Sunday, July 22, 2007

Human Rights Abuses Make Great Dinner Theater

Stephanie was at a party tonight, so I went to dinner with a friend at Busboys & Poets near U Street. I don't know if you've ever been, those of you that live here -- it's a restaurant and bookstore with a bar and a screening room and a lounge etc. etc. Sort of a throwback all-purpose hangout spot, with a heavy dose of lefty politics sort of floating vaguely in the air. They show documentaries, host poetry nights, have guest speakers and book lectures; anyway, you get the idea. My friend and I didn't know it, but when we came for dinner we got seated in the Langston Room (three guesses which Langston they're talking about) and they were gearing up for the regularly scheduled 11:00 p.m. Saturday movie series, which on this occasion was a few documentaries about the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is the former Zaire that Mobutu Sese Seko used as a piggy bank and essentially flushed down the toilet when he was finished.

If you don't know what's going on there today -- well, not to trivialize suffering anywhere, but Darfur is like a street fight compared to the DRC's Holocaust. Between 3 and 4 million people have died in the last six years, almost all innocent civilians, and the women that do survive have been raped and abducted on a regular basis, including girls and women as old as 80. This is because of persistent superstitions that having sex with the very young or very old give men special powers. Just read that sentence again.

If I sound like I'm reading from an activist's notebook, it's because it made an impression. I'd heard about the fighting in the DRC before, but never in much detail, so a lot of it was freshly shocking even as I drank my hot chocolate and ate my bread pudding. (The restaurant continued serving.) My friend and I left feeling kind of terrible, and more than a little bewildered that no one does or says anything about this. The sheer scale of the fighting makes you wonder at the conspiracy of silence. The death toll is, as one of the films described it, "an Asian tsunami every six months." Stretch that out over six years, and keep the world in the dark about it, and you have some idea what these people have been through.

The fighting is mostly about controlling land with lots of valuable natural resources, including minerals that you'll find in your cell phone and computer. A quick, quick primer is here, with much more useful information widely available. I have to say, when you hear about something like this and don't do anything about it you've really got to slap yourself in the face. If you only ever donate or volunteer for a single humanitarian cause, make this your choice. The country could be stable and prosperous if a few relatively straightforward steps were taken, including sanctioning companies that do business with rebel groups for their own profit. A report on this is available here, and is by no means the only one of its kind.

When American corporations prop up militias who literally kill civilians to control gold mines, you have to wonder who's letting them get away with it.

P.S. - See this article for more on why "genocide scholars" (I shudder to think what their conventions are like) are pessimistic about the future, especially with regard to international law. Darfur is mentioned prominently. You won't read anything about the DRC.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Supreme Court Chief Justice: Unpopular Even With Other Conservatives Now

This is an about-face, or at least unexpected. (But not underreported. For instance, see my own brilliant summation of the relevant case here.)

Signing onto a Roberts decision that helps gut the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, Scalia scolded the chief justice [John Roberts] for effectively overturning an earlier ruling without owning up to it. "This faux judicial restraint is judicial obfuscation," Scalia protested.

Nowhere does Scalia's critique of Roberts's style apply more forcefully than with regard to the Court's recent ruling in Parents Involved v. Seattle. Roberts's plurality opinion in the high-profile desegregation case elbows aside some 50 years of precedent while affecting a posture of doe-eyed innocence. If the phrase "What, little ole me?" doesn't appear anywhere in the text, that's only because it wasn't necessary. It is implied in practically every word.


At heart, Roberts's opinion is an assault on Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 desegregation case, masquerading as an attempt to redeem it. Under its mainstream interpretation, Brown required school boards to actively integrate themselves, rather than merely abolish rules that prevented black students from attending white schools. In Roberts's view, however, the problem with the pre-Brown regime wasn't racial isolation per se, merely that "schoolchildren were told where they could and could not go to school based on the color of their skin." To appreciate how significant a reinterpretation this is, ask yourself the following: If, post-Brown, a school board in Alabama had ended formal segregation while nonetheless preventing black students from attending white schools--say, by barring children from predominantly black neighborhoods from enrolling--would the Court have been satisfied? Of course not. (In fact, the Court more or less said as much in 1968, after Southern segregationists pursued a variation on this strategy.) But such efforts would have been consistent with Roberts's reading of the decision.

I doubt this means Scalia is going to start a whispering campaign about Roberts' taste in womens' clothes, but you don't see something like this every day on the Supreme Court from supposed political and ideological allies.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Uh Oh, He Got Into The News Again

A few choice tidbits from around the globe:

750,000 Die Every Year From Chinese Pollution

If you think this country is polluted, and parts of it still really are, consider how much worse it could be.
Beijing engineered the removal of nearly a third of a World Bank report on pollution in China because of concerns that findings on premature deaths could provoke “social unrest”.

The report, produced in co-operation with Chinese government ministries over several years, found about 750,000 people die prematurely in China each year, mainly from air pollution in large cities.

China’s State Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) and health ministry asked the World Bank to cut the calculations of premature deaths from the report when a draft was finished last year, according to Bank advisers and Chinese officials.

Advisers to the research team said ministries told them this information, including a detailed map showing which parts of the country suffered the most deaths, was too sensitive.
China is trying to improve its image in the West, in part because no one wants another Cold War over oil rights, and things like this just don't help.

The Chamber of Commerce Owns The Supreme Court

They even brag about it. This is a June 2007 press release.
The National Chamber Litigation Center (NCLC), the legal arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, ended the Supreme Court term with a record number of victories in cases critical to the business community.

"This year's record of 13 victories is an all-time high for our Supreme Court practice," said Robin Conrad, NCLC executive vice president. "We've been representing the business community before the Supreme Court for 30 years, and
this is our strongest showing since the inception of NCLC."


"In case after case, the Court this term understood the business community's need for clarity and predictability in the law," Conrad stated. "The Litigation Center will continue to press these concerns in the Supreme Court and in the lower courts."
What else does the Chamber of Commerce believe in (besides lobbying like crazy)? Go and find out for yourself.

White House "Unsure" if Libby Got Special Treatment

They're very up front about their confusion. You really need to read this whole link.
It wasn't a trick question: should Americans lie to the FBI during a criminal investigation? Apparently, Bush doesn't have an opinion on the matter.

Shortly thereafter, a reporter asked Tony Snow during a press briefing, "If there are more than 3,000 current petitions for commutation -- not pardons, but commutation -- in the federal system, under President Bush, will all 3,000 of those be held to the same standard that the president applied to Scooter Libby?"

Snow replied, "I don't know."

In other words, the White House press secretary isn't sure whether there's one standard of criminal justice for the president's friends, and another for everyone else. Maybe he can find out and get back to us? I'm sure there are thousands of American convicts and their families who would love to know why the White House no longer believes we're all equal under the law.
Kind of speaks for itself. I hope this information takes on a life beyond the blogosphere.

Anyway, more as the world turns.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Where I will be spending the Fourth of July

Monday, July 02, 2007

From the department of, "you said it, I didn't."

"I'm more of a man than any liberal."

talking with Bill O'Reilly on his Fox show about her aggressive stance toward politicians like John Edwards

Update -- the link no longer works. She really did say that, though.