From the end of World War II to the start of the "global war on terror," international law provided crucial support for the promotion of human rights around the world. But the response to the September 11 attacks has had a profound and little-appreciated impact on international law with devastating global consequences for human rights, democracy, and constitutionalism. The Bush administration did not just persuade Congress to pass the USA Patriot Act, eliminating critical civil-liberties protections against excessive governmental powers. U.S. officials also mobilized the United Nations Security Council to require all U.N.
The abuse of the Constitution that followed September 11, 2001, was neither surprising nor inevitable. It was not a surprise, because it wasn't the first time in American history—but the sixth, by my count—that fundamental rights had been violated during spasms of fear over national security. It was not inevitable, because prominent voices might have called the country back to its principles. There is no telling whether such appeals would have stood against the tide, but one man's words did make a difference in the emergency command center at FBI headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue several hours after the attacks.
In August 1966, a few years after his historic march on Washington, Gallup polled the country on their views of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Thirty-three percent of Americans held a favorable view of the civil-rights leader, compared to the 66 percent who weren't thrilled with his actions on the public stage.
One morning, my uncle arrived at his family medical practice in Toledo, Ohio, to find threats on his answering machine. A muffled voice greeted him with a string of expletives before warning that there would be consequences if he didn't "get the hell out of here." In the 30 years since Uncle Doctor, as I called him, had emigrated from Pakistan to the United States, he had never been singled out for his nationality or religion. It was September 12, 2001, and the dust still hung heavy in Lower Manhattan. A similar message was waiting for him at home.
The public is overwhelmed by budget deficits, shrinking public supports, and the inability of its government to compromise. In this climate, so-called minority issues seem like a distraction. But black and Latino men between the ages of 16 and 24 are profoundly more likely to be poor than whites, more likely to be unemployed or the victims of violent crime, and less likely to graduate from high school. This hasn't changed since Lyndon Johnson first tried to address problems of racism and poverty, calling American Negroes "another nation: deprived of freedom, crippled by hatred, the doors of opportunity closed to hope." Forty years later, young black and Latino men remain in a state of crisis, yet government has been, on the whole, unresponsive.
Transgender people live with a bull's-eye on their back. Anyone who denies this fact -- so hard for some to swallow in the wake of recent victories on marriage equality and "don't ask, don't tell" for lesbian, gay, and bisexual people -- is due for a wake-up call. Today, the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) released "Injustice at Every Turn," a report based on the results of what is by far the country's largest transgender discrimination survey to date -- with 6,450 participants to the next largest study's 700.
In early December, at least five public-policy, law, and similar advanced-degree programs across the country sent out e-mails to their students warning them against reading and sharing information from the WikiLeaks website. Federal government employees and contractors were instructed in December not to read the still-classified information disclosed to WikiLeaks, leading to speculation that those who plan to apply for jobs requiring a security clearance should not access the website.
"I don't see race," begins a Stephen Colbert joke.
He continues, "People tell me I'm white, and I believe them, because I own a lot of Jimmy Buffett albums." The bit is funny because it takes the idea of "colorblindness" to an absurd degree. The idea that race, gender, class, and sexual orientation shouldn't determine your course through life -- that we're really all the same -- is nearly universally agreed upon.
Inmates at the Sierra Conservation Center, in Jamestown, California. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
The first time I encountered the idea that our criminal-justice system functions much like a racial caste system, I dismissed the notion. It was more than 10 years ago in Oakland when I was rushing to catch the bus and spotted a bright orange sign stapled to a telephone pole. It screamed in large, bold print: "The Drug War is the New Jim Crow." I scanned the text of the flyer and then muttered something like, "Yeah, the criminal-justice system is racist in many ways, but making such an absurd comparison doesn't help. People will just think you're crazy." I then hopped on the bus and headed to my new job as director of the Racial Justice Project for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.
Transportation Security Administration administrator John Pistole testifying on Capitol Hill yesterday (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)
The Transportation Security Agency's new airport passenger-screening procedures, which force airline passengers to submit to a full-body scan or an invasive frisk, is turning Dick Cheney’s biggest fans into latter-day Ben Franklins.
The conservative, torture-friendly Washington Times, declared that "a balance must be struck between reasonable security measures and the maintenance of a free society." Abu Ghraib was a fraternity prank, but getting frisked at the airport is a sign of, to quote the Times, "Big Sister's police state." Hatred of the TSA makes for strange bedfellows, with some conservatives now sounding like card-carrying members of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Antoine Dodson, whose reaction to an attack on his sister made him an Internet meme (AP Photo/Bob Farley)
In July 2000, then-Federal Communications Commission Chair William Kennard gave the keynote address at the international Supercomm conference for broadband service providers. Before an audience of people whose job it is to connect the whole wide world, Kennard called the rise of the Internet the "third greatest revolution in mankind's history," after agriculture and industry. "This latest ... revolution should be defined, first and foremost, by its power to unlock the potential of all of our people," he said, "by its power to educate our poorest children, to empower people with disabilities, to uplift impoverished rural and urban communities, and to repair and revitalize the fabric of our communities."
New Jersey State Sen. Barbara Buono, left, and parent David Zimmer, who holds up a copy of a photograph with the words, "Gay Must Die" that he said his son took at Ridgewood High School (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
After a rash of suicides by gay (or perceived to be gay) teenagers made national news this fall, sex columnist Dan Savage responded with an online video, recorded with his husband, telling gay teens that "It Gets Better." Savage encouraged other gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender adults to make videos about how they struggled as teens and howtheir lives improved. "Why are we waiting for permission to talk to these kids?" Savage asked. "We have the ability to talk directly to them right now." Thousands of people turned on their webcams and recorded responses.