Monday, January 23, 2012

Human Rights Report Card Out

 Human Rights Watch, the international watchdog agency, has just issued its annual report, with the main story of course being the Arab Spring, and how the international community is (or isn't) supporting the burgeoning democratic movements in repressive countries. You can download the whole report, or browse through it, country by country.

The United States. a putative democracy and thereby expected to lead the rest of the world by example, got an unsurprising dismal review.  HRW did, however, take note of a few efforts at improvement under the Obama Administration:

In one of the few rights-protective immigration reforms in 2011, DHS (Dept of Homeland Security)  announced that it will undertake case-by-case reviews of over 300,000 pending deportation cases and cases deemed to be low-priority will be administratively closed, allowing some potential deportees to remain in the country with temporary legal status. In identifying low-priority cases DHS will weigh non-citizens’ family and community ties, military service, and whether they arrived in the US as children.
According to a piece in the New York Times last week, a pilot program testing out the new leniency policy revealed approximately one of every six undocumented workers swept up by DHS has been granted a reprieve -- but is still barred from working and driving in the United States. So I guess limbo is better than hell, although not by much.

The report also noted that draconian immigration policies in Arizona and Alabama and a few other states have been only partially enjoined by the federal courts.

And despite having our first black president, institutional racism is still alive and well in America, especially in the criminal justice system. We have the largest prison system in the world and the highest per capita incarceration rate. From the report: 
Whites and African Americans engage in drug offenses at roughly equivalent rates, and African Americans account for only about 13 percent of the US population, yet African Americans comprised about 33 percent of all drug arrests in 2009. Not surprisingly, higher arrest rates lead to higher incarceration rates. For example, 45 percent of inmates in state prisons for drug offenses in 2009 were African American; only 27 percent were white.
Persons of color comprise 77 percent of all youth serving life without parole sentences. And for the first time in the country’s history in 2011, people of Latin American origin made up the majority of federal prisoners in the US, due to the federal government’s increased focus on prosecuting unauthorized immigrants.
On a related note, there has been only the slightest improvement in humane treatment of prison populations: 

In February 2011 the DOJ issued its long-overdue proposed standards to implement the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). While some standards meet the 2009 PREA Commission recommendations, several proposed standards are significantly weaker. For example, the proposed DOJ standards do not clearly require facilities to be staffed sufficiently to prevent, detect, and respond to the sexual abuse of prisoners. The standards would leave survivors of sexual assault without legal remedy because they were unable to comply with unduly strict internal grievance procedures. The proposed standards also explicitly exclude immigration detention facilities from coverage. At this writing the final PREA standards have not been issued.
And this year, three more states decided to do away with the practice of shackling pregnant prisoners, bringing the grand total to (only) 14 with such policies.

The report also takes note that more states are attempting to take away workers' collective bargaining rights, and that federal child labor laws are not regularly enforced as they pertain to migrant farm workers' children. (So Newt Gingrich is not so far out of the mainstream after all when he suggests it would be just fine if kids worked as janitors.) The United States is one of the few civilized nations that has no paid maternity leave policy, contributing to health problems in both mothers and infants.

The HIV infection rate continues to rise in this country, which HRW ascribes in part to states' bans on needle exchange programs for addicts.

 Some improvements were noted in gay rights policies: Don't Ask, Don't Tell was repealed and the government is no longer defending the Defense of Marriage Act. New York State passed the Marriage Equality Act.

And last but not least, the Obama Administration gets poor grades for its indefinite detention policies and secretive drone killings abroad, and its continuing failure to investigate and prosecute torture by the Bush Administration.


Denis Neville said...

Human rights don't start with citizenship.

A discourse on human rights must begin with the right to life that is the right precisely of the poor.

Pro-life, compassionate conservative Republicans in action in Kansas:

Laura Bauer, in yesterday’s Kansas City Star, “At a time when Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has vowed to reduce child poverty, Kansas slashes food aid for many U.S. children of illegal immigrants; State’s policy change eliminates food stamps citizen children of illegal immigrants.”

Nearly one in five Kansas children is living in poverty, and more than 47 percent of public school children are participating in the free or reduced-priced school lunch program.

A report, the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute's Center for Children and Families, released by Kansas Action for Children, reveals the growing need in Kansas to provide children with health insurance. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback expressed his reluctance to assist uninsured Kansans by returning a $31 million federal grant rather than advance planning for a computer network intended to help families purchase or be provided coverage required by U.S. law. He said the mandate was an unconstitutional intrusion into state affairs.

“It was only in the barrio of the poor that [Dr. Plarr] ever encountered suffering in silence, suffering which had no vocabulary to explain a degree of pain, its position or its nature…he had to make his own interpretation from the shiver of the skin or a nervous shift of the eyes.” - Graham Greene, The Honorary Consul

DreamsAmelia said...

Sorry for being slightly off topic (oh, how the Times has hit our knuckles so many times that we don't know freedom even here, where, bless you! you have never once rejected a comment!)--but this excellent post, I fear, may not get all the circulation it deserves because I see not only you, but several of my favorite (oh, even TRUSTED) commenters at the Times today have not posted their Twitter and/or blog links.(Hooray for salvaging the FTT in your Krugman comment!)

When you try to pen in, or commodify, trust, it vanishes. For the Times to arbitrate Trust, and, then slap on some incomprehensible scheme to charge(?) for commenters to link to their blogs--they are too busy suffocating the press to let it be "free"--And yes, Jay, your earlier comments about making sure writers like Karen get to reap _some_ financial reward for their work is very apropos.

But it is so short-sighted of the Times to deny free blog links, which actually RETURN traffic to the Times! The more they diminish such robustness, the more they look like the similarly addled DHS-- as Karen noted, that in meting out nonsensical "reprieves," they do nothing to invite the well-being that leads the innovation that creates miracles of human community such as blogs, or, you know, minor things like a coast-to-coast rail, car, and airplane infrastructure, libraries, public schools... minor after-thoughts to people who would cut, cut, cut, send home, and nickel and dime creativity out of existence--rather than cultivating the largest audience possible using the rich heritage of a name-brand newspaper...

The best way to run a newspaper is to invite EVERYONE, to be as inclusive as possible. Profits, incidentally, will increase, but the real profit will be that which is priceless: knowledge and engagement by a vast majority of the electorate. Another one of those incidentals, like a Renaissance, that just happens to be the antithesis of Oligarchy and Serfdom.

Karen Garcia said...

Thanks for reminding me about my Krugman comment... I forgot to post it here, as I had promised to do with my Times comments. (Btw, I sometimes don't slap on my blog link because it takes up a lot of characters and sends me over the limit more often than not. I am not aware that NYT is disallowing bloglinks. If they are, screw em!)
Anyway, back to Krugman's glass-half-full piece on the recovery. I am a little concerned that he has not been as hard on Prez O as he should be, but maybe he knows something I don't.....

Mr. Obama has already signaled that liberals are not going to like his proposed budget cuts since he made that deal with the devil last summer to avoid debt ceiling Armageddon. So he will apparently attempt to walk a fine line between austerity and somehow creating jobs. At least he dumped the annoying Win the Future slogan and replaced it with We Can't Wait.

I was not encouraged by a report in "The Hill" last week saying that the Administration is still opposed to the financial transaction tax on Wall Street because "officials worry Republicans could frame the proposal as a tax on 401(k) retirement funds, a potentially damaging election-year charge".

You are the economics expert, Prof. K. and I trust that your optimism is well grounded in your expertise in such matters. But I can't help being a cynic as far as this president is concerned. An attempt to tax Wall Street not wise in an election year? Puh-leeze!

I'll withhold judgment until I see the budget and a definite plan of action and the SOTU. I suppose it is always remotely possible that the president has had an epiphany and is at least semi-Occupied.

Because yes, the alternative is indeed too frightening to contemplate: a dystopian hodge-podge of Gordon Gekko, Joseph Goebbels, Father Coughlin, and a complicit corporate media machine that treats the whole travesty as an entertaining and profitable NASCAR pile-up. The 1770s were the times that tried men's souls? Tom Paine had no idea.

Denis Neville said...

Our Dickensian iPhones and iPods

"Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory," Mike Daisey travels to China to investigate the factories where millions toil to make iPhones and iPods and shines a light on our love affair with our devices and the human cost of creating them.

They live in dorms, housing 13-15 people in bunks in 12 by 12 rooms. They officially work 12 hour days, but often work for up to 16 hours a day, for a little more than Chinese minimum wage (~ $1.30/hour). One worker dies after working a 34 hour shift, which is not that uncommon.

"Foxconn [manufactures products for Apple] has a workforce of over one million worldwide and as human beings are also animals, to manage one million animals gives me a headache," says Foxconn chairman Terry Gou, who also said that he wants to learn from the director of the Taipei Zoo how animals should be managed.

Human rights? Out of Sight, Out of Mind.

“I have traveled to southern China and interviewed workers employed in the production of electronics. I spoke with a man whose right hand was permanently curled into a claw from being smashed in a metal press at Foxconn, where he worked assembling Apple laptops and iPads. I showed him my iPad, and he gasped because he’d never seen one turned on. He stroked the screen and marveled at the icons sliding back and forth, the Apple attention to detail in every pixel. He told my translator, “It’s a kind of magic.”

“Mr. Jobs’s magic has its costs…in the end [he] failed to “think different,” in the deepest way, about the human needs of both his users and his workers.” - Mike Daisey, “Against Nostalgia,” NY Times, 10/06/11

Denis Neville said...

Karen said, “I suppose it is always remotely possible that the president has had an epiphany and is at least semi-Occupied.”

Think again…

Obama “will use the State of the Union address to announce a mortgage “settlement” by Federal regulators, and at least some state attorneys general. It’s yet another gambit designed to generate a campaign talking point while making the underlying problem worse… To add insult to injury, Obama is apparently going to present his belated Christmas present to the banking industry as a boon to ordinary citizens…this deal amounts to a transfer from pension funds and other fixed income investors to the banks, at the Administration’s instigation.” – Yves Smith,

The financial oligarchy rules in America.

Denis Neville said...

Nearly four decades after Roe, women are losing independence and their human rights are being violated.

So writes Amanda Marcotte:

“Yesterday was Roe v. Wade’s 39th anniversary, and what should have been just a joyous date for feminists has instead become a time to reflect how well we’re doing against the backlash to women’s rights. Roe was about abortion, sure, but it was so much more. It was the culmination of years of feminist activism, legislation, and court decisions regarding contraception and abortion that sent a clear signal to the women of America that they were the rightful owners of their bodies. Not their fathers, not their husbands, not their ministers, not the clucking prudes down the street, and not even their doctors.”

“The problem is that 40 years of the anti-choice movement fighting back against this notion that women own themselves is starting to damage women’s confidence that they have and deserve their full human rights…”

“In a world where abortion restrictions are getting more serious all the time, and the vocal minority pushing these restrictions is so blatantly in love with returning women to a time where they were legally considered appendages of fathers or husbands, is it any wonder that an ordinary woman might actually worry that she’s legally required to get her boyfriend’s permission to have an abortion? Yes, men forcibly making women carry children from them would be a horrible violation of human rights, but a bunch of prudes using the law to force women to bear children as punishment for being “impure” is also a horrible human rights violation, and that’s one that’s occurring more and more with every restriction the anti-choicers manage to pass."

Kat said...

@Denis-- thanks for the link to the Galbraith piece. It was nice to read a reply to Krugman's oh-so-mild mea culpa. I don't quite understand the love and deference for someone who helped to get us in this place.

Kat said...

I haven't read this yet-- but more on human rights here:

Jay - Ottawa said...

Glenn Greenwald reviews decisions in three recent court cases (Kiriacou-CIA; Rumsfeld-Padilla; Haditha -Sgt. Wuterich) and renders the following rules from the legal stew:

"The Rules of American Justice are quite clear:

(1) If you are a high-ranking government official who commits war crimes, you will receive full-scale immunity, both civil and criminal, and will have the American President demand that all citizens Look Forward, Not Backward.

(2) If you are a low-ranking member of the military, you will receive relatively trivial punishments in order to protect higher-ranking officials and cast the appearance of accountability.

(3) If you are a victim of American war crimes, you are a non-person with no legal rights or even any entitlement to see the inside of a courtroom.

(4) If you talk publicly about any of these war crimes, you have committed the Gravest Crime — you are guilty of espionage – and will have the full weight of the American criminal justice system come crashing down upon you."