Posted tagged ‘human rights’

The Case For Democracy

March 5, 2012

The Middle East is a mess.  From Tunisia to Pakistan, civil unrest is everywhere.  Why?

Some answer saying the problem is the lack of democratic governments.  While this may be a true statement, that is there are few if any democratically elected governments, I would suggest these countries lack a mature understanding of “5 rights”.

They are:

1. Rule of law…  There should be a set of statutes that prescribe, for everyone, how financial and commercial transactions should function.  Key is that everyone should follow the law until it is changed, and there should be a means available to change the law.

2. Civil order…  The should be no acceptance of pirates, robbers, murderers or any other type of disorder that intrudes on other citizens.  Militias and police forces are there to secure this right.

3. Property rights…  Next to personal safety, most people want to feel that their personal belongings are safe from seizure, and that their efforts could lead to an increase in their personal property.

4. Freedom of speech and movement…  With in some broad limits, a citizen’s freedom to travel, speak, and worship are necessary and critical rights.  Today we add to that list our privacy, the use computers (and social media), and the right to lead our lives as we wish (with consensual acceptance as it relates to others). 

5. Human rights…  Freedom from torture and “cruel and unusual” forms of punishment (especially like caning, stoning, and branding) are a minimum standard.  In some countries, the right to food and water might be added.

There are two common themes in these trouble countries.  There is an extreme unbalanced distribution of wealth and an overly assertive religious community.  While wealth can never be evenly distributed nor can religions be silent, it is necessary that the pursuit of wealth or religion not trample upon these 5 rights.

Democratic rule is a practical tool that enables a society to balance the 5 rights with the natural pursuit of wealth or religious idealism.  Democracy, however, does not, in and of itself, achieve or ensure that balance.  Rather it is the awareness of a society of the interconnectedness of these rights and the need to think through the risks associated with the desires to increase the scope of any one right.

Democracy without a mature view of these 5 rights, can lead to unwanted outcomes just as quickly as despotic leadership.  Despotic leadership, however, is very unlikely to ever hold a healthy view of these 5 rights.

Don’t Meddle

April 13, 2011

The budget debate, and in particular, reducing the deficit, is getting all the news these days.  And while this is a worthy subject, there is another set of events, not totally unrelated, taking place right now too.  Check out the Middle East.

Libya is the poster child for why intervention is usually an unwise action.  Colonel Gaddafi has been in power 40 years and there must be a reason.  Make no mistake, Gaddafi is not a kind and generous person.  He does not worry about the well-being of Libyan.  He worries about himself, his family, and his supporters.  This is clear and easy to understand.

Gaddafi doesn’t just worry, he is a man of action.  He is cruel and vindictive.  He rules absolutely.  And for 40 years, he has remained in power.  So what do you expect he will do now that a rebellion has broken out?

The same can be said, in varying degrees of ruthlessness for the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen.  So, intervention is hardly a predictable course of action.  Yet American politics demand a perfunctory speech about democracy and human rights.  And there you have it, the US has taken a side.

By US standards, it is not hard to speak out against the rulers of Tunisia, Libya, and Syria.  They have a well known record of running repressive regimes.  When it comes to Jordan, Bahrain, and Yemen quite different American interests motivate our Government to look the other way.

Egypt stands out as a particularly difficult case.  Egypt has acted as a center of Arab moderation.  It has also cooperated with the US in both overt and covert operations.   During George W Bush’s term, he called for open elections in Egypt.  What he witnessed was a resurgence of Islamic fundamentalists until President Mubarak put an end to that.  President Obama called for Mubarak to “stand aside”.  Mubarak did so and now is under house arrest and in danger of prosecution.

Here is why America should keep out.

  • There is no Middle East Arab country capable of living by democratic principles.
  • There is no Middle East Arab leader who does not, or will not divert vast amounts of the local economy for his personal wealth.
  • There is no Middle East Arab country where clever Islamic religious leaders cannot put forth a better story about aiding the poor.

America needs to wake up and realize the real lay of the land.  If we feel compelled to support regime change, we owe a safe exit to the previous ruler (had this person been a friend of the US).  This language will be understood.

The best language with respect to the Arab Middle East is the language of silence.



Human Rights

January 20, 2011

Yesterday President Obama, like each of his predecessors since Ronald Regan, offered China’s President Hu Jintao, advice on human rights.  President Hu responded with his own pledge that human rights was also a goal of China.  The term “human rights” applies generally to a broad menu of rights each citizen expects.  In political parlance, however, it has a much more specific meaning.  What do you think each was saying?

Was President Obama referring to Guantanamo detention facility, or enhanced interrogation methods, or NSA surveillance without a court order, the ability of the US health care delivery system to deny basic medical care if the patient can not afford insurance coverage?

Was President Hu referring to the suppression of its muslim Uighur minority, or the hundreds of coal minors who regularly die in unsafe mines, or the occasional public official who is unceremonially executed on charges of corruption?

President Obama, like previous Presidents, was actually invoking “do as I do on certain issues like free speech and multi-party elections” version of human rights.  President Hu, on the other hand, was speaking to the human right to food, shelter, and some form of medical care.

Over half of China’s estimated 1.5 billion citizens still fall below a poverty standard.  As a country, China is struggling to ease this situation.  Free speech and democratic elections are luxuries China feels it is not ready to embrace yet.

It seems from the House Republican vote to repeal the Affordable Health Care bill yesterday signals that the more inclusive view on human rights is something many Americans are not ready to embrace too.


Human Care or Health Rights?

May 16, 2009

Consider me simple. I see water boarding or any other form of torture as not consistant with the values I understand America was founded upon. At the same time, I can not understand how it is ok to look the other way when 40 million Americans go without healthcare coverage and the Government says that Medicare will go bust within 20 years. So with the prevailing view that Congress can not process both issues at the same time, what should we be for, Human rights or Healthcare reform, and why not both?

The Obama Administration seems very much committed to changing the dial on both healthcare and human rights. This commitment appears genuine and sincere, and not driven by external political pressure. Strangely, I think Obama’s position on human rights abuses, like waterboarding, is also a firm commitment of conscience. The problem is, can the Obama Administration fit both through the eye of the (congressional) needle at the same time?

Without a more responsible Republican minority, there is no chance to accomplish both at the same time. Normally one would think that Republicans would repel against healthcare reform. But the opposing need (renounciation of the interrogation extremes) appears too difficult for the Republicans to handle and Obama going easy on those who espoused extreme interrogation methods might result in a bit more support for a healthcare revamp.

Any Obama led Government investigation into abuses of the executive branch, and specifically into exaggerated the interrogation methods, will raise all sorts of partisan defenses. Instead of a healthy and purifying investigation of whether the executive had gone to far, the political winds will blow in the direction of looking the other way. But Obama has the political backing and intelligence to overcome this and make a positive step back towards the balanced form of Governement we all recall from our history books. Never the less one is left with the belief that Obama is so committed to health care reform that anything and everything can take second place.

For sure politics is a game of timing. Heros and heroic action are persons or deeds who/that result from trying to do the right thing regardless of the political winds. In the real world, it seems, one must give up one in order to make progress on the other. The current indicators suggest that President Obama will try his best to forego any investigation of the George W Bush Administration’s “enhanced interrogation” and even more important, how the decisions that lead to the invasion and occupation of Iraq took place.

For my two cents, these are two issues that should be pursued forcefully. The weeks ahead will indicate whether President Obama will sacrifice human rights for ability to focus on health care.

Guantanamo Courage

May 8, 2009

This past week, House Democrats refused to put a requested $ 50 million into the budget authorization because it was designated for the closure of the Guantanamo Detention Facility. You simply have to wonder how these righteous Congressmen can denounce the Bush Administration and then refused to step up to the ball when President Obama asks for the funds to close the facility.

You might understand this if it was a case of over spending, that is one could close Guantanamo for a lot less. The word on the street, however, is that there will be a residual number of detainees who are either guilty (when convicted in Court) or are people no country will take back. The expectation is that these people will end up in US prisons. So it is “not in my backyard” again.

“If you do the crime, you have to do the time”. All Americans stand guilty of enabling or allowing Guantanamo to come into existence, or to remain unchallenged for so long. You might say, “I was never for it”, but we must remember there have been no mass marches like with the movement against the Vietnam War nor was President Bush defeated in 2004. America was content to vote for Bush’s human rights violations and against undocumented workers, pro-choice, and equal rights for gays and lesbians.

Another interesting aspect of this whole matter is the certainty that politicians speak of these detainees. “We can’t let these detainees free because they are dangerous people and have committed crimes”. If that is so, what is the concern about trials in US courts?

The Country needs to muster the courage to right a wrong (delay of due process) and if the only evidence is a result of torture, then let those detainees go free (I can not believe the only evidence would be from torture). It is to time move forward and eliminate the ugly stain of Guantanamo from our American history.

The Fogged Out Foggy Bottom

February 26, 2009

The US State Department is often referred to as “the foggy bottom” because the Washington DC neighborhood in which it is located was first referred to as foggy bottom.  It seems in the 19th century when this area was being developed it was noted for fog and mist in the air, in other words an area where it was difficult to distinguish anything with clarity.

The State Department took another step into the fog yesterday when it released its 2008  report on human rights.  While the report was primarily drafted during 2008, Secretary Clinton signed off on it and made it a statement of the Obama Presidency.  The report outlined human rights abuses around the world but zeroed in on China.  The pot stood there calling the kettle black.

I question why there is ever a need for the US to point critically at other countries (let Time or Newsweek do that) but at times like this it is totally out of place.  Consider this

  • China is a land of about 1.5 billion people with a huge percent uneducated and very poor.  The country has been modernizing at a rapid rate and peaceful evolution of a society like this is not easy.  While the situations cited in the State Department assessment are most probably true, the question is so what?  They are all internal issue for China and do not represent crimes against humanity.
  • The United States, on the other hand, still occupies Iraq (after initiating an invasion and occupation that has cost Iraq several 100 thousand of dead.  The US still holds over 200 detainees, most for as many as 7 years, without charges in Gauntanamo Detention Facility.  The homeless population in the US is one of the highest in the world and there are more citizens imprisioned in the US than any other country in the world.

The question is simply, “with so much dirt on our own hands, where do we find the room to call someone else out?”  The question is not whether China can do better towards Tibet or regulating the news media or the internet.  Obviously they can. Anyone who takes the time and studies China will see a trend which is progressive (admittedly slow) that favors stability while bringing ALL its citizens into modernity.  This is a huge task and will take much time.

Looking at this from a pragmatic viewpoint, the world is in a recession and history is replete in examples of countries flying apart or becoming aggressive towards neighbors during times of great economic unrest.  The role of responsible Governments at times like this is to (1) put their own house in order, and (2) if so motivated, speak in private with other countries whose behavior is offensive in some respect.   I guess the State Department is just fogged out.  

He Has No Shame

August 7, 2008

I have been holding my breath in hopes that our low approval rated President would keep his mouth shut and simply eat some good meals, have his picture taken, and take a great seat at the Olympics.  Before ever reaching China, George W Bush has broken into jail, showing either some poor advisor advice or some personal poor judgement, or both.  China has told “W” to mind his own business.

Speaking in Thailand, George W Bush told his audience that China must open its country and become freer.  What does George know about running anything much less a country with many different groups and all toll, over a billion citizens.  As a goal, pointing China towards a Democracy certain seems the right objective.  And calling attention to where China now falls short would also seem logical.  The problem is that those visions and criticisms belong to the accademics or certainly if spoken are done so in private.

Bush’s own experience at bringing democracy to Iraq (you know the country that would welcome Americans with flowers) has been a dismal failure and a great reflection on our Administration’s naivete.  Even more amazing is that China’s progress over the past 20 years has been amazing and their economy is booming at growth rates of 10+% per year.  Chinese officials, of course, recognize that their people have no history of free choice and the responsibility that go with it.  In fact the vast number of the 1 billion Chinese have little or no education at all.  Democracy or at least still freer and more open forms of Government will come naturally as China’s economy continues to grow.  As more and more Chinese are employed in new jobs and gain the wealth necessary for educating a family, they will want more.

What Bush’s comments tell us is

1. He has no idea about what chaos a vote (meaning democracy) could bring in a country that has no history of it.  “W” has a short memory and does not recall his encouragement of the Palestinians recent vote where Hamas won.  And he clearly has not paid attention to the voting process in Iraq.

2. “W” approved the invasion of a free Country (following a discussion with god) and has occupied that country since.  Tell me where a Democracy like ours gives us that right.

3. Pakistan is boardering on disintegration (this may come as a surprise to “W”).  Iran is now matching to its own drummer.  Who do you think the US should have as allies?  Try China and Russia (major manufacturers of weapons and possessors of nuclear materials and technology).  Why do you try to make life rough for either country?

If you heard George speak he sounded full of himself and very sincere.  He simply has no shame.