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Archive for April, 2012

Asking the Wrong Question about Secret Service and Prostitution

We’ve just had a best-selling three-volume novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo/Who Played with Fire/Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, now a major motion picture, about sex trafficking – a brutal crime in which women are enslaved, brutalized, and sometimes killed. Yet no one seems to be asking about the women in the Cartagena sex scandal.

The New York Times story focuses almost exclusively on whether the prostitutes are a threat to the President’s security. The women themselves are treated as cheerful entrepeneurs, hoping that the publicity will bring in more business. Maybe so – but shouldn’t they at least be asking whether the women are being subjugated and exploited?

The Washington Post’s story does at least ask whether any of the women were minors (no, they say). And the Post does mention trafficking, but only as a reason for the State Department regulation that “employees should not in any way abet sex trafficking or solicit people in prostitution.”

No one seems to be asking whether these 20 or 21 women were the victims of trafficking, and whether that trafficking was “abetted” by the Secret Service and military personnel involved in this scandal. They should be.

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Justice Here and There

The good news this week is that George Zimmerman, who killed Trayvon Martin, has been arrested and charged with second degree murder. In case you have somehow missed this story (vacationing on Mars, perhaps?), here’s the Christian Science Monitor’s story summing it up.

So we now have justice for Trayvon – not in any cosmic sense, since it’s hardly just that he is dead – but in the narrow sense that his killer is facing the legal consequences of his act.

Across the world, though, much injustice remains. In Bahrain – a close ally of the United States, and the home of the U.S. Fifth Fleet – a leading human rights activist, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, has been in prison for over a year for his part in leading the pro-democracy movement that began February 11, 2011, in that country as part of the Arab Spring. The Daily Beast has the full story here.

Al-Khawaja has been on a hunger strike since early February, protesting his imprisonment, his mistreatment, and the continuing brutal oppression of the government of Bahrain – a supposedly “constitutional” monarchy, but in reality an absolute dictatorship of the self-styled “royal” family.

Activists, human rights advocates, and governments around the world have demanded al-Khawaja’s release. He is a Danish citizen, and Denmark has asked that he be repatriated, but Bahrain has refused. (The law says they should agree, but they have simply stated that the law does not apply in this case.)

Last week al-Khawaja seemed to be near death. He has now been moved to a military hospital and is being fed by an IV tube. Perhaps that will keep him alive – I hope so – but his condition continues to be critical. And the injustice remains. He should be released unconditionally.

Public outcry brought justice for Trayvon. Let’s hope it brings freedom for Abdulhadi al-Khawaja.

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How Not To Negotiate with Iran

Yesterday, the US and its European allies issued this ultimatum to Iran: the latter must stop enriching uranium to 20% U235 (note: everyone agrees that they are not enriching it to weapons grade, which is 90%) and dismantle its underground enrichment plant, with strong hints that the alternative is war.

The problem: neither the US nor, more to the point, Israel is offering to do the same. Since Israel actually has nuclear weapons, and announces over and over again that it wants to bomb Iran, it’s hard to see why it would make sense for Iran to abandon a bomb-resistant facility – unless the quid pro quo is that Israel gets rid of its nuclear weapons.

More broadly, the US cannot reasonably expect any other country to get rid of nuclear weapons, or to refrain from trying to obtain them, unless we adopt a sincere plan to get rid of our own. Without that, these negotiations are not negotiation at all, but attempted dictation. This attempt is bound to fail.

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Cahill Indictment – Let’s Not Condemn Coakley Too Fast

If you’re not in Massachusetts, this may not be of interest, but I’ve got to say something about the indictment yesterday of Tim Cahill, former State Treasurer of Massachusetts, on charges that he tried to use state resources – specifically, the advertising budget of the Mass Lottery – to support his failed campaign for Governor in 2010.

Reaction has been mixed – some have supported it as getting tough on corruption, others have condemned Attorney General Martha Coakley as overreaching. All politicians try to look good before elections, after all, so this seems to be more of the same. Some have even charged that Coakley is doing the same thing herself – prosecuting a politician in order to help her own chances of running for Governor in 2014. (However, she took herself out of that race yesterday, and probably doesn’t need any bolstering to win another term as AG.)

What I say is – let’s not rush too judgment. We haven’t seen the prosecution case yet, but there are hints that there may be specific features of it that move Cahill’s actions from “politics as usual” category to “corruption.” Two of these hints are:

  1. There may be evidence that campaign staff had discussions with Cahill about when and where to run the ads for maximum political effect. If true, this was clearly illegal. Campaign staff should not have any influence over how state resources are used.
  2. The charge is that these ads represented 75% of the budget for the Lottery. If that’s really true, there’s a strong case that Cahill went too far. Even if what is meant is 75% of the advertising budget, rather than the whole Lottery budget, it seems high. Looking good is one thing, distorting state activity is another.

Neither of these charges has been proved. We haven’t seen any evidence yet. But I’d keep an open mind, not condemn Coakley.

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Pundits Missing the Point in Trayvon Martin’s Killing

I was going to move on to something else, but so much of the talk about the killing of Trayvon Marting by George Zimmerman, and the state of Florida’s unwillingness to prosecute Zimmerman, is so messed up that I just have to say something.

First example: in today’s (April 2, 2012) New York Times we get this long op-ed piece by Bill Keller about Trayvon and hate crimes. Keller argues that it would be wrong to punish Zimmerman more severely because his action was racially motivated.

Huh? Who’s arguing that? Progressives aren’t saying that Zimmerman should be charged with a hate crime, instead of plain murder. We are arguing that he should be charged! At the moment, he is free as a bird.

To put it another way, the point at issue is not “Is Zimmerman a racist?” — in other words, whether he would have killed Trayvon if Trayvon had been white. The argument is that the law-enforcement system is racis — in other words, that if Zimmerman had killed a white teenager he would probably be sitting in jail now, awaiting trial.

Second example: in today’s Boston Herald, Joe Fitzgerald argues that “history teaches caution.” Fitzgerald reminds us of Charles Stuart, a white man who killed the white woman he was married to, but convinced the police and the media (temporarily) that she had been killed by a roaming black hoodlum.

Again, huh? That was a case where racial stereotyping caused police to arrest the wrong guy. Is Fitzgerald saying that maybe Zimmerman didn’t really kill Trayvon? But – he says he did! There’s really very little doubt about that – so what is history supposed to be teaching us here?

I think what’s happening is that race arouses such strong emotions that this case has ceased to be about the facts, or about guilt and innocence. Instead, it has become something like “what do you think of black people?” For the sake of justice, it needs to be brought back to the facts.


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