Thursday, May 08, 2008

Bloggers for Human Rights

Photo: Indybay 2007 Anti War Action.

BloggersUnite has set May 15th as a day for bloggers around the world to blog on Human Rights. Human Rights are essential so I could use the nudge to blog about, and to learn more about ways to promulgate Human Rights.

I never know what I'm going to write, but today I've been musing about politics as I've been turning the damp ground. Hardly an expert on American politics, I follow it a bit obsessively. Obama in the race and Clinton nipping at his heals has raised some interesting dynamics among people I know who vote fairly reliably for Democratic Party candidates. And one of those dynamics are about the awful subject of race.

In the printed version of this morning's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on the front page was a story: Obama putting One-Drop Rule to test; online the heading is: Obama candidacy raises old questions about what is black which strikes me as a somewhat less obnoxious headline. The article made me squirm. It's written by L.A. Johnson and I've no idea whether L.A. is black or white, a woman or a man. I do know that Johnson has tackled the tangled subject of race in America for the newspaper before. In the fall, readers were able to spout off about being race 'ambassadors' which I thought was pretty cool because basically everybody said "What's with that?" or something to that effect. (Searching the archives for a link, I discovered that when L. A. Johnson gets and AP byline it's Linda A. Johnson, so I guess she's a woman.) I don't really fault Johnson that the article made me slightly sick, the problem is Americans in general are strangely warped about race and ethnicity and the article simply reflects that.

I'm just some blogger in a basement, and I'm identified as white. I self-identify as white simply because the option seems untenable. While I deeply resent the racism of the society in which I live, my anti-racist credentials are slight. Obama running has helpfully made the endemic racism of the USA so visible, but as a people we're still grappling for ways to discuss race.

Ethan Zuckerman
is taking the month of May off the computer to recover from eye surgery. I wish him a good recovery and will miss his posts. One of Zuckerman's blog categories is xenophilia. Your Dictionary defines xenophilia as:
attraction to or admiration of strangers or foreigners or of anything foreign or strange
zuckerman is a proponent of xenophilia and has recently been engaging in blog conversations about homophily (use his xenophila category link. Homophily doesn't refer to gay people and issues, but rather the old adage:
Birds of a feather flock together.
In his post Homophily, serendipity, xenophilia he wrote:
I’ve been talking and writing about homophily as one of the concepts that helps explain the challenges and issues that surround Global Voices and my larger media attention work. It’s my contention that living in the 21st century requires understanding what people think, feel and want in different parts of the world, given that both the challenges and opportunities of next several decades are global, not local ones.
One of the advantages of reading a few Ugandan bloggers is getting to know a bit about how others view the USA. And I am especially grateful to The 27th Comrade for taking the time to specifically point out to me that the view of the USA from there isn't often rosy.

All of this long wind-up is to remark about an issue of American politics. The President of the United States under the Constitution must "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." It is abundantly clear that president Bush has not done his duty in this regard. The list of law breaking that we know about is astoundingly large. The administration also has gone to great lengths to bury the evidence and to stretch reasonable interpretations beyond all recognition. Their is a Constitutional remedy for such a president; i.e., impeachment, but the Speaker of the House--where a bill of Impeachment originates--has taken it off the table. So most observers assume that he will follow his father's precident and pardon members of his administration for their crimes before he leaves office.

I agree that he probably will. But it occurred to me today that such pardons may not be the panacea imagined. The reason I believe so is because among the many crimes this administration has committed are War Crimes which are violations of International Law. It's true that the United States has refused to participate in the International Criminal Court. It also seems the case that Americans turning over those accused of committing crimes against humanity seems far-fetched now. However so damaged is the good opinion of the world about the USA, and that increasingly in the future a good opinion will be keenly in the national interest, that demands for the USA to be held to account may well be difficult to resist.

If the President uses his powers to pardon crimes against the United States, those pardons will most likely make prosecution of those implicated in crimes against International Law, impossible, or nearly so within our legal structures. Upon refusing to prosecute, the International Community, might demand extradition to the International Criminal Court. It's easy to predict that even a Democratic Party controlled government would refuse. However so extreme are the violations, for example torture of detainees being coordinated in the White House with the approval of the President, by highest ranking American officials, such refusal would severely undermine the myth of American goodness.

For so many in the world today, the myth of American goodness was debunked long ago. But it is a powerful myth for Americans and much depends on it. I believe that in the future Americans will want to sustain the myth.

So my argument to Bush not to grant pardons at the end of his term boils down to the notion that it's so likely that Americans will treat American officials leniently, perhaps even something like the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission where amnesty is nearly assured. This hardly would reverse world-wide condemnation, but would have some mollifying effect. I probably would go a long way to shoring up American perceptions of ourselves as good.

Such thinking probably "outs" me as a hypocrite. I'm not very comfortable with that, but on the other hand very much believe that it's good to be good. Nothing in politics is ever very pure. I suppose I'm simply grasping at straws to imagine some way that my country can move from our embrace of the dark side towards the light. There is precedent in our history. Martin Luther King observed:
“the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Many outside the USA are demanding that we as a nation be held to account, if for no other reason than there can be no reconciliation until we as a people acknowledge our transgressions. Not all Americans are so blind. Humanity shares an obligation to bend towards justice. My hope is that Americans more generally will become concerned about human rights for all and work to make those rights real. Together we can create something good.


Jasmine said...

thanks for the blogger's unite link. i got myself a badge too and now to write the post.

John Powers said...

I'm glad you're gonna write a post. And I'm very happy for your comment and link.

I'm not sure what to write about yet, but I am sure that human rights are everyone's concern.

The 27th Comrade said...

Don't correct the typo that serves as a nice link between the "precedent" and the "president(s)".

Most people outside of America probably believe the goodness myth. You guys are good propagandists, I'll give you that.

Anyway, America is the problem, not any certain regime. Bushism isn't a recent invention. There are black-and-white pictures of your country's atrocities. I don't even mean the domestic ones. I mean the league of My Lai and the many deaths that are indirect results, over here.

Yet Americans and non-Americans abound who believe the myth, especially the victims. I've not seen a better brain-wash, for one. And on such a large scale. It's the system that has a problem, and provably so. Do you know the essay called "War is a Racket"? It follows that a society that glorifies capitalism (and hence materialism) is going to have to do war - kill, plunder, commit war crimes, enslave - as a matter of course.

Leave Bush alone. Put America on trial. Then human rights can even begin.

John Powers said...

All the mistakes in my writing are hard enough to take--I can't spell nor type--but the jumble of thoughts is really shocking when I go back.

Thanks for noticing my misspelling of "precedent." There are other mistakes including "their" for "there' but I'll take your advice and not correct them.

You mention "War Is A Racket" and the 1935 booklet can be read online here.

One way of "putting America on trial" is in the court of public opinion. In that court 27th Comrade, you pull your weight. There is also the matter of law and in that regard there are courts. Of course there is a often a disconnect between law and justice.

You equate capitalism with materialism, but with all the flavors of anticaptialism around you choose communism which surely is materialist in its outlook.

Thank you 27th Comrade for taking the time to read and comment. I'm very happy to see your blog posts and to see your comments at so many blogs.

The 27th Comrade said...

I find your writing nice and coherent. It's mine that shocks. :-o "But I hadn't drunk anything when I wrote that! I was even thirsty, I remember!"

You know, if you Americans wait for the court of public opinion - where things have gone to already, anyway - you're in trouble. Public opinion is not fair. But that's not the worst thing. The worst is that it also leads to other things like ... I dunno, baying for blood. If a case happened where your country needed help, do you reckon you'd get any? Of course we'd probably help you for the cameras, but that's not help. It's a lot like the "aid" you throw at our countries sometimes, with bags of rice or whatever that have propaganda signs "USAID: Help From the American People". It's conscience aid for giver, rather than aid for the given. :o)
In a case where USA will really need help to get the dagger out, Mexico will jump over the border to drive the dagger deeper in. Apocalyptic stuff, but true, I promise.

"ou equate capitalism with materialism, but with all the flavors of anticaptialism around you choose communism which surely is materialist in its outlook."
Hmm. We don't mind wealth, as long as it is equal. We actually love to be spoilt by wealth. But it should be equal. "American materialism" is what I should have said. Where a whole country is running on debt, so that the second car can remain in the driveway.

John Powers said...

I wasn't really thinking of "materialism" as "wealth" when referring to communism and materialism, but rather to the fundamental principles at the root of things. I get lost in the weeds pretty quickly when it comes to philosophy. I do get there is an awful contradiction in American society, and think you're probably right that our understanding of capitalism underlies that contradiction.

But I raised the issue of materialism in communism because it seems to me that there are many forms of anti-capitalism which don't place materialism at their roots like communism does.

The 27th Comrade said...

Well, humans are materialistic, and we face that. And tangible indicators of wealth are a primary concern in Communism, because they also are the lines between the classes. The walls, actually. So we get them, and divide them up real good.
The anti-Capitalist stuff that isn't materialistic, like Gandhiji's idea (the one, I believe, that is perpetuated by the CP(M) party of India) is cool. But a Communism that's interested in getting these marks of wealth and, instead of removing them, chooses to distribute them equally, that is (in my opinion) better. :o)

Now, I had come here to complain that the 15th has come and gone in my time zone without your human rights post. And I'm spitting mad! X^(

Daisy said...

You've been tagged!
Daisy's Dead Air: Seven songs meme