Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Christmas Truce

Ninety-eight years ago, at various points along the Western Front, a remarkable thing happened. On Christmas Eve, German and British troops put down their guns, sang Christmas carols--both responsively and together--and eventually crawled out of their trenches to meet in no-man's land to share cigarettes and drinks, to play soccer, to celebrate Christmas, and to bury their dead. The truce was spontaneous: no officers or political leaders authorized it and some, in fact, were incensed by it. And yet it happened, and was deeply meaningful to many of the 100,000 or so soldiers who participated in it. (Consider this sampling of recollections of the Christmas Truce drawn from diaries and memoirs.)

What exactly happened on Christmas in 1914? Was it a sign of the disconnect between raison d'etat and the beliefs of those who were forced to fight in the name of the state? Was it a brief breakthrough of humanity in a war that came to demonstrate the most extreme inhumanity? Was it an act of insubordination by common soldiers? And how could those soldiers so easily return to the fight the day after Christmas? How could men sing together "O Come, All Ye Faithful" one day and kill each other the next?

Saturday, December 08, 2012

"Likes" for Pakistani Taliban

The Los Angeles Times reports that Tehreek-i-Taliban (TTP), the group that Pakistani authorities charge with the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, now has a Facebook page. The page, with 281 "likes" as of Friday evening, is used for recruiting. It follows a pattern in recent years of Islamic militant organizations using social media to recruit new members.

Progress on Landmines

This week in Geneva at the review conference of the Ottawa Convention (the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction), six states announced that they have completed demining operations within their borders and are now mine-free. One of the six was Denmark, which in July removed the last of the 1.4 million mines laid by Germany during World War II.

Poland announced that it is prepared to ratify the Ottawa Convention. When it does so, it will become the 161st state party and the last of the European Union's member states to ratify.

The United States, present at the review conference as an observer, stated that it will "soon" complete a review begun in 2009 that was intended to determine whether it should sign the agreement. The United States is the only NATO member state that has not ratified the Ottawa Convention.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Suppressing Dissent in Equatorial Guinea

Human Rights Watch has called for the regime of Teodoro Obiang Nguema to stop harassing members of the political opposition. At least four opposition leaders have been arrested in Equatorial Guinea since November 2011.

The most recent arrest came on Tuesday when Daniel Darío Martínez Ayécaba, leader of the Popular Union party was taken into custody as he was about to leave Malabo for a conference of opposition groups in Madrid. After being questioned in a Malabo jail known as "Guantánamo," Darío was released with orders to report to authorities daily. His passport was confiscated.

The arrests of Darío and, in October, human rights attorney and opposition leader Fabian Nsue Nguema, fit a pattern in Equatorial Guinea of politically motivated arrests in advance of national elections. Equatorial Guinea's legislative elections are expected to take place in January.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Why Did Thirty-Eight Senators Vote 'No'?

One might be tempted to believe--or at least fervently hope--that the 38 Republican senators who voted against ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on Monday had reasonable objections to the treaty. Even applying a rather generous definition of "reasonable," that was not the case. Thus it is with the opposition party's assault on reason.

As with the opposition to other international agreements, including unratified--at least by the U.S.--human rights treaties such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Republican concerns focus on how specific provisions of the agreements in question might be interpreted--and thus enforced--by U.S. courts if they were to become part of the "supreme law of the land" as Article VI specifies.

Gail Collins, writing in the New York Times, explains this as well as anyone I've seen so far:
Santorum was upset about a section on children with dis- abilities that said: "The best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration."
"This is a direct assault on us and our family!" he said at a press conference in Washington.
The hard right has a thing about the United Nations. You may remember that the senator-elect from Texas, Ted Cruz, once railed that a 20-year-old nonbinding United Nations plan for sustainable development posed a clear and present threat to American golf courses.
The theory about the treaty on the disabled is that the bit about "best interests of the child" could be translated into laws prohibiting disabled children from being home-schooled. At his press conference, Santorum acknowledged that wasn’t in the cards. But he theorized that someone might use the treaty in a lawsuit "and through the court system begin to deny parents the right to raise their children in conformity with what they believe."
If I felt you were actually going to worry about this, I would tell you that the Senate committee that approved the treaty included language specifically forbidding its use in court suits. But, instead, I will tell you about own my fears. Every day I take the subway to work, and I use a fare card that says "subject to applicable tariffs and conditions of use." What if one of those conditions is slave labor? Maybe the possibility of me being grabbed at the turnstile and carted off to a salt mine isn’t in the specific law, but what if a bureaucrat somewhere in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority decided to interpret it that way?
It can be difficult trying to explain to those in other countries how 38 percent of the members of one or our two legislative bodies--and the 38 percent with the most fevered imaginations at that--can derail important matters of international law and U.S. foreign poilcy. To say, "That's democracy!" is to give democracy a bad name.

The CRPD Vote

The vote on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on Monday was an embarrassment to the United States and to the Senate itself. Sixty-one senators voted for advice and consent to ratification, but, thanks to the Constitution's anachronistic requirement that treaties garner a two-thirds majority for consent to ratification, that majority was insufficient.

Here are the names of the 38 senators who voted against the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities:

Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Roy Blunt (R-MO)
John Boozman (R-AR)
Richard Burr (R-NC)
Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)
Daniel Coats (R-IN)
Tom Coburn (R-OK)
Thad Cochran (R-MS)
Bob Corker (R-TN)
John Cornyn (R-TX)
Mike Crapo (R-IN)
Jim DeMint (R-SC)
Michael Enzi (R-WY)
Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
Chuck Grassley (R-IA)
Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
Dean Heller (R-NV)
John Hoeven (R-ND)
Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX)
James Inhofe (R-OK)
Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
Mike Johanns (R-NE)
Ron Johnson (R-WI)
John Kyl (R-AZ)
Mike Lee (R-UT)
Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Jerry Moran (R-KS)
Rand Paul (R-KY)
Rob Portman (R-OH)
James Risch (R-ID)
Pat Roberts (R-KS)
Marco Rubio (R-FL)
Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
Richard Shelby (R-AL)
John Thune (R-SD)
Patrick Toomey (R-PA)
David Vitter (R-LA)
Roger Wicker (R-MS)

Here are the states whose senators both voted against the treaty: Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah.

When Your Computer Threatens You

An article in today's New York Times notes the growing threat posed by "ransomware," the malicious software that disables a computer and demands payment of a "fine" to restore its functionality. (Payment will not fix the problem; never send money to an entity in cyberspace you don't know.)

The Times reports that a computer security expert based in France was able to track the operations of one criminal gang working with ransomware. It infected 18,941 computers in a single day, Owners of those computers paid over $400,000 in ransom payments.

That would explain the appeal of this form of malware to cyber-criminals.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The CRPD Fails

Not even the presence of Bob Dole on the Senate floor could persuade more than a handful of Republicans to support the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

A resolution to express the Senate's advice and consent to ratification failed today by five votes (61-38). As Senate majority leader Harry Reid said, "It is a sad day when we cannot pass a treaty that simply brings the world up to the American standard for protecting people with disabilities because the Republican Party is in thrall to extremists and ideologues." Moderate Republicans all supported ratification, but they were greatly outnumbered by those Republican senators who believe that the U.S. will somehow be harmed by agreeing to any international human rights treaty, even one that reflects the principles of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Dole, a former senator and Republican presidential nominee, has been disabled since 1945 when he was hit by German machine gun fire during combat in Italy. He was instrumental in the passage of the ADA and has been a strong supporter of CRPD ratification. Josh Rogin reported that his appearance on the Senate floor today was intended to force Republicans intent on voting against the treaty to walk past him to do so, but the vote occurred after Dole, in a wheelchair, left the floor.

Senator John Kerry's impassioned speech on behalf of ratification is worth watching: