Friday, April 07, 2006

Blog no longer being updated

Please note that this blog is no longer being updated.

Please see http://steve-s.livejournal.com for recent news and commentary.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Investigator: U.S. 'Outsourced' Torture

Investigator: U.S. 'Outsourced' Torture - Yahoo! News

STRASBOURG, France - The head of a European investigation into alleged CIA secret prisons in Europe said Tuesday that evidence pointed to the existence of a system of "outsourcing" of torture by the United States, and that it was highly likely European governments were aware of it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

That Divisive Anti-Immigrant Fence

from the Washington Post:
When the House of Representatives passed the Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act last month, it bowed to the narrowest possible thinking on immigration. The bill, one of the harshest in decades, would fund the building of nearly 700 miles of new high-tech fences along the U.S.-Mexico border and make illegal immigration a felony. Any U.S. citizen found driving an immigrant anywhere -- even to a hospital or school -- could be arrested as an "alien smuggler" if the immigrant were determined to be here illegally.

There is no question that this country's changing demographics through immigration have become a source of increasing tension and discomfort. The House's action appears to be in response to the few strident voices that have taken advantage of this growing anxiety to hype the sentiment that illegal immigrants are lawbreaking invaders who deserve to be punished or deported. For someone outside of the U.S. looking in, it may well seem justified to conclude that the quintessential country of immigrants is backtracking.

The fact, however, is that the majority of Americans hold a more complex view about illegal immigration. Recent polls suggest that they are unsure of how to fix the immigration system, but are more certain that a strategy which merely punishes illegal immigrants is simply insufficient.

In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, conducted Dec. 15-18, 61 percent of respondents said they would rather see these immigrants offered a chance to keep their jobs and apply for legal status than be deported. Similarly, 58 percent of respondents to a poll of registered Republican voters conducted for the Manhattan Institute in October favored earned legalization for all illegal immigrants. Also, two-thirds of these Republican voters said they would have a more favorable view of President Bush if he supported such a plan.

Now, certainly most Americans are against illegal immigration and are frustrated enough by it that they believe it should be a national priority. After Iraq, the economy and health care, Americans see immigration as the fourth most important problem Congress should deal with this year, according to the Post-ABC poll.

Tapping dissatisfaction over immigration would seem to be the politically savvy thing to do and surely the House bill was motivated just as much by a political calculation than outright disdain for illegal immigrants. But by approving legislation that is purely punitive, the House may have ensured larger negative consequences.

For starters, the House's action may have killed any immigration reform for 2006. After its winter recess, the Senate is expected to begin work on a broader immigration package and reject the narrow House bill. Even if the Senate can pull together legislation, the House, according to veteran Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., has done all that it intended to do for now -- that is provide "political cover" to those who want to look tough on immigration in an election year.

Kolbe, who supports a broader approach, believes that many of his colleagues in the House would not want to be caught anywhere near a bill similar to what the Senate is likely to push forward. "They are certainly not going to want to vote ... a bill that they see as politically very dangerous dealing with guest workers, or heaven forbid, even legalization of illegal immigrants who are in the country," Kolbe said in a recent interview. If Kolbe is right, the House chose political posturing over headway on immigration.

In doing so, the House may be alienating the Hispanic electorate, the fastest-growing voting group in the country. Two years ago Republicans made significant gains among Hispanic voters with their hard-line stances against abortion and same-sex marriage. Similar determination against immigration, however, seems likely to backfire. According to Cecilia Munoz, vice president for policy at the National Council of La Raza, "The political analysis that (playing tough against immigration) is good politics is a mistake." Munoz cited last year's defeat of Jerry Kilgore, the republican candidate for governor in Virginia who used his anti-illegal-immigration toughness as a distinguishing mark from his opponent.

Meanwhile, continued inaction on a serious policy issue that touches more and more Americans is bound to create more frustration with Washington and more support for change. Clearly, lasting immigration reform is up to those who would chose to lead, rather than just follow a few strident voices.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Poverty collides with U.S. children's rights

The Japan Times:
The haunting images of African Americans stranded in New Orleans are powerful evidence of the fate of the dispossessed in the United States. The extent of the divide between rich and poor was clearly shown during a recent visit to the U.S. by Arjun Sengupta, an independent expert on human rights and extreme poverty for the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The U.S. was chosen for the expert's visit to illustrate that poverty is a global problem, regardless of a country's gross domestic product, and that it should be more seriously addressed.

Sengupta visited six different states, going to poverty stricken urban areas, and holding consultations with groups of homeless people and with several national civil society organizations. From meetings held with both workers and unemployed people, he was able to analyze the impact of poverty on the poorest sectors of the population.

Although there are several federal and state social-benefit systems in the U.S., a variety of obstacles such as the high cost of health care and the lack of adequate housing lead people further into poverty and can be considered an abuse of their human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes everyone's "right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care."

Official statistics show that 12.7 percent (or 37 million) of the population in the U.S. lived in poverty in 2004, 15.7 percent (45.8 million) lacked health insurance coverage, and 11.9 percent of households (38.2 million people including 13.9 million children) experienced food insecurity.

It is estimated that 33 million Americans live in households without an adequate supply of food. According to statistics from the Bread for the World Institute, 3.5 percent of U.S. households experience hunger (9.6 million people, including 3 million children.) Children are a disproportionate share of the poor in the U.S. Although they are 26 percent of the population, they constitute 39 percent of the poor.

UNICEF states that although the U.S. is still the wealthiest country on earth, with income levels higher than any other country, it also has one of the highest incidences of child poverty among the rich industrialized nations. Denmark and Finland have child poverty levels of less than 3 percent (closely followed by Norway and Sweden), thanks to higher levels of social spending. Seventeen percent of U.S. children live in poverty.

Young minority children have significantly higher poverty rates than white children. For example, the poverty rate for young black and Hispanic children under age 3 is three times higher than that of white children. Statistics show poverty levels of 24.7 among blacks, 21.9 percent among Hispanics and 8.6 percent among non-Hispanic whites.

Poverty has been recognized as one of the most powerful factors that can affect children's brain development. As poor children grow into adolescence and adulthood, they are more likely to drop out of school, have children out of wedlock and be unemployed.

Poverty is a multicausal problem that demands different approaches. Several factors such as poor education, discriminatory practices against minorities, limited job opportunities, racism, unstable family life, mental illness and substance abuse all contribute to poverty. Limiting the impact of poverty and eventually eliminating it, therefore, demands acting on all these factors.

The U.S. has enough economic, technical and social resources to abolish poverty. What is needed to solve this problem is political will and a strong commitment to human-rights principles. U.S. President George W. Bush has stated that he wants to strengthen the "ownership society." The best way to do it is by responding to the most basic needs of America's poor.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Wrongful Imprisonment: Anatomy of a CIA Mistake

from the Washington Post:
The CIA, working with other intelligence agencies, has captured an estimated 3,000 people, including several key leaders of al Qaeda, in its campaign to dismantle terrorist networks. It is impossible to know, however, how many mistakes the CIA and its foreign partners have made.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Doonesbury: Defining Moments in Torture

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Activists Blast U.S. on Prisons

from the Washington Post:
Human rights workers and 20 former inmates at Guantanamo Bay and other U.S. terror-suspect prisons abroad convened a conference here Friday to bring new pressure on Washington to end what they called systematic torture and unjustified detention.

'Torture should have been kept where it belonged, in the 16th century, instead of being imported into the 21st,' said Irene Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International, which is co-hosting the meeting. Ten other foreign prisoners will testify by videotape, in what organizers call the largest gathering ever of former Guantanamo prisoners and prisoners' families."