Do they not also bleed?


The news media has widely reported the capture yesterday of the notorious Bosnian Serb war criminal, Ratko Mladic, wanted for his leadership role in the massacre of 7,500 men and boys from the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in July 1995.  He will now be handed-over to the International Criminal Tribunal to face trial.  It’s justice long overdue.

Concurrently, yesterday saw the capture of one of history’s worst mass killers since Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, and yet it’s a story you have to search for diligently, since it’s been so grievously under reported by Western newspapers in their callous, ethnocentric dismissal of third world people. Do they not value their own lives, too?

In any event, the UN announced yesterday the arrest of 52 year old Bernard Munyagishari in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  He was wanted for genocide and crimes against humanity in Rwanda in 1994.  Bad as Mladic’s crimes are, they pale in the context of Munyagishari’s chilling machete bloodbaths, resulting in the massacre of 800,000 Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus in 1994, while the Western world and Africa itself looked the other way.  Obviously, white, European Yugoslavia and African politics were in play, not the black members of a minority tribe in a distant country once colonized by the Belgians.  Former President Clinton, however, did recently express regret for his administration having looked the other way and the American government has been offering a 5 million dollar reward for information leading to his capture.

A former teacher and soccer coach, Munyagishari  became the major leader of the Hutu militias that carried out the genocide taking place in just 100 days between April and June 1994. He also co-founded the Interahamwe, a militia whom he stocked with weapons.  Their specific mission was to capture, rape, then murder Tutsi women.

Munyagishari will be extradited to Tanzania, where he will stand trial before the Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).  Since 1994, it has rendered 46 judgments, with 8 acquitted and 9 under appeal.  Recently it sentenced army general Augustin Bizimungu to a 30-year term for preparing lists of Tutsis to be executed.  Unfortunately, there are still nine other major players being sought, among them Felicien Kabuga, a financier at the time.  A number of Hutu militia may have emigrated to Canada.

It’s been 17-years, confirming that often the wheels of justice grind slowly and, alas, sometimes not at all.  What sticks in my throat, however, is our frequent Western indifference and ignorance, for  cruelty has no border.  I remember the poet Yeats’ trenchant observation of volatile contemporary life:  “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”  We are all brothers and sisters, whatever our color, ethnicity, religion, or politics.  The horrors of Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo retain their indelible wounds and cry out for justice, but do those of the third world bleed any less?

Do nothing Congress: let’s hope


While at the vet office this morning having our cat’s nails trimmed, l picked up the local paper and read the front page national news story:  “New report warns social security and Medicare could run out of money even earlier than feared.”  I’m of course, as you are, well aware of the media’s capacity for alarmist reporting.  Anyway, what a lousy way to start off a Saturday meant for more pleasant things like doing some gardening or watching the Red-Sox-Yankee volatile match-up. 

Still, this matter of our nation’s financial ills, how it all happened, and what we might do to preempt its becoming a contagion is serious business that we can’t simply ignore without putting ourselves at considerable risk for a precarious future of escalating expenses concurrent with diminishing income.  Today’s news story only underscores our economic cancer.  We may not be able to even sustain two enormously successful entitlement programs:  Social Security and Medicare, both of which are now projected to be depleted by 2036, or a year earlier than anticipated. 

As to Medicare, representative Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) has unleashed a storm of controversy, proposing to slash 5.8 trillion in federal spending over the next decade.  Presently, and this is real sticker shock, our federal deficit is 14.3 trillion!  Ryan’s linchpins focus on revamping Medicare and Social Security.  Medicare recipients would receive vouchers to help pay their medical costs.  It’s conceivable that Medicare patients might ultimately fork-out 68% of their costs, versus 25% at present.

Right now, cutting back on entitlements is a brave thing to do, fraught with controversy, and perhaps so frightening to public constituencies that Republicans may have assured Obama’s second term in a landslide.  Almost by way of hypocrisy,  even the Tea Party, whose focus is reducing government taxes through reduced spending, bristles at the idea of cutting back on Medicare and Social Security, a recent poll indicating that 70% of them are opposed to such measures.

As it stands right now, we have several unpleasant options:

  Increase payroll taxes for both programs and remove the current salary cap for Social Security, presently set at $106,900.  Republicans are adamantly opposed.  Democrats also are reluctant, except for the President’s proposal to levy a 2% increase on incomes above $250,000.  One problem here:  in running for his first term, Obama pledged he wouldn’t raise taxes on those making less than $250,000.

 Cut benefits.  In order to keep these programs solvent, some have said that cutbacks in Social Security, for example, need to be made in the 15% range.  This is doubtless DOA.

Ironically, the Republicans (and I write as an Independent) are responsible for a good deal of the budget debacle.  House Speaker John Boehner has recently said that “if the President begins the discussion by saying we must increase taxes on the American people–as his budget does–my response will be clear:  tax increases are unacceptable and are a nonstarter.”  (The President is actually proposing an increase on just 2% of wage earners.)

Laurence Mitchell of the Economic Policy Institute, hits the nail on the head, commenting that “In a way, all of this debate, all of this bravery is largely about paying for the Bush tax cuts.”  The facts are that keeping the George W. Bush cuts through 2018 will cost 4.4 trillion in revenue with its reduction of the top marginal rate from 39.6 to 35%. 

Of course if the Congress does nothing about revenue, the Bush cuts will expire at the end of 2012, resulting in 75% of the deficit problem being erased over the next five years, according to David Leonard (“Do-Nothing Congress as a Cure.”  New York Times, Apr. 13, 2011).  Hey, that’s not a bad thing!

I personally think we should all–not just the wealthy–pay a fair share in taxes, and I don’t like the Obama political game of playing one economic class against another.  As I pointed out in an earlier entry (April 18), 40% of Americans pay no federal tax at all, apart from  payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare.

There’s no free lunch!  We all pay our share or we all sink together.

On the dilemmas of being a woman

You may have seen the recent news out of Bangladesh of the death of a 14-year old girl as a consequence of a public lashing meted out by community leaders applying Shakira law.  Hena Begum had complained she had been raped by her 40-year old married cousin, who later fled. Collapsing at the 70th lash of  the 120 designated. she died a short time later. 
The UN Population Fund suggests that up to 5000 women are victims of honor killings annually, but doesn’t specify Muslim perpetrators.  This is important because the truth is that violence against women transcends all ethnicities and economic denominators.  In our own country, the FBI’s Expanded Homicide Data of 2008 records 14,180 murders in the U. S., of which 930 were women and girls murdered by a family member.
But let’s also talk about rape.  Nearly 18 percent of American women have been raped or been victims of  a rape attempt, 22 %  of them under the age of 12 (Violence Against Women Survey, 2000).  The numbers are actually much higher.  Only 37 percent of victims report their rape to local police, according to the FBI.  Shockingly, only 1 of 20 rapists serves even a day in jail (Victimization Survey, 2005). 
Upwards of 50,000 women and children are trafficked into the U. S. annually for  sexual exploitation or forced labor (CIA, 2000).  Alas, slavery didn’t cease with the end of the Civil War, not for women at least.  Worldwide, 1 million children , mostly girls, enter into the sex trade annually (UNICEF).
Internationally, there exist selective abortion, infanticide, and neglect, mostly in Asian nations, resulting in some 60 million females having been denied life (UN Study on the Status of Women, 2000).
Genital mutilation is common in Africa and there women suffer a much higher rated of HIV incidence than males (UNICEF and UNAIDS, 2007).
In the undeveloped nations, many women are  denied access to education and its corollaries:  economic independence and smaller families.  In Afghanistan, the Taliban have aggressively destroyed schools set up to provide education access to girls.
Economic discrimination against women, both in the U. S. and abroad, abounds.  You can almost bet on it that whenever women are the majority work-force in places such as schools, fast food restaurants, and block stores, it will result in low wages.  There are exceptions such as in nursing and auto plants, thanks to a critical shortage and/or strong unions. It’s going to be really interesting how the present Wal-Mart discrimination suit before the U. S. Supreme Court turns out.
I haven’t  talked about the marriage and relationship sectors, where often as not, the woman performs double duty in holding-down a full-time job, then returning home to resume care of the children, cooking, and other domestic needs.  I know too many men who see women as primarily bedmates, mommies, and cooks.  Men tend to put looks high on their priority scale for a partner; women, less so, preferring sensitivity and intelligence.  Is it any wonder?
Mistreating women has been an endemic feature of male cultural history, whether  religious, political, economic, or domestic..  Unfortunately, we live in a world where those perceived as weak are continuously exploited:  women, children and animals.  For those of us who care, our challenge is to empower “earth’s disinherited” through protest, legislation, education, and economic sanction.  The struggle isn’t easy and the road is long, but every journey begins with the first step.


Why I like Natalie Portman


I confess to being a fan of Natalie Portman, Academy Award winner for her performance in Black Swan. Let me count the reasons why:

She’s a very good actress:  At age 13, she starred in the French film, Leon.  In 1997,  she played Anne Frank in the Broadway rendition.  In 2005, she won a Golden Globe Award  and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in Closer. This present year has seen spectacular successes:  a Golden Globes Award, Screen Actors Guild Award, BAFTA Award, and Academy Award for her stellar role in Black Swan.

I admire her intelligence:  After all, we’re talking about a Harvard graduate in psychology.  I like how she put it in a New York Post interview:  “I’d rather be smart than a movie star.”  She been a guest lecturer at Columbia. A lover of languages, she’s fluent  in English, French and Hebrew and has also studied Arabic, Japanese and German.  She’s taken graduate courses at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  She’s also published professional articles in leading science journals.

I like her political beliefs:  She is a Democrat who campaigned for John Kerry in 2004, for Hillary Clinton in the New York primary, and Obama in 2008. 

I admire her social activism:  She’s devoted herself to helping eliminate poverty, traveling to Africa and Latin America to advocate micro-lending, a program to assist women in financing their own businesses.  She’s also spoken for this cause at several leading American universities.

I identify with her religious views:  In an interview with Rolling Stone (2006), She commented on whether there’s an afterlife, “I don’t believe in that. I believe this is it, and I believe it’s the best way to live.”  Although committed to her Jewish heritage (she’s a dual citizen of the U. S. and Israel), she thinks that good character and partnership are the primary staples in a love relationship.

I’m enthusiastic about her views on animals and vegetarianism:  Since childhood, she’s been committed to vegetarianism and became a vegan in 2009 after reading Safran Foer’s classic, Eating Animals.  She doesn’t wear furs, feathers or leather.  In 2007, she started her own  franchise for vegan footwear and in the same year participated in the filming of the documentary, Gorillas on the Brink in Rwanda.

She’s just plain nice to look at:  Need I say more?

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