws are required where culture has failed to institutionally stop injustices of dowry deaths. More importantly there needs to be a cultural rethinking on the status of women which can occur only through education. The problem is compounded by the fact that 63 percent of the female population in India is illiterate. Perhaps a good starting point is population control and compulsory education for boys and girls alike. Is education the answer? If so, how does one explain the demanding of dowry by wealthy, well educated people? When traditions are so deeply rooted, can anything be done to stop such practices?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

"Raised in the Ring"

While surfing through channels during my fall break, I stumbled across a 20/20 episode entitled, "How Young is too Young?" Being that my group was dealing with the abuse of children's rights for our final paper, I decided to stay put on ABC and watch the rest of the episode. Amidst the segments on child prodigies and ever apparent child actors and actresses, there was a segment about a new documentary titled, "Raised in the Ring." Directed by Todd Kellstein, the documentary takes place in rural Thailand and focuses on two young girls, Nong Pet who is nine and Stam who is all of eight years of age. These two girls have taken up the sport of boxing and at such young ages have not only started an exhausting training program, but have also started fighting in real boxing matches. As many if not all of us know, boxing is known to cause serious injuries and can even result in brain damage. However, in places like Thailand where people are desperate for money, this new phenomenon has taken hold. Children as young as five years old are boxing and what can be even more astonishing is that their parents are not only allowing it, but encouraging it. Winning a boxing match can earn these young children hundreds of dollars which can then be used to greatly improve the family's financial needs situation. Although these children are no doubt doing a great service to their families by putting their heart and soul into winning these matches in order to win money, there is a point where one must ask the question, how young is too young? Not only do these children face an extreme risk of physical harm, there is also the mental stress of carrying such a big burden on such tiny shoulders. Here arises the question of whether someone should ban this sport because it is indeed a violation of children's rights? Or must we look at it as a voluntary action and an action that will help a family tremendously, therefore nothing should be done?



15 year old, Arigona draw's Austria’s Attention

15 year old, Arigona Zogaj was finally exposed to freedom of being able to live with her family. Arigona was an ethnic Albanian from Provost who was separated from her family after the unfortunate acquaintance with the police. Her family has been seeking asylum in Austria since 2002. Arigona’s strong determination to be back with all her family members encouraged her to record a video that would be broadcasted on Austria TV. The recorded video included her threatening to kill herself if her family was kept apart. Her father and four siblings were deported to Kosovo and her mother suffered to the extent that she was hospitalized because of the thought of Arigona’s disappearance. A law, that was adopted in 2006 in Austria prevents the possibility of immigrants ever being able to reunite with their family members and makes it harder to gain citizenship.
Austria has many asylum seekers, in return the government has made it difficult for the refugees of the war-torn Balkan’s to seek asylum.

“Cynics say this girl should be given Austrian citizenship just for showing Austrians how confused they are about immigration.”

If Immigration laws are supposed to benefit people Austiria isn’t doing a good job of it and the country is in two minds its laws. Based on this article, I would argue that : To what extent are immigration laws helpful if in some countries the only purpose of the existence of the law separates immigrants from their families and prevents the possibility of families being reunited?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Cuban Migration: New Route Increases Likelihood of Reaching America

For years Cubans have been risking their lives to migrate to the United States in order to escape the (formerly Fidel and now brother Raul) Castro regime. The voyage has not been easy as the Cubans attempt to reach Miami by way of rundown boats and rafts. The US Coast Guard has been actively working to intercept these migrants and send them back to Cuba and was recorded to intercept 2,861 out of 7,686 Cubans crossing the Florida Straits in 2005.
The Cuban migrants have now strategized a new and potentially more successful way of reaching the US. Their route has been redirected westward as they find their chances of getting intercepted significantly decreased by traveling to Mexico and then crossing the US-Mexican border. While this new route may add time to their trip, to these Cubans the time would be worth the successful escape from the Castro regime.
This new route draws many issues into question. There is controversy over the United States accepting Cubans over the US-Mexican border willingly and allowing them to request political asylum/gain US citizenship while there is clearly an issue with Mexican illegal immigrants who are not given similar rights. Due to the Clinton administration's "wet foot/dry foot" policy, if a Cuban migrating to the US is caught at sea he is to be sent back to Cuba or a third country (as the Coast guard has done) but if he makes it to the US shore he is given the chance to remain. Should Cubans be given this chance while crossing the US-Mexican border or should they be restricted to the same conditions Mexicans seeking similar entry are restricted to? Is the wet foot/dry foot policy ethical or should the US stand by one policy instead of US border officials accepting Cubans while US Coast Guard officials return them to Cuba? Are Mexicans and Cubans in Mexico helping or hurting the Cubans' chances of safely reaching the US? Has this effected US/Mexican and US/Cuban relations for the better or worse?

Putin's Russia: Human Rights Abuse?

Recently, Secretary Rice met with Russian leaders to discuss the US's new missle shield that it wishes to place in Easten Europe. However, prior to this meeting, she met with numerous human rights activists to discuss Russian politics. While Russia is officially a semi-Presidential federal republic, Putin's grasp on the country's freedoms has been gradually diminishing over time. The Kremlin has been gradually increasing its power over the country, calling into doubt many of Russia's "democratic" institutions, such as the judiciary. Putin has centralized power, even taking control of Russian television. He even plans to run for Prime Minister after his constitutionally allowed time as President expires. This way, he will be able to run for Presidential office again in 2012. These signs clearly point to the fact that President Putin is tightening his grib on the democratic ways of moden Russia.
However, a few big questions linger. Is Putin committing human rights abuses? If so, are they severe enough for us to care? If they are, why should we focus our efforts on a democratic Russia? Personally, I feel that Putin is not currently committing human rights abuses. Throughout history, the political culture of Russia has had an authoritative lean. Even when the Soviet Union fell, many older Russians were not ready for democracy, even opposing its implementation. Russia has the sovereignty to do with its democracy what it pleases. However, if Putin takes his centralization too far, we may have something to worry about. Thus, Putin is not yet committing human rights abuses and his measures are not important enough to make a fuss about. In the Bush era of US democracy, worldwide liberty and freedom are of the utmost importance (ie Iraq). However, Russia does not have WMD's and is not abusing its people. Therefore, we need to respect the sovereignty of Russia and allow its political culture to naturally work out the best form of a democratic government. After all, "Russia" is not even 20 years old.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The "Good" German Among Us


"The only thing neccesary for the persistance of evil is enough good people to do nothing"

This quote is important to keep in mind while reflecting on the this editorial by Frank Rich, who makes some pretty strong comparisons of what is going in the United States now to what happened before the Holocaust in Germany. Frank argues that the executive branch took advantage of the shell-shocked nation following 9/11 while the other branches failed to provide the necessary checks and balances of what was really happening. Now we are left in a harsh situation. It has become irrefutable that there is torture going on in Abu Ghraib but still the government does not acknowledge it. Instead of instating a draft to get a sufficient number of troops, private contractors like Blackwater are killing civilians in Iraq with no justice being served. Rich believes this is all part of “the White House’s plan to coax us into a blissful ignorance about the war.” Whether it is through prohibiting pictures of coffins or denying the facts, the White House is counting on the population to not question or be fully aware about what is happening. Like the good Germans who sat back and claimed ignorance while watching the Gestapo torture, we are sitting back and claiming ignorance by letting the government act this way. Those of us that do know are not doing enough to stop it. I know for sure I am not. Are we all just being “good Germans”? What can we really do? Does this situation have the potential to reach the level that it did in Germany? My answer would be no, but then again, I don't think the German's ever thought their situation did either.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

how young is too young

It is clear to many of us that in many countries throughout the world there are still arranged marriages. I understand that they are typically traditional but it seems that in certain cases they are definitely violating the human rights of those involved. In Afghanistan there are marriages being arranged for girls as young as 3 years old and while in arranged marriages those involved do not really have a say, at 3 years old they can barely speak, let alone say anything about not wanting to get married. Its pretty obvious that the young children (in the case I read about the girl was 3 and the boy was 7) are being treated completely as property and are traded to further the families' interests. In addition, many of these marriages, because they occur at such a young age, end up with various problems, such as abuse and one of the spouses, usually the wife, running away. It was said that despite the minimum legal age for marriage being 16 for a girl and 18 for a boy, nearly 43% of marriages happen before then. Thats nearly HALF. It is also said that some marriages are arranged before birth. The rights of these children are being violated before they are even born. I find this absolutely ridiculous and i am perplexed at the thought of being obligated to marry someone before even leaving the womb. Although it is the tradition in certain countries and tribes to wed the children at a relatively young age.. I personally feel that 3 years old or before birth is a little too young.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Who do sanctions really affect?

Diplomacy has always been the preferred method of dealing with countries that are not following the standards set by international law. The most readily used diplomatic tool is sanctions however some are beginning to question the effectiveness of sanctions. In North Korea, in order to stop the government's creation of nuclear weapons, arms sanctions were used. Also, there has been a call for the use of stricter sanctions against Sudan and Iran. In light of last month's human rights abuses in Myanmar there has been a further call for the use of sanctions. I have a few concerns about who sanctions actually affect. Usually when sanctions are placed on a country, the target is the economic well being of that state. In doing so however the innocent citizens are just as greatly affected as the government. By banning countries from trading with that state, prices of goods will be increased and the people who are supposed to be being helped are actually hurt. There is also a perception that if the situation becomes desperate enough the government will have to stop doing whatever it is it is doing. This is not necessarily true, because it is the people who will be experiencing the desperation, not the government, and in states where the people have no voice, citizens are incapable of demanding change. There has been a concerted effort by countries inflicting sanctions to ensure that to the best of their ability the people are not directly affected. For example, the trade of food and medicine are allowed. However in extremely oppressive states, these goods never get to the general population and once again the citizens are disadvantaged, with only those that are able to afford it, having access to bare necessities. It is about time that the world figures out a more effective method of getting governments to comply with international standards that has less direct effect on the people. If the actual intention is to stop the human's rights abuses, rather than get the country to comply with arbitraty standards, then sanctions cannot be the most effective method.

Hate Crimes Bill: Should "Haters" get more time or less?

Congress has passed a hate crimes bill which gives money to state, local and Indian law enforcement agencies to help prosecute hate crimes. According to the bill, prosecution of a hate crime applies to “Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person.” The bill not only allows more money to be spent on prosecution of hate crimes but also allows for stricter sentences.
However, opponents of the bill point out that it promotes inequality among victims. According to the bill a villain can get more time for murdering a homosexual or an African American than they would get for murdering a heterosexual or a white person. This allows the homosexual or the African American, and all others covered under the bill, more protection under the law. In an attempt to “prevent” hate crimes and combat hate, are we, as a society, spreading inequality and discrimination, which contributes to hate?

Taking it in another direction, Dozier states “Hate is a kind of anger phobia…Today, however, a phobia is treated as a mental health problem if it significantly interferes with normal functioning. Using this comparison, hate should be treated the same way. In fact, it might be wise to expand the concept of phobia to encompass…persistent, irrational hatred.” Later, in his book Dozier mentions, “Hate…can be delusional. In acting out their hatred, people may honestly believe they are doing the right thing.” Examples of this are Hitler and Pol Pot. If this is true, if hate is delusional or a mental health issue, should persons convicted of hate crimes get more time or less? For other defendants with mental insanity or defects the court takes those issues into account. Should “haters” be allowed to plead some sort of insanity?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A Murky Situation: Blackwater's Actions in Iraq

One of the most controversial aspects of the war in Iraq has been the involvement of private American contractors, beginning with Haliburton and now focusing on the private security agency Blackwater. The State Department has awarded Blackwater more than half a billion dollars in contracts since the start of the Iraq war. Their task is to protect diplomatic convoys travelling throughout the country, a job usually reserved for the U.S. military or government. Blackwater employees are to fire only in defensive situations which pose a clear and imminent danger.

Despite these orders, there have been 16 Iraqi civilian deaths at the hands of Blackwater employees, including the death of the Iraqi Vice President's body guard. In a report published by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Blackwater employees are said to have participated in 195 "escalation of force" incidents, initiating fire in over 84%. The full report can be read here: http://oversight.house.gov/documents/20071001121609.pdf

There are two other private security agencies operating in Iraq who have much better track records. Why is this? The article attached to this blog suggests that Blackwater employees lack training before deployment and have virtually no access to mental health services once they are in Iraq. Could these be contributing factors to the incidents? If so, who is really to blame, individual employees or the Blackwater corporation? Are the actions of Blackwater embedded in the situation? Should we be asking private contractors to perform what many feel is the duty of the government? Is it even ethical for our government to ask a private company to represent our interests overseas when the corporation has no accountability to the American people?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Another More Recent Cause of Maluntrition




In the nothern Bengal Region of India, tea farm workers and their families were left stranded when the proprietors of the tea farms suddenly abandoned the farms when the market price of tea fell. The tea farm workers who lived on the estate had no other means for survival except to sell the unrefined leaves that remained when the proprietors left.

Persons who could leave found jobs nearby, offten obtaining little pay. Those who could not simply had to edure the new economic conditions. Persons who continued to sell tea tree leaves obtained much lower wages than before. Those new wages were and still are unabale to help these persons maintain an adequate standard of living.

This standard of living in northern Bengal is now so deplorable that persons cannot afford food, one of the few basic neccesties. With widespread hunger and malnutrition comes vulnerablitly to opportunist diseases such as anemia and tuberclorosis. Deficiencies of certain essential vitmains and minerals, and the resulting deficiency diseases are common. Because of this, people in the community have become ill. Although there is desire to work, persons are now physically unable.

Government aid which is allocated to help is insufficient and it is not being allocated by currupt local officials who instead keep these vital resources for personal use. Hence the deplorable physical condition of the people does not seem to be coming to an end.


Why is it that tea frmers who once participated in a whorthwhile source of income for their families and for their region are now unable to maintain an adequate standard of living? Why were the proprietors able to leave so freely? Why did the workers not have a representativie group to look out for their intrests?


The tea farmers were labourers who probably did not have the skills or the means to do other jobs. This would cause them to remain in a job that supported them financially but was otherwise lacking, where there may have been poor employee treatment.

Article 23 Part 1 of the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights states that, "Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of emplyment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment." It was unfair for the proprietors to leave the estate without forewarning emplyees.

The situation of the tea farmers is primarily economic, but it does consider basic rights since the persons are unable to obtain nutritious food for themselves. The widespread malnutirition is now affecting the physical well being of persons and further limiting their earning potential. Hence, a cycle is created where persons are unable to work facilitating the lack of food which makes them unable to work in the future.

Although some general consideration has taken place, the amount of aid is inadequate, and there is still a need for this aid to reach the community. The corruption which is occuring violates Article 25 Part 1 of the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights which states, "Everyone has the right to a stndard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, medical care and neccessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, dissability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Once proper physical condititon is resotred there are two possible things which the government must do. The reason why the governemt should take responsibility is that these people are unable to change their conditions. Furthermore, lack of proper government regulation allowed the proprietors to simply leave the farms. One of these changes is to train the persons in the community in new worthwhile fields or relocated them to other areas where they can continue tea farming. The other possible change the government must make is to rebuilt the community.

Rape Epidemic in Congo yet no one knows why

With last year's historic election in Congo it was believed that the chaos and violence would be over, as the country would hopefully unify under a nationally elected government. Unfortunately, the election proved to be much less beneficial for the nation as numerous bands of rebel groups still roam free and control large portions of land. What is most frightening about this sudden shift back into chaos is that women are being systematically targeted by both rebels and Congolese government troops as rape victims and are also being kidnapped for ransom.
According to the New York Times article everyday 10 new rape victims show up at one particular hospital, and each of these women and girls have been brutally attacked so that their reproductive and digestive systems have been damaged almost beyond repair, with such things as bayonets and pieces of wood. One doctor reports he performs on average 6 rape- related surgeries a day, and the 350 bed hospital is not even large enough to hold to constant stream of victims so many women are forced to leave before they are completely healed.
Not only are the wounds shown on one's body but these women ranging in age from 3 - 75 years old are full of emotional scars. Because of the vast age range many are not even old enough to understand what has happened to them while others can't even fathom where or how to begin their lives again. Many victims not only suffered through their rape but also had to bear having their husbands forced to watch it happen and then killed. In the case of others who's husbands are alive, they have been divorced because their husbands claim they are now diseased.
This rape epidemic has reached proportions never seen before in any context. The number of victims exceeds those reached in Rwanda during the genocide. What is even more disturbing, however, is that no one seems to know why this attack on women is taking place. While most aid workers insist that rape is not a product of Congolese culture many believe point its origins to the 1990s when many Hutu militiamen fled to Congo following the Rwandan genocide. And even though the Congolese military forces also have raped many women the most brutal attacks are believed to be done by the Hutu militias. Another line of thinking is that it keeps escalating because no one is being punished. But with more UN peacekeeping forces than anywhere else is the world how does this keep happening even despite efforts to provide more protection to women? How can we prevent this from continuing? Will the Hutus ever stop targeting others or are they too far gone from of decades of killing and torturing?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Child Soldiers in Uganda


Warren brought this youtube video to my attention. Wondering what is going on in Northern Uganda? When will it stop? And for that matter, when will it stop in Darfur, or Burma, or the Democratic Republic of Congo? etc, etc?

Torture in American Military Policy?

President Bush has done many things in his presidency. He's removed a ruthless dictator, involved the United States in a war against an enemy that is vast and veiled, and he has condoned methods of torture in order to gain "crucial intelligence" from detainees.

The Bush administration has blurred the legal lines as to what is right and what is wrong. Waterboarding, stress positions, and countless other forms of physical and psychological "inquisition" methods are being used on supposed terrorists. Is it right for the U.S. to condone such extreme measure of interrogation? The U.S. claims in the Bill of Rights Amendment XIII that there will be no "cruel and unusual punishment inflicted." If this is true domestically why is it untrue in foreign relations? Where do we draw the line in terms of acceptability for this behavior?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Girl survived Brazil tribe's custom of live baby burial

The story of Hakani has gained international media attention in the past few weeks. Hakani was born in 1995 with a growth deficiency. Her parents were ordered by tribe leaders to poison her because of this. The Suruwah√° tribe believes, as is common in many tribes in the Amazon, that a child born with a deformity has no soul and should therefore be killed. The child is to be buried alive, suffocated with leaves, poisoned, or simply abandoned in the jungle. Hakani’s parents were unable to poison their child and committed suicide, as did Hakani’s grandfather when told to complete the task. Hakani was left to die in the jungle, and if it weren’t for a brother that smuggled food to her, she would have. Brazilian missionary couple Marcia and Edson Suzuki petitioned the government to allow them to remove Hakani from the tribe and finally their wish was granted. Hakani is receiving medical treatment for a thyroid condition and is currently attending school.

It is not known how many children die a year in this way, as Brazilian authorities often record these deaths as malnutrition cases out of respect for these cultures. It is an argument of cultural relativism— is it a question of murder or the preservation of a culture? Anthropologists argue that abolishing this practice would be in some way a threat to these tribes’ cultures. Human rights groups argue that this is not only a violation of human rights, but that it is simply not logical as this practice actually expedites the extinction of these tribes. I agree with the human rights groups on this issue. Many of these children have problems that are very treatable and instead of looking at this issue as an issue of whether or not we should further isolate these cultures from our civilization, we need to work of getting them access to basic health care. This practice is cruel and has led to a high suicide rate among parents who are not willing to kill their own children. The Brazilian government is currently deciding on “Muwaji’s Law,” a bill that would outlaw infanticide. It might not stop the authorities that falsify the death records, but it would spark a debate, as it already has, about the morality of this issue.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Increased Human Rights Leading to Development

Tostan is an NGO that has worked in various African countries. It works to eradicate illiteracy, reduce poverty, and promote human rights. The aid organization is claiming that there is a link between human rights and national development. The group has found that once natives learn their rights, they begin to restructure their communities to better assert these rights. Tostan’s work has led many in Senegal to abandon the hotly debated practice of female circumcision. The group has educated both women and men about why the practice is a violation of human rights and natives who were once proponents of the practice now speak out against it. Does this show that we do not have to be culturally relative on this issue and other, similar issues as well? Or are were merely imposing our western values and brainwashing Africans when we help them learn “their rights” and they then demand that they are respected?

Burma- Scared Silent

Burma (Myanmar) is a country oppressed by military and government regime led by Than Shwe since he took control in 1990. Shwe took control after the National League won democratically held, multiparty elections for Democracy (NLD). Since he was appointed Prime Minister in May 2007, Shwe has appointed current and former military officers to almost every position in his cabinet and government.

On September 27th, the government forcibly suppressed, public outcry and protest against the military regime. That day hundreds of Buddhist monks and civilian protestors were detained and ten were reported killed, although many credible reports suggest that ten is a wildly conservative figure.

The government has also placed restrictions on mobile phones and the Internet, limiting the availability for accurate real time information. Public demonstrators cannot protest without eminent threat of detainment nor can they communicate with others in the country or otherwise to relay pertinent and vital information. The government and military regime has a stranglehold on the Burmese people. Why don’t China, India, Russia, Japan or the United States react with direct and sustained reprisal of the government?

The answer seems simple: national interest. When a government considers all of the possible actions it could take, from diplomacy to declaration of war, its own national interest is primarily considered. Human rights affairs are not of enough interest to the world powers. The most that has been done is a US economic sanction against Burma. None of the Asian powers have responded, other then “calling for restraint.” More action must be taken to ensure human rights in Burma.

Minorities Only Ones Charged in Hate Crime

In a McDonald's located in Oceanside, NY, a bunch of white kids attacked 2 minorities. After the fight only one person was charged until just recently. Aloysius Staton Jr., 24, a black man, was arrested and charged after the fight. Stanton was charged because he broke a bottle across the face of one of the white males. The fight started when one of the white males took a chair and slammed it over the head of Statons friend Oswaldo Rivera. By taking a look at the video of the incident www.youtube.com/watch?v=Avzyg14rM7Q (fight doesn't start until about 4 minutes into the video) you can see that the fight began when one of the white males picked up a chair and slammed it down on Rivera, but yet he has not been charged. Only now 4 months after the incident has one of the white men been charged. When you look at the video it is pretty evident that the fight was started by the mob of white children, but because Stanton used self-defense he is the only one really being persecuted. Oceanside is my hometown and I know some of the white kids. I am not suprised in the least bit that these kids would be involved and instigate this incident, and it appauls me that hate crimes still occur in a normal suburban Long Island town. Their are a couple of human rights issues that occur here. First is the issue of the hate crime, and that racisim still is prominent in the US. Second and I believe more important is that the white kids get off free while the minorities pay for their actions. How can we trust the legal system when atrocities such as this occur?

Monday, October 01, 2007

Is Forgiveness in the eye of the beholder?: Nickle Mines & the Amish

We live so close to them, but oh so far away. A year ago, the unthinkable happened: a local Lancaster county man stormed an Amish one-room school house and mercilessly gunned down 5 young girls. What did the Amish do? They forgave the killer and comforted his family. How is that possible? If most of us are honest with ourselves, we would admit that we would never be able to do that. Why is that? What happens when an atrocity occurs on a larger scale? To a specific ethnic group, or religious group, or racial group, or a group according to sexual orientation? How do we rebuild societies that have been so poisoned?

Darfur rebels kill 10 in peace force

I realize that my naivety will be revealed when I make the statement that even in war and rebellions, there are certain basic rules, which should be followed by all. There are groups such as peacekeepers, humanitarian services, medical professionalists and journalists who should not be attacked and brought into the war or dispute. I believe this rule is fundamental to any kind of working society and those who can not honor this, are completely lawless and should be dealt with very harshly i.e. cut off from all other elements of society. An example of such lawlessness occurred on Sunday, September 30th when there was a major attack in Nairobi, Kenya. Darfurian rebels attacked an African Union peacekeeping camp in the town of Haskanita, about 100 miles east of Nyala- a major city in Darfur. Hundreds of Darfurian rebels attacked the peacekeeping camp from all sides outnumbering the peacekeepers in what seems to be a planned attack. At least 10 soldiers are dead, numerous people are missing and the rebels took supplies and heavy weapons. According to Noureddine Mezni, an African Union spokesperson the purpose of the attack on this camp was to seize quality weapons and materials. This raid “was the deadliest and boldest attack on African Union peacekeepers since they arrived in Darfur three years ago.” The African Union has been trying to restore peace in Darfur for the past three years, but they are currently mixed up in a battle between two competing rebel tribes and the government. The fighting and raids in Darfur seem to only
be getting worse, “the attack was the most dramatic display yet of the new kind of chaos that is engulfing Darfur…” the fighting in Darfur has turned into a “free-for-all” power struggle between dozens of armed groups and the fighting in Haskanita seems to be the worst. The main issue, which stems from this recent raid is whether or not other countries are going to withdraw aid as a consequence of this new chaos. Other countries that have been considering supplying troops to the United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission might rethink their position. The plan was to increase the number of peacekeepers from 7,000 to 26,000, but now those numbers might not be possible. This ongoing fight in Darfur needs to come to an end. But with no help from supporting countries I don’t see the “light at the end of the tunnel.” Instead of this last raid scaring people away it should shake them enough to realize how desperate the Darfur region is, and how badly they need help to prevent this from happening again and furthermore to take a stand and stop even more severe genocide which is occurring in this region.

Suspected Nazi War Criminal Found in Metro Atlanta - When will this end?

This week, members of the Justice Department's "elite" Nazi-tracking force located Paul Henss, an 85 year old man who lives in Lawrenceville, GA. Henss had joined the Hitler youth when he was between 12 and 13 years old, then joined the Nazi party in 1940. Eventually, he volunteered to serve in the Waffen SS and was chosen to serve in the "elite Waffen SS combat unit 'Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler'". After leaving the combat unit, Henss served as a dog handler at both the Buchenwald and Dachau concentration camps for a total of 2-3 months each. NOW, the Justice Department wants to deport him, because they claim that Henss trained other prison guards how to handle guard dogs. Additionally, the Criminal Division's Office of Special Investigations issued a statement that “the brutal concentration camp system could not have functioned without the determined efforts of SS men such as Paul Henss, who, with a vicious attack dog, stood between these victims and the possibility of freedom.”

While the government begins the legal proceedings to prosecute and possibly deport this man, I think it is imperative that we ask ourselves how much longer this must go on. Is it truly necessary to punish those that, after living a normal life for the past 50 or so years, finally felt comfortable confessing to past sins? Had Henss not said anything at all, he'd still just be an old man living a very normal life (he didn't admit until March of this year that he had ever been involved in Nazi activities). Instead, the government has seen fit to alienate and possibly deport him. Although the Holocaust was an awful chapter of world history, I feel it is absolutely unnecessary to continue to track down and prosecute former members of the Nazi party - this man is 85 years old and likely will not live much longer, anyway. The major figures in this chapter of history are no longer living, and Henss is extremely insignificant compared to Adolf Hitler. What use is it to make the last few years of his life miserable? We all know that the world will NEVER forget the Holocaust, but I think that we can never move forwards if we cannot forgive men like Henss.