Citizen Engagement should be the Rule

Civil Society Spring Meetings, Day 2

Today, the running theme is citizen engagement. My day began with an online video conference with volunteer leaders in Bangladesh. These are smart, creative citizens, working to build awareness, openness to constructive collaboration, and political will for exemplary climate policy. They face a constant struggle against the cynicism most of us conscientiously teach ourselves to accept.

Working with Citizens Climate Lobby, I see people overcome that cynicism every day. The common refrain is: “People can’t change what’s wrong with the world,” “If it were possible to fix this, someone would have done it by now,” or at the personal level, “I don’t matter; what can I do?” Mobilizing citizens to engage in policy-making almost always requires overcoming such illusions.

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Challenging Global Institutions, Designing Better Outcomes

Civil Society Spring Meetings, Day 1

I am spending a few days at the World Bank Spring Meetings Civil Society Policy Forum, in Washington, DC. It’s cherry blossom season, and trees are in bloom all over town. Delegates from governments, global policy-making institutions and civil society organizations, are gathering to discuss ways to redirect economic policy, to better achieve the central aim of eliminating poverty and building transparent, empowered societies that provide value at the human scale.

WB-cherryblossoms

As a representative of Citizens Climate Lobby, I am here to engage in conversations designed to steer global policy toward a critical paradigm shift: to understand fully, and then to admit to the fact, that costs externalized to society through the climate and through other environmental mechanisms, are real, hard costs, and cannot be swept under the rug. Winning conscious agreement on that point is the first step to creating policies that tell the truth about cost and benefit, and that don’t build unnecessary harm into the future of affected human beings.

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The Subtle Gravity of Mandela’s Gift

20131206-081133.jpgNelson Mandela has died. The news comes across, by any medium, from any lips, as something we have to pause to consider with awe and disappointment. It was a privilege to share some of the time this great soul lived on this Earth, and it is a sad day for the world that he is no longer among us. The reasons for this are much talked of, but the subtle gravity of his gift to us may still be too little understood.

We know of the persecution he suffered, the atrocious and unconscionable treatment he endured, only because a cruel regime wanted to silence his principled cry for justice and fair treatment. We know of his commitment to tolerance and inclusion, and the unshakeable wisdom with which he pushed that vision, not only in his own country, but into the wider world.

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Fear of Difference is Opposition to Democracy

The United States of America is a nation of immigrants. It is a nation that has wrestled with vicious undercurrents of racism and xenophobia, and has emerged ever more democratic, generally trending toward a more perfect union representing the foundational ideals that were, in the 18th century, so far out of reach, but so necessary as core aspirations. And over time, it is a nation that has become richer, stronger and more democratic, by getting closer to those foundational ideals.

In advocating for the most effective way to form a new democratic nation in Argentina, Juan Bautista Alberdi wrote that Argentina should follow the example of the United States and encourage major waves of immigration, because the resulting society, with a large population, with diverse backgrounds and a commitment to building something new, will make for a more sustainable and democratic republic.

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Arizona Immigrant ID Law Ignores Constitutional Protections

The governor of Arizona has signed into law a measure that would allow police to demand proof of legal residency in cases where they believe an individual might be an undocumented immigrant. The same law would also require people to carry proof of legal residency. It is unclear how the law would be enforced without racial profiling and whether or not US citizens would be subject to legal penalties if caught not carrying proof of citizenship.

The law ignores the Constitutional ban on “unreasonable search” and protecting personal documents. It also seeks to establish state-level control over an area of law that is the domain of the federal government. There is, for instance, no Arizona customs service or national border service. The border is a federal category, and immigration is controlled, by law, by various federal agencies and the jurisprudence of federal law. There is language in the law that is reportedly designed to prevent the federal government from interfering with state enforcement.

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CSW54: New Media, Social Action & Women’s Economic Security

Motivating social action through social media was the subject of one of the morning sessions on Day 1 of the 12-day 54th annual Commission on the Status of Women, at the UN headquarters in New York. A panel of pioneering and accomplished women, from diverse fields of research, activism, and enterprise, offered a far-reaching exploration of the ways in which new media can help to effect change and improve the situation of women, around the world. Outreach, social networking, and informational access, were integral to the morning session’s discussion.

As social networking technologies have evolved, they have become not just user-friendly in the extreme, but have created a global forum through which individuals and communities, organizations and governments, can work to build connectivity among people, and share information in a way that promotes opportunity, liberty and stability for women in even remote corners of the world. Social networking tools decentralize the flow of information, allowing for a more flexible, dynamic application of global communications platforms, handing the control of access and information to the people who seek or require it.

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Physicians for Human Rights says Doctors Aided in Torture

After reviewing the CIA inspector general’s (IG) report on prisoner abuse during and surrounding the Bush-era “war on terror”, the watchdog Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) says doctors not only attended and supervised prisoner abuse, but recorded information that “may amount to human experimentation”.

In a new 6-page white paper, “Aiding Torture: Health Professionals’ Ethics and Human Rights Violations Demonstrated in the May 2004 CIA Inspector General’s Report”, PHR reports on physicians aiding in the abusive interrogation techniques some now say amount to illegal torture.

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Internet Access Must Be a Human Right

Access to the internet must be a basic human right, across the globe, for a number of reasons. First of all, legitimate, transparent democratic processes of government require in today’s world that information flow freely and that citizens be empowered to share information and to find information, according to their choices and their needs.

Socio-economic barriers to such free flow of information are just another kind of information control that establishes dangerous demographic stratification into privileged and marginalized groups. Governments across the world are using web filtering technologies to censor the information available to their citizens and crack down on dissent.

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The Evils of the Purge: Crushing Dissent & the False Promise of Finality

The Khmer Rouge sought to establish a red Khmer empire in Cambodia, with some ambitions of expansion beyond the nation’s borders, by stamping out any human life or mind that varied from the project, as narrowly conceived by Pol Pot and his murderous regime. The “killing fields” that ensued, with the mass slaughter of an estimated 1.5 million people, were an attempt to establish a new break in time, the time before and the time after the purification —as the regime proposed— of all Cambodia.

Beyond Utopia, it was a lust to fashion a paradise built on millions of purgatories. It was the paradox of a violent Heaven, a wisdom of intolerance, a corrupt purity, an abstraction drowned in the blood of innocents. In order to establish absolute power, either for themselves or their ideology, a purge was undertaken that would attempt to eliminate nearly all people of learning, leaving by one count only 4 highly trained Cambodian legal minds remaining.

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Human Rights Activist Estemirova Murdered in Chechnya

Natalya Estemirova, from the Russian human rights organization, the Memorial Human Rights Center, was kidnapped today while leaving her home in Grozny, the Chechen capital, and later found dead. She reportedly shouted to bystanders “This is a kidnapping!” No one was able to intervene, as four armed men grabbed her and put her into a white automobile.

Estemirova, who had worked with assassinated investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya and was a winner of the Anna Politkovskaya Award, was a vocal critic of the Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov, who is accused of widespread human rights abuses, political killings and war crimes. Russian authorities, from the Putin era and into the Medvedev era, have refused to fully investigate allegations against Kadyrov, preferring to cast him as a patriotic hardliner unwilling to let Chechnya secede from the Russian Federation.

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