U.S. Mandatory Prison Sentences, For Everyone Except Rapists

Former U.S. Senator Todd Akin, Photo Courtesy of Flickr/Chris

Former U.S. Senator Todd Akin, Photo Courtesy of Flickr/Chris

UNITED STATES - Americans tend to view the social deficits of other countries from a position of superiority. This precedence of acting as a moral arbiter sitting in judgment of rest of the world has become so prevalent as to seem deflective. A means to hide the necessity of dealing with systemic racism, sexism, and pedophilia which are a scourge upon our nation. However, these ills are not as obvious as abuses like China’s One Child Policy which officially ended earlier this year, but has not changed entrenched cultural norms which encouraged the killing of female children to make room for a possible male birth.

Or the practice of Leblouh (force feeding girls to make them obese) in Mauritania because men will not marry a skinny woman. Then, perhaps the greatest assault against a woman’s control of her body and sexuality, female genital mutilation (FGM). Because each of these practices are heinous it is easy to point to these abuses when judging those societies. In essence, the obvious barbarism of these practices overshadows the more pervasive, but pernicious abuse of women and girls in America through what has come to be known as 'rape culture.'

The 2016 presidential election has brought the systemic violation of women and girls to the nation’s and world’s attention. The sexism and misogyny of Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate was unequivocally exposed in an Access Hollywood show in which he was captured on tape vulgarly describing how he grabbed women by their genitals. He also described forcibly kissing women, trying to seduce a married woman, and lauding his ability to assault women because of his celebrity status.

On August 19, 2012, then Missouri U.S. Rep. Todd Akin who is a Republican, expressed an erroneous but entrenched belief about rape during an interview in which he was discussing abortion. He claimed among other things that doctors told him if a rape is 'legitimate' then the woman will rarely become pregnant. His comments revealed a deep well of victim blaming and shaming, while casting aspersions on the truthfulness of some rape accusers.

"Well, you know, people always want to try to make that as one of those things, well how do you, how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question. First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. It it's legitimate rape, the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume that maybe that didn't work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child." (KTVI)

In addition to being victimized by her attacker, in Akin's world a woman would be forced to bear the child of her rapist should she conceive. In essence, she will be victimized numerous times while trying to seek justice -- first by the rapists, then the justice system, the media, the medical community, and politicians.

This kind of ignorance and anti-feminist sentiment has manifested in repeated attempts to overturn Roe v. Wade as well as defund programs like Planned Parenthood which provides free or reduced services to millions of women who would not otherwise have access to HIV testing, mammograms, contraceptives, and other types of preventative screenings. This inherent sexism and bias has permeated our national awareness and elevated the discussion of women's rights, but in practical terms, has not resulted in any real change.

Trumps insult - “nasty woman” - hurled at Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate during a debate best sums up what American women and girls have been increasingly subjected to these past few years. Increased levels and frequency of being verbally abused, sexually harassed and assaulted. Even Mrs. Clinton is delegitimatized on a daily basis by both the media and her opponent's surrogates by stating that if she had been running against anyone except Trump, she would have been soundly defeated.

On a macrocosmic level the attacks against Mrs. Clinton's stamina, looks, capabilities, sexuality, and domestic troubles, are equivalent to the treacherous waters through which average American women try to navigate on a daily basis. Women walk the delicate balance of trying not to appear aggressive despite being competent, of dressing down to avoid being perceived as provocative, and sometimes sublimating their intelligence in order to spare the ego of an insecure coworker or manager. 

At a microcosmic level, the rise of prosecutors refusing to bring charges against rapists, male judges belittling women and girls, casting aspersions on their testimony, and eventually dismissing the charges is alarming. In some of the more egregious cases women and the families of young girls who have been raped watch in horror as their rapists were not sentenced to prison terms as prescribed by the U.S.’s ‘mandatory minimum sentencing’ laws.

In fact, these violators, rapist, and pedophiles receive less time if any, than the mandatory minimum sentencing of Black and Latino men who have committed petty offenses such as selling minuscule amounts of drugs, or have been convicted of other non-violent crimes, but receive life-sentences.  Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13TH” brilliantly illuminates the injustice of mass incarceration within the context of race and poverty, and the economic incentive the enforcement of mandatory minimums on this demographic group has created.

The disparity between the prison sentences handed down against the aforementioned group, versus those given to sexual predators, many of whom are white and male, is inequitable in the extreme. Trump, is the most high-profile sexual predatory, who despite being captured on tape discussing how he sexually assaulted women, has largely been exonerated by his supporters, while the women who have accused him of assault have been excoriated.

The double standard is the primary reason why so few sexual assaults are reported. Women who know that their lives will be examined with a fine-toothed comb, and that their lifestyles, mode of dress, career choice, and sexual history will be used to discredit them.

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), referenced the Criminal Justice Systems Statistics, which determined that out of the 1,000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free.  The American Prosecutors Research Institute, created a comprehensive document which listed the minimum and maximum sentences for all classes of rape. To understand the gravity of the human rights abuses females in America are facing, three cases are presented below, but they are just the tip of the iceberg.

Delaware state statute requires a sentence of “Life in prison [without] probation or parole if: the victim under 16 and is seriously injured.” This sentencing however, was not applied in the case of the wealthy du Pont heir.

"Robert H. Richards IV was convicted of rape, the wealthy heir to the du Pont family fortune was spared prison by a Delaware court in 2009. [.....] Richards is a great-grandson of the chemical magnate Irenee du Pont. He received an eight-year prison sentence [...] for raping his toddler daughter, but the sentencing order signed by a Delaware judge said "defendant will not fare well" in prison and the eight years were suspended." (Source: CNN)

Texas state statute requires a sentence for “Aggravated Sexual Assault in the 1st degree to serve from 5-99 years; $10,000 fine.” That you can violently rape someone and spend less than 5 years in jail or pay a $10,000 fine is reprehensible, but the latitude of the interpretation of this sentencing structure by the prosecutor worked in favor of the man who raped a 2-year-old girl.

"Thomas Boden, 29 raped his then girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter in front of her 4-year-old sister in 2015. The crime was discovered when the mother came home to discover her baby crying and screaming that he had cut her private parts, and when she examined her diaper it was full of blood. Despite Boden confessing to the rape, the hospital confirmation that the child had been violently raped, and the DNA evidence supporting the assault, the prosecutor offered Boden, and “he accepted a plea deal of 10 years probation.”

Which meant that he did not have to spend any time in jail,” and was ordered not to have contact with the victim. As part of the deal, Boden will not be required to register as a sex offender.”  (Raw Story)

Montana state statute sentencing requirements for perpetrators who have raped a “victim [who] is less than 16 and actor is 3+ years older or bodily injury results, then 2-100 years and fine of up to $50,000”

On 4 October 2016 "Prosecutors recommended that a 40-year-old unnamed Glasgow, Montana man who confessed to repeatedly raping his 12-year-old daughter be sentenced to 25-years imprisonment.

Instead, it was reported that Judge John McKeon sentenced the perpetrator to 60-days in prison, “plus a 30-year suspended prison term […] as part of a plea deal with prosecutors. The man also was ordered to complete community-based sex-offender treatment and register as a sex offender.

Amidst severe criticism and a Change.org petition signed by 14,000 people demanding McKeon’s impeachment, he defended his decision by asserting that a psychosexual evaluation finds that psychiatric treatment “affords a better opportunity for rehabilitation of the offender and for the ultimate protection of the victim and society.” (CBS News)

A discussion about the efficacy of treatment options for pedophiles has been demonstrated to be ineffective. According to Harvard Medical School, “Pedophilia, the sexual attraction to children who have not yet reached puberty, remains a vexing challenge for clinicians and public officials. Classified as a paraphilia, an abnormal sexual behavior, researchers have found no effective treatment. Like other sexual orientations, pedophilia is unlikely to change.”

In all three cases, the justification given to support the ridiculously lenient sentences were in some fashion related to the judges' belief that they knew what was best for these victims, and this did not include punishing their attackers. These paternalistic rulings have become a major contributing factor in the larger problem of the ‘rape culture’ assailing our nation today.

A mother or father deserves justice when their child has been raped and they should not have to fight with the courts to have the perpetrator sentenced as prescribed by the law. A single-mother should not be judged as somehow complicit in her child’s sexual abuse simply because she finds herself in the unfortunate position of having to work outside of the home to support her family.

A woman who is raped should not have to justify her life choices, her sexual history, her mode of dress, or anything else that lawyers of the defendants use to discredit them. We cannot expect that the election of Hillary Clinton to the presidency will result in a reduction in sexism, misogyny, gender bias, sexual assault or abuse, but her elevation will help to keep the issues of women's rights front and center.

A problem unrevealed will fester, but a problem uncovered is well on its way to potential resolution.

How an Olympic Race Became Political: Feyisa Lilesa's Homage to the Oromo Nationalist Movement

Feyisa Lilesa, Ethiopian Olympian, Oromo Activist, Rio 2016 Olympics, Photo by Jeso Carneiro

Feyisa Lilesa, Ethiopian Olympian, Oromo Activist, Rio 2016 Olympics, Photo by Jeso Carneiro

ETHIOPIA -  While many Olympic runners raise their arms as they approach the finish line, few do so as a demonstration of political protest. Ethiopian runner Feyisa Lilesa joined this elite group of politically charged Olympic athletes such as Tommie Smith and John Carlos when he crossed his arms at the end of the Men’s Marathon during the Rio Olympics. While Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a Black Power salute during the awards ceremony, Feyisa Lilesa crossed his arms at the end of the race to demonstrate his allegiance with the Oromo people as they continue a centuries long clash with the Ethiopian government. What looked like a stretch to many Olympic observers was really a powerful demonstration that resulted from many years of unrest and political strife.

Thousands of miles from where Lilesa made his protest in August, Oromo dissenters had been actively demonstrating against the Ethiopian government since 2014 when a plan was unveiled for the expansion of Addis Ababa. The plan, arguably excellent for the capitals image and perhaps even reminiscent of the rapid improvements made under Haile Selassie in the mid 20th century, also proved reminiscent to the Oromo of how they were kicked off their land when the capital was moved from the north of the country to Addis Ababa in the first place. The new plan involved permeating the capital city into the Oromo occupied outskirts of its current blueprint, displacing members of the already marginalized group in the process. Without previous knowledge of the maltreatment of the Oromo, one might think that protests involving more than one hundred thousand people across Oromia might be drastic, but the government’s plan to expand the city into heavily Oromo occupied territory was perhaps the last straw after centuries of government action taken to improve Ethiopia at the expense of the Oromo.

In 1941 at the end of the Italian occupation the imperial system made strides towards assimilating the Oromo in order to build Ethiopian nationalism at a time when the country was lacking a strong national identity. This assimilation process entailed making Amharic the national language and banning the use of the Oromo language in schools, churches, and public offices. While some Oromo’s ‘Amharised’ in order to achieve upward mobility, it was not long before campaigns such as Macha Tulama and Ethiopian Student Movement formed in opposition to the current political environment and poor treatment of the Oromo identity. While some of the more extreme followers of these movements wanted independence from Ethiopia all together, they at the very least desired equal treatment of the Oromo language, culture, and religion to that of the Amhara. [1]

Unfortunately, not all that much has changed since Oromo nationalist movements began. The Oromo remain the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia (and the Horn of Africa for that matter), yet groups such as the Amhara and the Tigray are favored in government just like they have been for decades. Interestingly though, Ethiopia is a country in which a strong sense of fraternity is felt amongst its citizens, which can perhaps be attributed to the historical bond that it is the only country to have fought off colonization. However, it must be noted that fraternity and national identity cannot be confused here because if you ask an Oromo about their national identity it is likely that they will respond “I am Oromo,” not, “I am Ethiopian

With this in mind, it is not surprising that when Oromo athlete Feyisa Lilesa ran for the Ethiopian Olympic team he also took a stand that demonstrated his allegiance to his Oromo identity during a crucial time in their history and relationship with the Ethiopian government. Even though Lilesa won silver in the race, he won gold in the hearts of many Oromo nationalists through his bold demonstration of solidarity and civil disobedience towards a government that has historically mistreated his people.

1. Bulcha, Mekuria. "African Sociological Review/Revue Africaine De Sociologie."African Studies Companion Online 1.1 (1997): 30-65. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.

Taking Back America is About Personal Responsibility

Statue of Liberty, New York, Photo by Alex Be.

Statue of Liberty, New York, Photo by Alex Be.

UNITED STATES - No one should have to pay for the crimes of others, or be condemned simply because they share skin tone, profession, or religious affiliation. America isn’t that far removed from a time when Blacks, Native Americans, Jews, Catholics, Mormons and others had no legal recourse for being discriminated against. But we as a country and society have made great strides. However, in the last few days, much to the dismay and horror of the majority of Americans, the disenfranchised have chosen to discard reason and rational discourse to engage in ex-judicial violence. They have advocated for “race wars.” They are more vociferous and aggressive in their condemnation of foreigners. They are blinded by emotionalism and have conflated their desire to return to a past that made sense to them with the right to threaten a sitting President Barack Obama with death.

They are advocating for undemocratic policies, and seek to elect leaders willing to discard the sacrosanct ideals embodied in the U.S. Constitution. Within the last three days we have witnessed the death of two black men shot dead by officers, and a reported retaliatory shooting, murder, and wounding of several policemen in Dallas, Texas. Yet, in the midst of this mayhem and climate of blame and hate, cooler heads are prevailing and calling upon us to act with dignity, restraint, love, and civility in the face of the deeper undercurrent of distrust, fear, and intolerance which currently besets our nation.

On July 4th the Washington Post featured a post in which Fernando Herboso, 58, and his brother Carlos, who are Hispanic and own their own real-estate company, recount the difficulties they are encountering when trying to sell homes to Muslims wearing traditional clothing in the supposedly progressive suburbs of Washington, DC. They report an incident which occurred when they were showing a U.S. military veteran and his wife a home in Frederick, MD.  When they entered the community clubhouse and went out to the pool area a patron verbally assaulted them.

According to the article, the “woman lounging at the pool took one look at his client’s hijab and said it loud and clear: “We don’t want Muslims in our clubhouse. Take off that robe over [sic] your head!” she boomed.”

In another incident a child of one of his clients needed to use the restroom and the house they were touring had no running water. So he took her across the street where a woman was in the front yard watering her grass. He politely asked her if the little girl could use her restroom and without a word the woman shut off her hose, walked into her house, slammed and locked the door behind her.

This is the America we live in today, a sad reminder of days we thought were long behind us. Practices which we believed eradicated through the enactment of Civil Rights Laws and in this instant, the Fair Housing Act.  U.S. citizens are succumbing to baser natures and vilification of the other in lieu of examining their own role in why they are unable to keep pace with the demands of the new world. With bravado they proclaim that they are no longer holding back and are going to ‘tell it how it is,” but it would seem, to everyone but themselves. People who once privately embraced racism, misogyny, xenophobia, antiSemitism, anti-Muslim, and isolationism, now publicly defend these reprehensible characteristics and when confronted claim they have been misinterpreted.

But White Nationalists are unapologetic in their incitement of violence, or their exhilaration that their agenda has been elevated to the national stage. Sites like The White Genocide Project, promote the myth that racism against whites is a fact and that white people are the only ones who have to give up the country they built. They believe that Asians get to keep Asia, Muslims and Arabs get to keep the Middle East, Jews should be exterminated, and Black people get to keep Africa. Because, according to them all across Europe and in America white people are being forced out of their countries.  But, here is the problem.....America was stolen from the Native Americans, built on the backs of African slaves, and expanded westward through the construction of Central Pacific Railroad at the hands of Chinese-Americans. This is not to say that many other immigrants also didn’t contribute, however, in the early decades of its establishment, the blood, sweat, and tears of these three groups built this nation.

Thus, there are no halcyon days when this was a 'white' country to 'take it back to' or even to make great again. There is only the historical evidence of the dark days of violence, openly legislated systemic racism and intolerance, which resulted in the murder of millions of black slaves, the near annihilation of the Native Americans, and the abject treatment and exploitation of many other immigrants.

Meanwhile, across the pond, the passage of the Brexit referendum is the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for Americans being swayed by nationalism, seduced by nativism, and ensnared by nostalgia. The referendum presented British citizens with the choice to leave or remain as member country of the European Union. Overwhelmingly, the country voted in favor of leaving, though many regretted the decision upon review in the cold light of the morning after, leading to over 4 million people signing a petition to hold a second referendum.

The measure passed in large part because of cunning pandering to fear and xenophobia wrapped in the illusion of restoration of days of yore, and the charlatan promises to rob from the rich and give to the poor. For those who voted in favor of leaving or simply to make a political statement of their dislike of the status quo, they were shocked to discover that the passing of the referendum would not lead to greater freedom, opportunity, and affluence. Instead, it ushered the country into a Charles Lutwidge Dodgsonian universe, in which the young people and immigrants are Alice in anything but ‘Wonderland.’ The minute it approved the referendum Britain had to confront the impending reality of diminished presence and participation in the global market space, as well as being excluded from the privileges and ease of mobility that came with being citizen of the EU.

For young people like Sarah Abbasi, there is a great deal of anger toward the older generation holding the future of her generation captive. In her op-ed in The Guardian she wrote that “The future of the younger generation in the UK has been decided against their wishes. A nostalgic older generation has shaken my identity and I no longer fully understand what it means to be British. The number of students wanting to pursue opportunities in another EU country is likely to decline; it remains unclear whether or not future generations will even have the opportunities that were made available to me, which moulded me into an outward-looking, inquisitive and ambitious British.”

In numerous interviews and polls of Brits over 60, they revealed that they wholeheartedly supported leaving the EU so that they could take back their country or return to the way things used to be. In essence they voted to leave so that they could return to the idyllic days of a bygone era. One is tempted to ask if these elderly British citizens also longed for the loss of wealth that occurred immediately after World War II? Or perhaps they wanted to return to the 1970’s when Britain suffered a long running period of relative economic malaise, dogged by severe inflation, strikes, and citizens being regularly targeted in deadly terrorist’s attacks perpetrated by Irish Republican Army (IRA). Maybe they yearned for the times when “Unemployment exceeded 1 million by 1972 and had risen even higher by the time the end of the decade was in sight, passing the 1.5 million mark in 1978? (Source: West Sussex County Times)

It was reported by The Telegraph that the pound has crashed below $1.30 and bond yields hit record lows as Brexit aftershocks rattle global markets.  With the pound trading at its lowest levels in thirty years, inflation is predicted to hit the country hard. This means that older citizens who voted for the measure, were so wedded to the past they failed to take into account the realities of living as a pensioner on fixed income. Now these pensioners must look at their unvarnished history, no longer obfuscated by hazy memories, to accurately recall the difficulties they faced in that ‘better past.’ They must grapple with the present reality of decreased purchasing power of their pensions forcing many to make hard choices, even to the point of forgoing basic necessities.

When British citizens voted on behalf of xenophobia, racism, and isolationism, they deceived themselves and willingly bought into an irrational assertion that it is possible to resurrect the past. These older citizens who live predominantly in areas of the country which suffer from high unemployment as a consequence of the loss of industrial and mill jobs, became willing participants in what can only be described as mass psychosis. They chose to believe in the absurdity that the anachronistic industries that no longer meet the needs of our technology driven world would magically reappear. They longed for and fervently hoped to return to the ‘glory’ days of the Industrial Era. An era as outmoded and inefficient as slavery, the horse and buggy, and gas lights, etc.

Similarly, during each U.S. election cycles, candidates up and down ballot promise the return of factory jobs that supported families and communities in areas of the United States known as the Rust Belt. Politicians count on these constituents looking backwards, resisting progress, acquiescing to complacency and apathy, instead of aggressively retooling their skill-sets to prepare them to compete and grow with technology advancements. They count on their refusal to work in other market sectors despite the evidence that manufacturing has been in rapid decline for decades. Particularly in the steel mills and coal mines 'pink slipped’ workers refuse to acknowledge that these jobs will never come back.

With regard to the fossil fuel industry, many countries, including Saudi Arabia, are planning for future decreases in demand for oil and gas. According to Bloomberg News, the Kingdom plans to invest $109 billion in technologies to harness renewable clean energy sources from solar panels, wind, geothermal and nuclear reactors. Here in the States, coal companies are shuttering their doors and moving their base of operations overseas where regulative oversight is less stringent, and occupational health and safety rules non-existent. Robert Murray, owner of one of America’s largest private coal company, mendaciously informed employees that his company plans to lay off as many as 4,400 workers, or 80 percent of his workforce, and that their only hope to keep their jobs is to vote for a coal-friendly political candidates.

The fact of the matter is the industry is obsolete, and cannot compete against natural gas and other renewable energy producers. But, this didn’t stop Murray or politicians from stoking fears, peddling false hope, and persuaded the workers to blame others for their inability to compete in the new economies. Instead of inspiring confidence in the future, or offering educational opportunities to enable these workers to become more competitive, they appealed to their resentment. They urged them to wallow in self-pity, play the blame game, and adjured them to eschew personal responsibility.

When politicians cynically display and profess empathy for the plight of manufacturing workers and miners, cajoling them into giving them their votes with the patently false and empty promises of bringing back their jobs, they too are guilty of avoiding personal responsibility. They know that they will not be held accountable for the things they promise, so they can say anything with impunity in this culture of irresponsibility. Yet, these jobs will never come back because America no longer has a need for, nor the appetite to, pay for the high costs of these materials when manufactured domestically.

Additionally, our economy is much more complex and driven by domestic and international market forces. We now trade across borders intangible assets, resources, goods and services that are sold at greater profit to emerging countries. Though the economy is not as robust as we would like, we are not in a Great Depression, and the huge infrastructure building programs which were implemented as part of a strategy to kick start our economic engines, are no longer integral to our continued economic stability. Thus, to posit that we are going to turn back the clock, reinvigorate the Rust Belt and put people to work on large infrastructure projects is simplistic a best and deceptive at worst because we live in a world governed by technology.

The past is irrevocably complete and there is something profoundly pathetic and inimical about trying to steer a present into yesteryear and selling it as the future. The time of isolationism is past, we live in a global economy in which working poor and middle class people, especially in America, couldn’t survive without access to the low-costs products produced in China and elsewhere and sold in mega-stores like Walmart and Target. The very idea that the U.S. can pull back from its role as a global leader, ignoring the positive impact of international politics, policies, and trade is absurd. We have become and are becoming an increasing pluralistic and culturally diverse country and this cannot be reversed. So the preposterous idea of expelling all Mexican immigrants, building a wall, or otherwise seeking to once again homogenize the power structure, is not only xenophobic, but would also economically devastate the country and set a dangerous precedent that is antithetical to the democratic ideals of our nation.  

According to the New York Times, if unauthorized farm workers are expelled from the U.S. it would result “not just [in] more expensive produce, but the collapse of American labor-intensive agriculture. Instead of milk from a nearby dairy, the only kind available would come from abroad, and it would be irradiated or powdered. Meat would come from Brazil, shellfish from Thailand, fruits and vegetables from New Zealand — and that's the good, expensive stuff. There would be plenty of inferior products too, and much much less of anything would be fresh.

But worst of all would be the jobs lost for Americans. According to economists, every farm job supports three to four others up and downstream in the local economy: from the people who make and sell fertilizer and farm machinery to those who work in trucking, food processing, grocery stores and restaurants. Do we really want to lose those jobs too? No one in America is going to benefit from expelling immigrant farm workers. And the cost won't be pennies: it will run to billions of dollars.”  

And then there are the technological advances that skilled and highly trained immigrants bring to the economy. Already a challenging process, further restricting or outright closing our borders to immigrants will negatively affect our quality of life and access to innovations which streamline our daily interactions.

The Hill recently reported that “More than 100 chief executives of major tech companies and trade associations — including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer — urged President Obama and Congress on Thursday to reform the existing immigration rules for highly-skilled workers. In recent years, tech giants have argued that the U.S. isn't producing enough graduates with the advanced technical skills needed to fill the several open engineering and research positions they have. In their letter, the tech executives note that IBM, Intel, Microsoft and Oracle combined have 10,000 job openings in the U.S.  

“We call on you to address the need for more qualified, highly-skilled professionals, domestic and foreign, and to enact immigration reform this year."

Once again, it comes down to personal responsibility. There are jobs in the country which Americans are unwilling to do – field workers, domestics, cleaning people, manual day labor, fast food employees, etc. Yet, we blame the immigrants who are willing to do what every other immigrant group has done who came to this country. You start at the bottom, you work hard, you save, poured your hard work and sacrifice into the futures of your children. These people were and are not afraid of responsibility. They did and do not shrink from the challenges of becoming captains of their destiny. They did and do appreciate the gift of democracy and freedom, and we would do well to return to this.

We shall fall as a nation if we chose to circle our wagons to the exclusion of the majority of people who do not look like us, pray like us, or talk like us. Emma Lazarus inspired us to enlarge our tents in the second and most famous stanza of her sonnet “The New Colossus,” in honor of The Statue of Liberty.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

If we chose to turn our backs on this path and shutter our borders, we shall dim that light of that beacon that will guide us through these uncertain times. If we start to single out groups of people and accuse them of being un-American, we risk reviving the “practice of making accusations of subversion or treason without proper regard for evidence.” In so doing, the U.S. shall lose its moral authority, and become no better than other countries where differences are not tolerated and often violently eradicated.

It is up to us to bury the carcasses of mythos, inhumanity, and the shamefulness of a past that didn’t serve us well as a nation. We must at every opportunity disabuse those who extol a time when people could abuse, subjugate, and kill others with impunity simply because they believed it was an inalienable right. We must resist all attempts to force us into suspicion and distrust, and reporting on our neighbors. We must remember our recent past, when tactics disguised as policy were implemented to disenfranchise American citizens.

We must stand firm and denounce all efforts to implement a national registration system for law-abiding Muslim Americans. We must remember our history so we don’t repeat it. We need look no further than January 14, 1942 following the attack on Pearl Harbor to see the ruinous and un-American conclusion of this type of thinking and rhetoric.

Today, it is the Muslim Americans, but in 1942 it was Japanese Americans. First, was the War Department’s blanket Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt which authorized the physical removal and detention of all Japanese Americans into internment camps in the interest of national security, after having classified them as enemy aliens. 127,000 Japanese American citizens, some of whom were veterans, became subject to racism, violence, and had their houses, businesses, and other property stolen. Not just because of the executive order, but by being labeled as such, they were distrusted as potential sleeper agents who could turn upon their communities and country even unto future generations.

Let us not ‘Regrexit’ because we have blithely succumbed to fear mongering and hatred, or apathetically acquiesced to the belief that there isn’t much we can do. We are responsible for this American experience, and we are the people, who are for the people, and governed by the people who protect the best of this democratic experiment. We should not let a vociferous minority define us as the majority. We should continue to enlarge our capacity for tolerance predicated upon an innate desire to be compassionate toward ourselves and each other. We must continue to push ourselves and our Constitution to embody the best in us, because it is only in this way that we will continue to evolve individually and as a nation. We must take to heart and heed the timeless warning that all evil needs to prevail is for good people to remain silent.

Today, America is at a cross-road, we face a choice between two paths and the future lies on the one less traveled. It is within the boundless possibilities of the unknowable that we can reaffirm our commitment to protecting the ideals of democracy, diversity, pluralism, and freedom. However, it will require bravery, it will require honesty, and it will be difficult. People have grown accustomed to blaming others and outside circumstances for their personal failings. We must take responsibility and face reality - a man is born, he lives, and he dies. If we are unhappy with our life and desire for change, we should as Ghandi recommended, ‘be the change we wish to see in the world,” and this starts and ends with personal responsibility.

Editor-in-Chief: @AyannaNahmias
LinkedIn: Ayanna Nahmias

Sexual Abuse in Peacekeeping: A Not So Simple Answer

37-Year-Old Rape Victim, Mali, IDPS Bamako, Photo by Voice Nature World Plus

37-Year-Old Rape Victim, Mali, IDPS Bamako, Photo by Voice Nature World Plus

CENTRAL AFRICA - Since late March, the United Nations (UN) has come under fire on allegations that peacekeepers committed acts of sexual violence against civilian populations. The advocacy group, AIDS-free-world, made several leaked documents public in March of 2016 which implicated French soldiers and UN peacekeepers in acts of sexual abuse against the populations they were sent to protect. A large portion of these claims come from the Central African Republic, where French soldiers were deployed to help quell internal violence that began in 2013. The first allegations pre-date the establishment of the UN sanctioned peacekeeping mission, known as the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), which was authorized by the UN Security Council in April of 2014. Most of these were directed against French military personnel who were assisting African Union regional stabilization forces. Accusations of sexual abuse against peacekeepers from France, Gabon and Burundi were, however, reported after the establishment of MINUSCA and implicated the UN and its administration. Though many of these accusations are still under investigation, this information highlights the structural flaws within the UN that would allow such heinous acts to happen in the first place.

The current reports of sexual abuse are not the first the international organization has had to address. Sexual abuse on peacekeeping missions has been an ongoing problem within the UN system dating back to stabilization efforts in Cambodia during 1992. Most subsequent missions have also had at least some reports of misconduct, rape or abuse. With few exceptions, most accused perpetrators receive little to no punishment. This is because the UN itself, being an international organization, lacks any sort of power to legally prosecute individuals. Prosecution of criminal acts must be done by individual countries, and peacekeepers on a mission cannot be prosecuted by the host country in which they serve due to diplomatic immunity. Peacekeepers can only be prosecuted by their home country from which they originate. Most troop contributing countries for peacekeeping operations have, however, been reluctant to investigate and prosecute accused soldiers.

This leaves two questions regarding the widespread misconduct and sexual abuse. First, why has the UN been ineffective in addressing the structural challenges that allow such acts to manifest? Second, why are troop contributing countries reluctant to punish their own soldiers, especially in instances where misconduct is clear? The answers to these questions can come from current UN officials themselves. Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, UN Special Representative to the Central African Republic, said in an interview with Foreign Policy Magazine that “countries aren’t exactly queuing to contribute troops to peacekeeping missions.” This means that any measures that the UN might put forth, such as expelling contingents of troops with multiple allegations, would cause a backlash from those who provide troops and cut off a much needed resource. Thus politics often comes into play when addressing these types of allegations at the New York Headquarters.

In terms of holding soldiers accountable in their home country, we often see a lack of political will and capacity. Less than five percent of allegations end up with the home country of the soldiers legally prosecuting them. There has been a long held observation that those countries that do contribute soldiers often prioritize domestic legal matters as opposed to those that happen in a different country. Likewise, most troop contributing countries are unwilling to admit any wrong-doing or are unable pursue trial because the evidence collected by the UN does not meet national standards needed to prosecute. Thus, we are left with a situation where soldiers know they practically have immunity in certain cases of rape and other human rights abuses. Lewis Mudge of Human Rights Watch himself said: “They know very well that, legally, the hands of national authorities and the United Nations are tied.”

We are left with a sensitive political situation that may threaten the efficacy of current and future peacekeeping operations. While certain solutions, such as the suggestion to collect DNA from all soldiers for paternity testing might have some impact, the international community is still faced with the lack of political will, mostly on the part of troop contributing countries. Pressing or coercing such countries to prosecute their soldiers might backfire, and peacekeeping missions could end up understaffed. Again, this result could actually do more harm than good and might potentially destabilize the country in which justice is sought. The international community might be better served to address these problems by better connecting troop contributing countries to potential solutions. One such example is Hervé Ladsous’s proposal for a specialized military court in countries hosting peacekeeping operations. It was not said who should staff these theoretical courts, but perhaps allocating spots for those who contribute the most soldiers to the host country might create political will to hold peacekeepers who commit heinous acts of abuse accountable.

Contributing Journalist: @AdamWolf
LinkedIn: Adam Wolf

The Resurgence and Spread of Child Marriage in Modern Asia

Asia - India Gujarat, Photo by RURO

Asia - India Gujarat, Photo by RURO

ASIA - The phenomena of child marriage, the taking or marrying off a girl at an age that is well below what modern society deems socially acceptable, sounds like a practice that belongs in a history book rather than in the twenty-first century. However, though hard to believe, the practice not only exists in these modern times, but also that it is thriving. In fact, emerging evidence indicates that the marrying off these child brides is becoming more widespread in many parts of the world. Whether due to socioeconomic pressures or to cultural preferences, the world is witnessing a steady resurgence of the practice of child marriages in places such as Africa, the Middle East, and now more prevalent in Asia.

One country in particular which has experienced an increase in the number of child marriages is poverty-stricken Bangladesh. This country has been identified in a report by the International Center for Research of Women (ICRW) as number 3 on a list of the top 20 countries with the highest incidents of child brides. This is because nearly 68.7% of all Bangladeshi girls under the age of 18 are married off to older men. The drastic rise in the practice has become so prevalent in recent years that researchers describe it as a full-blown “epidemic”. According to current estimates, nearly one third of girls in the country are married off before they reach the age of 15. This figure is staggering, and girls who are married off at such a young age often face high rates of domestic abuse, increased risks in childbirth, and the prospect of life-long poverty. Unfortunately, in many rural areas of countries with emerging economies young women are often considered a burden. It is these societal standards which is sanctioned and even encouraged that families use to justify pressing their young daughters into marriage to older men.

Concomitant factors such as poverty, lack of education, and the destabilization of the economy from natural disasters like typhoons, which are known for causing widespread destruction in Southeast Asian countries, also play a role in propagating acceptance of this practice. Parents often resort to marrying off their daughters in order to save money to pay for the education of their sons who are seen as better able to support the family once they reach the age of maturity. Bangladesh is not the only country to face the ever increasing problem of child marriage. Afghanistan is another country in the region known to the world as a region of innumerable human rights abuses.

Many of these abuses are due to complex forces, such as the oppressive patriarchal culture, the violent influence of the Taliban, and the subjugation of women who are often publicly executed. Given these influences the marriage of young girls to older men seems a foregone conclusion. Here, and most notably in the country's north-eastern province of Badakhshan, women experience the most extreme lack of independence. In this nation plagued by chronic food shortages, brought about by decades-long conflicts in the region, girls are being sold and traded off at an alarming rate. The money that the families get for the sale of their daughters enable them to purchase food, livestock, or other necessities.

The situation is particularly bleak in Badakhshan which according to a report by the United Nations (U.N.). Young girls experience some of the highest rats of abuses and death at the hands of their husbands who are often decades their senior. These men repeated and violently rape their young brides, who once they become pregnant do not allow them to access prenatal care with the intention of isolating these girls. According to the ICRW young girls are most afflicted by the following.

  • Premature Pregnancy: Child brides almost always bear children before they are physically - or emotionally - ready.
  • Maternal Mortality: Girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die during child birth or pregnancy than older women. Pregnancy-related deaths are the leading cause of mortality for girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide.
  • Infant Mortality: Mortality rates for babies born to mothers under age 20 are almost 75% higher than for children born to older mothers. The children that survive are more likely to be premature, have a low birth weight, and are more at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS.
  • Health Problems: Premature childbirth can lead to a variety of health problems for mothers, including fistula, a debilitating condition that causes chronic incontinence. Girls with fistula are often abandoned by their husbands and ostracized by society. There are approximately 2 million girls living with fistula, and 100,000 new cases every year.
  • HIV/AIDS: Married girls may be more likely to contract sexually transmitted disease, including HIV/AIDS, than unmarried girls. Young girls are more physically susceptible to STD's, have less access to reproductive education and health services and are often powerless to demand the use of contraception. (Source: ICRW)

Girls under the age of 15 are most at risk to this tragic outcome because of their physical immaturity. These young girls also face the specter of contracting HIV from infected husbands. Experts are in agreement that the best way to counter this growing trend is by working to alleviate the country's desperately crippled economy.

While the prevalence of the practice is closely associated with poverty and destruction, this is not true in every country. China, for example, has experienced steady economic growth in the past several decades. Despite its overall financial stability, the country is also experiencing a rise in the number of child marriages. The increase in this practice is largely driven by political factors such as the long-standing one-child policy. This policy, first enacted in the late 1970's to alleviate China's issue with unchecked population growth, has in fact resulted in a problematic and wide scale gender imbalance. Thus, the country now has approximately 33 million more men than women in the country. Despite this, the cultural bias toward boys remains, particularly in the rural areas where parents routinely force their daughters to marry young so that they aren't a financial burden to the family.

Additionally, China’s gender gap has led to a dramatic rise in the rates of human trafficking. Young girls are being sold or kidnapped then smuggled out of the country to neighboring Vietnam. Those who aren't 'lucky' enough to be sold for purposes of marriage, face the horrifying specter of sex slavery. These girls, as young as 13-years-old, are sometimes sold by their parents who have been solicited by the smugglers to sell their daughters who are subsequently drugged as a means of controlling them while they are removed from their homes. The girls are then marketed to potential buyers and sold for the deplorable price of $3,000 or less.

Sadly, with the continued growth of China, and the growing need for increased human capital to produce low costs products which the West is increasing dependent upon. This has resulted in the rise of another type of enslavement of girls and women in the manufacturing sectors found in cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. Often chained to their work stations for up to 16 hours a day, they are not even allowed bathroom breaks in order to maximize high production at low costs.

The documentary 'Santa's Workshop' provides a chilling look into the abuse of the laborers in many Chinese factories. The majority of these workers are children and women. Thus, it is unfortunate and disheartening to realize that for a female to make it to adulthood having escape sexual enslavement or child marriage, is not a guarantee of avoiding future exploitation. There are many organizations dedicated to advocating for the rights of child brides, women, and forced labor, but this abuse, irrespective of the fact that it is occurring in locations quite foreign to us, should in no way inure us to the suffering these girls and women face. Nor to our obligation to remain engaged in trying to make a difference, even if this difference is as simple as sharing these statistics and stories with friends, family, and associates. In so doing we may become more conscious and conscientious, two things which help to complete us as human beings.

Contributing Journalist: @JonEizyk
LinkedIn: Jon Eizyk

A Call to Reason and Cooperation in Dealing with Increasing Global Terrorism

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (C) shakes hands with Israeli President Shimon Peres (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa at the King Hussein Convention Centre, at the Dead Sea May 26, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Young

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (C) shakes hands with Israeli President Shimon Peres (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa at the King Hussein Convention Centre, at the Dead Sea May 26, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Young

ISRAEL - It is always the innocent who end up suffering the most, no matter what the conflict happens to be. This is a sad reality of the world we live in, and one in which we are confronted with daily, because of an increase in global conflict, terrorism, and the instability of nations. Weaponized hatred and terror has significantly increased in the present day, as leaders of extremists’ groups radicalize individuals and deploy them in unexpected attacks which are difficult to predict. The inability to anticipate these attacks has resulted in nations being forced to introduce stringent security measures that are more restrictive on innocent citizens, but at the same time fail in curtailing the acts of real terrorists, who often slip through undetected.

The recent terror attacks in Paris and Brussels are both examples of radicals who inflicted mayhem in a misguided attempt to express their loyalty to groups like ISIS. These individuals were easily manipulated into committing a series of reprehensible acts; acts which were concocted without any real goal in mind other than to instill terror, confusion, and suspicion. Unlike true revolutionaries, who have set and clearly defined objectives (which may at times result in violence), and whose methods are usually meant to garner support for their cause, these radicals are primarily focused only on differentiating themselves from whatever element they strove to rebel against. In short, their acts of terror promise peace if only the citizens would choose their cause over that of the incumbent government. Usually, nothing could be farther from the truth as citizen’s usually replace the devil they know with an equally deceptive regime.

It is a sad matter of fact, but domestic and international terrorists are only increasing in their attempts to target America, the E.U., Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Indeed, few places in the world now seem off limits. At times, it seems as if these terrorists enjoy a twisted pleasure in targeting innocent men, women, and children- regardless of their country of origin, background, or religion. When people think of terrorism, they usually associate it with organization such as ISIS or Al-Qaeda. In reality, however, these groups are not always behind the attacks. There are just as many attacks by ‘lone’ wolves (individuals who act on their own accord) who seek revenge for real or perceived offences. Such was the case with Yosef Haim Ben David, an Israeli settler who orchestrated the murder of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdair, who was beaten and burned alive in the summer of 2014. By his own admission, Ben David admitted that Khdair’s murder was largely in response to Hussam Qawasmeh’s kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank in that same year. These examples are particularly worthwhile to note, because they go to highlight the fact that acts of terror are not always attributed to any one side or the other. Instead, they should be seen for what they are - baseless crimes of hate. Blame for these actions should be placed squarely on the person or persons who are solely responsible for perpetrating these heinous acts.

On Tuesday, 19 April 2016, the BBC News reported that the ringleader in the murder of Abu Khdair was found guilty by an Israeli court. Ben David has yet to be sentenced, but judgement is anticipated to be harsh and followed by a lengthy prison sentence.  Meanwhile, in a similar case, The New York Times reported on January 6, 2015 that Hussam Qawasmeh, the Palestinian behind the Kidnap and Murder of the 3 Israeli teens, received 3 consecutive life sentences for his role in the murders. Both cases are extreme examples of people who acted on their own accord; individuals who took out their anger on innocent bystanders, in a misguided attempt to inflict pain on those whom they perceived as having harmed or insulted them. While they truly believed they were furthering the agendas of their governments, the fact of the matter is that in reality they had little or no insight into the broader political and security process which governments take into consideration when combating terrorism. The heinous acts committed by these men are theirs alone, and for these crimes they have been judged and found guilty. It is a case in which respect for and protection of human rights trumped all other agendas.

By the same note, it is the job of respective governments to strive to put aside their differences when confronting the global threat from extremists. World powers must unite in this endeavor, and the responsibility of overcoming these threats must be shared. Great examples of this can be seen through the workings of countries such as India and Pakistan, who have recently learned to cooperate in tackling this issue. Just this past month, for example, The Indian Express reported that intelligence from Pakistan’s security apparatus was shared with its long-time rival, India, in preventing a large-scale terror attack from being carried out on Indian soil. This selfless act undoubtedly helped to save lives and must be praised for showing what can be achieved when countries work in setting aside their personal differences, and instead choose to protect innocent civilians - regardless of their creed or nationality. Countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East can (and indeed should) all learn to follow suit, because It’s not too late.

What people must now come to a consensus on is that tragedy should cease to be politicized. Pain is not a zero-sum game. One tragedy, should not work in taking away from another. Nor should it justify it. In this sense, the pain and strife which has befallen the Palestinian people, for example, should not take away from the pain and strife which is now unfolding in Israel. Both sides are equally right in hurting, and both sides must learn to empathize with the other. Only in this way, will real progress be made. Not only in the now decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also throughout the traumatized region.

Contributing Journalist: @JonEizyk
LinkedIn: Jon Eizyk

Even Photos of Drowned Refugee Babies Do Not Dampen Anti-Immigrant Sentiment

Syrian Refugee Drowned Baby Girl off the coast of Greece, Photo Courtesy of Notimix

Syrian Refugee Drowned Baby Girl off the coast of Greece, Photo Courtesy of Notimix

EUROPEAN UNION - White House press secretary , Josh Ernest, told media members in 2015, that President Obama directed his team to get prepared to admit at least 10,000 refugees into the United States by the end of the next fiscal year. Since the civil war started in Syria, millions of civilians have been displaced and millions have fled the country. Yet, to date, “U.S. government data shows that just under 2,200 Syrian refugees have been admitted into the United States since the civil war broke out in March of 2011, and the vast majority of those were in the 2014.

The administration has acknowledged that processing resettlement applications is a slow and laborious task, which has kept the United States from accepting as many applicants as it would like to.” (Source: CNN) Many people blame this delay on the onerous requirements refugees from North Africa and the Middle East face, because of security concerns due to these areas being predominantly Muslim and the people from these areas being considered as potential security risks. However, many of these individuals are truly seeking asylum from the increasing violence inflicted upon them because they refuse to bow down to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria otherwise known as ISIS. They, like the rest of the world, find terrorism just as reprehensible as we do.

"An estimated 9 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of civil war in March 2011, taking refuge in neighboring countries or within Syria itself. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over 3 million have fled to Syria's immediate neighbors Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. 6.5 million are internally displaced within Syria. Meanwhile, under 150,000 Syrians have declared asylum in the European Union, while member states have pledged to resettle a further 33,000 Syrians. The vast majority of these resettlement spots – 28,500 or 85% – are pledged by Germany." (Source: UNHCR) Meanwhile, several countries in the Middle East have also absorbed Syrian refugees, notably "Turkey, 249,726 in Iraq, 629,128 in Jordan, 132,375 in Egypt, 1,172,753 in Lebanon, and 24,055 elsewhere in North Africa.” 

Germany which took in 476,000 refugees claims that in 2015 there were actually at least 1 million refugees with asylum claims in their processing system. There have always been migrants trying to make it across the Mediterranean or Aegean Sea seeking a better life in Europe. But, because of the alacrity with which this migration has occurred, and the sheer numbers, most countries have implemented more stringent border control measures. The issue of human trafficking and the exploitation of these refugees, though an equally critical issue, is often ignored and under-reported.

In order to avoid the risks of exploitation, or their inability to come up with the money demanded for transport, desperate people have begun to utilize boats which aren't seaworthy to try and navigate to freedom. It has been reported that in some cases the sinking of boats have been as the result of direct attacks from Greek Coast Guard who try to prevent the refugees from reaching shore by shooting at their vessels. The tragedy is that in fleeing a death they may have faced in their countries of origin, they none-the-less end up dying and buried in watery graves, or washed ashore to be collected like flotsam.

Though refugees have been dying for years because of unseaworthy vessels, the magnitude of the numbers of people drowning as they attempt to cross and illegally enter Europe is now staggering. The perils that they face only recently became a reality when photographer, Nilufer Demir , took a picture of a three-year-old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, when his body washed ashore in one of the most popular tourist towns in Turkey, Bodrum in Izmir. The photo which was taken in September 2015 raised a public uproar as it circulated the world through news networks, online media, and social media. The tragedy was further compounded, when it was discovered that his older brother also drowned his body washed up on the beach just 50 meters from his baby brother. Turkish coast guards subsequently recovered an additional 10 bodies from the same accident.

A yacht captain in Bodrum, Turkey, who sails along Greek Islands for a tourism company, said everyone knows how it works. People all know where to get together. The bay has become a migration transit point. Yet, they are not stopped until they sail off, and eventually sink as a result of overload, insufficient equipment, “People are desperate. They are already escaping a war; water does not really scare them. When I go to port to pick up a passenger for our tours, someone always offer some money to me to get them to Kos Island. The money they offer is thousands of Euros,” he said. “No sensible person would take such a risk and responsibility. In most cases, people go ahead and buy their own inflatable boat, sometimes a very old fishing boat. They are always overloaded with people, and safety is not the priority. Eventually, in open waters a small mistake sinks the overloaded boat. (Source: Elvan Katmer)

Sunken Syrian Refugee Boat off coast of Greece, Photo Courtesy of Notimix

Sunken Syrian Refugee Boat off coast of Greece, Photo Courtesy of Notimix

"Some of the worse tragedies in 2015 included:

  1. Two boats carrying about 500 migrants sank after leaving Zuwara in Libya on 27 August
  2. The bodies of 71 people, believed to be Syrian migrants, were discovered in an abandoned lorry in Austria on 27 August
  3. A shipwreck off Italy's Lampedusa island killed about 800 people on 19 April
  4. At least 300 migrants are feared to have drowned after attempting to cross the Mediterranean in rough seas in early February

Survivors often report violence and abuse by people traffickers, who charge thousands of dollars per person for their services. The chaos in Libya in particular has given traffickers freedom to exploit migrants and refugees desperate to reach Europe.”  (Source: BBC)

Yet, most of the countries which are struggling to absorb the immigrants, many of whom do not speak the language nor understand the cultural nuances required to enable them to assimilate, consider them to be a burden. Because of these limitations, finding and maintaining employment to become contributing members of the societies in which they need to be accepted is all but impossible. This makes refugees easy scapegoats for politicians and right-wing xenophobes and Islamophobians. These individuals and groups through their incendiary rhetoric foment violence against non-citizens with the oft used claims that refugees bring disease, take jobs from nationals, increase the crime rate and are rapist. All these accusations are designed to foment violence against anyone perceived as an immigrant, even if these people are naturalized citizens or second generation nationals who were born in the country.

Unfortunately, Germany is a country that has long been vilified for it human rights violations. Too often the country receives negative news coverage, first because of its barbarous history of Nazism, and second because it has absorbed so many immigrants that many in the government feel over committed. Angela Merkl, the Chancellor of Germany has publicly voiced her opinion that the remainder of the E.U. nations are not making equivalent efforts. In fact, many have closed their borders or implemented such draconian measures as keeping refugees in unsanitary camps, or walling off their borders with barb wire fencing.

Because she is so vociferous and the high incidents of racism and violence against immigrants in Germany, many people perceive the country as callous. But, to only view them in this light doesn’t give the country credit with its successes in assimilating refugees and immigrants. The city of Cologne, which has a population of just over one million, has more than 120,000 practicing Muslim residents and the largest Jewish communities in Germany. (Source: Daily Mail U.K.)

There are many instances in the world where the assimilation of refugees and immigrants has led to more diverse and robust societies However, with increasing global conflicts, conditions in countries in the Middle East and Africa have made it easy to radicalization people as they seek redress for perceived wrongs from their government or foreign powers, or to impose a particular religious view, and even to homogenize and purify their countries and prevent “race mixing.” All of which are shameful, xenophobic, and utterly devoid of compassion.

But, at the heart of each of these dynamics, we must remember that we are dealing with people. With human beings who are just like us and but for circumstances, it would be us. The fact that it is such a massive undertaking to provide the comprehensive help these refugees need should only strengthen our resolve to find a realistic and long-term solution. We must continue to seek and implement solutions to the problems these people face while they still live in their own countries. Whether by more vigorous U.N. or NATO military intervention, or a significant increase in financial support to these war-torn countries through loans from the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the problem though admitted costly must be dealt with. As we have seen, averting disaster is infinitely less expensive than trying to deal with it after the fact.

So, in conclusion, we must keep drowning refugee babies and adults foremost in our thoughts and prayers. It is important that this story remain in the trending news cycles, because when barbarism becomes commonplace, and we become inure to it, we are all well on our way to losing our humanity.

Editor-in-Chief: @AyannaNahmias
LinkedIn: Ayanna Nahmias

Heavy Rains and Exploding Cows: Realities of Living in an Area of Forgotten Minefields and Lost Munitions

Landmine Warning Sign in Golan Heights, Israel, 2009, Photo by Crivvit

Landmine Warning Sign in Golan Heights, Israel, 2009, Photo by Crivvit

ISRAEL GOLAN HEIGHTS - Located in the country's northern region, is an area renowned for its rugged terrain and beautiful landscapes. It is an expanse of land full of high rising peaks, long-extinct volcanoes, and untold breathtaking views. Few people are aware, however, that it is also an area which is home to a darker and more sinister reality; a reality brought out every so often by reports of randomly exploding cows, and sometimes- even people. No, I'm not talking about violence brought about by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or rockets and mortars launched from nearby Lebanon or war-torn Syria. What I am referring to, however, is a danger brought about by the silent yet deadly remnants of the land's recent and conflict-filled history: landmines and lost munitions.

Few would think that the area in which famous and influential historic figures once lived and roamed, figures such as the biblical prophet Elijah or Jesus of Nazareth, would now be home to more than 2,000 separate minefields, scattered around in almost no specific order. [1]  Many of these minefields are decades old, even predating Israel's conquest and occupation of the Golan Heights, which was captured from its northern neighbor, Syria, at the outbreak of the 1967 war. Others have been planted more recently; their existence justified by the military and security industry as “necessary for self-defense.” [2] It is not common knowledge however, even among native Israelis, that littered around the region are supposedly more than 260,000 individual anti-personnel and anti-tank mines, not including the untold number of UXO's (“unexploded ordinance”- a technical term for bombs and grenades), which have been left over from a series of wars and conflicts between Israel and its neighbors.         

Every year, these landmines and UXO’s pose a risk to both locals and visitors alike. They are “dumb” weapons; unable to differentiate between man or animal, friend or foe, and specialize only in the killing and maiming of those unlucky enough to pick them up or step on them. Sadly, this is an issue which only rarely makes it to the public’s attention. When it does, it is only after grim “accidents” or fatalities occur, like one which took place in 2010 and involved two children, who were injured (one of them severely) after accidentally stumbling into an improperly marked minefield to play in some recently fallen snow. Another incident, occurring just last year, involved a female Israeli Army officer, who lost a leg to a landmine while carrying out work near the Syrian border, after recent heavy rains had swept the mine out of its original location. It's a bitter reality, but people seem to forget that minefields tend to last much longer than the conflicts in which they are needed for.

These recent examples also show another aspect which the issue of landmines brings up: the fact that these weapons are not always confined to one place. They can in fact slowly shift and move around from year to year (especially after heavy rains and soil erosion) and can spill over into areas once deemed “safe”. This is especially true in the Golan Heights, where the area’s elevation and slopes come into play in adding to the soil’s shifting nature. In this way, the landmines are notorious for rendering relatively large areas potentially unusable for decades, and this is a fact that is not lost on the local population, who rely on the region’s already limited land for grazing and agricultural purposes. Since 1967, there have been more than 70 separate instances of people, mostly local Druze and Arab inhabitants, who have been injured or killed by these ever-shifting explosives. Additionally, the mines create a hazard for livestock, and an untold number of cattle and other grazing animals are fatally injured each year by venturing too close to these hidden explosives. [3]

So how much of the Golan Heights is contaminated by the presence of landmines and UXO’s? Although there is no way to say for certain, conservative estimates place the number at a little more than 9,000 acres (or roughly 14 square miles).  [4] That means 14 square miles of trails, hills, and even populated areas that are all in danger of these little-known but deadly remnants of war. Furthermore, while the presence of landmines and UXO’s in the region is largely overlooked, it is not entirely forgotten. Locals who live in the area are all too familiar with the psychological burden that can come with living among the threat of these explosives; especially after the rainy season, as one can never be certain as to whether or not the rain and elements have led an area to become contaminated. Because of this, the local population lives under permanent stress and uncertainty to the safety of the area around- and even underneath- them. [5]

Visitors to the area have to be equally vigil and aware of the danger. I should know. In early 2008, while living in Israel and just one month after I had joined the army, I was traveling on a sight-seeing tour of the Golan Heights. While out on a “bathroom break”, I noticed, hidden among the black volcanic rocks, a rusted metallic object. It was an old Mills hand grenade- the type used during World War Two. Without thinking, I picked it up, pocketed it, and brought it home. It was only later that I found out that it was nonfunctional; the explosive element having been removed.  Most likely, this grenade was meant to be used for training purposes. Had it been active at the time, I could have easily lost an arm- or worse. All I can say is that I got lucky. I always did have more luck than sense. Others, sadly, are not always so fortunate.

Contributing Journalist: @JonEizyk
LinkedIn: Jon Eizyk

America's Reluctant Racists: Are the Media & Donald Trump to Blame?

Donald Trump, Photo by Gage Skidmore

Donald Trump, Photo by Gage Skidmore

UNITED STATES - In my heart I’ve always wanted to believe that racists are simply radicals who comprise a very small percentage of the population back in my native U.S.A. Sadly, that hope has been increasingly hard to hold onto over the years and it looks like 2015 might just be the year I have to admit that I've been wrong. Sure, there are radicals (and extremists and supremacists) who out-crazy even the most fanatical racists but it looks like lies and IGNORANCE are breeding a brand new army of Americans who may not even self-identify as being racist yet.

The Reluctant Racist

When I say reluctant, I really do mean it. First, because someone very special to me back home in California believes a whole lotta wrong at the moment that is turning them into a racist.

Secondly, because I still want to believe that people are fundamentally good and they just don't have enough information to know better at the moment. The right-wing media in the U.S., coupled with the insanely racist (and completely unqualified to be a politician) Donald Trump, are spouting some crazy things that some Americans are buying into because they believe the media and influencers without doing their own homework.

Instead of digging into topics that really matter and sharing facts and data with the American people, most mainstream media seems content to mislead them. In fact, it’s mostly the liberal news channels and journalists who look beyond the superficial story. The liberals also choose NOT to take rare or isolated or extreme cases and turn those into ‘the new trend’ or ‘the direction America is headed’ when reporting, which is how the media and Trump and recruiting their new racist army.

The topic is too broad to attack on all fronts so I’m going to crack into just two issues:

  1. The so-called confederate flag
  2. The negativity surrounding immigrants and the idea of abolishing the 14th amendment

The Confederate Flag

After the race-fuelled mass shooting in a South Carolina church, the U.S. finally rallied to remove the country’s #1 symbol of racism. This important person in my life believes that it is simply a symbol of the South with a rich history dating back to the 1800s.   They listened to what the news said without looking into the facts and decided that they are pro-flag. I’m sorry but the only people who should blindly be pro-confederate flag are white supremacists and current or legacy KKK members. But not the people I care about in my life, and certainly not the people in yours.

THE FACTS

  1. The flag everyone is all riled up about is NOT the Confederate Flag
  2. In the 1800s, the real Confederate Flag went through 3 designs. The first design looked too much like the real American flag and soldiers were confused at times who to shoot at so it was scrapped. The second one included the design people believe to be the confederate flag up where the stars are on the real American flag and replaced the red and white stripes with a symbolic field of pure white. The third rendition added a red band on the right side of the field of white. Again, the real Confederate Flag of the rebels is NOT the one Americans are being shown today.
  3. The perceived current confederate flag (which in the 1800s was only used by the army in Tennessee on the battlefield towards the end of the war I believe) went away for the most part and was only resurrected in the early 1940s by the race-driven Dixiecrats, the political party dedicated to maintaining segregation between whites and blacks in the South.
  4. In 1948, the University of Mississippi flew it for the 1st time when white students protested Truman’s civil rights proposals. They hated the thought of being educated alongside black students so this flag became the brand image for racism in Mississippi.
  5. In 1963, it was raised over the state Capitol of Alabama for the 1st time in history. Alabama Gov. George Wallace raised it in protest against desegregation. He wanted to keep whites and blacks apart, definitively turning it into the #1 symbol of racism in modern-day America.
  6. It remains the unofficial symbol of the Ku Klux Klan.

My German friend Rando commented, 'Would it be okay for us to fly the swastika over German town halls on special days as it is certainly part of our history, and under Mr. H pre-WW2 the country boomed economically, the VW Beetle was created etc? The confederate flag stands for slavery.'

Mainstream media doesn’t share the facts above, though. Sadly turning more intelligent and generally caring people into reluctant racists. EVERY SINGLE EXAMPLE of the current ‘confederate flag’ being flown in the south has 100% direct ties to racism and oppression. It is NOT a symbol of our fallen brothers in war but that is the bullshit being told by influencers and the media. It doesn’t represent Southern heritage, well at least not one that any American should be proud of. It represents racism and hate, plain and simple. There is no other truth.

Immigration & Foreigners

I was born in Los Angeles, the daughter of a 5th generation immigrant. Our ancestors left their friends, family and possessions behind and came over from Europe in hopes of a better life in the 1860s. Some of our family hails from Ireland and in those times the Irish were despised as the worst sort of immigrants arriving to American shores.   During the famous Potato Famine years, close to one million Irish arrived by boat to America. ONE MILLION!

If they washed up in Boston, well that was probably the roughest place to be welcomed to America. English Puritans could trace their lineage back to the Mayflower some 230 years earlier and the city underwent what was described as a ‘social revolution’ because they did not want ‘those Irish people’ in their country.

The Irish didn’t look like them. They wore clothes that were night and day different to the English settlers. They sounded different. They often came over poor and would have to settle into unsanitary conditions. And heaven help them if they only spoke Gaeilge or a Celtic language! All they wanted was a chance to live a better life than was possible in Ireland.

My Mom tells me that our family came over because they ‘wanted to be American.’ To me that means they had hope and ambition and wanted to give their children a better life. They wanted to work hard and live the American Dream. Well, I’ll bet their American Dream didn’t originally include the extra gift-on-arrival of hated and discrimination by Americans who viewed them as outsiders and who wanted that nationality OUT OF AMERICA. Yet they endured, for which I'm thankful because I wouldn't be alive otherwise.

Flash Forward to 2015

Donald Trump and the media tell Americans that today’s generation of immigrants – the new ‘Irish’ if you will – are the worst kind of people. They brainwash Americans to think that ‘those people’ don’t want to be true Americans. The media reports that ‘they’ only want to live for free in America, sucking up hard working taxpayers money, without wanting to embrace the American dream. The media insists that ‘they’ retain their cultural heritage from their homeland, which bugs the hell out of Americans. In fact, the same way it did in the 1800s:

According to one report I read >> 'Wherever they settled, the Irish kept to themselves to the exclusion of everyone else, and thus were slow to assimilate. Americans were thus slow to accept the Irish as equals, preferring instead to judge them by the stereotypes published in newspapers of the day.'

The same way the English Puritans persecuted my own ancestors, today’s cry of ‘go home immigrant’ feels like a 360° loop back around to the 1800s – and again it is turning former immigrants (or the children of immigrants) into a potentially scary breed of reluctant racists. Unless someone is an American Indian, they aren’t natives of the country.   U.S. citizens have families who fled their country of origin in hopes of a better life, just like mine did, and just like everyone arriving to our shores today. Why can’t some Americans see that the rhetoric they are espousing is as cruel and unnecessary in 2015 as it was in the 1850s, back when U.S. immigration records indicate that the Irish made up 43% of the foreign-born population?

I’ve lived in Mexico, Spain, India, China and I’ve been living in Hong Kong now for about to a year. I know that the news I read as an expat is different to what Americans back home consume but it’s shocking how many people are jumping on this ‘us versus them’ bandwagon. In fact, the special person in my life who inspired this post has very strong ideas about just how ‘they’ are ruining America, for all the reasons I mentioned the English had (and strangely almost verbatim every single thing in that 'report quote' above!).

Yet the funny thing is that when I asked, the only personal experience with immigrants they've had is beautiful and not hateful or negative. They have Mexican neighbours who emigrated some years back with two sweet children. They applied for and gained their American citizenship and are trying hard to learn English, have just bought their first home, and for all intents and purposes ARE living the American dream, just like my Irish relatives who emigrated in the 1860s.

I just don’t understand why the hearts of some Americans can’t see that these real-life examples right in front of their face are the TRUTH of immigration, instead of blindly supporting the negative view that is never witnessed first-hand but believed because extreme examples are the battle cry of influencers like Donald Trump and the right-wing U.S. media.

Contributing Journalist: @angelacarson
LinkedIn: Angela Carson

Civil Rights in America, a New but Old Debate. Meet My Grandfather, Julius W. Robertson, Esq.

supreme-court-of-the-united-states-photo-by-brandon-kopp.jpg

WASHINGTON, DC - Among Attorney Julius W. Robertson many talents as an author, civil rights activist and lawyer, he was also the lead attorney on the case of Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company, and he is my maternal grandfather.

I believe that his passion for fairness, equal treatment for all individuals regardless of color, religion, or sex instilled and inspired me to advocate for the rights of people across the globe whose plight is often overshadowed by the latest trends, capricious and specious news, or banal entertainment.

Julius Robertson graduated at the top of his class from Howard University in 1948 with combined degrees (B.A. and LL.B.); and today would have received the order of the coif for his academic standing.

Upon graduation, Attorney Robertson established the law firm of Robertson & Roundtree in 1950 as a firm with junior partners, of which Attorney Dovey J. Roundtree was the first. Attorney Roundtree has acknowledged that Attorney Robertson was her mentor as well as her law partner. He was the “majority” partner of Robertson & Roundtree, receiving 51% of the firm’s income to Attorney Roundtree’s 49%. Today, Attorney Robertson would be referred to as “senior and managing partner.”

According to written reports and my mother's anecdotal stories, my grandfather was a brilliant litigator, distinguished civil rights activist and author, much sought after speaker, and well-respected member of the legal community in good standing. Attorney Robertson was admitted to the bar in the District of Columbia, District of Columbia Court of Appeals, U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, U.S. Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia, U.S. Court of Claims, and the United States Supreme Court.

Attorney Robertson was a member in good standing of the American Bar Association—one of its first ‘official’ Black members, the National Bar Association and the District of Columbia Bar Association—all until his untimely death in 1961.

Attorney Robertson was recognized as a gifted intellectual with a broad range of knowledge of national and international geopolitics. He spoke, read, and wrote fluent German and was invited in the 1950’s to sit on the World Court of Israel after the close of the Nuremberg Trials. After graduation from law school, Attorney Robertson received a fellowship to Harvard University Law School but was unable to accept the offer.

Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company, 64 MCC 769 (1955) is a landmark civil rights case in the United States in which the segregationist Interstate Commerce Commission, in response to a complaint filed in 1953 by a Women's Army Corps (WAC) private named Sarah Louise Keys, broke with its past racist practice and banned the segregation of black passengers in buses traveling across state lines.

The November 1955 ruling, publicly announced six days before Rosa Parks' historic defiance of state Jim Crow laws on Montgomery buses, applied the United States Supreme Court's logic in Brown v. Board of Education (347 US 483 (1954)) for the the first time to the field of interstate transportation, and closed the legal loophole that private bus companies had long exploited to impose their own Jim Crow regulations on black interstate travelers.

Keys v. Carolina Coach was the only explicit rejection ever made by either a court or a federal administrative body of the Plessy v. Ferguson (163 US 537 (1896)) 'separate but equal' doctrine in the field of bus travel across state lines, and the ruling made legal history both at the time of its issuance and again in 1961, when Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy invoked it in his successful battle to end Jim Crow travel during the Freedom Riders' campaign.

Argued by pioneering civil rights lawyer Julius Winfield Robertson [founder of law firm, Robertson & Roundtree] and his partner, Dovey Johnson Roundtree, on the eve of the explosion of civil rights protest across America, Keys v. Carolina Coach Company, along with its companion train desegregation case, NAACP v. St. Louis-San Francisco Railway Company, 298 ICC 335 (1955), represents a crucial milestone in the legal battle for racial justice.

CASE BACKGROUND: MIDNIGHT IN THE JIM CROW SOUTH

The Keys case originated in an incident that occurred at a bus station in the tiny North Carolina town of Roanoke Rapids shortly after midnight on August 1, 1952, when African-American WAC private Sarah Keys was forced by a local bus driver to yield her seat in the front of the vehicle to a white Marine as she traveled homeward on furlough. At the time of the incident, Jim Crow laws entirely governed Southern bus travel, despite a 1946 Supreme Court ruling meant to put an end to the practice.

That decision, Morgan v. Virginia (328 US 373 (1946)), had declared state Jim Crow laws inoperative on interstate buses on the basis that the imposition of widely varying statutes on black passengers moving across state lines generated multiple seat changes and thus created the kind of disorder and inconsistency forbidden by the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Southern carriers managed to dodge the Morgan decision, however, by passing segregation rules of their own, and those rules remained outside the purview of state and federal courts because they pertained to private businesses. In addition, the federal agency charged with regulating the carriers, the Interstate Commerce Commission, had historically interpreted the Interstate Commerce Act's discrimination ban as permitting separate accommodations for the races so long as they were equal.

The ICC had ruled so consistently against black complainants since its establishment in 1887 that it had become known as "the Supreme Court of the Confederacy." The ICC's 'separate but equal' policy, upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States in a 1950 railway dining car segregation case known as Henderson v. United States (399 US 816 (1950)), thus remained the norm in public transportation.

So hardened was the practice of Jim Crow in Southern travel when Sarah Keys made her journey in 1952 that even black travelers who had started their journeys in the North on integrated trains or buses were, with few exceptions, forced to comply with Jim Crow carrier regulations once they crossed into the South.

When Sarah Keys departed her WAC post in Fort Dix, New Jersey on the evening of July 31, 1952 for her home in the town of Washington, North Carolina, she boarded an integrated bus and transferred without incident in Washington, D.C. to a Carolina Trailways vehicle, taking the fifth seat from the front in the white section.

When the bus pulled into the town of Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, however, a new driver took the wheel and demanded that she comply with the carrier's Jim Crow regulation by moving to the so-called "colored section" in the back of the bus so that a white Marine could occupy her seat. When Keys refused to move, the driver emptied the bus, directed the other passengers to another vehicle, and barred Keys from boarding it.

An altercation ensued and Keys was arrested, charged with disorderly conduct, jailed incommunicado overnight, then convicted of the disorderly conduct charge and fined $25. When that charge was sustained on appeal by a North Carolina lower court, Keys and her father brought the matter to the attention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) office in Washington, D.C., headed by Howard University Law School professor Frank D. Reeves.

With Thurgood Marshall, Reeves had run the Legal Defense Fund's New York City office in the early 1940s, and he was working with Marshall and his team in the early 1950s on the legal drive to end school segregation that would culminate in the groundbreaking 1954 Brown v. Board decision. Reeves referred the Sarah Keys matter to his former law student, Julius W. Robertson and his partner, Dovey Johnson Roundtree, a World War II WAC who had herself been subjected to Jim Crow during her military travels.

A THREE-YEAR BATTLE FOR JUSTICE

The match of client and attorneys proved fortuitous. Though Robertson and Roundtree were but a year at the bar in the summer of 1952 when they undertook to represent Sarah Keys, they had been schooled at Howard Law by such renowned civil rights lawyers as Thurgood Marshall, James Madison Nabrit, Jr., and George E.C. Hayes and were deeply involved in the movement to dismantle segregation in the courts.

It seems at this time, my grandfather also enjoyed some press for his part in identifying and taking down a con-artist impersonator.

Source: Annette Mae McGee née Robertson. She is my mother and one of Attorney Robertson's surviving daughters.

Editor-in-Chief: @ayannanahmias
LinkedIn: Ayanna Nahmias