2010 - %3, April

Rights Stuff to Read

| Fri Apr. 30, 2010 4:50 PM EDT

It's not all bad news. Some of it even comes with a choreographed dance number:

The Philippines is going to allow a gay political party to participate in elections. Huzzah!

A shocking number of kids are being paddled in American schools, and an equally surprising proportion of them are disabled.

Oklahoma takes away the rights of women, including rape and incest victims, to get an abortion without watching an ultrasound, as well as their rights to information about birth defects from their doctors.

Nearly a year later, the three American hikers arrested in Iran—one of whom is a MoJo contributor who wrote a piece in one of our National Magazine Award-winning issues—are still in jail.

Insurgents are attacking Afghan girls' schools; the Taliban is gunning women down.

Some US troops made what might end up being the greatest thing to come out of the war in Afghanistan. The video is a close contender to the University of Oregon's a capella number in the beefy-dudes-do-Lady-Gaga contest. If I said I didn't start getting goosebumps 1:27 into that latter one, I'd be lying.

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Nagaland for Dummies

| Fri Apr. 30, 2010 3:00 PM EDT

A Mother Jones human rights reporter, a Berkeley Journalism School Rotary World Peace Fellow, and an NPR employee walk into a Bay Area coffee shop that offers vegan doughnuts and garnishes the baked goods with sea salt. I'm pretty sure the punch line has something to do with us lamenting American indigenous oppression and widespread South Asian insurgency.

Which, yeah, is exactly what happened. To the former discussion: It turns out Oklahoma is even more messed up than I'd thought—and I'm a person who was just scathingly tweeting about it the other day. The NPR gal, who used to call Oklahoma home, explained the festivities of Land Run Day: In commemoration of the 1889 afternoon that settlers ran around claiming (formerly Indian) property, kids in elementary schools statewide claim plots of a playground, set up cardboard general stores, and pretend to barter for cigarettes with student descendants of the Indians the original holiday displaced.

To the latter discussion: I now know that I need to buy a good book about Nagaland. Or write one. Or make an incredibly violent soap opera about it. This northeastern Indian state is apparently home to 130 armed groups, 2 of which are made up of former headhunters pretty recently reformed by the Baptists, one of which wants autonomy, one of which wants secession, neither of which is going to happen. Culturally distinct from many other parts of India—in Nagaland, they sacrifice and eat cows—Nagaland has long felt isolated and neglected. Some of the militias that formed for political reasons devolved into petty but bloody extortionist groups; the Indian army has reenacted an old British Empire law that allows soldiers to shoot any suspected law-breaker; one protester has been in jail for 10 years, since she saw Indian armed forces gun down 10 people who were waiting for a bus and was arrested for going on hunger strike.

See, you can learn a lot from well-traveled career-driven hippies. Also, sea salt is actually pretty good on chocolate chip cookies. If I get invited to a community-supported-agriculture dinner party anytime soon, I might impress my hosts by arriving with dark-chocolate-chunk cookies with a little salt on top. Pink Himalayan salt, obviously.

Why YouTube's Censorship Seems Dubious

| Thu Apr. 29, 2010 5:50 PM EDT

I don't want to fight with YouTube. My relationship with YouTube has been one of the more fulfilling and reliable ones in my life. Hence my deep disappointment that it not only buried (rather than, as originally reported, deleted) MIA's "Born Free" video—in which American-flag-wearing troops embark on the rounding up, detaining, and killing of redheads—but also couldn't come up with some better excuse for doing so than the video's "gratuitous violence."

The clip reminds the Prospect's Silvana Naguib of Arabs being rounded up and caged in The Siege. It reminds me of the scene in Rambo part four where Burmese soldiers toss Claymores into a rice paddy and force ethnic Karen civilians run through it at gunpoint. Of course, it also evokes images of real US military activities that, as pointed out in MTV's rave review, we'd rather "pretend don't happen." YouTube's PR machine could have at least admitted that the censorship was political rather than hiding behind the pretense of how, though Americans have the right to watch stuff like this, YouTube has an obligation to protect the children. Because while it's true that MIA's video is awfully violent, and children deserve protecting, you can watch lots of stuff like this on YouTube, where, for example, Rambo IV is available in its entirety. Is YouTube's gratuitous-violence policy nullified in the event that the clip doesn't question US aggression, or the bad guys are dark and slanty-eyed rather than corn-fed WASPS?

Uzbekistan Gets Back Into Eugenics

| Thu Apr. 29, 2010 12:37 PM EDT

It's not like I count on Uzbekistan for all my rosy human rights stories or anything, but secret compulsory government sterilization of poor people is pretty bad:

According to human rights groups, tens of thousands of young women...have been sterilised without their consent in the authoritarian former Soviet state of Uzbekistan.

Uzbek sources say the measure was ordered by Islam Karimov, the president, who has ruled with an iron fist for 20 years. The policy is aimed at keeping down the country’s poor population — with 28m people, it is Central Asia’s most densely populated state.

Activists say mass sterilisation began in 2003, but was eased after two years following an outcry. It is said to have restarted in February this year, when the health ministry ordered doctors to recommend sterilisation as an “effective contraceptive”. Critics claim every doctor was told to persuade “at least two women” a month to have the procedure. Doctors who failed faced reprisals and fines.

I think MoJo copy editor Adam Weinstein summed it up pretty well in the email he sent bringing this story to my attention. But I'm not going to reproduce his commentary here, because it was basically just a string of alarmed swear words.

Plot Thickens in Sonoma Discrimination Case

| Wed Apr. 28, 2010 12:14 PM EDT

I appear to be having my own personal little pride week over here. In part three of my recent gay-rights rampage, let's talk about the case of Harold Scull and Clay Greene.

Last week the story of Sonoma County's treatment of this elderly gay California couple came out: When Scull was hospitalized in 2008, county workers kept Greene from seeing him, despite the couple's legal medical directives, put Scull in a nursing home without consulting Greene, detained Greene against his will in a different nursing home, and seized and sold all of both men's belongings to pay for the care of Scull, who died a few months later. Greene, naturally, is suing. Sonoma County is saying it did what it did because it was afraid Scull was being abused.

I've made clear before that I have trouble being sympathetic toward spouse-abusers, but discrimination is discrimination, and discrimination is never right. Or as one of Greene's lawyers, Shannon Minter, more articulately put it, "The county was certainly right to take initial measures to investigate and determine whether there was abuse, which is a serious issue...But they did not treat this case as they would have for a heterosexual couple."

That last sentence is key, and it needs a little unpacking. What's the difference, I asked Minter, in the way the county would've handled the case were this a heterosexual couple dealing with allegations of abuse?

Ordinarily, they would have sought conservatorship of Harold's person. They did not. They sought conservativeship of Harold's estate only. That is peculiar right out of the box. Then what they did subsequently was just try to get rid of Clay [Greene], get Clay out of the picture, without any recognition that these two people had been together for so long.

Then they did something you see in nightmares and scary movies:

They had Clay put into a secure nursing facility and claimed that he had dementia when he did not. And they did not follow the legal procedure for putting someone in a secure nursing faciliity. You cannot do that without having the person evaluated by a doctor to determine whether they're capable of making their own decisions. He tried to leave. He tried to walk away, to climb over the fence, but they would physically prevent him from leaving.

Then the county sold all Greene's possessions, along with Scull's. Greene's pickup truck, his mementos from when he worked in the movie industry. When the county originally requested conservatorship of Scull's estate, a judge denied it. It's not clear whether it got legal control of his property eventually, but it certainly never had legal control of Greene's. So even if Greene had been abusive, it seems the county was alarmingly out of line. "If this had been a married heterosexual couple," Minter says, "they couldn't have done these things. And wouldn't have done these things."

In a recent twist, it's looking more than ever like Greene wasn't abusive, anyway. The DA had already come to the conclusion that there wasn't enough evidence of abuse to prosecute. It's not clear if the county investigated further before deciding to force Greene into a home and sell all his stuff, but if it did, it must not have consulted the allegedly-abused's best friend and executor of estate: Yesterday, she published an op-ed in the local Press Democrat saying that the allegations are totally unfounded. She's become a plaintiff in the case against Sonoma.

Map of the Day: Cousin Lovin'

| Tue Apr. 27, 2010 12:40 PM EDT

As a research nerd, and kind of a weirdo, writing a post about gay marriage inequality and sulking about how many states I can't marry my ex-girlfriend in got me wondering: Hm, how many states could I marry my cousin in? Turns out the answer, despite all that stigma and a slightly increased risk of birth defects in offspring, is, most states. Some have caveats, like that we wouldn't be allowed to get married unless we were really old or unable to reproduce, and some wouldn't let us get married but WOULD legally recognize our marriage as long as we had the ceremony somewhere else. Way to not extend that courtesy to the gays, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming!

I am absolutely not saying that I think first cousins shouldn't be allowed to get married. What I am saying is, I made a map.

Cousin Lovin' Map

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Scenes From the Gay Marriage Battle

| Mon Apr. 26, 2010 8:51 PM EDT

Here at Mother Jones, we're all about keeping pictorial tabs on the United States' ongoing wars. My contribution today is a photo essay about a different kind of fight, courtesy Geoffrey King and Sunny Angulo's Such a Bittersweet Day: Marriage Equality in the Wake of Prop 8.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera says that this collection of photos and oral histories about California's marriage equality movement "brilliantly capture[s] the humanity and passion of what is perhaps this generation's preeminent struggle for civil rights in America." And what a struggle it's been, even in just the last couple of years: The California Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, but then Prop 8, which bans gay marriage, passed thanks partly to meddling Mormons, so that now there's the discrimination within the discrimination that some same-sex couples—those who got in under the wire—can be legally married but others can't. And of course the battlefield exists way beyond California and beyond just the issue of marriage equality, with casualties like this and this and this every day.

Click on the photos below for captions.



Rights Stuff to Read

| Fri Apr. 23, 2010 12:30 PM EDT

It's been an exciting and unsettling week:

Obama ended hospital-visitation discrimination for gays. The first lady went to Haiti, and there are pictures!

The Supreme Court decided not to hear the case of a man on death row whose judge and prosecutor were literally in bed together.

A 10-year-old girl in Mexico is being forced to carry the child of her molesting stepfather.

No one knows why maternal mortality's going up among African Americans in NYC.

Free speech won some additional protection, although at the expense of rodents who get crushed by chicks in high heels for fetish videos.

Berkeley students can now wipe their asses with John Yoo's ethics.

Happy World Malaria Day

| Thu Apr. 22, 2010 12:12 PM EDT

Sunday is World Malaria Day, and I got you two presents.

One is a crazy tidbit about malaria that you can use to impress anyone you're having coffee or cocktails with this World Malaria Day weekend. Here it is:

In the 1930s, malaria infected 5 million people annually in the US. (The marshy South was a big source of the scourge, until dam-building dried it up and economic progress brought better housing.) In the interest of wiping the disease out the world over, the US spearheaded a campaign in the '50s, endorsed by the World Health Organization, to wrap the planet in a big wet blanket of DDT. One of the countries that signed up was Nepal, which had a malaria problem so serious in the west that the only people who could live there were an ethnic minority called the Tharu that had developed a genetic tolerance to the disease. But with the gift of DDT, western Nepal suddenly became habitable to all Nepalese, who promptly moved in, displaced the Tharu, and forced them into permanent bonded servitude, which remained the status quo until the Nepalese government eventually outlawed the exploitation—in 2000. And that's how a mosquito in the United States flapped its wings and a minority group in Nepal got disenfranchised and remained enslaved right up to the 21st century.

Your other present is a link to a page that tells you, in the event that you're wondering, what you can do to help fight malaria, from making donations to organizing dance-offs (yep, really). Annual global funding for malaria eradication is $2 billion, but getting the disease under control, says the United Nations, will take three times that. 

A Few Good Documentaries

| Tue Apr. 20, 2010 4:45 PM EDT

Man, it's been, like, four days since I talked about Burma. But this time I bring it up only as your helpful human rights TV guide. Burma VJ, the Oscar-nominated documentary (it lost to The Cove) about the underground video journalists from the Democratic Voice of Burma who captured and smuggled out footage of the 2007 Saffron Revolution, airs on HBO tonight at 9:30. Which reminds me to recommend also checking out Total Denial, an excellent film about Burmese civilians vs. a US oil company plundering the country's vast resources that, as a bonus, does not end on a note of complete soul-crushing despair. And that recommendation led me to ask some MoJo staffers for other not-to-be-missed movies about human rights.

Jen Phillips suggested the exposé of NY's subway-dwelling homeless, In Search of the Mole People, and Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, the film that kicked off more than a decade of activism around the West Memphis Three. She also recommended Born Into Brothels, as did several other staffers. For an amazing doc about South Africa, Dave Gilson submitted Amandla!, and The Farm for a look into life at Louisiana's Angola prison, which has held several men of questionable guilt in solitary for several decades. David Corn brought up great oldie-but-goodie Vietnam pic Hearts and Minds, as well as the more recent Taxi to the Dark Side and Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke. Monika Bauerlein's fave The Times of Harvey Milk is conveniently watchable on Hulu. Anna Pulley likes Border Echoes, a documentary about the Juárez women's murders, for the will-make-you-cry-in-public win.

That's a lot of quality TV-learnin'. And tonight's HBO airing comes at a good time. Aye Chan Naing, executive director and chief editor of Democratic Voice of Burma, tells me the video journalists are still at it and have already started extensive coverage in the run-up to the coming elections—Burma's first in 20 years. "We are broadcasting several different election-related programs per week, such as debate and round-table discussion with oppositions and politicians from inside Burma, interviews with journalists and writers, et cetera," he says. Obviously, only freaks like me are interested in that kind of stuff right now, but if you'd like to meet the sources media will rely on for footage when the election shit hits the fan—and the front pages—later this year, Burma VJ will introduce you them.