Friday, September 28, 2007

Guantanamo Suspects

Fourteen terrorist suspects labeled "high value" are going to be granted the right to representation by a lawyer for the first time since they entered US custody. Transferred to the infamous Guantanamo Bay from secret CIA prisons over a year ago, the suspects have not been allowed contact with anyone other than their captors and International Committee of the Red Cross represenatives. In allowing these suspects to attain representation and communication with the outside world, the US is finally starting to keep some of its military prisoners within the bounds of Habeus Corpus and the Geneva Convention rights. It is absolutely disgraceful that prisoners are not all treated as mandated under international law.

Ellie talked about the Patriot Act and I agree with all of her points highlighting the problems with the act, this being a major problem. It's clear that it's not only a threat to our liberty but also serves as an embaressment to the United States and is an example of aweful hypocrisy. The US cannot preach freedom to the world when this is occuring.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Technology to the rescue!

Since the horrific shooting at Virginia Tech last April, campus security has become a huge issue. College campuses across the nation have been working to protect their students in case such an incident occurs again, and even Aragon is ramping up it's security measures. We'll be getting new locks on classroom doors that can be locked from the inside in case some intruder makes it into the building. It's a great thing, because after this week's incidents at St. John's University in New York, and UW Madison, I think we have a right to worry.

Personally, I feel safe at Aragon, but judging by the frequency of these occurrances, maybe that isn't a safe assumption. We'll all be going to college next year, and I think that there, at least, there will be some reason to worry. College is a lot more like the real world, and as these incidents show, it can have real-world dangers as well. One of my friends just went off to Rutgers, and there was a shooting at a mall there while she was shopping. It's scary, and I think we all need to take steps toward protection.

Short of promoting stricter gun control laws, which I fully support, but which is a tough constitutional issue, I think many colleges are doing the best possible thing to stop further shootings. What they are all concentrating on now is warning their students as quickly as possible. And guess how they're doing it... text messages and facebook.

I think that it's great that more people are finally realizing just how useful technology can be. We all text message, so what better way could there be for adults to get our attention than through a type of communication that we already use--and and use a lot? Actually, it surprises me that nobody has thought of it before. At St. John's University in New York, the administration was able to notify all of its students via text message in less than 18 minutes. At Virginia Tech, it took well over two hours for any notifications to be sent out. And those were sent through email, which students might or might not have checked.

I think it's a great idea. Why should schools spend so much time fighting technology that they could just as easily put to good use? In addition to safety warnings, there are so many other things that they could text about. What about announcements? homework assignments? anything. If they want our attention maybe they should use resources that we pay attention to. I think schools should stop banning cell phones and start encouraging them, at least in some areas.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Patriot Act

I think that consistency in government makes all the difference. I talked about it yesterday. It isn't justice if people aren't held to the same standards. Since our nation was founded, the principles of liberty and justice have been a central part of our government. We have the constitution to protect our citizens and control our government, and we have the court system, which was designed to guard against miscarriages of justice. So how is it that a country that preaches freedom and democracy can institute something that violates it's own citizens rights?

I've never really approved of the Patriot Act. Call me paranoid, but I've read 1984, and the idea of the government having the authority to put me under surveillance without probable cause kind of scares me. It's not that I don't agree with the government's fight against terrorism, I just think that lately they've gotten too power-happy. The law is just too vague, and therefore too easily exploited.I was glad, therefore, that today Judge Ann Aiken of Oregon ruled that two parts of the Patriot Act violated the 4th amendment requirement for probable cause.

I guess it's pretty normal for us Americans to be suspicious of our government, we're lucky enough to live a nation that allows us to voice our criticisms, and that right, along with many more, is something that is worth jealously protecting. However, I can't deny that, though poorly executed, the Patriot Act did have a purpose. It is just as important for us to protect American lives as it is for us to guard our freedoms. But that's tough. In a world were guns are pretty easy to obtain, and household products can be used to blow up buildings, how can maintain our safety and our freedom at the same time? I don't agree with the Patriot Act, but i think it is reasonable for the government to have some method of identifying potential threats, as long as this ability is carefully controlled.

I thought about it a lot last year. Wiretapping was one of my topics in model congress, and playing the part of a republican cabinet member, I had to propose some sort of anti-terrorist surveillance plan that violated as few American rights as possible. What I ended up proposing was something sort of like the Patriot Act, but with many more safeguards. It had three extra provisions designed to protect liberty. First, I thought that those colorful threat levels that the government announces should be put to use. They should be proposed by the president and approved by congress, and wiretapping would only be allowed if the threat level was orange or above. Second, in addition to having probable cause, the government would be required to keep full transcripts of all recorded conversations, and if the issue ever came to trial, those transcripts would be fully disclosed to the defending attorney. Finally, the government would not be able to arrest anyone on evidence obtained through wiretapping for any crime other than the targeted offense. if a drug dealer, for example, rather than a terrorist, were caught through wiretapping, they couldn't be prosecuted on that evidence. I thought those provisions would make the law more fair. I have no idea if it would actually work, but I was trying to come up with something that protected American citizens in every possible way.

Myanmar Violence & Censorship

On wednesday, the military opened fire upon a pro-democracy demonstration in Myanmar (also known as Burma). For the past few months, tens of thousands of demonstrators have been led by Buddist monks rallying against the oppressive government that has been accused of human rights violations and heavy censorship that was evident in the last uprising which led to bloody clashes in 1988. The difference is that this time the government is having a harder time containing information and censoring because of the growth of use in cell phones and the internet. The government has forcibly shut down internet cafes, where most people have access since home internet connections are very restricted, and has slowed internet connections and shut down phone lines in hopes of keeping quiet the rising violence and resistance of its people. Satellite phones and internet video messaging is getting the word out of Myanmar while those inside the nation are recieving word via shortwave radio.

This just goes to show us how technological advances have revolutionized communication and makes it easier for us to find out about whats happening in other nations where the people are oppressed by their government. Myanmar has had numerous sanctions brought against it in the past and its militaristic government should be held more accountable for its human rights violations before we see even worse violence in the depressed nation.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

More Unsettling Developments from Iran

The leader of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has accused the "arrogant" Western powers of imposing illegal sanctions against Iran. Iran has infact defied two such resolutions from the United Nations Security Council that would suspend Iran's uranium enrichment and impose increasing heavy sanctions upon people and organizations involved in the nuclear program. Ahmadinejad accuses the United States in particular of making "every effort to turn a simple legal issue into a very loud, controversial, political issue" and using this as justification “to pursue the issue through its appropriate legal path ... and to disregard unlawful and political impositions by the arrogant powers.”

The United States delegation was not present during the speech, all having left as the Iranian leader took the platform all but one note-taker. The United Nations Security Council is discussing a thirt security resolution with even greater sanctions threatened against the ''rogue'' nation.

The fact that Iran is actually moving forward with its nuclear program in the midst of discussion about it regardless of the wishes of the UN is frightening. Regardless of whether Iran actually is building weapons or if it really is a blown up legal issue as Iran claims, the fact is that no good has come of refusing negotiations or closing discussions on such an important issue.

The full MSNBC article:

War Games

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This is my favorite cartoon. I thought I'd share.

The Jena Six

A couple days ago, when Ryan asked that somebody blog about this huge controversy that is going on now about the Jena 6, Benji responded that "it's just racism, and it sucks." I agree with him on that. Although the incident was definitely a terrible occurrence-a group of students repeatedly kicking a defenseless kid- the facts clearly suggest that there was some deliberate oversight in the law's handling of the issue. It seems to me that whatever they say to the contrary, the police, judges, and prosecutors exhibited some pretty obvious signs of racism. Sure, the six students who beat up Justin Barker deserved punishment, because they did commit a crime, but what about the other incidents that led up to the beating? Why were the white children who hung up the nooses in the tree only punished with suspension when the FBI said that their actions had all the markings of a hate crime? Why weren't students petitions to the school board taken more seriously? Why wasn't the High School's arson a bigger deal? And why weren't the fights that broke out at the convenience store and the party more fairly dealt with?

I'm not saying that the Jena 6 should get off totally free, they did do something wrong, and should be punished accordingly. But then, so should everyone else. Although the Jena 6 did commit a crime in assaulting Barker, they weren't the only guilty ones. Yet they were the only ones severely punished. There are certainly signs of racism in the local official's judgments. If you want to punish someone for wrongdoing, fine, but at least be consistent.

I think one thing that we need to recognize in this issue is the extent to which racism is embedded in American culture. Yes, in all likelihood, the many of the unfair judgments in this case were rooted in racist values. The whole case itself was sparked by a dispute over which race of students sat where at lunch. And although i think that is good that so many people are speaking out against the racism against the Jena 6, I think it is important for us to recognize that racism doesn't just go in one direction. It affects everyone. It was a terrible thing for white students to hang nooses on a tree as a threat. It was likewise a terrible thing for others to respond violently. Racism started the conflict, but it also kept it going, as it still does.

Is it possible for any of us to be totally unbiased on the issue of race? Although history has shown some improvement, the tiny fact that we still recognize it as an issue shows that there is still a long way to go. We actually expect racism, we look for it. Stephen Colbert regularly claims that he's colorblind. It's satirical, but I wish we could all see things like that. Hopefully the public outcry against cases based on race will help us recognize our failings as a nation and come to the point where we no more even think to suspect a policemen of racial bias any more than we suspect him of prejudice against tall people. But that's pretty far off.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Related Clips

MSNBC has the actual videos of the speeches. Check them out.

Diplomacy and Discourse

For years, relations between the US and Iran have been hostile. From America's Cold War manipulation of the nation through Shah Pahlavi to Operation Ajax, which effectively threw Mohammed Mossadegh out of office, the USA doesn't have the best historical track record in it's dealings with Iran. In recent years, relations have gotten even worse. Although the two nations recently agreed to talk once again after the 27 years of silence that followed the attack on the US embassy in Tehran, accusations of supporting terrorism, the threat of war, and Iran's alleged nuclear aspirations have kept the situation explosive. Yet today, Iran's president Ahmadinejad was invited to speak at Columbia University.

I've always believed that open discussion is one of the most important keys to peaceful relations, and so I think that Columbia's invitation was a step in the right direction. Perhaps, in the spirit of dipolmacy, it wasn't wise for Lee Bolinger to say to Ahmadinejad's face that he "exhibit[s] all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator," but I applaud his bravery in openly questioning Iran's controversial political policies. As Ahmadinijad demonstrated with a significant portion of his speech, he was obviously displeased with his less-than-warm welcome. I can easily see how he might not have expected such accusatory marks right off the bat, but i think that in general it was a positive thing. Too many of our past failed relations with Iran have been dictated by a lack of communication. I think that is is far better for us to openly air our concerns and to allow Ahmadinejad to hear them, think about them, and respond to them, than it is for is to just let out disagreements grow into an outright war.

Pretensions and lies don't last long in an academic atmosphere where they are openly challenged, and I think that Columbia did a pretty good job of challenging Ahmadinejad's policies. I hope that this talk won't be the last of it's kind, because despite the controversies that surrounded it, I think it's a step in the right direction. Let's stop being secretly suspicious of each other's motives, and stop considering a war that may turn out to be unnecessary. We need more frank and open discussion like this one if we are ever to come to some sort of peaceful understanding.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Great Job Cynthia and Kelsey!!

Now on to act two...