Dear David from Georgia:
I want to thank you for the email you sent last week. It made me laugh out loud.
It seems you were unhappy I took a shot at Rush Limbaugh a few days back. Limbaugh had argued that John Lewis might have avoided having his skull fractured by Alabama state troopers while protesting for voting rights in Selma, AL 48 years ago, if only he’d been armed. I suggested, tongue in cheek, that Limbaugh would have given the same advice to Rosa Parks, who famously refused to surrender her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, AL, bus.
Which moved you to write: “If Rush Limbaugh were on that bus that day, like so many of us, he would have insisted that Ms. Parks REMAIN seated. … Rush doesn’t need me to defend him from your silly assumption, but I just like to bring it to your attention that just because Rush is WHITE doesn’t mean he is not a gentleman!”
David, Rush Limbaugh is the man who once said the NFL “all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips” and told a black caller to “take that bone out of your nose and call me back.” So the idea that, in Alabama, in 1955, as a black woman was committing an illegal act of civil disobedience, this particular white man would have done what 14 other white passengers did not is, well, rather fanciful.
But then, it’s seductively easy to imagine yourself or your hero on the right side of history once that history has been vindicated. So of course “Rush” would have stood up for Rosa Parks. Of course “Rush” would have defended Jews who were turned away while fleeing the Holocaust. Of course “Rush” would have supported women agitating for the right to vote. Of course he would’ve defended human rights. Wouldn’t we all?
Actually, no. Not then, and not now.
As it happens, David, your email appeared the same week as news out of Flint, MI, about Tonya Battle, an African-American nurse who is suing her employer, the Hurley Medical Center. Battle, an employee since 1988, was working in the neonatal intensive-care unit when, she says, a baby’s father approached her at the infant’s bedside, asked for her supervisor and then told said supervisor he didn’t want any black people involved in his child’s care.
So, of course, the hospital stood up for its 25-year employee, right?
No. According to her suit, a note was posted on the assignment clipboard saying, “No African-American nurse to take care of baby.” The hospital, naturally, has declined comment.
David, this is ultimately not about “Rush.” He is a rich blowhard and therefore, unexceptional. No, this is about the implicit, albeit unstated, “of course” that comes too easily to you and frankly, to many of us, when we contemplate how we would have responded to the moral crimes of the past.
There is to it an unearned smugness that insults the very real courage of those like Medgar Evers, Viola Liuzzo and James Zwerg, who did take the morally correct stand at hazard of life and limb. It is easy to “stand up” for the right thing when doing so requires only paying lip service 50 years after the fact, something at which Limbaugh and his brethren have become scarily adept.
But the need for real courage, for willingness to stand up for human dignity, did not end in 1955, something to which our gay, Muslim and immigrant friends — and Tonya Battle — would surely testify. So there is something starkly fatuous in your vision of “Rush” defending Rosa Parks. No, sir. We know where he would have stood then because we know where he stands now.
Perhaps you find comfort in your delusion. But some of us realize we live in an era where bigotry has its own talk show and cable network. Can we find comfort in delusions like yours?
Of course not.
By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., The National Memo. February 20, 2013
Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) made a rare Senate appearance this morning, sitting in a wheelchair just off the floor so that members would have to see him as they entered the chamber. Why? Because they were poised to vote on ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, and Dole hoped to send a message.
It didn’t work. The Senate killed the treaty this afternoon, with a final vote of 61 to 38, which seems like a lopsided majority, but which fell short of the two-thirds necessary for ratification. Eight Republicans broke ranks and joined Democrats in support of the treaty, but the clear majority of the Senate GOP voted to block it.
The U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, for those who’ve forgotten, is a human rights treaty negotiated by the George H.W. Bush administration, which has been ratified by 126 nations, including China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.
But most Senate Republicans saw it as a threat to American “sovereignty,” even though the treaty wouldn’t have required the United States to change its laws. When the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the treaty with bipartisan support in July, Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) explained the proposal simply “raises the [international] standard to our level without requiring us to go further.”
In other words, we wouldn’t actually have to do anything except say we like the treaty — and then wait for other signatories around the world to catch up to the United States’ Americans with Disabilities Act.
The treaty was endorsed by Dole, John McCain, and Dick Lugar, among other prominent Republican figures, but it didn’t matter. The GOP’s right-wing base, led in part by Rick Santorum, raised hysterical fears about the treaty, and most Senate Republicans took their cues from the party’s activists, not the party’s elder statesmen.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 4, 2012
Next week, the Supreme Court will hear a case with many potential ramifications for American and international law, and for corporate responsibility for human rights around the globe. The justices will be asked to decide whether the corporations to which they have been extending the rights of individuals should also be held accountable for crimes against human rights, just as individuals are.
The story behind the case begins in 1980, when my colleagues at the Center for Constitutional Rights and I helped obtain the first semblance of justice to the family of a slain 17-year-old Paraguayan youth named Joelito Filártiga.
A police inspector general in Asunción, the capital, had tortured the boy to death in retaliation for his father’s opposition to Paraguay’s brutal dictatorship. But the case was decided in New York, far from Paraguay, where the crime had occurred and where justice had proven impossible for the Filártiga family; the boy’s murderer was ultimately ordered to pay the family $10.4 million in damages.
The precedent-setting case was made possible by a remarkable decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which allowed it to be brought under a long-obscure law enacted by Congress in 1789. Known as the Alien Tort Statute, the law has been interpreted to mean that foreigners who commit heinous crimes abroad in violation of international law can be held accountable in the United States if they are present or do business here; the Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality in 2004.
Since that decision, dozens of successful alien tort claims have been brought in American courts – at first against individuals, and eventually against corporations. As a result, many foreign victims of egregious crimes – ranging from torture and slave labor to the execution of loved ones – that were sanctioned, endorsed or commissioned by corporations have found justice in our courts.
Yet in September 2010, a divided Second Circuit – the very court that had rendered the Filártiga decision – held that only individuals, and not corporations, can be sued under the statute.
That ruling, in a case known as Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, came less than a year after the much more famous – and criticized – Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, which removed restrictions on political spending by contributions and wildly expanded the concept of corporate personhood.
Together, these decisions have triggered a wave of outrage among advocates for human rights, which see in them a signal from the courts that corporations have extensive rights but few responsibilities under American law.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on the alien torts ruling, which could produce its first decision regarding corporate personhood since Citizens United.
The question of whether foreign corporations doing business in the United States can be sued here for crimes committed elsewhere has arrayed international businesses against human rights advocates, with many “friend of the court” briefs filed on both sides. Four governments have also chimed in: Britain, the Netherlands and Germany for the corporate defendant and the United States on the side of the Nigerian plaintiffs.
The story behind the Kiobel case is compelling: The plaintiffs are members of the Ogoni people in Nigeria’s Niger Delta, where Royal Dutch Shell had extensive oil operations in the 1990s through contracts with the brutal military dictatorship that held power at the time. The region is widely considered a zone of calamity, in terms of both environmental and human rights. In the suit, Royal Dutch Shell was accused of assisting the Nigerian government in torturing and, through sham trials, executing Ogoni activists who had threatened to disrupt Shell’s operations because of the devastating health and environmental effects of unregulated drilling practices. The plaintiffs are either victims of torture themselves or had relatives who were executed. Esther Kiobel, the plaintiff after whom the suit is named, is the widow of a victim.
If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Royal Dutch Shell and against the plaintiffs, multinational corporations – particularly in mining and other extractive industries – could draw the lesson that it is now safer to forge alliances with autocratic regimes that have poor human rights records because they will not be judged culpable in the way individuals can be.
In fact, many “friend of the court” briefs filed by corporations in this case contend that the companies are committed to voluntarily complying with human rights norms – but that standards set by the United Nations and other public and private organizations are mere guidelines that are not enforceable as legal norms. What they are really saying is that there are legal norms against torture and such, but that they can’t be enforced against corporations because they have never been enforced under international law – a claim the plaintiffs strongly contest.
This leaves the Supreme Court with an extraordinary choice to make, in juxtaposition to its previous ruling in Citizens United: whether to accept an argument that, in effect, leaves corporations less culpable than individuals are for human rights violations committed abroad – or whether to hold that if a 200-year-old law can be used to hold individual violators to account, it can be used against corporate violators as well.
A decision affirming that Shell should go unpunished in the Niger Delta case would leave us with a Supreme Court that seems of two minds: in the words of Justice John Paul Stevens’s dissent from Citizens United, it threatens “to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation” by treating corporations as people to let them make unlimited political contributions, even as it treats corporations as if they are not people to immunize them from prosecution for the most grievous human rights violations.
A more startling paradox is difficult to imagine.
By: Peter Weiss, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, February 25, 2012
This afternoon President Obama announced that at the end of this year, America will withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq.
Obama began his campaign for president by forcefully, clearly promising to end that war. This afternoon he delivered on that promise.
The timing of his announcement could not have been more symbolically powerful. It comes just a day after the successful conclusion of the operation in Libya — an operation that stands in stark contrast to the disastrous War in Iraq.
The War in Iraq was the product of “bull in the china closet” Neo-Con unilateralism. The war cost a trillion dollars. Nobel prize-winning economist George Stieglitz estimates that after all of the indirect costs to our economy are in — including the care of the over 33,000 wounded and disabled — its ultimate cost to the American economy will be three times that.
It has cost 4,600 American lives, and the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. It created millions of refugees — both inside Iraq and those who fled to other countries.
The war decimated America’s reputation in the world and legitimated al Qaeda’s narrative that the West was involved in a new Crusade to take over Muslim lands. Images of Abu Ghraib created a powerful recruiting poster for terrorists around the world.
The War stretched America’s military power and weakened our ability to respond to potential threats. It diverted resources from the War in Afghanistan. It empowered Iran.
The War in Iraq not only destroyed America’s reputation, but also American credibility. Who can forget the embarrassing image of General Colin Powell testifying before the United Nations Security Council that the U.S. had incontrovertible evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction?
Contrast that to yesterday’s conclusion of the successful operation in Libya. That operation is emblematic of an entirely different approach.
Since he took office, Obama has fundamentally reshaped American foreign policy. In place of “bull in the china closet” unilateralism he has initiated a cooperative, multilateral approach to the rest of the world. The fruits of that approach are obvious in the Libyan operation where:
- The Libyans themselves overthrew a dictator;
- America spent a billion dollars — not a trillion dollars, as we have in Iraq;
- America did not lose one soldier in Libya;
- We accomplished our mission after eight months, not eight years;
- Most importantly, America worked cooperatively with our European allies, the Arab League and the Libyan people to achieve a more democratic Middle East.
Obama’s policy toward the Middle East is aimed at helping to empower everyday people in the Muslim world — it is a policy built on respect, not Neo-Con fantasies of imperial power. And it works.
Last month, I spent several weeks in Europe and met with a number of people from our State Department and other foreign policy experts from Europe, the Middle East and the United States. Everyone tells the same story. Since President Obama took office, support for the United States and its policies has massively increased throughout Europe and much of the world.
The BBC conducts a major poll of world public opinion. In March of this year it released its latest report.
Views of the U.S. continued their overall improvement in 2011, according to the annual BBC World Service Country Rating Poll of 27 countries around the world.
Of the countries surveyed, 18 hold predominantly positive views of the U.S., seven hold negative views and two are divided. On average, 49 percent of people have positive views of U.S. influence in the world — up four points from 2010 — and 31 per cent hold negative views. The poll, conducted by GlobeScan/PIPA, asked a total of 28,619 people to rate the influence in the world of 16 major nations, plus the European Union.
In 2007 a slight majority (54%) had a negative view of the United States and only close to three in ten (28%) had a positive view….
In other words, positive opinion of the U.S. had increased by 21% since 2007 – it has almost doubled.
Obama understands that in an increasingly democratic world, the opinions of our fellow human beings matter. They affect America’s ability to achieve America’s goals.
And Obama understands that it matters that young people in the Middle East, who are struggling to create meaningful lives, think of America as a leader they respect, rather than as a power with imperial designs on their land and their lives.
But, at the same time, there is no question that President Obama is not afraid to act — to take risks to advance American interests. The operation that got Bin Laden was a bold move. It was very well planned — but not without risks.
Obama is a leader who makes cold, hard calculations about how to achieve his goals. He plans carefully and then doesn’t hesitate to act decisively. And as it turns out, he usually succeeds. Ask Bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki, and Gaddafi.
Obama received a good deal of criticism from the Republicans for his operation in Libya. But by taking action, he first prevented Benghazi from becoming another Rwanda — and then supported a movement that ended the reign of a tyrant who had dominated the Libyan people for 42 years and had personally ordered the destruction of an American airliner.
For the vast number of Americas who ultimately opposed the War in Iraq, today should be at day of celebration. And it is a day of vindication for the courageous public officials who opposed the war from the start. That includes the 60% of House Democrats who voted against the resolution to support Bush’s invasion of Iraq.
It is also a day when someone ought to have the decency to tell the Republican chorus of Obama foreign policy critics that it’s time to stop embarrassing themselves.
From the first day of the Obama Presidency, former Vice President Dick Cheney has accused President Obama of “dithering” — “afraid to make a decision” — of “endangering American security.”
Even after the death of Muammar Gaddafi, Senator Lindsey Graham criticized the president for “leading from behind.”
You’d think that a guy who two years ago traveled to Libya to meet and make nice with Gaddafi would want to keep a low profile, now that the revolution Obama supported there has been successful at toppling this dictator who ordered the downing of American airliner.
Well, as least Graham isn’t saddled with having tweeted fawningly like his fellow traveler, John McCain, who upon visiting Gaddafi wrote: “Late evening with Col. Qadhafi at his “ranch” in Libya — interesting meeting with an interesting man.”
Let’s face it, with the death of Gaddafi, the knee-jerk Republican critics of his Libya policy basically look like fools.
Mitt Romney in the early months of the effort: “It is apparent that our military is engaged in much more than enforcing a no-fly zone. What we are watching in real time is another example of mission creep and mission muddle.”
Republican Presidential Candidate Michele Bachmann: “President Obama’s policy of leading from behind is an outrage and people should be outraged at the foolishness of the President’s decision” and also asking “what in the world are we doing in Libya if we don’t know what our military goal is?”
Of course, the very idea that Dick Cheney is given any credibility at all by the media is really outrageous.
Here is a guy who made some of the most disastrous foreign policy mistakes in American history. He has the gall to criticize Obama’s clear foreign policy successes? Those successes allowed America to recover much stature and power in the world that were squandered by Dick Cheney and George W. Bush. Someone needs to ask, what is anyone thinking who takes this guy the least bit seriously?
Someone needs to remind him and his Neo-con friends that:
- The worst attack on American soil took place on their watch;
- They failed to stop Osama bin Laden;
- They began two massive land wars in the Middle East that have drained massive sums from our economy, killed thousands of Americans and wounded tens of thousands of others;
- They underfunded an effort in Afghanistan so they could begin their War in Iraq that had nothing whatsoever to do with the terrorist threat from Al Qaeda;
- They brought U.S. credibility in the world to a new low by lying about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, violating our core human rights principles and acting unilaterally without any concern for the opinions or needs of other nations;
- Through their War in Iraq they legitimated Al Qaeda’s narrative that the United States was waging a crusade to take over Muslim lands – and with their policies at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, they created recruiting posters for Al Qaeda that did enormous harm to American security;
- Through their recklessness and incompetence they stretched American military resources and weakened our ability to respond to crises;
- When they left office, American credibility and our support in the world had fallen to new lows.
Republicans in Congress supported all of this like robots.
With a record like this, you’d think they would want to slink off into a closet and hope that people just forget.
But Americans won’t forget. History won’t forget.
And generations from now, Americans will thank Barack Obama for restoring American leadership — for once again making our country a leader in the struggle to create a world where war is a relic of the past and everyone on our small planet can aspire to a future full of possibility and hope.
By: Robert Creamer, Huffington Post, October 21, 2011