I recently arrived in Portland for a talk at Mercy Corps, and though my host tells me that the city’s strongest association is with roses, it feels more like my own personal Domestic Violence Awareness Town.

The first thing I thought of when I touched down was this stupefying stat I’d read: A few months ago, 18 people died in domestic violence incidences in less than 30 days here. That would be just one piece of an alarming trend in rising domestic violence rates—not that domestic violence statistics haven’t always been consistently alarming.

Then I was doing some unrelated Internet research, and somehow landed on this page for an "assault and family violence attorney" containing such offensive and flip copy—

A domestic violence assault charge could be the result of a single violent outburst, one high-stress incident, or the retaliation of a malicious spouse. Whatever the reasons for you being so accused, we can help you favorably resolve your criminal case and move forward after a domestic violence or assault charge.

—that I was left torn between my certainty that we put way too many people in prison for way too long and an intense visceral desire to not let wife-beaters out of jail to walk around in the world, ever.

Then, also totally unrelatedly, someone posted on my Facebook page the United Nations Foundation stat that "One of every three women in the world faces violence, coercion, or abuse as part of her everyday life—and more than 70% of women will experience violence in their lifetime." And my host also reminds me that it’s naïve for me to find it hard to believe that, for example, there were 59 DV deaths in Wisconsin last year. And the Facebook post comes with a link pleading that people should "Tell your representatives in Washington today that ending violence against women needs to be a real priority."

Jesus. And how.

For More on Congo

Today Mother Jones is giving the Internet the gift of Adam Hochschild’s amazing Congo piece, from the March/April issue, about how what we buy makes Congo so f'ed, along with an accompanying slideshow from photographer Marcus Bleasdale. For even more of his pictures, which are invariably haunting, or gorgeous, or both, and for a description of what Bleasdale saw in his own words, check out this dispatch:

Then, before you wholly descend into a pit of despair, listen to a Human Rights Watch senior researcher break down, in just two minutes, how other nations can help curb the carnage.


Speaking of spring break, when I was just in DC, I met a college student who worked for the US Campaign for Burma who had taken a very different kind of vacation to Thailand: a fact-finding mission about the Burma crisis. It was one of American University's "Alternative Breaks," and check out this superfun description of the itinerary: "Students critically examined refugee issues, US sanctions on Burma, governance within the Burmese government in exile and other sociopolitical organizations within the democracy movement, as well as the role of international institutions in responding to the complex humanitarian and political challenges to development in Burma." Party!

I'm familiar with alternative cruises and alternative summer camps, but wasn't aware that such a huge number of schools, from Stanford to Colorado State to the University of Virginia, offer opportunities to learn about topics like veterans' health care, the Cherokee Nation, human services in Argentina, and Nepalese gender stratification on spring, summer, and Christmas breaks. The number of kids participating in these continually expanding projects outweighs the number appearing annually on MTV Spring Break Challenge. Who says we're a nation of vapid and apathetic youth?

"I've heard that Thailand is one of the most beautiful countries in the world," someone said at a reading I did recently. "Would you recommend going there?" Well, it is indeed gorgeous, and 'tis the season: Each spring, millions of tourists, hundreds of thousands of them Americans, rush Thailand like so many Leonardo DiCaprios. Last year, the country's massive tourism sector took a hit when people were scared off by political instability and swine flu. And though Thailand's Tourism Authority expects growth of up to 10 percent—some 15 million visitors—in 2010, perhaps it's time vacationers again ignore the package deals and student discounts to protest the Royal Thai Government's insistence on trying to get innocent civilians and babies killed.

Though you've undoubtedly heard criticism of the country's failure to curb sex trafficking and child prostitution, you may not know that Thailand is actively terrorizing some of the world's most vulnerable people: refugees. Unfortunately for Thailand, it's neighbor to plenty of conflict-ridden countries, like Vietnam, Laos, and Burma. Unfortunately for the people fleeing those countries, Thailand is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, so it doesn't have to recognize and protect refugees if it doesn't wanna. And, well, it doesn't wanna. Granted, I have a huge hard-on for refugee causes, particularly re Southeast Asia, but anyone would find the country's behavior in the last few months appalling.

1.    In late December, the Thai army started trucking thousands of ethnic Hmong refugees back to Laos, many of them against their will, despite concerns that they'd be persecuted when they got there. The reason that's a possibility, let's not forget, would be that the Hmong fought and died on the side of the United States in the Laos edition of the War on Communism, which we lost. But since refugees in Thailand aren't recognized as "refugees," they are treated as illegal immigrants: The United Nations can be prevented from offering them assistance, and they can at any time be deported back to whatever horror they fled. This was not the first time Thailand took such action against the Hmong.

What this is: This is Mother Jones' new blog.

Who I am: Mother Jones' new human rights reporter.

How I got this job: While working as MoJo's copy editor, I wrote a book about Burma. To quote the very flattering note in the March/April issue, which features an excerpt, "It so impressed her editors that they persuaded her to become our roving human rights reporter. Look for her new blog at MotherJones.com."

The topic: human rights. Yeah, it's pretty broad: LGBT issues; domestic violence; sexual violence; trafficking, human; trafficking, drugs, and the effect on humans of; asylum policy; refugees; peacekeepers; peacemakers; crimes against humanity; gender/racial/ethnic/class discrimination…Almost anything goes.

As a blog, this blog will indeed contain bloggy summaries, quick and dirty analysis, hot and fast regurgitations of interesting info and highlights about aid organizations on the ground, United Nations offices I watch closely, tweets from witnesses or diplomats that offer perspective that's slipping through the cracks. But there will also be a lot of research and deep reportage.

Re the research: Know who Than Shwe is? You should, especially this year, and I'll tell you why. Want to meet hot humanitarians busting their asses to alleviate all manner of bad scenes here at home and around the world? Hear how the DOJ tracks down domestic slave traders? What 250,000-member-strong organization lobbies to send battered spouses seeking US asylum back to their murderous abusers? Ever heard of the Nepalese minority that ended up displaced and enslaved because of the United States-led global malaria eradication program? Oh, you will.

The Rights Stuff will not just cover topics that should be (but probably aren't) in your news, but will also provide context that wasn't in your schoolbooks. Par exemple: When I was on Wisconsin Public Radio's Here on Earth on Tuesday, a caller asked, after I'd talked about the CIA's first secret war having been in Burma, what some of the upshots of that war had been. At which point I regaled him with the backstory that that United States violation of Burmese sovereignty helped make their government the superparanoid and isolated freaks that they are, and pushed them toward building the massive military machine they felt they needed to protect their independence. Plus that we gave them some weaponry and money with which to do that building up, because we wanted them to help us fight commies, or at least like us enough to not become commies. (For more tidbits like this in podcast-y form, check out interviews with WNYC's Leonard Lopate, Texas NPR's Think, or Chicago Public Radio's Worldview, or Chicago WGN news for the TV version.)

This was news to me when I dug it up a couple of years ago, as it's news to most people; the incredibly sharp, informed, and charming host of the radio show responded only, after missing a beat: Hm. Here at Mother Jones, we've got a big research and fact-checking department, and we're not afraid to use it.

Re the deep reportage: We're talking dispatches from long stints embedded in the field, in Utah or Uganda, where I'll tell stories about not just conflicts or issues but people, as people, multidimensional and personal and not cardboard victims or floating quotes. Never dry. Never boring. Nothing so dire but also flat that I wouldn't want to read it myself or tell somebody about it over drinks. So readers can come with me, get to know the characters and the situations, figure out large parts of the story while I do—which is not unlikely to involve my getting to know the subjects over drinks.

Right now, I'm on tour, blathering about Burma in DC for the Institute for Policy Studies, at Mercy Corps' Action Center in Portland, and at the World Affairs Councils in Seattle and New Orleans; I'll be done in April. We're not yet sure where I'll go on assignment next, but we're excited. I'm excited, and looking forward to collaborating with and taking suggestions from commenters and Twitter followers. Be sure to become one so you don't miss news about what's new—a post about an eccentric oppressor you've never heard of as part of the Better Know an Asshole series? What major American tourist destination you should skip on vacay because its government sometimes guns down political and economic refugees?—on the blog.