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Category Archives: human rights

Racism in America

Since 2008, when Obama became the President of the United States of America, I’ve heard it often cited (TV, online, in person) that “racism is over.”  While some portions of white America wants racism to be over, it’s just not.  Things like affirmative action, they say, should be abolished, because there’s no longer a need.

So, I decided to catalog how racism is not over.  This page will be updated from time to time.

If you have examples for me to add to this list, please make a comment and I’ll consider adding it.


We need to stop the war on drugs

Listen to Judge Jim Gray, a conservative, tell you why: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6t1EM4Onao.

The highlights:

The six groups who benefit from drug prohibition:

  1. Drug dealers.
  2. Juvenile gangs.  Illegal drugs are their primary source of funding.
  3. Law enforcement.
  4. Politicians.  It allows them to talk tough about crime and get elected.
  5. Private sector: construction and staffing of prisons.
  6. Terrorists.  The primary source of funding is illegal drug sales.  Repealing drug prohibition would hurt terrorist organizations more than anything else we could do to them.

Who loses?  Everyone else.

What will happen if we stop the war on drugs?

  1. We would save $1B on the war on drugs.
  2. We would tax it and generate revenue.
  3. We would make marijuana less available to children.
  4. The hemp industry would be revitalized.  We currently import hemp from other countries.
  5. The issue of medical marijuana would disappear.
  6. Usage by adults might go down, as it did in Holland and Portugal.





Stop pretending the Civil War wasn’t about slavery.

Seems like every February (Black History month!) there’s someone somewhere saying the Civil War wasn’t about slavery.  This time, the people in charge of selecting school books for children in Texas are trying to pretend actual facts are actually lies and myths.

The articles of secession state it pretty clearly:


The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery


In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

South Carolina:

The people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, on the 26th day of April, A.D., 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States, by the Federal Government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States, fully justified this State in then withdrawing from the Federal Union; but in deference to the opinions and wishes of the other slaveholding States, she forbore at that time to exercise this right. Since that time, these encroachments have continued to increase, and further forbearance ceases to be a virtue.


Texas abandoned her separate national existence and consented to become one of the Confederated Union to promote her welfare, insure domestic tranquility and secure more substantially the blessings of peace and liberty to her people. She was received into the confederacy with her own constitution, under the guarantee of the federal constitution and the compact of annexation, that she should enjoy these blessings. She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery— the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits– a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slave-holding States of the confederacy. Those ties have been strengthened by association. But what has been the course of the government of the United States, and of the people and authorities of the non-slave-holding States, since our connection with them?”

So, can we please stop this idiocy?  The Civil War was about slavery.  You are delusional, in denial or just plain evil if you say otherwise.

Criminal justice in America

The Economist has a three-part series on criminal justice in America.  All US citizens would do well to read this, especially those with previous brushes with the law.  Part 1, part 2 and part 3.

One only has to look at the incarceration rates per 100,000 population to see that we lead the world, by a large margin, in locking our own citizens up.  Our rate is 716 per 100,000.  That means, for every 100,000 people in the US there are 716 people in prison.  Let’s look at Spain, a country in severe economic straights and one of the largest in Europe.  Their rate is 149 people per 100,000.  We incarcerate 4.8 times as many people as Spain.  I tried to pick a “fair” comparison.  I could have chosen Iceland with a rate of 47.  That makes our rate 15.2 times higher.

No one knows how many non-violent criminals are serving life without parole in America, but there are at least 3,278 people who will spend the rest of their life in prison for something non-violent.  The drug crimes that trigger life without parole can be as trivial as owning a crack pipe or a bottle cap with a trace of heroin on it.  The non-drug crimes can be just as ludicrous: trying to cash a stolen check; siphoning gas from a truck; threatening a cop while handcuffed.

And then, there’s this:

Clarence Aaron had no rap sheet: he is among the one-fifth of non-violent life-without-parolers in the federal system serving time for a first offence. While a student at Southern University in Louisiana, he acted as a middleman in a drug deal. He neither bought nor sold the drugs in question, but when arrested he refused to testify against his co-conspirators. They did not return the favour. Consequently, all but one of them have been released from prison (the last is due out next year), while he is almost 20 years into a life sentence.

Like most prisoners serving life for non-violent crimes, Mr Aaron is black. Racial disparities among non-violent “whole-lifers” exceed even those of the prison system itself. Among federal prisoners, blacks are 20 times more likely to receive such sentences: they are 65% of the national total, compared with 18% for whites and 16% for Latinos. In some states the numbers are yet more skewed: blacks are 91% of non-violent life-without-parole prisoners in Louisiana, 79% in Mississippi and 68% in South Carolina.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the deep south, where racism is more alive and well than anywhere else in the US, is disproportionately using life without parole against blacks.

Incarcerating people is expensive, but the human cost is much higher.  Locking someone up for the rest of their life for a non-violent crime is inhumane.  It destroys lives, and not just those of the incarcerated, but their families.  We need to take a long, hard look at ourselves and decide if we want to continue on this path.  If we do, I don’t think history will judge us kindly.

UPDATE: yet another example of extreme sentencing.

Are we ready to decriminalize or legalize pot?

Because I don’t think society is better off when we sentence a 27-year-old man to 20 years because for possession of a 1/2-oz of marijuana.  Not only does this destroy a life, it has ripples for society.  It’s expensive.  When he gets  out of prison he’ll likely be dependent on social services for low-level sustenance (it’s near impossible to get a job with a record).

Portugal decriminalize all drugs 12 years ago and it’s working very well for them.  Fear keeps us from doing the same thing.  And, there are a lot of positive effects of the new policy.

The people we elected to Congress should do something about this, rather than spending time on a 21-hour rant about non-sense.

Why privacy matters even if you have nothing to hide

There’s a lot of discussion going on in this country right now about how much our government is watching and listening to us.  This is a good debate to have.  It’s long overdue.  We should have had it before the PATRIOT ACT of 2001 was voted on, but everyone in Congress, except a single courageous person, Russ Feingold, voted for that legislation.  In my opinion Russ Feingold is the best kind of American and the people of Wisconsin were lucky to have him.  And, he predicted what is happening today.

So, I’m glad we’re having it now.  One thing I hear in these debates are people asking: if you don’t have anything to hide, why is what our government is doing a bad thing?  It would only catch criminals or terrorists, right?  The answer is not as simple as yes.

Before I link to a bunch of good discussion, I want to point something out: there are a lot of laws in this country.  A staggering number of them.  There are things which are crimes that would completely flabbergast you or me.   In fact, it has been posited that every American commits three felonies a day.  I’m not going to go into detail about this, but for the sake of the following, let’s assume that people unsuspectingly break laws fairly frequently.  Say that you are now brought in for questioning by the police, and you feel you haven’t done anything wrong.  Who among us wouldn’t ask for a lawyer and would answer all their questions?  I hope the answer is none of you.  History is rife with examples where the police homed in on an innocent person, built and prosecuted, tried and convicted that person.  How?  Often they talked to the police.

Talking with the police and the government knowing almost everything you do is not much different.  In fact, I would argue the latter is much, much worse.

Why Privacy Matters Even if You Have ‘Nothing to Hide’ by Daniel K. Solove.  Lots of good content here.

The effect of curfews.

It’s really about nothing to fear.

[UPDATE 6/9/2013] Questions you can ask someone that has nothing to hide.

[UPDATE 6/11/13] This is interesting enough to reproduce here:

We know what happened in the case of QWest before 9/11.  They contacted the CEO/Chairman asking to wiretap all the customers.  After he consulted with Legal, he refused.  As a result, NSA canceled a bunch of unrelated billion dollar contracts that QWest was the top bidder for.  And then the DoJ targeted him and prosecuted him and put him in prison for insider trading — on the theory that he knew of anticipated income from secret programs that QWest was planning for the government, while the public didn’t because it was classified and he couldn’t legally tell them, and then he bought or sold QWest stock knowing those things.

This CEO’s name is Joseph P. Nacchio and TODAY he’s still serving a trumped-up 6-year federal prison sentence today for quietly refusing an NSA demand to massively wiretap his customers.

That’s a good start.  Post others in the comments.

Don’t forget to donate to the EFF.  This is the only way I know of to fight back.

A beautifully written piece of a man wrongly convicted of killing his wife

I spend over an hour this morning reading the story of Michael Morton.  It’s a long story.  It’s a sad story.  It’s full of pain, for all sides.  But it’s also about the harm that people in power can do.  This is one of the most powerful, true stories I have read in a long time.

If I haven’t convinced you to read this story yet, I’ll make one more pitch: the story is very well written and I was engrossed. Pamela Colloff, the writer, does a fantastic job of telling this story.  At times I wondered weather I was reading a fantastic work of fiction.

Here is part 1.  Here is part 2.  After reading, if you are so inclined, please donate to the Innocence Project.

Stories like this are why I cannot be for the death penalty.