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Thank You For Smoking

Kevin McLeod, GOV 348, 4/7/22

Question One

I agree with Senator Finistirre.

For starters, equating cigarettes with generic poisons is a false equivalence. Cigarettes have some unique properties.

The dose makes the poison. How much a person smokes greatly influences their level of risk. Secondly, there’s the addictive nature of nicotine. People vary greatly in their ability to manage addiction. There are of course addictions that are not poisonous (gambling) and poisons that are not addictive (Fox News, Little Debbie pastries, WWE wrestling…) Even water can become a poison in excessive amounts, but no one proposes we add poison labels to bottled water.

Cigarettes warrant poison labels because they are proven carcinogens and addictive by design, making it difficult for people who recognize their risks to quit. It’s a “sticky” poison, highly profitable for vendors because the social costs are externalized – higher medical expenses, money wasted feeding the addiction, shortened lives, second-hand smoke. Cigarettes have also long been marketed to youth with the aim of creating a lifetime customer.

This is the primary audience for a poison label, as an early warning. We can’t always rely on parents to convey this warning because they themselves may be addicted to cigarettes, and thereby modeling the role of a smoker and normalizing that behavior.

In short, cigarettes present a heightened risk of health problems, debt, and death. Calls for “consumer freedom” are often a mask for predatory marketers. Poison labels for cigarettes is already a routine practice in Europe, and the U.S. can learn from that example.

Question Two

Yes, Nick’s claim is morally and politically dubious. It’s a rationalization. First of all, let’s acknowledge that cigarettes are marketed for a singular purpose – to earn a profit. These profits come at the cost of people’s health, lifespan and significant personal expense. It is a clear harm marketed as a lifestyle.

The common rebuttal to this point of view is that people should be entitled to pick their own poison, to commit slow suicide if they wish. After all, prohibition was tried with alcohol and drinkers successfully fought and undermined that effort.

This would be a reasonable argument if nicotine addiction didn’t bypass personal willpower and hijack health by creating unrelenting cravings. Addiction undermines rational decision-making ability, and industry resistance to mandated lower nicotine levels exposes its agenda – they know keeping customers hooked is the key to maintaining high profits. Knowingly selling an ultimately deadly product and pretending that’s acceptable is morally indefensible.

Politically, state and local governments that collect considerable revenues from cigarette taxes are incentivized to take a lax view of regulation. In some states, taxes alone account for more of the cost than the product itself.

Higher prices have helped reduce smoking, so higher taxes have also been a backdoor form of health regulation. When Joe Sixpack can no longer afford a pack-a-day habit, it’s a powerful incentive to give it up.

Nick has a talent, surely. But he has a range of choices in how to exercise it, and he choose to go with the highest bidder. His choice continues a vicious cycle; he supports an exploitive, high-revenue industry that can afford to pay him well because he aids the exploitation. Sure, if Nick quits someone else will replace him, and that person may be more, less or equally effective as Nick.

But Nick has made a choice, even if he doesn’t acknowledge it. He’ll shake hands with devils in nice suits and not look too closely at the tragic consequences. In the film, he’s comfortable with his job until he’s confronted with the question – what would you tell your kids about these products? He knows he lies for a living. But his capacity for self-deception is at least as strong as his talent.

Question Three

The portrayal is accurate in that it demonstrates some common deceptive tactics. Take his analogy of poison labels. The currently fashionable term for that tactic is “whataboutism” – making a false equivalence to distract from issues related to the products he defends. Another is offering accurate but cherry-picked, incomplete information that leaves out critical context, perspective and facts that provide more complete understanding. Another tactic is minimization – scoffing and depreciating both a message and a messenger as irrelevant, confused or ignorant. Feigned skepticism is an effective way to pose as a defender of truth.

These and other tactics, deployed in a low-key manner, can be very persuasive with people who are unfamiliar or overly trusting. This toolbox of manipulation isn’t limited to lobbyists – it will be found anywhere there is something of value and people skilled at jiving their way to preferential access, where the risks of deception are lower than reward.

The portrayal is inaccurate in that it doesn’t convey what proportion of lobbyists actually work this way. As our textbook and guest speaker Zainab Alkebsi have pointed out, the lobbying profession can function ethically and often does. Many lobbyists are essentially serving as negotiators, seeking accommodation among various interests that change over time. Where values are not high stakes, or the issues are non-commercial, deceptive tactics aren’t needed and can become a liability. This film focuses on a mercenary commercial lobbyist, and isn’t representative of lobbyists in all fields.

Question Four

Thank You For Smoking is a parody of lobbyist behavior, an exaggerated cartoon portrayal. The take-home for viewers is the exposure of deceptive strategies and glib sound bites that can sway audiences. These are real, but by presenting them in an exaggerated form, more people are able to see them clearly as marketing rather than truth.

It also demonstrates the uneasy relationship between marketing and truth. Accurate facts can be presented in slanted ways, and commercial interests routinely edit for the best possible slant. The most favorable and positive angles are emphasized, downsides are neglected or ignored. Insurance companies never run ads about what they don’t cover. We live in a society that takes this practice for granted. Many people do the same thing with their resumes. This is buyer-beware culture.

Because that culture permeates our society, it touches lobbying as well. We can’t ban lobbying or lobbyists. Government, business, NGOs, labor, any group, they all have some legit issues that need resolution. Lobbyists serve as problem-solving communicators representing various interests. The best we can do is establish ethics standards, hold lobbyists to them, and have systems able to recognize serious ethical problems early and intervene before they metastasize.

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December 17, 2022 at 1:15 am

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DACA: Legislative Process Policy Issue Paper

Kevin McLeod, GOV 356 – Legislative Process, Policy Issue Paper, March 8, 2021

What is DACA and President Biden’s proposed law?

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is an immigration relief program that aims to deter deportation of children who are born in America to undocumented parents.

Biden’s proposed law is the The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021. It creates a path to citizenship for undocumented people, makes it easier to keep families intact, funds education for unaccompanied children, supports diversity, promotes citizenship and integration, increases access for green cards and visas.It also offers $4 billion aid to Central America for greater security and mitigation of refugee issues, bolsters funding for better technology at the border, increases anti-gang/smuggling/narcotics activity, expands immigration court programs, eliminates a deadline for filing asylum claims, funds increased processing to tackle application backlogs, and offers improved protections for foreign nationals aiding U.S. troops.

What groups are against the President’s proposed law?

The Heritage Foundation (founded by European immigrants)

The Republican Party, as expressed by the Republican Study Committee. No Republicans have expressed support for the bill. Mitch McConnell, (R-KY) McConnell called the proposal “blanket amnesty that would gut enforcement for American laws while creating huge new incentives for people to rush here illegally at the same time.”
What groups support the President’s proposed law?

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The American Humanist Association

Senator Richard J. Durbin (D-IL)

Explain the groups that support the proposed law

Although support from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is unexpected given the broader general opposition to immigration among evangelicals, this is likely due to the long-standing operation (80 years) of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which has enabled close familiarity with related issues. There is doubtless a missionary component to this support as well.

The American Humanist Society, a secular organization, has a long record of support for humanitarian values and action. The society refers to the value set underlying this support as the Ten Commitments.
In support of the Act, they state, “The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 provides a comprehensive policy system, based in both research and empathy, to move our immigration system into the future. Science, free inquiry, and reason should be used to further the development of good, fairness and justice.”

Senator Durbin (D-IL) is currently calling for passage of the Act.

Explain the groups that are against the idea for the proposed law

The Heritage Foundation is a conservative “think tank” that issues post-hoc justifications to support policy as its funders conceive it. Based in Washington, DC a block over from Union Station, it rose to prominence during the Reagan era, funded by Joseph Coors of beer production fame. It was modeled after the successful Brookings Institute, a liberal policy shop. In addition to its consistent opposition on immigration issues, Heritage does not acknowledge the reality of climate change.

The Republican party, which needs no introduction, is primarily interested in survival. In the face of dwindling demographics, it must intensify support from its base. It pits citizens against immigrants for this purpose. It also understands increasing immigration will likely translate to more democratic voters and this will further erode their influence.

Richard Shelby (R-AL) applauded Trump’s decision to remove DACA protections, a move that exposed young people to deportation. Added that immigration legislation was needed but not a priority.

What is your personal opinion?

Immigration has been a battleground in American politics for decades due to a (justified) fear among Republicans that new citizens would tend to vote Democratic and therefore weaken their prospects.

As a result, immigrant labor is denied protection under the law, subjected to exploitative working conditions and pay, then further denied access to services they pay for through sales tax and the like.

The U.S. is wealthy enough to absorb targeted levels of immigration for educational, compassionate and commercial purposes. Historically immigrants – both voluntary and forced – have built America and continue to do so. Their contribution should be valued and rewarded, not systematically suppressed. I support the Act.

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December 16, 2022 at 10:26 pm

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Presidential Candidate Paper: Elizabeth Warren

GOV346 Political Parties
Kevin McLeod
Presidential Candidate Paper

Elizabeth Warren is a progressive 2020 presidential candidate from Oklahoma, born and raised in a lower middle-class Oklahoma family as a Methodist. Her first job was as a waitress in her aunt’s restaurant at the age of 13. She graduated from the University of Houston and earned a law degree at Rutgers, then taught law in New Jersey, Texas, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Harvard. During the mid-80s she also taught Sunday school.

She became known as an expert on bankruptcy law and began consulting on policy for the FDIC and Congress. She led the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and President Obama considered her to lead it, but congressional resistance in the GOP led to another selection.

She was a registered Republican herself until 1996, but began voting for Democrats in 1995, and eventually became one. She was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012 – first woman from Massachusetts to be elected Senator. Joe Biden swore her in.

She has served on four congressional committees, where is where most of Congress’ grunt work happens, including the Committee on Armed Services, the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and the Special Committee on Aging, and seven related subcommittees.

She introduced Bank on Student Loans Fairness Act, which would allow students to take out government education loans at the same rate – 0.75% – that banks paid to borrow from the federal government during the 2008 bailout.

She was re-elected to the Senate in 2018.

During her 2020 presidential campaign, she has introduced several concrete policy plans, more than any other candidate. They list specific details and include funding mechanisms.

The Real Corporate Profits Tax would only apply to companies reporting over $100 million in profits, which affect just 1200 of the most profitable firms in the USA as of 2018. Profits below $100 million are taxed the same as they are now. Every dollar of profit above $100 million, the corporation will pay a 7% tax.

The Universal Child Care and Early Learning Proposal provides free, federally funded day care at local care centers and Head Start-style programs for any family that makes less than 200% of the federal poverty line.

For families over that threshold, rates that are capped at no more than 7% of family income. This translates to basically free care to families earning 50K or less and care at a 50-60% discount for households earning more than $50K/yr. The bill would be funded by an Ultra-Millionaire Tax on people with over $50 million net worth, generating $2.75 trillion over 10years. This would open up child care for 12 million kids, over twice the number of children in formal paid child care now.

The Family Farm Plan would break up the large corporate farming businesses, re-establish farmers’ right to repair their own equipment, introduce new country-of-origin rules for beef and pork and block foreign ownership of American farmland.

Warren’s Public Parks Plan would ban drilling for oil on public lands and set a goal of generating 10% of our overall electricity needs from renewable sources like solar and wind. This would be done offshore or on public lands. The plan would restore protections for two million acres of public lands that Trump removed and fully fund land management programs.

The centerpiece of the bill is the creation of a 21st Century Civilian Conservation Corps with 10,000 young people and vets, funded by bumping up AmeriCorps’ one-year fellowship program budget. It would also make entrance to all national parks free.

Her Affordable Housing Plan invests $500 billion over the next ten years to construct, restore and rebuild affordable housing for lower-income families. It reduces public rental costs by 10% over the next ten years and creates 1.5 million new jobs.

It lowers the for estate inheritance taxes from $22 million or more to $7 million. It raises taxes on properties above $7 million in value, which would affect 14,000 of the wealthiest families each year. Warren claims a Moody’s analysis reports this tax would fully cover the cost of the plan.

It also plows $500 million into rural housing programs, $2.5 billion into the Indian Housing Block Grant and the Native Hawaiian Housing Block Grant to build or rehab 200,000 homes on tribal land. Four billion goes to a new Middle-Class Housing Emergency Fund to support construction of new housing for middle-class renters where severe housing supply shortages exist.

It would deregulate zoning by eliminating rules for minimum lot sizes and parking requirements. These regulations raise costs for building new housing and prevent families from moving to areas with better career and school choices. States would be required to deregulate before applying for funds from a $10 billion competitive block grant program geared toward building parks, roads and schools.

She has proposed anti-corruption legislation through a series of bills aimed at reducing the influence of lobbyists, providing greater transparency on who is lobbying for what, and getting rid of the “revolving door” between the public and private sector.

Her Too Big To Jail Act would impose mandatory criminal penalties for fraud and wrongdoing by financial executives.

She has written three books, two of them campaign-related: “This Fight is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America’s Middle Class”, “A Fighting Chance” and a textbook, “Chapter 11: Reorganizing American Businesses”. Two of her titles were published in the academic press by Oxford and Yale. She has co-authored six other books.

Reason for Running

She says in her stump speech that her central motivation is driven by “…one central question: What’s happening to working families?” and describes change with a simple comparison between the ability of a single mother to support a child decades ago and now.

The emphasis is on working families and the middle class. She walks through her own upbringing. It wasn’t cushy. She’s comfortable now, but says the experience oriented her entire career – working out how finance works, how it affects working people, and how to mitigate and prevent the negative effects.

She has campaigned twice before for a Massachusetts Senate seat, winning both times. This is her first presidential election. She is going into it with friends. Supporters include her fellow Senators and congressmen from Massachusetts, Senator Ed Markey and Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III – who also happens to be one of her former law school students. Other MA public officials joined the chorus, and other notables supporting her are Hillary Clinton (Warren campaigned for Clinton during her run), Madeline Albright, Sally Yates, and Donna Shalala.

Her largest contributors are Emily’s List, Harvard, WomenCount PAC, University of California and Brown Rudnick LLP. By field, her financial support comes from retirees, generally Dem/Liberal voters, educators, lawyers and women’s issue groups.

FiveThirtyEight.com has an updated list of official Democratic candidate endorsements with
weighted scores, attributed to perceived value of the endorsements, i.e., a former president or national party leader’s endorsement counts for more than one from a state legislator. At this writing Warren ranks 5.

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December 16, 2022 at 7:55 pm

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Trends in Environmental Law

Kevin McLeod, International Law, 6/27/2022

Nanda’s 1990 paper “Trends in International Environmental Law” examines the difficulties of achieving effective cooperation among nations with disparate levels of development, economic conditions, access to resources, policies, and ability to effect change. It points out that both carrots and sticks will be needed to encourage and provoke action, that oversight with enforcement mechanisms will be needed to ensure compliance with agreements, and the historical record for cooperation on climate matters has been uneven at best.

The most successful effort to date has been collective action on protection of the ozone layer. Dramatic illustrations of a growing gap in the ozone layer around the Antarctic showed a clear and present danger, galvanizing public support for global treaties.

In the 32 years since Nanda’s paper was published, climate indicators have steadily grown more dire. In years past, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has presented data and projections that offered a range of scenarios and potential consequences. Current data is on track with previous projections for worst-case scenarios.

These include global temperature increases up to 10 degrees F; the activation of positive feedback mechanisms, such as methane release from thawing permafrost that reinforce and accelerate greenhouse gas emissions; decreases in snow cover and increases in cloud cover that affect wind and temperature patterns; marine acidification that degrades oceanic food chains from the phytoplankton level on up; glacier loss and rising sea levels that will affect coastline cities around the globe and currently causes severe periodic flooding in Miami.

Ocean currents are changing with potentially profound climate consequences, particularly for Europe. Altered precipitation patterns are causing massive floods in some areas while driving deep drought in others; this will also have lasting impacts on agriculture. Even now the viability of farming in California’s Central Valley is at risk.

Annual massive wildfires have become expected, as have increased hurricane and tornado activity. Land and marine ecosystems are altering in unpredictable ways; patterns of predator/prey relationships are disrupted while parasites, bacteria and viruses occupy new niches. Previous balances of plants and animals are skewed.

Despite the obvious problems, concerted action to resolve them remains elusive. The difficulty of the task is apparent in a glance at this chart of quarterly greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; even the impact of a global pandemic and worldwide economic supply chain disruptions was only sufficient to cause a brief blip in greenhouse gas emissions. It reverted back to the previous rate of growth almost immediately.

When an enforced and economically painful reduction in fossil fuel use was only able to create a short corresponding reduction in emissions, we can appreciate the difficulty of achieving effective ongoing reductions.

While movement towards renewable, sustainable energy sources is happening, scaling it up globally will take time. Meanwhile fossil fuel interests are fighting to maintain their dominance in energy supply. It matters not that every informed person understands fossil fuels are no longer viable long-term. Greed still prevails and may be humanity’s undoing.

So the clear question regarding international environmental law:

What is being done about it?

The short answer: not enough. Not nearly enough.

A summary from Climate Action Tracker reports that…

“Without increased government action, the world will still emit twice the greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 than is allowed under the 1.5°C limit of the Paris Agreement. The world is heading to a warming of 2.4°C with 2030 targets and even higher, 2.7°C, with current policies.”

The data is unambiguous.

We can draw one conclusion from events since the publication of Nanda’s paper. Humanity was given more than adequate warning. For myriad reasons, we have failed to alter the behavior that is degrading our biosphere, and future generations will face serious consequences for that failure.

References:

Dashboard

https://climatedata.imf.org/pages/climatechange-data

https://climatedata.imf.org/pages/re-indicators#re1

Dashboard app

https://www.climate.gov/climatedashboard

https://www.climate.gov/maps-data/data-snapshots

Status Review

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December 16, 2022 at 1:59 am

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The Contemporary Relationship Between the U. S. and Canada

Kevin McLeod, Gov 391, 2021

In 1969, Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau spoke at the Washington National Press Club, where he memorably described the relative scale of relations between Canada and the U.S.:

“Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.” [1]

The analogy still applies. In territorial terms, Canada is vast. In population, less so – the current count is just over 38 million. U.S. population is approaching 334 million, nearly 10x larger. Most of Canada’s population, 85%, lives in its south, within 120 miles of its border with America. In broad swaths of Canadian land, people are outnumbered by bear and moose. This difference in population is one of the most influential factors in relations between the countries. [2]

Economics

Despite the population disparity, the balance of trade between the two countries favors Canada. In August 2021, exports to Canada were valued at $25.73 billion, whereas imports from Canada were valued at $31.69 billion – a $5.33 billion US trade deficit.

At the household level, Canadian indebtedness as measured by the debt-to-disposable-income ratio reached 175% in 2020, compared to 105% in the United States. This measure can be good or bad, depending on the viewpoint. A higher ratio indicates a greater degree of wealth, and in this Canada is in good company, placing it among the top 10 wealthy northern European nations.[3] Creditors are reluctant to lend to households with insufficient wealth, so by this measure Canada is a low-risk debtor. On the other hand, of course, it means a larger level of debt, and therefore more vulnerability to economic downturns.

Risk is low as long as economic growth remains strong, but rises sharply when it weakens. Creditors evidently assess the risk of lending to Canadians to be low. The U.S., in contrast, has a lower ratio, which suggests much of the population there is a greater risk. Pre-pandemic reports find that nearly 40% of Americans would struggle to deal with a emergency $400 expense. Post-pandemic figures may show greater stress.[4]

This affects trade relations because Canada and the U.S. are each other’s best foreign markets. While household Canadian wealth remains stable, U.S. wealth is contracting. The reasons for this are complex – the picture in both countries is distorted by wealth inequality, particularly in disparities between homeowners and renters as financial engineering drives up home values. Home ownership in the U.S. as of Q3 2021 stands at 65.4%. Among Canadians the figure is 68.55%. [5] [6]

The U.S. Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) finds that in 2019, U.S. foreign direct investment in Canada, primarily in stocks, was $402.3 billion, while Canadian foreign direct investment in the United States was $495.7 billion. As is evident from current events, political instability is a growing risk in the U.S. This could expand the gap between the two countries as investors seek safe havens.

The Journal Of Commerce notes that export trade in goods and services with the U.S. in 2019 (a year often cited as a pre-covid benchmark) made up nearly 1/3 of Canada’s entire GDP. American business with Canada comprised 12% of U.S. GDP – a sizable amount, but one that makes relative dependency clear. [7] [8]

This reality is made more vivid by a singular fact: Canada’s trade balance in goods with the U.S. is now the best it’s been since 2008. But thirteen years on, it still hasn’t returned to the levels it was at prior to the Great Recession. A common truism about the close linkage in economic relations with the U.S. notes that when the American economy catches a cold, Canada gets the flu.

As of 2021, we can confidently say economic relations are robust and likely to remain so, despite areas of disagreement. Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline project was a major economic disappointment for Canada but an environmental win. And this is where we pivot from economics to environment, as there is a close linkage here too.

Environment

Canada is faced with an awkward and growing dilemma in that the largest portion of value in exports to the U.S. – euphemistically referenced as “mineral fuels” by the USTR – is fossil fuel in the form of tar sands extracted in Alberta.

Crude, heavy oil is refined from bitumen mixed in the sand, a process that is both more energy-intensive than straight extraction from oil deposits and results in a product that generates more pollution than lighter oil. This low grade fuel is commonly used to power large container shipping vessels. As climate change prods the world to move toward renewables and nuclear energy, the value of tar sands falls. Replacing this level of value in the Canadian economy will not be easy, but the current administration at least acknowledges the challenge. [9]

One potential source for new income is more mining, an industry where Canada is adept. About 50% of the active mining firms worldwide are Canadian. Opportunity knocks in the form of growing demand for minerals like nickel and cobalt that are required for electric vehicle production. Proven reserves of minerals most in demand are minimal, especially in comparison to China, but surveys are underway to explore areas that may contain additional sources. However, industrial-scale battery chemistry and production processes are a moving target as battery technology is refined, so today’s hot mineral commodities may be discarded in favor of others later. This complicates planning.

Although somewhat speculative at this early date, global expertise in the full spectrum of mining conditions may prove valuable in the years ahead as extraction of lunar and asteroidal minerals become more relevant. The mantra of lunar settlement is in-situ resource development, and Canadian firms are well-positioned to be a key player in that field. Although somewhat speculative at this early date, global expertise in the full spectrum of mining conditions may prove valuable in the years ahead as extraction of lunar and asteroidal minerals become more relevant. The mantra of lunar settlement is in-situ resource development, and Canadian firms are well-positioned to be a key player in that field.

Canada’s per-capita energy consumption is among the highest in the world, partly due to geographical location. Heating homes, factories, businesses and schools consumes a lot of energy during Canada’s long winters.

Canada is clearly feeling the effects of climate change. Only a few weeks ago, severe flooding in south British Columbia temporarily cut off Vancouver from the rest of Canada through the loss of roads – it became necessary to drive south into the U.S. and back up to Canada to get around washed out highways. Past years have seen severe fires in northern Alberta, and the range of areas vulnerable to fire will expand. Melting ice in the Arctic regions north of Canada is opening up new shipping channels, already a source of tension with Russia.

Canada’s future will see hazards borne by melting ice, fire and water, with growing price tags attached to each. Global warming may open up more areas to farming and expand the selection of farm products, but will also upend existing ecosystems, creating favorable conditions for invasive species and diseases affecting crops, wildlife and people.

Security & Institutions

Our course textbook examines international relations with reference to the realist, liberal, Marxist and constructivist models. In Canada-US Relations: Sovereignty or Shared Institutions, authors David Carment and Christopher Sands of Canada’s Royal Military College offer a clear-eyed alternative model they call the 4-I framework. It builds on previous work by Griffith, Hamm (2006) and Schmidt (2008, 2010, 2011, 2017). This theory focuses on four key variables; institutions, interests, ideas and identity.

They emphasize that these variables are not and cannot be analyzed in isolation; each one interacts with all the others. As they put it, “Political ideas, for example, cannot be analyzed in isolation from interests, institutions and identity.”

Stated plainly, this seems self-apparent and obvious at first glance. But the tendency to simplify analysis by isolating variables, or even treating them as static values rather than variables, is strong and warrants resistance, so this is a welcome observation. A holistic view is more complex, but in competent application also capable of generating more realistic results.

The institutional aspects of mutual security measures have increased in scope, depth and intensity for several decades, spiking in the wake of 9/11. Integration between security agencies has expanded to include embedded officials working in each other’s agencies on land and at sea. This has the effect of fostering informal networks, bolstering cultural understanding, establishing greater levels of trust, and enabling new programs like fusion centers where Canadian and American security personnel physically work together.

Under the umbrella of the Canada–US Cross-Border Crime forum (CBCf), the specific institutions working together include…

Public Safety Canada

Canadian Department of Justice

Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)

Public Prosecution Service of Canada

U.S. agencies include…

Department of Homeland Security

U.S. Department of Justice

U.S. Attorney’s Office

Federal Bureau of Investigation

Drug Enforcement Administration

US Coast Guard

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Fireworks

Immigration and Customs Enforcement

These efforts focus on policing, border and coastal security, ports of entry and counter-terrorism. This has elevated awareness to the point of comprehensive real-time surveillance of traffic between nations together with free and full exchange of data.

The U.S. response to 9/11 was firmly within the realist model, which exercised power to deliver a message to the Muslim world; destroy what is ours, we will visit 10x more destruction upon what is yours. The strategy proved ineffective. Afghanistan remained controlled but unconquered after 20 years of war. Iraq, subjected to a pre-emptive war that set off a horrific internal civil war, also proved itself ungovernable by Western systems. Force was able to shatter the ISIS movement that emerged in response, but largely because most Muslims themselves rejected the movement.

Canada has contributed troops to NATO, the UN and the US for a variety of military missions, but refused to participate in the invasion of Iraq. It was, then and in retrospect, a wise choice. Canada’s foreign policy and interests are necessarily closely tied to the U.S., but not identical. It exhibits more of the liberal tradition, seeking cooperation where possible and using diplomacy to mitigate conflict. It’s true that Canada’s limited native military capabilities make this a matter of necessity as much as a policy. Living in the shadow of the much larger U.S. military comes with both benefits and drawbacks. Greater domestic security is the obvious benefit. Lesser independence in decision-making is the drawback, although the U.S. has accepted differences in this.

The inherent tension of cooperation and conflict is playing out now as Canada considers how to update its fighter jet fleet. It currently fields CF-18 Hornets built in the 80s, supplied and serviced by Boeing. Canada entertained bids from Boeing for updated F/A Super Hornets, from Lockheed Martin for their F-35, and Swedish manufacturer Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen.

Two other European firms considered competing but dropped out after concluding that the specifications essentially required interoperability with American and allied aircraft, which they could not deliver. If so, this probably means the Saab bid is also destined for rejection. Canada already dismissed Boeing’s Super Hornet bid, likely in reaction to Boeing’s lawsuit against domestic aircraft manufacturer Bombardier, leaving the F-35 as the most likely contender.

This comes with a major problem, however – the price tag. The F-35, as an advanced “5th generation” aircraft, comes with a very hefty purchase price – $80 to 110 million each – and maintenance costs, more than Canada can reasonably afford. Unless the U.S. agrees to subsidize Canada’s F-35 purchases and operating costs, Canada’s only real choice may be to fall back on Boeing for Super Hornets. As of this writing, they have purchased 25 used Hornets from Australia to keep the existing fleet active.

These considerations illustrate the dilemmas faced by a smaller American ally expected to support North American security. [10]

Immigration and Mutual Interests

U.S. and Canadian security interests are closely aligned, not only due to shared geographic space, but also cultural space – the values of civil rights, commitment to democracy, opposition to authoritarian governance, and support for free and fair trade. Immigration, a topic mired in controversy during Trump’s time in office, is challenging for Canada in that they do not have the American scale of resources to deal with it.

Canada’s annual immigration normally amounts to around 300,000 people, which is one of the world’s highest rates per population. 11 Fully 21% of the population are immigrant permanent residents. This planned level of immigration is manageable, but when an unexpected surge of immigrants from America peaked at a rate of 8,000 per quarter during the Trump administration – about 10% of the planned level – this was enough to stress Canada’s immigration system.

For comparison, legal U.S. immigration in 2019 totaled 1,031,765 new permanent residents, roughly consistent with the previous 14 years. However – and readers can be forgiven for thinking otherwise, given the drama on the topic over the past six years – U.S. immigration rates have actually been decreasing every single year since 1999. Sometimes sharply, sometimes only slightly, but every year sees a decrease. This has played a role in labor shortages around the U.S., together with more limited movement of people due to the pandemic. While Canadian immigration rates continue to grow, U.S. rates are languishing.12 13This has myriad impacts on relations between the two nations.

Canada’s lower population and substantial economic resources make immigrant labor an attractive proposition. It powers further growth, helps secure a robust social safety net, and adds diversity to communities.

Canada’s embrace of immigration and diversity differs from about 1/3 of the U.S. population’s view on the matter and broadly agrees with the other 2/3s. This creates tension during periods of conservative political influence in the U.S. while inviting cooperation in policy and practice during more liberal U.S. administrations. This pattern of alignment and divergence works in reverse as well, when the conservative Harper administration maintained a formal and somewhat frosty relationship with the Obama administration.

There is considerable difference between conservative governance in Canada and conservative governance in the U.S. For example, Canadian conservatives seldom challenge the validity of social service policies because they are popular in Canada, whereas U.S. conservatives routinely do. These differences reflect distinct histories and attitudes. Canada doesn’t have a sizable culture that believes “government is the problem”.

Canada’s agricultural sector has never been dependent on slave labor and consequently never developed the harsh culture of exploitation and hierarchy that still permeates the rural American South. Also in contrast to the U.S., Canada didn’t revolt against English rule. This resulted in different national narratives. The imprint of those forks in development centuries ago still influence attitudes today.

Health Care

Americans get their health care coverage from four broad sources; private insurance through employers, government-funded Medicare for the elderly, government-funded Medicaid for low-income citizens, and emergency room care funded from a variety of sources. As of 2020, 30 million people have no health insurance. This is an improvement. Prior to the passage of the Affordable Health Care Care, aka “Obamacare” the total was 48 million. “The uninsured are disproportionately likely to be Black or Latino; be young adults; have low incomes; or live in states that have not expanded Medicaid.” (i.e., “red states”)

Canadians have universal health care coverage for all citizens, funded by federal subsidies. By OECD standards, Canada is regarded as relatively generous among developed nations in spending 11.5% of GDP on health care in 2019. By contrast, U.S. health care spending amounts to 18% of GDP in 2020.

Why is America paying more? Since 1999, the percentage of administrative expenses in both nations has remained remarkably stable. In Canada it is 16%. In the U.S. it is 31%. In 2020 U.S. dollar terms, this translates to $2,500 per person in the U.S., $550 in Canada.14 None of this funding goes to actual care. Canada’s universal health care system spends half as much on administrative costs, 37% less overall than the U.S. does, and is still able to provide universal coverage.15

In addition, Canadian physicians have access to publicly subsidized medical school training, malpractice protection provided covered by the government, lower administrative costs and lower financial risks than U.S. doctors.

Foreign Policy & National Identity

An ongoing theme in Canada’s national discussion about the U.S. is apprehension about cultural, economic and political dominance. The debate isn’t over whether the U.S. dominates these spheres; it’s more about how much.

Some of this concern has been alleviated by the experience with Donald Trump. While Canada made some concessions to U.S. demands in the face of significant pressure, particularly around the issue of the North American Free Trade Agreement, it refused to concede on other matters, most notably on coronavirus management. As Trump attempted to minimize a growing pandemic, Canada responded by closing its border to American citizens.

In an effort to bolster Canadian culture, music broadcasters are required by law to devote 35% of airtime to domestically sourced programming. Similar quotas were once imposed for television and film, but as the internet has blurred the meaning of domestic production – and American filmmakers have increasingly used Canada as a lower-cost alternative to filming in union-strong Hollywood – the emphasis has shifted towards subsidies for Canada-centric content.

Democracy and the Debate of Ideas

The role of the state in national affairs is one of the key areas where Americans and Canadians markedly differ. Regulatory capture is certainly a part of Canadian governance, so corruption is at least common in both countries, albeit masked as legitimate practice. But support for regulatory restraint in business is far stronger in Canada. This goes back, again, to differing national experiences.

Saskatchewan trialed universal healthcare in the early 60s, and from there it spread to become a national program. The U.S. has never offered universal health care and debate over the concept remains stymied by legal bribery, aka “lobbying” and public/private obstruction. A survey conducted in 2004 found Canadians are ambivalent about military service, with 60% considering it a citizen’s duty, whereas Americans are somewhat more gung-ho at 75%. The same survey found 91% of Canadians believe understanding others is an essential value for engaged citizens. Americans came in at 85%.

In other aspects of the survey, both countries are generally within 3-4% of each other on values, small enough to be within a margin of error. There is a great deal of overlap in the value sets of Canadians and Americans.

Much of the similarities in values can be ascribed to overwhelming American cultural influence; generations have grown up watching American television, listening to American music, reading American news sources, magazines and books.

As American millennials shift away from legacy broadcast media to the internet, values are shifting as well. They have adopted a value set that looks closer to Canadian values than boomer American values. Support for progressive concepts like universal health care, a stronger social safety net, increased mass transportation, acceptance of diversity and recognition of climate change all mirror similar views among the full age spectrum in Canada.

In “The United States and Canada: How Two Democracies Differ and Why It Matters”, chapter 12 examines six specific metrics – homicide rates, infant mortality, poverty, inequality, voter turnout and gender inequality among legislators – and compared the Canadian numbers with three distinct U.S. regions. They are grouped as the northern border states (labeled BOR in the following graphs) the South, and the rest of the states, (non-border, non-south, labeled NBNS).

The results are striking. By nearly every measure, the 11 states along the Canadian border – Alaska, Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine – are closer to Canadian values than their Southern and non-border, non-southern counterparts. The one exception is U.S. border states have more female legislators than Canada.

What drives this similarity in outcomes between the northern border states and Canada? The authors examine a variety of possible factors, including proximity, shared cultural values, institutions, governance and population diversity. For various reasons, none of these alone or combined produce fully satisfying answers, as they are contradicted by other factors that should be applicable but are not.

The one common denominator, an obvious one, is climate. We already know that different climatic environments often produce distinct cultures. Within the U.S., we see this in the north/south axis. There is north/south cultural divergence in Europe as well, manifesting in different ways. In both the U.S. and Canada, we see it in the east/west axis, with clearly different cultures on the west and east coasts.

While it seems like a simplistic explanation, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. As humanity has migrated across the planet from its African origins, populations have settled in various environments and climates and adapted, mind and body, to that climate. The African hunter is distinctive from the Inuit. Both are distinct from settlers who populate the Asian steppe. None of them could live in ease at the high altitudes – nearly 17,000 ft – occupied by some Peruvians.

Humans are, in a sense, environmental specialists. We can reasonably infer that adaption affects temperament as well. While the ease of movement in modern times dilutes this effect to some degree, the persistence of place conserves cultures and the people who live in them. Living in the cold end of a temperate zone, as northern Americans and Canadians do, may well foster similar temperaments, problem-solving approaches and values. If climate is in fact a major influence on shared values, climate change takes on an entirely new dimension.

On the east coast, one famous phenomenon is the annual migration of “snowbirds” between Ontario and Florida. Each year, tens of thousands of Canadians come to Florida to winter, then flock back to Ontario as it warms. They have adapted to moving between climates and cultures. We might do well to study how it works for them, as we enter a world where climate change will compel human migration on a scale never seen in modern times. A popular Canadian slogan declares, “The world needs more Canada”. In the decades ahead, many Americans may come to agree.


Bibliography

Texts

The United States and Canada: How Two Democracies Differ and Why It Matters

2019, Paul Quirk, 1st Edition

Canada–US Relations: Sovereignty or Shared Institutions? (Canada and International Affairs)

2019, David Carment & Christopher Sands, 1st Edition

Congressional Research Service

Canada-US Relations. (2018). https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/RL/96-397/48

Additional economic data:

Canada-US Relations. (2021). https://www.everycrsreport.com/reports/96-397.htm

Journals

Canadian Journal of Political Science

https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/canadian-journal-of-political-science-revue-canadienne-de-science-politique

International Journal: Canada’s Journal of Global Policy Analysis

https://journals.sagepub.com/home/ijx

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December 16, 2022 at 1:21 am

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General Observations on “Democracy and Fascism: Class, Civil Society, and Rational Choice in Italy”

Independent Study, Summer 2022

The artificial divisions of class, civil society and rational choice theory are irritating. They detract from a holistic view of events, causes, actors and results. All three theories make some valid and useful observations. Discounting any one of them because their principal thesis may not fully apply is unhelpful. It would make more sense to take an a la carte view and highlight aspects of each theory that contribute to overall understanding.

I also find the phrase “rational fascist” troubling and a poor choice of terms. “Vulnerable and malleable population” is more accurate, as the paper notes…

“When individuals are disillusioned, the newcomer gains the advantage. Fascism was just such a newcomer, joining the political fray unfettered by a past and opportunistic about the future. While its support no doubt shifted over time, Italian Fascism initially found its popular base among the disillusioned and impoverished rural laborers in the Po Valley.”

This is the take-home message from the study. A harshly hierarchical society with a large, struggling labor force means those at the bottom are susceptible to manipulation. The author clearly conveys his understanding of this by quoting Machiavelli:

“Here we have to note two things; first, that the people often, deceived by an illusive good, desire their own ruin, and, unless they are made sensible of the evil of the one and the benefit of the other by some one in whom they have confidence, they will expose the republic to infinite peril and damage”

The Italian Fascists excelled at telling people what they wanted to hear. They created a narrative and campaign of slogans that painted existing and potential allies as patriots, the opposition as oppressive, and used this to build an expanding social wedge between them, a classic us vs. them story.

The paper also declares:

“In rational choice theory, trust is strategic, conditional, and dependent on reciprocity. Civic and political associations foster trust through repeated reciprocity. The endurance of trust also differs. In civil society theory, trust is more deeply held, durable, and stable; in rational choice theory, trust is more conditional and subject to erosion when reciprocity fails.”

This presents each theory as an either/or proposition, when it could be more accurate to say that civil society forges deeper trust, stability and customary reciprocity when it is not being actively destabilized by outside influences. Civil society gives us programs like social security, libraries, universal K-12 education, universities, consumer protection agencies and other regulatory institutions that foster widespread, repeated and constructive reciprocity.

It can be argued there is an inversely proportional relationship between the strength of civil society and the degree of mutual trust within it. The weaker civil society becomes, the more strategic and conditional individual trust becomes, because people grow less confident in institutional support of trust and reciprocity.

Fascism is a direct attack on civil society that aims to replace existing hierarchies with a new one that – of course! – places fascists at the top.

The relevance of the Italian experience to the USA today is completely clear.

“Ideologically, fascism relied on extreme nationalism, secular idealism, and vitalism. It propagated a myth of national rejuvenation and rejected rationalism, materialism, and egalitarianism. Tactically, fascism emphasized the use of violence and rejected parliamentary democracy.”

The segment on inequality in land ownership could be lifted right out of a Bernie Sanders campaign speech.

“Italy was 90% agricultural, most workers were economic peons. The biggest landowners – 0.4% of the whole – literally owned half the land.”

This segment is puzzling:

“Because Fascist electoral support came disproportionately from landless wage laborers, the class interpretation of fascism is not supported. Although contract and day laborers made up 30% of the electorate, they constituted 46% of the total Fascist vote. An estimated 56% of all day laborers and 70% of contract laborers voted Fascist….”

This is exactly what would be expected from a class division. This paragraph states that the lower classes disproportionately supported Fascists, and that’s entirely predictable behavior among people who feel they’re getting a raw deal. Fascists present an aggressive posture, which is appealing to a class that wants change and is impatient to achieve it. It seems strange to dismiss a class interpretation when the evidence makes it clear class is very much a factor.

“Covert intimidation by definition remains unobservable, however, two plausible indirect, observable measures for the municipal units (N = 49) are reports of intimidation leading up to the May 1921 election and spread of Fascist nuclei across the province’s municipalities from December 1920 to May-June 1921”

Change this statement to read “MAGA nuclei” and we have a portrait of modern Republican meddling in local election boards around the country. Old-school fascism is being reborn under the direction of the Mango Mussolini.

Democracy and Fascism: Class, Civil Society, and Rational Choice in Italy
https://www.jstor.org/stable/3118223

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December 16, 2022 at 12:41 am

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The UN Tribunal for Rwanda

Kevin McLeod, GOV396, April 15, 2022

Introduction

In the spring of 1994 the Rwandan government, military services and extremist groups turned violently on a cultural minority. The ensuing massacre led to ~800,000 deaths in 100 days, ending in mid-summer. Estimates vary on the exact figure of lives lost1, but the fact of genocide is not disputed.

The UN Tribunal – the “International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda” – was created by the UN Security Council to hold accountable and prosecute leaders and high-ranking supporters who enabled the genocide. It derives its authority from Chapter VII of the U.N. charter, which invokes universal jurisdiction for the pursuit of justice with regard to genocide. The tribunal is structured as a modified model of the earlier Yugoslavia tribunal.

The Tribunal

As planning for accountability commenced, it was considered critical to hold the tribunal as close to the center of events as possible, which meant around Kigali. Regional stability was still questionable when the tribunal was established in the fall of 1994, so the UN opted to host in plusher Arusha, Tanzania.

Air conditioning and greater security came with a trade-off; 18 hour drives to and from Kigali that circle south of Lake Victoria and Serengeti National Park. The roads were hazardous in patches, so it was an unpopular but mandatory trip. There was no rail. Air transport was prohibitively expensive and the UN wasn’t buying.

There were additional complications. In the time elapsed since the end of the genocide to the establishment of the tribunal, the Rwandan government had been toppled by RPF forces. That meant the court was dealing with a friendly government, which was good. But it was also a government still raw and unsettled, fresh from post-coup acquisition of power, where rule of law was still aspirational.

This was the context for the first international court of law in Africa to pursue justice for massive human rights violations. The court itself was physically split between Arusha in Tanzania, Kigali in Rwanda, The Hague in Holland, and the UN HQ in New York City. Which meant coordinating all details through distant nodes across different time zones, languages and cultures.

Combined with universally decried excessive bureaucracy at the UN, this made for a painfully slow and inefficient process. Insecure conditions created difficulties for insuring safety of witnesses, especially while Hutus remained the numerically dominant population.

Pre-genocide, there were more than 7 million people comprising 3 ethnic groups.

The Hutu (85% of the population)

The Tutsi (14%)

The Twa (1%)

Post-genocide, 70% of Rwanda’s Tutsi population had been wiped out, and many of the surviving 30% were very nervous. In Kibuye province, the figure was 90% – the 250,000 Tutsis living there had been reduced to 8,000. So providing security for witnesses was a serious problem.

The first prosecution was of Jean-Paul Akayesu, a town mayor who led massacres in his own city. His trial began in early January 1997 and ended with a guilty verdict and life sentence on September 2 1998, a nearly two-year span. Today he’s doing life in an overcrowded prison in Benin, Africa. The tribunal would not close for business until the last day of 2016. Scott Straus, a published scholar who has examined the case closely, estimates active genocide participants numbered roughly 200,000, with most of the killing conducted by around 10% of that number.2

Many of the most militant were aligned with MNRD, the president’s party.

Of that roughly 20K core of genocidal militants, this infographic details how many were indicted and brought to some measure of legal accountability by the ICTR:

As of May 2020, six of the indicted have evaded arrest3. A table of cases is available4. at https://ijrcenter.org/international-criminal-law/ictr/cas5e-summaries/

The full cost of the Rwanda tribunal amounts to ~US$1 billion. (Some sources claim double this) This works out to $10,752,688 per indictment, with 2/3 of those indicted sentenced for crimes. Incomplete evidence was a factor in many of the remaining third of indictments that became acquittals.

Context

Conflict and tension between Tutsi and Hutu peoples in Rwanda go back at least half a century and largely stem from colonial manipulation.

Rwanda was colonized for 77 years, between 1885 and 1962. For the first 34 years, it was ruled by Germans. Germany lost Rwanda and other colonies after WWI. Belgians took over in 1919 and remained rulers for 43 years, until 1962. In 1935, Belgium began including ethnic identity on passports.

Tutsis were regarded within Rwanda as an elite minority, the ruling class, and tended to be more economically secure. This made the Tutsi strategically attractive to colonizers, who favored them with a monopoly on power. Most of the population was Hutu, with a cohort of extremists blaming Tutsis for anything gone wrong. Resentment and peace came and went in waves. Some of the resentment was organic, in response to events, and some was manufactured at Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines, a government-affliated, Hutu-run station in Kigali. Since most people in the country had a radio and the station was broadly popular – it was the only national radio station at the time – extremists had a megaphone, major influence and government support.

A large new wave of rage directed at Tutsis crested when the president’s plane was shot down by surface to air missiles on return to Kigali airport. The president, Juvénal Habyarimana, was Hutu. Extremists immediately blamed the Tutsis, the Tutsi claimed it was a Hutu hit. To this day, much as in the US with JFK’s assassination, there is still no solid consensus on motive and whodunnit.

The incident became the flashpoint for a genocide that escalated quickly. The aggressors had practice; they had been conducting mass murder on a smaller scale in regional attacks, and many were veterans of fighting against RPF forces. Romeo Dallaire reports that several months before the genocide began, government officials were asking FAR forces to register all Tutsis in Kigali. This suggests plans for mass attacks were well underway before the president’s plane was shot down.

In her book Leave None to Tell The Story, Alison Des Forges’ thesis is that the genocide was organized and planned before it occurred. She was intimately familiar with Rwandan history, social dynamics and politics and her account was highly praised by Dallaire, who served in the field during the conflict. The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence, Michael Meredith reports that the Defense Ministry chief Théoneste Bagosora imported 2x the normal annual purchase of machetes beginning in January 93 through March 94. A French investigation by Roland Tissot claims records argue against this, although the French have their own issues with their role in the genocide. The genocide began on April 6, the same day President Juvenal Habyarimana’s aircraft crashed and exploded.

This view has important implications for the Tribunal.

The dynamic conflict between the RPF, a Tutsi military force, and the Rwandan government (a Hutu force, FAR) was already escalating and had simmered at different temperatures for decades. The RPF had committed atrocities too, so many Hutu were receptive to accusations that Tutsis were responsible and eradication was desirable. Not all; moderate Hutus were also subjected to mass murder and other violence from their own communities. The divisions in Rwandan society were ideological as much as they were economic and and social. For the extremists in the FAR, being Hutu was not enough; one was either with the extremists and on board with their final solution for Tutsis or dead. They backed up that view with lethal force.

Cases

For most of its existence, the Tribunal was organized into three trial chambers in Arusha, Tanzania, an appeals chamber in the Netherlands at the Hague, and offices in Kigali, Rwanda. Judges were nominated by the Security Council and the UN General Assembly chose who would serve. Judges served four-year terms and were eligible to serve additional terms. The Tribunal began with 16 judges, which was supplemented in 2002 with 18 temporary ad litem judges who worked specific cases. At the outset, roughly half the judges were assigned to appeals, with the balance working trial cases.

While the ICTR did its work, Rwandan courts also processed cases. ICTR capped sentencing at life terms. Rwanda’s justice system allowed for capital punishment, leading to the public execution by firing squad of 22 convicted genocidaires in the spring of 1998.

Rwanda was deeply unsatisfied with the progress and quality of the Tribunal’s work, to the point that country dissociated from the Tribunal in 1999, but were persuaded to cooperate again in 2000. They were also unhappy that the trials had been moved out of the country to Arusha.

Rwanda’s dissatisfaction was widely shared. The International Center for Transitional Justice gave it this scorching review in a 2009 report:

“Since its creation, the Tribunal has been dogged by corruption, mismanagement and incompetence. The sluggish pace of genocide trials—just twenty-three completed trials (involving thirty-one accused) in ten and a half years—has been due to the absence of a clear prosecutorial strategy, poor case management and courtroom control by the judges and a largely incompetent administration.”

Transitional Justice and DDR: The Case of Rwanda, Lars Waldorf, Research Unit, International Center for Transitional Justice, June 20096

The Tribunal had promised Rwanda outreach and education regarding the trials and results, but the promise wasn’t kept. Most Rwandans heard little about the trials and regarded the whole process as remote and ineffective.

One of the most important trials was that of Théoneste Bagosora, who was regarded as the de facto leader of the genocide after he assumed power following the death of the president. His personal diaries from 1992 include references to the formation of a ‘civil defense’ corp, a euphemism for a militant youth group closely affiliated with the Mouvement révolutionaire national pour le développement, (MRND). Soldiers from this group became the central, most active actors in the genocide two years later.

Bagosora was indicted on 12 charges. Two were dropped, 10 were upheld to conviction.

Count 2: Guilty of Genocide
Count 4: Guilty of Crimes Against Humanity (Murder)
Count 5: Guilty of Crimes Against Humanity (Murder of the Belgian Peacekeepers)
Count 6: Guilty of Crimes Against Humanity (Extermination)
Count 7: Guilty of Crimes Against Humanity (Rape)
Count 8: Guilty of Crimes Against Humanity (Persecution)
Count 9: Guilty of Crimes Against Humanity (Other Inhumane Acts)
Count 10: Guilty of Serious Violations of Article 3 Common to the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol II (Violence to Life)
Count 11: Guilty of Serious Violations of Article 3 Common to the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol II (Violence to Life of the Belgian Peacekeepers)
Count 12: Guilty of Serious Violations of Article 3 Common to the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol II (Outrages upon Personal Dignity)

Bagosora is the ‘devil’ Romeo Dallaire references in the title of his book about the genocide, Shake Hands with the Devil. Dallaire has said he struggled to gain some sense of closure over his experiences in Rwanda, and that seeing Bagosora in court wearing handcuffs during his 2004 testimony was the closest he’s come to it. The trial lasted five years and ended with a life sentence, which was later reduced to 35 years following an appeal. It remained a de facto life sentence; Bagosora died in prison at age 80.

The trial of Jean-Paul Akayesu – mayor of Taba, former school teacher – marked several milestones. It was the first trial held by the Tribunal, and his conviction was the first international court’s prosecution and guilty verdict on charges of genocide. It was also the first case to cite rape as an instrument of genocide. He was indicted on fifteen counts. Six counts were dismissed for insufficient evidence, conviction was found on 9:

Count 1: Guilty of Genocide
Count 3: Guilty of Crime against Humanity (Extermination)
Count 4: Guilty of Direct and Public Incitement to Commit Genocide
Count 5: Guilty of Crime against Humanity (Murder of three Tutsi civilians)
Count 7: Guilty of Crime against Humanity (Murder of 8 Tutsi refugees)
Count 9: Guilty of Crime against Humanity (Murder of five civilian Tutsi teachers)
Count 11: Guilty of Crime against Humanity (Torture)
Count 13: Guilty of Crime against Humanity (Rape)
Count 14: Guilty of Crime against Humanity (Other Inhumane Acts)

His appeal was dismissed by the court, and he is currently serving a life sentence in Benin, Africa.

The trial of Ferdinand Nahimana, propagandist and RTLM head, was often referred to as the Media Case, because he and two others were prosecuted for their contribution to genocide via malicious, inflammatory encouragement to kill by radio broadcasts throughout Rwanda.

Criticism

As mentioned in the introduction to the Cases section, there is a great deal of deep dissatisfaction with the Tribunals’ pace of work and volume of convictions. At the outset, the Tribunal aimed to prosecute the leaders of the genocide and leave most cases related to lower-level militants to the national and gacaca (“grass”) courts. While the quality of justice in local courts is uneven, the resort to community courts was necessary due to the number of trials. The UN reports that 12,000 gacaca courts tried 1.2 million cases involving ~130,000 militants. The Tribunal simply didn’t have the resources needed to process so many cases.

That said, the Tribunal did have very substantial resources, amounting to at least a billion dollars over time it remained active before shutting down in 2016. Despite this, the Tribunal was notorious for extremely slow pacing, issues with coordination and the need to add 18 ad litem judges.

Another major concern is the lack of RPF prosecutions. In the process of prosecuting a war against the Rwandan government, the RPF committed atrocities and sent children to fight.

Abdul Ruzibiza, a former RPF lieutnant in Network Commando unit working for the Department of Military Intelligence (DMI), testified that “…wholesale extermination of Hutu populations in places like Kageyo, Meshero, Mukarange, the regions of Gokoro and Kabuga, the commune of Bicumbi where “at least 3,000 persons were killed” under the supervision of the High Command Unit, [Paul] Kagame’s personal guard, at the request of Kagame himself.”7

The Gersony Report adds that “during the months from April to August the RPF had killed between 25,000 and 45,000 persons, between 5,000 and 10,000 persons each month from April through July and 5,000 for the month of August”.

https://www.hrw.org/legacy/reports/1999/rwanda/Geno15-8-03.htm

Because of this, many decried the end result ‘victor’s justice’, indicating a biased process that left real RFP crimes unprosecuted because the RFP defeated the Rwandan government. This extends beyond the post-genocide war and well into the establishment of governance by the RPF. By 2001, the U.S Department of State has observed that “…the government’s human rights record in 2000 remained poor and that it “continued to be responsible for numerous, serious abuses…the Army was accused of extra-judicial killings.”8

Conclusion

Ultimately the principal perpetrators were brought before the tribunal and sufficient evidence for Western standards of guilt made many convictions and severe sentences possible. There are still disquieting reminders of the genocide. In Kibuye, by 2004 the number of Tutsi in the areas has fallen from 8,000 to 1,000, and those who remain are outnumbered by people who directly participated in the genocide. This reality contributed to the steady decline of Tutsi in the area – they left for safer areas.

In the animal kingdom, we frequently see flocking behavior. Fish do it, birds do it, mammal herds do it. People are not that different. They’re watching leaders and the people around them, trying to figure out what direction their tribe will take. Most will follow the path of least resistance, taking someone else’s judgment over their own. Thus we get flocks of people in thrall to a few charismatic leaders. When those leaders urge them to hate and kill, people will flock in that direction.

This is what happened in 1930s and 1040s Germany, it’s what happened in the Jim Jones mass suicide incident, and it’s what happened in Rwanda. Flocks can travel towards healthy goals or toxic, hellish traps laid out by their own leadership.

We have already seen the American Republican party do this. If their leadership is able to regain power, the potential for genocide in the USA will be real, and could occur with rapid speed. Never assume it can’t happen here. It can. If it does, the UN now has tribunal management experience and will perhaps improve the next time around.

Book Sources:

Shake Hands with the Devil by Romeo Dallaire

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch

The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence by Meredith, Martin. (2005)

Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda by Alison Des Forges
https://www.hrw.org/reports/1999/rwanda/index.htm

Journal sources

Transitional Justice and DDR: The Case of Rwanda by Lars Waldorf
https://www.ictj.org/sites/default/files/ICTJ-DDR-Rwanda-CaseStudy-2009-English.pdf

Rwanda: the state of Research by Lemarchand René

https://www.sciencespo.fr/mass-violence-war-massacre-resistance/en/document/rwanda-state-research

Interview with Philip Gourevitch

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1844138

Propaganda vs. Education:

A Case Study of Hate Radio in Rwanda

David Yanagizawa-Drott, Harvard University

Online Sources

Meaning of Hutu, Tutsi and Twa

https://www.hrw.org/reports/1999/rwanda/Geno1-3-09.htm

Gersony Report

https://www.hrw.org/legacy/reports/1999/rwanda/Geno15-8-03.htm

Rwanda Radio Transcripts from Montreal Institute for Genocide and

Human Rights Studies

https://www.concordia.ca/research/migs/resources/rwanda-radio-transcripts.html

Video confessions

https://genocidearchiverwanda.org.rw/index.php?title=Category:Perpetrator_Confessions

ICTR criticism

https://www.dw.com/en/ictr-a-tribunal-that-failed-rwandan-genocide-victims-and-survivors/a-51156220

Rwanda: Tribunal Risks Supporting ‘Victor’s Justice’

https://www.hrw.org/news/2009/06/01/rwanda-tribunal-risks-supporting-victors-justice

Rwanda 10 years on

https://www.theage.com.au/world/rwanda-10-years-on-not-forgiven-not-forgotten-20040403-gdxm3l.html

Rwanda 20 years on

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/may/12/rwanda-genocide-20-years-on

‘Music to kill to’: Rwandan genocide survivors remember RTLM
https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2020/6/7/music-to-kill-to-rwandan-genocide-survivors-remember-rtlm

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December 16, 2022 at 12:16 am

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The American Civil Liberties Union

3/25/22

Background

In the 2nd decade of the 20th century, a pacifist anti-war organization known as the American Union Against Militarism was created in New York City to lobby against American involvement in World War 1. Prior to the start of the war, they had substantial public support, but that began to change in 1917. By spring America entered the war. Young men were being drafted into the military, and conscientious objector status was limited to long-time members of traditionally pacific religious groups, such as Quakers, Mennonites and the Amish. Tolerance for political dissent was also at a low ebb, with Congress considering legislation that would permit censorship of the press. In this atmosphere, a perfect storm of domestic hostility to civil rights, the AUAM’s explicitly anti-war stance was not popular.

The new, broad and vaguely worded Espionage Act created a climate of fear among anti-war activists, and the Post Office refused to deliver some of their publications. Fighting broke out between pro and anti-war groups, scenes not unlike today around the country when MAGA supporters are confronted by and clash with pro-democracy protesters.

The military began spying on anti-war protesters, and the climate for dissent became so toxic the AUAM attempted to mute members who protested the war. The AUAM dissolved in 1922 after the war ended. While the AUAM still existed, a committee known as the Civil Liberties Bureau was established and managed by Crystal Eastman and Roger Baldwin. In 1920, they spun this group off into an organization of its own – the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU was born in a victorious post-war nation while the populace was turning its attention from war to peace. President Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations was formed the same year.

Goals and Resources

As stated in its online FAQ, the ACLU “works in the courts, legislatures, and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.” As history and contemporary events have demonstrated, these liberties are frequently under pressure or outright attack when they conflict with commercial interests or opposing ideological goals. The incorporation of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution to firmly establish essential rights was a major step forward for human rights, but those basic rights still require defense. The ACLU serves that purpose.

For people aligned with the ACLU’s goals, the organization has been a shield against tyranny by the majority in situations where ethnic and minority group rights have been or are abused. Maintaining consistency in this effort means the ACLU has sometimes defended unpopular groups, such as a fundamentalist Christian church, the Krishna cult, the KKK, Oliver North, the National Socialist Party and NAMBLA.

These difficult cases, which impact the ACLU’s fundraising efforts, were taken on because they center on free speech and other rights that can be eroded by first denying them to detested groups, creating a pretext for denying them more broadly. This is a challenging task when ideological and even mainstream media assault the ACLU for defending views many find indefensible.

This dynamic means the ACLU must not only defend rights, but defend itself as an organization when even their own supporters are aghast at their selection of clients. The ACLU doesn’t have to accept every case they are called on to take up, and budget constraints have an impact on those choices too. When an unpopular group is added to the ACLU’s to-do list, it’s because a key right is imperiled.

Current critics – usually on the Right – are lambasting the ACLU for not doing more to defend right-wing speech in an era when many extreme right viewpoints are being deplatformed in social media. Thereby demonstrating the ACLU can be and is attacked for not acting. This reflects the fragility of personal liberties; subjective viewpoints create different interpretations of what essential rights mean, and groups with agendas will manipulate public opinion in different directions. The ACLU seeks to create and maintain objective standards that benefit all by establishing legal precedents that are protective of civil liberties.

Courts are the main arena in which the ACLU does battle, with public opinion a necessary, if secondary, arena. The record of the ACLU’s successful cases stretches dates back to 1925, with Gitlow v. New York, in defense of pamphlet distribution advocating overthrow of the government. This case also ties the 1st amendment to the 14th, clarifying that the Supreme Court ruling also applies to states.

The range of issues addressed by the organization is very broad, including capital punishment, disability rights, human rights, religious liberty, national security, reproductive justice, voting rights, women’s rights, juvenile justice, racial justice, immigrants, and more. As much as the ACLU is reviled in some quarters, it also gains grudging respect for defending civil liberties for all. This means the group’s base of supporters is also broad. More so in some camps than others, but robust enough to remain relevant and effective over decades.

The moral basis for the ACLU’s programs is firmly rooted in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights and basic universal principles of civil liberties. The cultural impact is varied, as the broad range of issues it addresses affect a wide spectrum of society. It has achieved status as an American institution, sometimes loved and sometimes condemned (sometimes by the same people), but perceived as a formidable legal force to be reckoned with.

The ACLU relies on contributions and grants to fund year to year activity, which amounted to $168 million in 2021. It picked up another $3 million from other sources for a total of $171 million, which is larger than Gallaudet University’s entire annual budget. The ACLU receives no government funding. $31 million goes to salaries, $5 million to fundraising costs, and the rest to ‘other expenses’ – litigation, communication (includes lobbying) and public education.

Organizational work is divided into three Centers.

 The Center for Liberty manages the LGBT & AIDS Project, the Reproductive Freedom Project, the Women’s Rights Project, the Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, and the Disability Rights Program.

The Center for Democracy includes the National Security Project, the Human Rights Program, the Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, the Voting Rights Project, and the Immigrants’ Rights Project.

The Trone Center for Justice and Equality runs the National Prison Project, the Criminal Law Reform Project, the Racial Justice Program and the Capital Punishment Project.

Coalitions

The ACLU has a network of staffed affiliate chapters in every state, Puerto Rico and Washington, DC for organizational and lobbying purposes. Due to its longevity, track record, prominence and resources, the ACLU also often organizes and leads temporary coalitions for lobbying. For example, an appeal to president Biden to support transparency in his administration, published February 22, 2021, presents forty-four organizations as co-signers in a lobbying coalition. (See Sources appendix for the full list)

The ACLU is a member of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. As their website states, they “The Leadership Conference was founded in 1950 as the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights by A. Philip Randolph, head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; Roy Wilkins of the NAACP; and Arnold Aronson, a leader of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council.”

The Conference’s work encompasses three broad areas; democracy, justice, and inclusion/opportunity. In democracy the Conference has worked on the 2020 census, legal support in courts and voting rights. In justice the focus is on immigrant rights, justice reform and policing. The inclusion and opportunity portfolio consists of economic security, education, fighting hate and bias, media and tech.

All of these issues overlap the efforts of the ACLU, and effectively extend ACLU’s efforts and available resources. This is a win-win arrangement for both the coalition and the ACLU. A sampling of issues the coalition has worked on together include Homeland Security DACA rules, American compliance with the Convention on Torture, criminal legal reform and racial equity, civil rights data collection, regulations regarding home confinement and much more.

It’s worth noting one organization that is not affiliated or in any coalitions with the ACLU; Jay Sekulow’s American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). The similar acronym is not accidental. It was chosen to confuse, with the aim of supplanting the ACLU in the public mind. The values promoted by the ACLJ are often diametrically opposed to those of the ACLU, also by design. For example, it purports to promote religious liberty while in fact working to legally impose specific faith-based values on the populace at large.

Identity

One key aspect of the ACLU’s identity is its reputation as a straight shooter – that is, it defends civil liberties regardless of the identity of those whose liberties have been violated. At times this has led to fierce tensions within the organization and public condemnation for representing deeply unpopular groups.

This same principled approach, however, has made it possible for the ACLU to expand its base of support. While the U.S. political Right delights in bashing the ACLU at every opportunity, voters have recognized the ACLU has been, if not politically neutral, then at least consistent in making their cases in accordance with the U.S. Constitution and elevating civil rights for all.

In the current environment, remaining politically neutral is arguably not an option. The stakes are democracy vs. autocracy. The ACLU has been subjected to a free fire zone of critique from multiple viewpoints, including the Left. While this has not derailed the ACLU from their efforts, it has disrupted operations, created uncertainty in the ACLU’s workforce, and degraded confidence in their ability to be a neutral arbiter of civil rights.

The ACLU still claims allegiance to that standard and characterizes other positions as the product of passionate personal outbursts by leadership and staff. As may be, but said outbursts also color public perception of the organization, and opposition will certainly exploit the doubts they’ve generated.

This blossom of polarization within the ACLU and its constituency mirrors the broader polarizations that have formed in American society. These patterns of polarization aren’t completely new, but they are far more intense and pervasive in the USA now than we’ve seen in living memory.

In essence, the ACLU acquired the role of national referee on matters related to civil rights by attacking violations and defending its exercise in courts around the nation. Continued ownership of this role is contingent on being perceived as neutral, and it is precisely this perception that is subject to questions.

In addressing these concerns, the ACLU must navigate a field of social landmines. When it fails to act in accordance with past practice, it is exposed to accusations of bias. When it fails to act vigorously against a rising tide of civil rights violations, it is exposed to accusations of complicity with that tide. It is a classic damned if you do, damned if you don’t dilemma.

Given these constraints, the most sensible path forward is the bold one; damn the torpedos, full speed ahead. Which is to say the ACLU should go all-out in defense of civil liberties where violations occur. If this approach appears lopsided in terms of who is defended and who is prosecuted, that is a reflection of the respective camps’ attitudes towards civil rights.

Over the long run, the ACLU’s identity and reputation rest more on its defense of civil rights than perceptions of balance. If civil rights are permitted to slowly melt away in the service of maintaining an ambiguous balance, the ACLU’s reason for being melts with them.

Issues

The ACLU’s focus is stated in its name; civil liberties. But civil liberties encompass a wide range of issues, as enumerated in the seventh paragraph of the ‘goals and resources’ section above. Cleavage among these issues vary; some, such as a women’s right to choose and voting rights, are severe. Others are less severe, but in a sharply polarized electorate, severity is relative. What were once largely differences of opinion have morphed into existential threats to democracy.

Because the ACLU is firmly supported and enjoys a consistent budget year to year, its political circumstance remains robust. It is currently active with staffed offices in all 50 states and engaged in litigation around the nation. Because challenges to civil liberties are constant, the ACLU’s work requires persistent engagement to be effective. In 2020 litigation, it filed 406 legal actions against the Trump administration and 195 pandemic-related cases defending the right to vote, protect vulnerable prisoners, protect abortion clinics in regions that attempted to use the pandemic as a pretext to close them, and support science-based solutions for pandemic mitigation.

Nearly half of the ACLU’s expenses go to affiliate support, in recognition that much of our political issues are local. This funding is especially crucial for educating voters about the impact of proposed local, county and state legislation on civil liberties, voting rights, policing reform and many other issues. Successful local initiatives can become templates for action elsewhere on any given issue, from any given vantage point. Continual immersion in the tactical details of these battles allows the ACLU to anticipate strategies and counter-strategies, knowledge that enables more effective use of limited resources.

For example, Minnesota attempted to impose a witness signature requirement for mail-in ballots, a measure that deliberately ran counter to the pre-vaccine pandemic imperative for social distancing. The ACLU not only defeated that effort, it also won a requirement that the state send absentee ballot request forms to every registered voter who had not already requested one.

A successful ACLU lawsuit in Wisconsin required the state to send free IDs for voters who need one after the state imposed strict ID requirements. This effectively nullified the intended impact of the requirement.
 In another example, the Trump administration supported a lawsuit that aimed to block the use of ballot drop boxes in Pennsylvania. This initiative was defeated by ACLU litigation.

The ACLU’s public education efforts often focus attention on local down-ballot races featuring candidates with public service records of hostility to civil liberties. This outreach is not only protective of personal freedom, it’s also less costly in the long run for the ACLU. Candidates who understand the importance of civil liberties are less likely to provoke litigation.

On these and other issues, public polarization is growing. The Republican party has been captured by an increasing reliance on nationalistic propaganda and conspiracy theories, paralyzing more constructive efforts and sidelining experienced public officials who reject nonsense. This new core of the GOP is very hostile to civil rights for all and specifically hostile to voting rights, with a fanatical intensity that seldom passes judicial review. In some respects this makes the ACLU’s job easier.

Because the ALCU’s defense of civil liberties has been principled and consistent in the face of ongoing conservative assault, its political position is at most unchanged and at best enhanced. After Trump won in 2016, donations and membership in the ACLU soared. This demonstrates widespread appreciation of the organizations’ role in defending civil rights.

Campaign Finance

The ACLU is not generally regarded as a major player in retail politics – it doesn’t endorse specific candidates, nor does it directly campaign in support of them. It does however have a profound indirect influence on elections through advocacy for specific policies, public education on issues/policy, support and opposition to specific legislation. For example, the ACLU has been a strong advocate for voting rights, by fighting gerrymandering efforts, vote suppression and encouraging voter registration. This approach doesn’t engage directly with electoral politics, but does influence the environment in which people vote. These effects can be lasting, going beyond any single election.

One of the ACLU’s stances with regard to campaign finance puzzles even some of the ACLU strongest supporters – its position on the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. The case was primarily about corporate funding of campaigns, with corporations claiming that spending money in support of their preferred candidates and issues amounted to political speech. Because the law as currently constituted regards corporations as persons, they enjoy rights as persons, including the First Amendment protections on speech. 

The ACLU recognizes and decries the negative impacts of corporate funding, but also defends the expression of political views through cash. In response to concerns about the disproportionate spending capacity of corporations in comparison with individual and public interest group spending, the ACLU advocates public campaign financing. This response maintains a dynamic where corporate spending in support of candidates who oppose public campaign financing sustains corporate dominance in campaign finance, thereby preserving corporate influence and access.

Thus the ACLU, in its earnest efforts to defend 1st Amendment rights, defers to the use of money to manipulate elections that endanger those rights. Twelve years decision, we see that risk becoming reality with speech limits now being imposed on public school teachers, with no indication that proponents will stop there.

Lobbying

Lobbying is a major part of what the ACLU does. Commercial support for civil liberties is scant, so it falls to the union’s membership to support activism in defense of civil liberties. The ACLU has been remarkably effective in this. The primary lobbying instrument has been litigation. As the organization itself points out, they have participated in more Supreme Court cases than any other private organization. The ACLU characterizes itself as the nation’s largest public interest law firm, with 500 staff lawyers,offices in every state, and thousands of volunteer lawyers.

https://www.aclu.org/about/aclu-history

Litigation is a form of bare-knuckles lobbying, one that bypasses political conversation and goes directly to the law. Rather than plead with public officials to act on issues, the ACLU makes a case to judges and obtains decisions that drive actions by public officials. The ACLU works within the system, but favors the judicial branch, where the impact of court cases have lasting effect. It sometimes does so by challenging policy and actions – as it did in filing 56 cases in Donald Trump’s first year in office – and sometimes by defending challenges to existing law, such as North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Arkansas’ efforts to legalize vote suppression measures. On many issues – gay marriage, reproductive rights, personal privacy, religious intrusion in public schools – the ACLU has won significant court victories. This track record has historically restrained attacks on civil liberties, due to the knowledge that the ACLU will contest and has an excellent chance of prevailing over sloppy efforts to chip away at civil liberties.

Lobbying is also about the broad power of public persuasion, because this has knock-on effects. The more people can be rallied in support of principled public policy, the easier it becomes to make it law. Through the 1970s and 80s, gay marriage was a political and social nonstarter. The ACLU supported gay people on this issue as a matter of principle – that gay couples should enjoy the same right to marry that their straight peers do. It took decades for a consensus in favor of this view to develop. Marijuana legalization has followed a similar trajectory and the ACLU has been active on this topic as well. Racial disparities in arrests and equity in reform remain contentious, especially as some states legalize possession and others, such as Mississippi, continue to send people to prison for possession of cannabis legally purchased in another state. The ACLU continues to lobby, litigate and advocate on behalf of people affected by draconian laws initiated by the “War on Drugs”.

https://www.aclu.org/aclu-accomplishments

Membership

It is clear that the bulk of the ACLU’s membership comes from the left side of the political spectrum. This is unsurprising given that support for civil liberties is far more prevalent on the left, which generally concerns itself with balance and fairness. The right doesn’t ignore civil liberties, but tends to focus on those perceived to maintain order and hierarchy, such as gun rights. There is also an economic component to this; the right seeks to conserve wealth, the left seeks to share it. To some degree, people are more drawn to those parts of the political spectrum that are consistent with their personal interests than ideas that are more broadly beneficial.

As Robert Heinlein observed, people are not rational animals, they are rationalizing animals – they start with an interest, then seek validation for it. It has also been observed that reality has a left-wing bias. Given the right’s departure from reality in recent years, this is not a high bar. The collective identity of the left, and thus of many ACLU members and supporters, relies on an evidence-based world view. This is particularly helpful in litigation, where evidence is everything. Ideology is all very well, but it remains aspirational unless evidence exists to validate it.

It is of course possible to fabricate evidence, provide misleading statistics, and bamboozle people into believing things that just aren’t so. This is why transparency, openness and peer review are also valued by the left as elements that act to moderate ideological extremes. The ACLU embraces and reflects these values because they are essential to upholding civil liberties. Many people understand and appreciate the curation of liberty. Less attention is paid to the ‘civil’ part of the ACLU’s name, but it’s vital. Civil is the root of civilized and civilization, an acceptance that living among others requires some tradeoffs – personal liberty must be balanced with the rights of others. There is no right to exploitation of others (which doesn’t stop some people from trying). To prevent it, people bind together in self-defense. This is the essence of the ACLU’s purpose, and is a key to attracting new members.

Total ACLU membership as of 2018 comes to 1.84 million. It received a significant boost in membership and funding following Donald Trump’s election in 2016, growing by 400,000 members. They come from a distinguished lineage of founders – Helen Keller was one – members and supporters, including Supreme Court justices Felix Frankfurter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, author Kurt Vonnegut, Salman Rushdie, W. Kamau Bell, Scott Turow, Neil Gaiman, Alyssa Milano, Barack Obama, Marlee Matlin, Harry Belafonte, Tom Hanks, Lewis Black, Tina Fey, Norman Lear, Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal, Emma Stone, Ben & Jerry (yes, the ice cream guys) and more.

There’s really no requirement for membership in the ACLU beyond making a modest donation. The primary theme in membership outreach has long been the defense of civil liberties. This has worked well over time because civil liberties are frequently challenged or encroached upon, making the need for defense plain and evident.

It is not, however, self-evident, and to this end the ACLU’s website goes into some detail about historical and contemporary challenges, how the ACLU has dealt with them and continues to do so. This meets the need to educate each new generation about what civil liberties are, why they matter, what we lose if they go away, and why preserving them requires continual active defense and support. Civil liberties are a foundational element of democracy. Without them, democracy is easily subverted.

This is a broadly effective strategy, but sometimes a confusing one when the ACLU takes up the defense of rights among groups that are widely reviled, as previously described. Cases based on principle have virtuous and admirable aspects. But they also sometimes hurt the organization’s reputation and do substantial damage to membership numbers and growth. Navigating this tricky space earns the ACLU both respect and intense criticism.

Evaluation and Recommendations

The ACLU is widely perceived as an effective litigator on behalf of civil rights. To a great extent it has earned that reputation, although it is subject to the vagaries of case selection, court composition, ideological leans of judges and circuits and public support. Pro-Con.org has an interesting examination of the ACLU’s track record before the Supreme Court between 1929-1999.

In earlier decades, with fewer cases, the ACLU won at least 68% of all its cases before the Court, up to 100% in 1939. In the 70s the ACLU became more active, taking on more cases, and the win average fell to ~50% and stayed there through 1999. Unfortunately an overall survey of the ACLU’s win/loss record in litigation since 2000 doesn’t seem to be available. The ACLU was instrumental in restraining Donald Trump’s efforts to undermine civil liberties, filing 56 lawsuits against his administration during their first year in office.

This includes shutting down a ban on transgender participation in the military, curbing efforts to implement a Muslim ban, delivering a win against voter suppression in North Carolina, prevailing in a 2015 case that legalized same-sex marriage and prosecuting a nationwide, state by state campaign aimed a preserving women’s right to choose regarding abortion. Given the current dominance of Trump-appointed right-wing justices on the Supreme Court, it’s not hard to forecast a drop in the number of winning cases. In terms of strategy going forward, the ACLU’s efforts are constrained by this reality; wins at the district and appeals level can be reversed at the Supreme Court.

The ACLU’s historic approach has focused on litigation, but in the current climate it may be prudent to expand its mandate to electoral politics – highlight candidates who support civil liberties, give them more exposure and support, encourage state affiliates to provide local endorsements, contribute to key campaigns, join with other related orgs in get-out-the-vote campaigns. Congress needs more progressive House members to expedite nominations of judges friendly to civil liberties. The ACLU can help activate members to vote for candidates who will get those judges through congressional approval quickly.

ACLU’s Greatest Hits https://web.archive.org/web/20120701045320/http://www.nhclu.org/ACLU-greatest-hits.php

ACLU accomplishments

https://www.looktothestars.org/charity/american-civil-liberties-union

Sources

  1. Liberties Union, American Civil. “ACLU Accomplishments.” American Civil Liberties Union. Accessed April 29, 2022. https://www.aclu.org/aclu-accomplishments
  2. Liberties Union, American Civil. “ACLU History.” American Civil Liberties Union. Accessed April 29, 2022. https://www.aclu.org/about/aclu-history
  3. Liberties Union, American Civil. “ACLU 2020 Annual Report” American Civil Liberties Union. Accessed April 29, 2022. https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/field_document/aclu_2020_annualreport.pdf
  4. Liberties Union, American Civil. “Defending Free Speech” American Civil Liberties Union. Accessed April 29, 2022. https://www.aclu.org/press-releases/aclu-statement-defending-free-speech-unpopular-organizations
  5. Liberties Union, American Civil. “Defending Speech We Hate” American Civil Liberties Union. Accessed April 29, 2022. https://www.aclu.org/news/civil-liberties/defending-speech-we-hate
  6. Liberties Union, American Civil. “Affiliates” American Civil Liberties Union. Accessed April 29, 2022. https://www.aclu.org/about/affiliates
  7. Liberties Union, American Civil. “Coalition Letter” American Civil Liberties Union. Accessed April 29, 2022. https://www.aclu.org/letter/coalition-letter-president-biden-transparency

Coalition partners

American Civil Liberties Union

Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University

American Immigration Council

American Oversight

Brooklyn Law Incubator & Policy Clinic

Campaign Legal Center

Center for Constitutional Rights

Center for Media and Democracy

Center for Responsive Politics

Civil Rights and Transparency Clinic, University at Buffalo School of Law

Common Cause

Cornell Law School First Amendment Clinic

Defending

Rights & Dissent

Demand Progress

Digital Democracy Project

Electronic Frontier Foundation

Electronic Privacy Information Center

Essential Information

Good Government Now

Good Jobs First

Government Accountability Project

Immigrant Legal Resource Center

International Documentary Association

International Refugee Assistance Project

Issue One

Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health

Mainers for Accountable Leadership

Media Freedom & Information Access Clinic

Michigan State University First Amendment Law Clinic

National Coalition Against Censorship

National Freedom of Information Coalition

National Immigration Law Center

National Immigration Litigation Alliance

National Security Archive

New Media Rights

Open The Government

PEN America

Project On Government Oversight

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Society of Professional Journalists

TechFreedom

The FOIA Project

Union of Concerned Scientists

  1. Conference, Leadership. “History.” The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, August 28, 2019. https://civilrights.org/about/history/
  2. Powell, Michael. “Once a Bastion of Free Speech, the A.C.L.U. Faces an Identity Crisis.” The New York Times. The New York Times, June 6, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/06/us/aclu-free-speech.html
  3. Con, Pro. “Batting Average of the ACLU in the US Supreme Court: ACLU: ProCon.org.” ACLU, March 25, 2022. https://aclu.procon.org/background-resources/batting-average-of-the-aclu-in-the-us-supreme-court/
  4. Reints, Renae. “The ACLU’s Membership Has Surged and It’s Putting Its New Resources to Use.” Fortune. Fortune, July 5, 2018. https://fortune.com/2018/07/05/aclu-membership-growth/

https://www.aclu.org/issues/free-speech/aclu-100-history-series

Successful Cases https://www.aclu.org/successes-american-civil-liberties-union

Budget https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/field_document/2020_aclu_form_990_public_disclosure_copy.pdf

Gallaudet University FY 2021 budget https://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/budget/budget21/justifications/m-gallaudet.pdf

Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights https://civilrights.org/about/history/ The ACLU and Citizens United https://www.aclu.org/other/aclu-and-citizens-united

Coalitions

A very basic search on “ACLU” at Google News makes it clear the organization is very active and relevant today. Just a sampling of stories returned on the first page of search on the evening of 3/12/22:

The ACLU sues to block Texas from investigating parents of trans youth https://www.npr.org/2022/03/01/1083822027/aclu-lawsuit-texas-parents-trans-transgender-minor-abbott



ACLU looking into ties between Hanover County School Board, Alliance Defending Freedom
https://augustafreepress.com/aclu-looking-into-ties-between-hanover-county-school-board-alliance-defending-freedom/



Two students and ACLU sue Missouri school district over removing 8 books from libraries
https://www.cnn.com/2022/02/18/us/missouri-aclu-banned-books-lawsuit/index.html



ACLU of New Hampshire: Drawing a line in the sand to protect abortion access
https://www.seacoastonline.com/story/opinion/columns/2022/03/12/aclu-nh-drawing-line-sand-protect-abortion-access/6992371001/

ACLU joins local lawyer to represent student punched repeatedly in viral video
https://www.8newsnow.com/news/local-news/aclu-joins-local-lawyer-to-represent-student-punched-repeatedly-in-viral-video/



ACLU Lawsuit Accuses ICE Jailers of Denying Detainees Vaccines
https://www.nytimes.com/live/2022/03/04/world/covid-19-tests-cases-vaccine



Once a Bastion of Free Speech, the A.C.L.U. Faces an Identity Crisis
 https://archive.ph/W1Uuq



ACLU of Maine sues state’s leal services system for poor defendants.
https://www.pressherald.com/2022/03/01/aclu-of-maine-files-lawsuit-against-the-states-attorney-system-for-poor-defendants/

EFF, ACLU and 30+ Community Groups Oppose Weakening of San Francisco’s Surveillance Ordinance.

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2022/02/eff-aclu-and-30-community-groups-oppose-weakening-san-franciscos-surveillance

ACLU sues Calvert County Sherriff challenging use of onerous fees to block disclosure of policing records https://southernmarylandchronicle.com/2022/03/07/aclu-sues-calvert-county-sheriff-challenging-use-of-onerous-fees-to-block-disclosure-of-policing-records/

Defense of Hate Speech https://www.aclu.org/news/civil-liberties/defending-speech-we-hate

Written by Influential Prose

December 16, 2022 at 12:04 am

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Hot Potato: Human Rights and Authoritarian Governance in Hong Kong

Kevin McLeod, Gov 370 Human Rights, 2019

In the decades before the American Civil War, Hong Kong was a small backwater, a farming and fishing town. At the time China was struggling with a drug problem, with the United Kingdom as the drug dealers. Chinese resistance to the opium trade sparked a war. The drug dealers won. Queen Victoria was irate when presented with Hong Kong as a spoil of the First Opium War, as she and her advisors didn’t see much value in it. But the marriage of the British legal system and Chinese entrepreneurs at a well-located port proved to be a potent combination, triggering rapid development and giving rise to a major international metropolis. Part of its growth was due to its role as a magnet for refugees from the mainland and wars elsewhere.

Political ferment in Hong Kong society is integral to its character as a democracy, truly part of its DNA. It has always lived in an uneasy limbo with colonial Britain, China and for nearly four years during WWII, Japan – happy to do business but wary of and sensitive to encroachments on rights. Hong Kong presented a soft target for Beijing; it was already mostly captured. Chris Patten, the UK’s last governor of Hong Kong, likens the new reality to an anaconda in the chandelier. It’s there, it’s watching and can strike at any time. [1]

In retrospect it seems incredible that a murder of passion in a Taiwan hotel room would lead to the destruction of Hong Kong as a democratic entity and fresh assertions of national power from Beijing. Protests against the extradition treaty that grew out of the murder case erupted in June 2019, but the city was simmering politically for years already.

Basic Law names universal suffrage as a goal, but in practice roadblocks against universal suffrage emerged from Beijing just two years after the handover and never stopped. Each time barriers arose to home-grown democracy, protests flared. As Jeffrey Wasserstrom put it in Vigil: Hong Kong on the Brink, “[Since the handover] every political battle has had to do with Beijing gaslighting on universal suffrage…democracy is and has always been the dominant issue in Hong Kong politics.” [2]

In 2012 14-year-old Joshua Wong and Angela Chow founded Scholarism in opposition to a proposed nationalized curriculum. They gained additional prominence during the 2014 Umbrella protests that were set off by efforts to change election laws in ways that would expand Beijing’s influence. The government waited out a peaceful occupation downtown that ran on for 79 days, then implemented changes anyway. This created a smoldering resentment among many citizens.

It also forged new bonds between the original democrats like Martin Lee, Emily Lau and Benny Tai with a new generation of protesters, exemplified by Wong, Chow and Nathan Law. Lee and Lau were there at the genesis of Basic Law; they helped write it. Benny Tai resisted Beijing’s effort to dilute it and got prison time for his efforts. Students see a fast erosion of rights coming on long before the expected expiration of Basic Law in 2047 and recognize that Hong Kong’s unique fusion of east and west will be lost under Beijing rule.

In 2015 China kidnapped five Causeway Bay booksellers to the mainland for distributing books that angered Beijing’s ruling class. They simply vanished from vacation homes or while out on errands, only to turn up in China months later. This flex of raw state power had its intended effect; Hong Kong’s civil libertarians were deeply unsettled.

In 2016 these tensions were stressed further by a governmental assault on a traditional New Year’s event involving street vendors in Mong Kok. Previously tolerated, the pretext was unlicensed vendors. The ferocity of the police sparked a riot since known as the Fishball Revolution. An increasing number of police beatings of high profile protesters further strained public trust.

The 2019 protests were set off by the extradition treaty. This protest succeeded in killing the extradition treaty, but failed to achieve four other demands:

A commission of inquiry into alleged police brutality

Retracting the classification of protesters as “rioters”

Amnesty for arrested protesters

Universal suffrage

Protests in 2020 aimed to thwart the introduction of the National Security Law. This effort failed in the face of a well-funded paramilitary force tactically supported by Beijing and a coronavirus pandemic. It also made the 2019 victory moot, as extradition for trial in mainland courts is now fully legal. As Beijing scours down the remains of Basic Law, eventually the term extradition will no longer apply. Hong Kong courts will simply become Chinese courts.

I have in my possession a unique edition of Thomas Paine’s book Common Sense. The text is in both English and Cantonese.

Last year during the peak of protests in Hong Kong, I’d read prisoners were entitled to books. Didn’t know anyone personally in HK, but knew of someone who would know who could make use of the book. So I sent it to Tom Grundy, the co-founder of Hong Kong Free Press.

After a couple of months went by, I emailed to ask if the book arrived. Tom responded. It had. He couldn’t forward it to anyone because, as a representative of a publication, he needed to remain neutral. He offered to send it back. I accepted. He did.

Common Sense isn’t just any book; it’s a clear and compelling call to revolution, a point by point examination of why independence is important. While a tense confrontation over existing civil liberties was playing out in the streets, I had impulsively and naively handed Tom a hot potato.

A year later, Beijing handed the world a new hot potato. Any violation of the National Security Law is forbidden globally. This has interesting implications for all forms of media.

We can of course dismiss China’s declaration of global hegemony regarding some speech as unenforceable in much of the world. As a practical matter that is the case.

Beijing knows this. The point is to remind us of its growing aspirations and power and to create risk for its citizens abroad.

The hot potato is not China, not the CCP, not the NSL, not Hong Kong.

It’s authoritarian governance itself. It’s governance devoid of civil rights, of collective insecurity stemming from decisions made by others with no legal or practical recourse or remedy. Where communications are controlled, open discussion is suppressed, curriculums are politicized, certain songs are forbidden and books are removed from libraries. It’s ultimately any form of governance that treats people as units of value to be extracted for other purposes.

Authoritarian governance occurs in hybrid form in the West wherever a culture’s police show a friendly face to some populations and a menacing face to others out of proportion with their behavior. It occurs when a legal system issues inconsistent sentencing for comparable crimes between populations. It occurs in faiths that demand adherence and attempt to curtail ordinary behavior. It occurs in highly hierarchical business workplaces, schools, military organizations.

There are, in short, forms of authoritarian governance all around us. We accept these arrangements to some extent because we recognize there are conditions and situations where discussion and debate must end, decisions must be made, actions taken. We accept a state monopoly on the use of power because we understand free-for-all armed conflicts don’t generally end well.

The West is already familiar with a measure of authoritarian governance in everyday circumstances. It it reasonable to consider it a hot potato? Isn’t it just an escalation and expansion of a devil we already know? A difference in degree rather than kind?

It’s a difference of degree with a phase change, similar to a high mountain tree line. It’s trees all the way up the mountainside, until…they aren’t. At a certain level, the environment needed to sustain civil and human rights ends. Below that level they can thrive and vary in kind and form. Above it, they cease to exist. In terms of human rights, much of China and most especially the Ugygur region is high above the treeline. “Rights” remain contingent in a court system where 99 percent of prosecutions end in convictions. [3].

We accept confinement in small spaces for limited periods voluntarily for specific purposes – riding or driving a car, taking a shower, taking an elevator – but that’s not how we would choose to live. Similarly, we can treat authoritarian behavior management as a tool for special circumstances and purposes, but it’s not how we would choose to live.

The ability to choose is the key distinction between China and the West. On an individual level people in China retain significant autonomy and make choices throughout their lives. But the boundaries around those choices become increasingly firm and restrictive as they intersect with the interests and aims of the State. Expressions of dissent in particular are systematically suppressed, carrying risk of severe penalties. Governance has limited accountability at the village level and becomes less accountable at higher levels of hierarchy.

China has demonstrated that authoritarian governance can scale. The challenges of getting 1.3 billion people to live together, cooperate and engage in productive work are substantial. So in fairness we must ask – at larger scales, does authoritarian governance function better than personal autonomy?

It’s true that urban areas generally require more rules and regulations than a rural area to maintain the peace, but it’s a tradeoff urban residents are willing to make for the richness and diversity that a major metro area can provide. It doesn’t seem to be a problem for 10.5 million people in the democratic Tokyo region. If Japan can make democracy work in a massively dense environment, China can too.

China’s Confucian-infused culture values conformity and harmony over autonomy. It’s a core value in education, social and legal expectations. In and of itself that can be a reasonable choice. But as the competitive beings we are, there’s always someone getting more harmony and autonomy than most.

Events in Hong Kong presented the world with a real-time view of authoritarian governance and an organic counter-revolution opposed to it. The new ingredient is modern surveillance capabilities, which enables construction of datasets on individual and group movements and insights into relationships. The elimination of civil rights through the National Security Law exposes the vulnerability of any metro area anywhere. Hong Kong is home to 7.5 million people. Within the space of a single year, from the time of a highly publicized march of two million protesters through downtown Hong Kong to the introduction of the NSL, the city was subdued by a police force of about 35,000. [4]

American fans of the 2nd Amendment will be quick to point out this happened with an unarmed population. Can an armed population in contest with a highly militarized police force equipped with extensive range of surveillance options prevail? Or would the end result of occupation be the same, but with a bloodbath first?

While Hong Kong was still a British colony in the mid-80s, the concept of functional constituencies came into vogue. These were seats within the legislature intended to represent business and industry. Rather than go through a dance of lobbying and bribing, they get a seat at the table and proximity to other legislators. The practice opened in 1985 with 11 functional constituencies.

At the time of the handover to China, that number had grown to 28. The functional constituencies choose 30 seats of a total of 70 in the Legislative Council (LegCo). In some of these constituencies, the only eligible voters are actually corporations. For those seats, there’s no grassroots vote at all. It’s corporations selecting a corporate representative. The shell of an FC also provides insulation from public criticism. Policy behind those votes is drafted privately and the representative is expected to vote as their constituency desires.

Only 40 seats are directly elected by individual voters.

Before any election begins, business interests already own 43% of the vote. From that springboard, reaching majority support only requires an additional 8% of support from other legislators. The existing system is optimized to serve business interests, a model of regulatory capture.

As long as rule of law and a functional court system exists, these conditions are negotiable and subject to change. But now Beijing changes the terms. “Rule of law” is arbitrary and courts answer to Beijing. There is still a LegCo, and there are still democrats in it, with more preparing to run for additional seats. But Beijing can and will look at the math and disqualify enough of those candidates to assure they retain a majority.[5] Not for the first time. The form and facade of democracy remains, but as long as Beijing holds veto power over who can run for office, it’s no longer democracy.

LegCo increasingly resembles The National People’s Congress. Tim Hamlett of the Hong Kong Free Press describes it with biting sarcasm:

“The National People’s Congress is often described as “China’s rubber-stamp parliament.” This is inaccurate. It has none of the attributes of a parliament and does none of the things which parliaments do. It does not debate, it does not scrutinise, it does not supervise the executive, it does not control public expenditure. Its meetings resemble the traditional annual ceremony in which Ming emperors used to placate the Gods to ensure a bountiful harvest, and have about as much practical significance.” [6]

LegCo was already heavily slanted toward preserving the status quo and limiting public influence. People understood this during the 2014 Umbrella protest. It’s now a puppetlegislature with a handful of dissenters. Accountability has achieved escape velocity, with dim prospects of returning under current leadership.

Hong Kong’s rebellious population is a product of its history; its reputation as a freewheeling colony and business nexus with the West made Hong Kong the go-to place for mainlanders seeking more autonomy. It didn’t take long after the handover for discontent to form and spread, for protests to appear with greater frequency and intensity. The twin pressures of crushing cost of living and endangered civil rights brought matters to a head.

The U.S. also has serious issues with policing, mass incarceration and a “justice” system that regularly prompts protests and riots. These problems and the painful process of confronting them plays out in public. It’s messy, chaotic, incremental and slow. But it happens. The democratic West deliberately commits to the harder path of greater accountability and transparency. That’s what voting is about. Citizens get a say in how things are done, consensus is formed, laws are passed and society moves on to the next problem.

Authoritarian governance doesn’t do this. While Western nations fight among themselves and spend enormous sums on military capacity, China invests in growth. Authoritarian rule is efficient. Business likes efficiency. Where their interests converge, human and civil rights face hard times.

We are in a fraught period, with an erratic U.S. leader making unsubstantiated charges and prosecuting a trade war while human rights abuses continue in China. This creates difficulties for American firms doing or seeking to do business in China. They would prefer to overlook human rights issues on the way to the bank and have largely done so. Apple’s iPhone production is heavily reliant on Foxconn, a Chinese firm, and Telsa has a major manufacturing plant in Shanghai. China is the world’s manufacturing hub for a variety of key products, including medicines.

Accountability in governance serves an essential function: feedback. Public officials insulated from feedback can easily make decisions that hurt others through oversight, ignorance or intention. Democracy is an attempt to make an alloy of accountability and governance. While the mechanics of democracy varies between nations, it is generally structured to ensure that citizens can register objections and signal satisfaction.

But feedback alone is not enough. For a democracy to remain healthy, the power of voters must have teeth. Votes determine whether public officials retain power. As such, public officials indifferent to public interests tend to lose – that’s the goal, at least. The reality is that democracy, like any other governance system, is gamed. Particularly where propaganda thrives. Because terms of office run for years, voting is a coarse filter. Democracy requires deliberation, which requires delay even when it works well. This structural inefficiency becomes gridlock in highly partisan conditions.

China lacks a bottom-up form of feedback. The CCP does have a community village system at the base of a larger political network, and the culture stresses cooperation. But accountability decreases as position in the hierarchy increases. The people working the village leadership roles on the front line are the most accountable; their constituents are their neighbors. Carrie Lam? Hong Kong police? Xi? Accountable? That ship has sailed.

Lack of accountability bakes in corruption. There will always be some daring and opportunistic people in any field that demands intellectual or emotional intelligence. Some of those people will game the system to their advantage, wherever they are, if they can. A space with little to no accountability is ripe for exploitation. This is China’s central governance problem.

Accountability is a fundamental gauge of freedom – you only have as much freedom as you have insight into your governance. To some extent that function is fulfilled by mass media and social media, in ways both helpful and harmful. We get accounts directly from the people involved, which can ricochet in unexpected ways.

But those ricochets are muted in mainland China by heavily monitored and routinely censored mass/social media. Filtering what the public sees means accountability goes away. The Great Firewall is to this time what the Berlin Wall was in the past, symbolic of a fundamental difference. The Great Firewall functions as an immunity system against accountability.

China is using automation in impose systemic accountability at the individual level through required phone apps and facial recognition systems. They now have complete population accountability – but in one direction. Xi remains unaccountable to anyone, and is very well positioned to extinguish dissent. More so than anyone has ever been.

On the scale of China’s development to date, Hong Kong is one of many middling-large cities. Its main significance is financial and cultural. Hong Kong’s culture of accountability is met with hostility and suspicion in Beijing. Hong Kong’s preference for free speech and rule of law only remained tolerable to mainland leadership while they could wall it off sufficiently. As the world becomes more closely networked, dissent can leak through the Great Firewall. China’s solution is to move Hong Kong within the firewall and impose one-way individual accountability on the entire population. That’s happening now.

Organic Chinese resistance to the CCP exists in a high-density matrix of surveillance. They work within a system where AI can be deployed by the state to discern behavioral and movement patterns of interest to the state. A security state is not accountable to the people for its actions.

Events in Hong Kong have opened a new Pandora’s Box. China demonstrated to the world its willingness to abrogate a commitment with the West and revealed much about the power of a police state equipped with modern technologies. It has unleashed authoritarian governance on a population that dared to demand autonomy. With the passage of the National Security Law, the Hong Kong diaspora has begun; the best and brightest of a generation who fought in the streets and stormed the LegCo to retain their civil and human rights must go elsewhere to enjoy them.

Beijing unilaterally altered the terms of the handover deal with the UK, and it remains to be seen if this comes back to haunt them. China’s economic growth and development was not significantly hampered by the 1989 Tienanmen Square massacre, regaining momentum despite international condemnation and arms embargos. In HK there was considerable concern that use of force might repeat. It did – not as intensely as the June Fourth incident, but sufficient to trigger a brain drain from the city.

There are generational differences in how Hong Kongers view the protests, informed by the stories of their time. Older generations of Hong Kongers see analogies between the CCP and George Orwell’s dystopian 1984. Another generation sees in the story of the Titanic ship an analogue with people ignoring politics and attempting to conduct their lives as usual amid a life & death crisis for democracy. A young observer sees elements of the Hunger Games, with peasants and upper classes in continual conflict. The street fights between Hong Kongers and police included many young women who took inspiration from the film’s lead character Katniss. They also related to a central theme in the film; “If we burn, you burn with us”, hinting at the ferocity of response that an armed occupation or Tienanmen 2.0 could provoke. [5]

Languages, and the cultures associated with them, have organic sovereignty. If you don’t know the language, you can’t access the culture. Geographic sovereignty tends to map to the dominant local language and culture.

Pre-internet, countries had a high degree of informational sovereignty as a natural effect of linguistic barriers. Translations for widely useful or valued media were sometimes available, but this traffic traversed a narrow and limited pipeline between large cultural islands. It could not convey what immersion in the culture can. Today culture is portable, no longer tied to specific regions. Internet access makes media from any culture and any language available to any location via net access (with the possible exception of the Amish). Linguistic barriers remain, but the advent of improving automated translation makes them more of a speed bump than the mountains they once were.

This new real-time networked world is disrupting old narratives. Things people learned as children are revealed to be more complicated than they knew. These are wrenching changes, generating friction as people attempt to pick out truth in a pile of explanation, error, disinformation and confusion. This process is underway in the West.

Behind the Great Firewall the cultural zeitgeist is colored by two highly successful “Wolf Warrior” films depicting Chinese military heroism. The term has become a blanket reference to aggressive pro-Beijing rowdies who disrupt forums critical of China. [8]. Xi has adopted a confident nationalist view and now pursues it aggressively in the South China Sea. This view informs all state media, which dominates the available options.

Information access is central to the ability to make choices. Authoritarian governance strives to control information flow. The tools to maintain that control are better today than they’ve ever been.

The tools and decentralization needed to maintain open communications are also better than they’ve ever been. We are in truly uncharted territory. The existence and growth of a global nervous system is altering the fabric of multiple cultures all at once. It is knitting some of them together more firmly, driving others further apart, and realigning alliances within cultures. The broad, unfiltered reach and scope of online access shows us humanity as it truly is more clearly than we could possibly have before. We see much to condemn from this new vantage point, but there are positive and hopeful developments too.

Humanity has gotten better at functioning on a live-and-let-live basis, an improvement over the prior kill-or-be-killed pattern. Live and let live means nations refrain from overt criticism of each other’s governance practices even when some of those practices are horrendous. This facilitates business. Human and civil rights, not so much. If a nation engages in organ harvesting or beheading or state-sponsored executions or human trafficking, the tendency has been to look another way. As a practical matter trying to police practices in another culture often fails. The other culture reacts to it as an intrusion of their way of life. Deep cultural change has to come from within.

We are seeing the internet fragment into various schemes of moderation and censorship. The aftermath may see the world split and separate, not by language or culture, but by free information access. South Koreans have it; North Koreans don’t. That divide is widening everywhere.

Live and let live enables cultures at different levels of progress to work together. It’s imperfect, but it’s a step toward the next level; a space where cultures mix and match, react and connect. As the social fabric changes globally, the opportunities for re-thinking governance are rich – if authoritarians can be leashed.

Education is the key that unlocks the human and civil rights level of existence. Human rights are values that must be taught, given precedence, respect and universal application. They require defense and an understanding of why they matter. Active, ongoing maintenance – work! – is essential to sustaining these values. It is not a passive system that can withstand long periods of neglect or abuse.

We neglect this work at our peril.

References

[1] Piscatella, J. (Director) Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower [Documentary]. Netflix.

[2] Wasserstrom, J. (2020) Vigil: Hong Kong on the Brink. Columbia Global Reports.

[3] Taylor, J. (2020 July 3) Five ways Hong Kong has changed under China’s security law. AFP. https://news.yahoo.com/five-ways-hong-kong-changed-under-chinas-security-020643159.html

[4] Hong Kong Police Force Budget (2019) Changes in the size of the establishment [figure] https://www.budget.gov.hk/2019/eng/pdf/head122.pdf

[5] Apparently the math is 12. That’s how many were disqualified, including Joshua Wong.

Griffith, J (2020, July 30) Joshua Wong among multiple Hong Kong pro-democracy candidates disqualified from upcoming election. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/30/asia/hong-kong-election-disqualified-intl-hnk/index.html

[6] Hamlett, T (2020 July 18) Hong Kong’s national insecurity law and the problem with the primary elections. Hong Kong Free Press. https://hongkongfp.com/2020/07/18/hong-kongs-national-insecurity-law-and-the-problem-with-the-primary-elections/

[5] Wasserstrom, 2020

[8] Clancy, N. (Producer) Enemy of the State [Documentary]. 60 Minutes Australia.

Written by Influential Prose

December 15, 2022 at 11:22 pm

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