Thursday, February 26, 2009

seeking honesty about "race" bias in america

Op-Ed Columnist

A Nation of Cowards

Published: February 20, 2009

This began as a relatively quiet Black History Month. The biggest highlight was a 72-year-old former Klansman scratching “apologize to John Lewis for beating him up” off his bucket list.

Skip to next paragraph
Earl Wilson/The New York Times

Charles M. Blow

Then came Attorney General Eric Holder’s scathing comments about America being “a nation of cowards” because we don’t have “frank” conversations about race. That got a lot of attention.

I take exception to Holder’s language, but not his line of reasoning. Calling people cowards is counterproductive. It turns the conversation into a confrontation — moving it beyond the breach of true dialogue and the pale of real understanding.

That said, frank conversations are always welcomed. But, before we start, it might be helpful to have a better understanding of the breadth and nature of racial bias.

According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released last month, twice as many blacks as whites thought racism was a big problem in this country, while twice as many whites as blacks thought that blacks had achieved racial equality.

Furthermore, according to a 2003 Gallup poll, two in five of blacks said that they felt discriminated against at least once a month, and one in five felt discriminated against every day. But, a CNN poll from last January found that 72 percent of whites thought that blacks overestimated the amount of discrimination against them, while 82 percent of blacks thought that whites underestimated the amount of discrimination against blacks.

What explains this wide discrepancy? One factor could be that most whites harbor a hidden racial bias that many are unaware of and don’t consciously agree with.

Project Implicit, a virtual laboratory maintained by Harvard, the University of Washington and the University of Virginia, has administered hundreds of thousands of online tests designed to detect hidden racial biases. In tests taken from 2000 to 2006, they found that three-quarters of whites have an implicit pro-white/anti-black bias. (Blacks showed racial biases, too, but unlike whites, they split about evenly between pro-black and pro-white. And, blacks were the most likely of all races to exhibit no bias at all.) In addition, a 2006 study by Harvard researchers published in the journal Psychological Science used these tests to show how this implicit bias is present in white children as young as 6 years old, and how it stays constant into adulthood.

(You can take the test yourself.)

So why do so many people have this anti-black bias?

I called Brian Nosek, an associate professor in psychology at the University of Virginia and the director of Project Implicit, to find out. According to him, our brains automatically make associations based on our experiences and the information we receive, whether we consciously agree with those associations or not. He said that many egalitarian test-takers were shown to have an implicit anti-black bias, much to their chagrin. Professor Nosek took the test himself, and even he showed a pro-white/anti-black bias. Basically, our brains have a mind of their own.

This bias can seep into our everyday lives in insidious ways. For example, a paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association in October found that many white doctors also had an implicit pro-white/anti-black bias, while black doctors showed almost no bias for one race or the other. The paper suggested that these biases may contribute to the unequal treatment of blacks, and that doctors may not even be conscious of it.

Can we eradicate this implicit bias? Maybe.

According to a Brown University and University of Victoria study that was published last month in the online journal PLoS One, researchers were able to ameliorate white’s racial biases by teaching them to distinguish black peoples’ faces from one another. Basically, seeing black people as individuals diminished white peoples’ discrimination. Imagine that.

Now that we know this, are we ready to talk? Maybe not yet. Talking frankly about race is still hard because it’s confusing and uncomfortable.

First, white people don’t want to be labeled as prejudiced, so they work hard around blacks not to appear so. A study conducted by researchers at Tufts University and Harvard Business School and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that many whites — including those as young as 10 years old — are so worried about appearing prejudiced that they act colorblind around blacks, avoiding “talking about race, or even acknowledging racial difference,” even when race is germane. Interestingly, blacks thought that whites who did this were more prejudiced than those who didn’t.

Second, that work is exhausting. A 2007 study by researchers at Northwestern and Princeton that was published in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science found that interracial interactions leave whites both “cognitively and emotionally” drained because they are trying not to be perceived as prejudiced.

The fear of offending isn’t necessarily cowardice, nor is a failure to acknowledge a bias that you don’t know that you have, but they are impediments. We have to forget about who’s a coward and who’s brave, about who feels offended and who gets blamed. Let’s focus on the facts, and let’s just talk.

I invite you to visit my blog, By the Numbers. Please also join me on Facebook, and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tell Your Senators: Support Obama Administration's Israeli-Palestinian Peace Efforts

Deadline for Senate Sign-on Letter to Sec. Clinton this Friday Feb 27 at Noon

Next week Hillary Clinton will make her first visit as Secretary of State to Israel and the West Bank, another encouraging sign of the Obama Administration's commitment to Mideast peace diplomacy.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is circulating a letter that commends the Administration's efforts to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace and encourages Sec. Clinton to use her upcoming trip to help further this important goal. The text of the letter is below.

Ask your Senators to sign this letter expressing support for the Obama Administration's diplomatic efforts and urging Sec. Clinton to make the most of her Mideast trip next week to promote peace!

Senator Feinstein's letter cites the challenging situation on the ground, including "the continuing launching of rockets from Gaza into Israel, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and the ongoing challenge of formalizing an Israel-Hamas truce," which underscores the "importance of tenacious American leadership and engagement, now and in the future."

Secretary Clinton is scheduled to hold meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on March 3 and 4, after she attends a March 2 conference in Egypt on reconstruction in the Gaza Strip. Special Mideast Envoy Sen. George Mitchell heads to the region tomorrow and will join Clinton beginning in Egypt. An article in Israel's Haaretz reports today that Sec. Clinton "has relayed messages to Israel in the past week expressing anger at obstacles Israel is placing to the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip." According to the article these aid issues will be high on both Clinton and Mitchell's agenda.

The Obama Administration's efforts to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will need strong Congressional and public support to weather the difficult tasks ahead. Contact your Senators this week!


The deadline for Senator Feinstein's letter is this Friday, February 27 at noon.
Please contact your Senators and ask them to sign the Feinstein letter and send a strong message of support from the U.S. Senate for robust U.S. efforts to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Background Reading:

"Clinton warns Israel over delays in Gaza aid", Barak Ravid and Avi Issacharoff, Ha'aretz, February 25, 2009

"Clinton to visit Israel, West Bank", Reuters, February 23, 2009

"U.S. to pledge $900 million for Gaza rebuild",, February 23, 2009

Text of Letter:

February 2009

The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street,
NWWashington, D.C. 20520

Dear Secretary Clinton:

We are writing to applaud your decision to travel to Israel and the West Bank next week. Your trip sends another important signal of the Obama Administration's seriousness about dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Last month, while announcing Senator Mitchell's appointment as Special Middle East Peace Envoy, President Obama stated that "It will be the policy of my administration to actively and aggressively seek a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as Israel and its Arab neighbors."

At that same ceremony, you expressed your own commitment to Israel-Palestinian peace, noting that Senator Mitchell's mission will be to "lead our efforts to reinvigorate the process for achieving peace between Israel and its neighbors… [to] help us to develop an integrated strategy that defends the security of Israel, works to bring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that will result in two states, living side by side in peace and security, and to achieve further agreements to promote peace and security between Israel and its Arab neighbors" and "to support the objectives that the President and I believe are critical and pressing in Gaza, to develop a program for humanitarian aid and eventual reconstruction, working with the Palestinian Authority and Israel on behalf of those objectives."

We commend both you and President Obama for these statements and we urge you to use your upcoming visit to Israel and the West Bank to underscore your personal commitment, and that of President Obama, to Israel's security and to achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace. Both are vital U.S. national security interests that must not be neglected. The continuing launching of rockets from Gaza into Israel, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and the ongoing challenge of formalizing an Israel-Hamas truce, underscore the importance of tenacious American leadership and engagement, now and in the future.

Interesting Piece on the Death Penalty

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Urge companies to invest in renewable energy!

Burning coal is simply the dirtiest way we know of to make electricity. Coal power is one of America's biggest contributors to climate change, and every single coal plant currently in operation spews hundreds of thousands of tons of dangerous pollutants such as mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.

Click here to send an email to the power companies and urge them to invest in renewables and efficiency programs, not dirty coal.

With your help, we're starting to turn the tide.

Past actions have helped stop 57 new coal-fired power plants from moving past the planning stages. Special recognition is due to some courageous political leaders around our nation, such as Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, Charlie Crist of Florida, and Mark Sanford of South Carolina. But you're the ones who wrote to these governors, and others, and encouraged them to take bold stands — so thank you for your activism on this important issue.

During Mideast Trips, Members of Congress Visit Gaza, East Jerusalem

By Julie Schumacher Cohen, Legislative Director

Over the President's Day break last week, several Members of Congress headed to the Middle East. Detailed below are highlights from some of these trips, including stops in Israel and the Palestinian territories and most notably in Gaza, by Representatives Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Brian Baird (D-WA) and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA). Christian leaders and institutions in East Jerusalem, including Anglican Bishop Suheil Dawani and the Augusta Victoria Hospital run by the Lutheran World Federation, also received a number of visits by U.S. officials.

Churches for Middle East Peace has long been urging Representatives and Senators and their staff to visit both Israel and the Palestinian territories and to meet with the Palestinian Christian community. These recent trips reflect a welcome and growing recognition in Congress of the need to understand and address the needs of both Israelis and Palestinians in order to achieve a just and lasting resolution of the conflict.

Join CMEP in sending a note of thanks for these important Congressional visits to the Holy Land by clicking here.

Gaza Receives First U.S. Government Visitors in More Than Three YearsSince the election of Hamas, Gaza has not only seen a reduction in the steady flow of goods and materials, but the closure of Gaza's borders has also meant fewer visitors to the narrow Strip. A CMEP delegation in early December 2008 was unable to obtain permission from Israeli authorities to enter, two Palestinian Christian Bishops were blocked entry in January, and U.S. government officials have not toured Gaza in more than three years.

However, Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim-American member of Congress and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) and Senator John Kerry (D-MA), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, all visited the struggling Gaza Strip, in coordination with the U.N., during trips last week to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

All three Members of Congress also visited the Israeli town of Sderot which has suffered under a constant barrage of rocket fire in recent months and years. According to press reports, Sen. Kerry's visit included touring a destroyed American-style school and a neighborhood where dozens of homes had been flattened.

Kerry issued no formal statement but was quoted as saying that the trip was not an "indication of a change in policy. I am here to listen with the U.N. personnel on the ground to hear their assessment and to make personal judgment." However, given his leadership on foreign affairs in the Senate and his closeness to President Barack Obama, Kerry's visit received wide attention. One Israeli diplomat observed that while the Gaza visits may not indicate a different policy, they did signal a different attitude, reflecting Obama's philosophy that it is necessary to "go to different places and talk to many different people."

The visit of Representatives Ellison and Baird, which unlike Sen. Kerry's did not have the official sanction of the Obama Administration, enabled the two Members, according to a joint statement, to "view first-hand the destruction from recent Israeli air and ground attacks, and to meet with international and local relief agencies."

Both were deeply affected by what they saw and heard.

Rep. Baird said, "The amount of physical destruction and the depth of human suffering here is staggering…The personal stories of children being killed in their homes or schools; of entire families wiped out, and relief workers prevented from evacuating the wounded are heart wrenching. What went on here? And what is continuing to go on, is shocking and troubling beyond words."

Commenting on the current status of the flow of needed goods, Rep. Ellison said, "We are glad that President Obama acted quickly to send much needed humanitarian funding to Gaza for this effort. However, the arbitrary and unreasonable Israeli limitations on food, and repair and reconstruction materials are unacceptable and indefensible. People; innocent children, women and non-combatants, are going without water, food and sanitation, while the things they so desperately need are sitting in trucks at the border, being denied permission to go in."

Concluding their joint statement, Reps. Baird and Ellison emphasized that, "Just as the people of Gaza should not be subject to what they have experienced, the Israeli civilians should not have to live in fear of constant and indiscriminate rocketing."

They urged the region and the international community to "recommit itself to making the difficult but necessary changes to bring about lasting and just peace, and security for the region" and cited President Obama's "important and encouraging initiatives" including the appointment of Special Middle East Envoy Senator George Mitchell who they said, "will undoubtedly listen long to the aggrieved parties and then give advice accordingly."

Click here to view the full statement.

In East Jerusalem, U.S. Officials Meet with Palestinian Christian Leader, Visit Christian Institution

Prior to their historic visit to Gaza, Representatives Keith Ellison and Brian Baird also spent time in East Jerusalem, meeting with the Right Revered Dr. Suheil Dawani, the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, who was denied entry to Gaza just a couple of weeks ago when attempting to make a pastoral visit there. Bishop Dawani had invited the two Members to visit him at St. George's Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem when he met them at the "2009 U.S. Islamic World Forum - Common Challenges" in Doha, Qatar.

According to a press release, "Bishop Dawani briefed the two Congressmen on the work and mission of the Diocese and its active involvement in Ecumenical and interfaith endeavors."

Ellison and Baird also visited the Augusta Victoria Hospital (AVH), run by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and located on the Mount of Olives. According to a report by the LWF Regional Representative, the Rev. Mark Brown and the Chief Executive Officer of AVH, Dr. Tawfiq Nasser, the hospital received in the span of one week three visits from U.S. officials and friends in cooperation with the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem and the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.

The visits are a testament to the significant work being done by the hospital and the unique role it plays as part of the East Jerusalem Hospital Network and the Palestinian health system at large. Reps. Ellison and Baird toured the partially opened new Specialized Center for Child Care and met with patients from Gaza who gave their first-hand testimony as to the worsening medical conditions of their children and the extreme difficulties they are facing in accessing the unique services at AVH. They also received an update on the access situation facing all East Jerusalem Hospitals.

In their joint statement, the two Members noted their visit of Palestinian hospitals and meetings "with doctors, nurses and hospital directors who described how official Israeli policies restrict border checkpoints which make it exceedingly difficult and expensive for patients, nurses, medical technicians, and other essential personnel to reach the hospital to receive or provide care."

Other visitors to the hospital included Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) as well as Ms. Hadassah Lieberman (wife of Senator Lieberman I-CT) accompanied by Ms. Leslie Genier, wife of the US Ambassador to Israel, Mr. James B. Cunningham. Holt toured the Specialized Center for Child Care; Hadassah Leiberman and Genier toured the cancer center for adults and children and were briefed on the cancer situation in the Palestinian population.


CMEP has sent thank you letters to Reps. Ellison, Baird, Holt and Sen. Kerry for witnessing firsthand the struggles of both Israelis and Palestinians during their recent trips to the Holy Land.

CMEP is requesting meetings with each to express in person the church coalition's appreciation.

Please take a moment to add your thanks. View the CMEP thank you letters and find email contact information here.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Urge Secretary Clinton to investigate Israel's use of U.S. arms!

A new report released just hours ago reveals that U.S.-made white phosphorus artillery shells among other U.S. weapons were found throughout Gaza. When white phosphorus munitions are used in densely-populated civilian areas as Israel has, it violates international humanitarian law’s prohibition on indiscriminate attacks and amounts to a war crime.

In light of this new finding, we are urging Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to immediately call for:
  • an investigation into Israel’s use of U.S. arms in Gaza a suspension of U.S. military aid to Israel

  • and to urge the United Nations to impose an arms embargo on all parties in the conflict

Samia Salman Al-Manay'a, 16 years old, was asleep in her home in the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza, when a phosphorus shell landed on the first floor of the house on January10th. Ten days later, from her hospital bed, she spoke to our delegation.

"The pain is piercing. It's as though a fire is burning in my body. It's too much for me to bear. In spite of all the medicine they are giving me the pain is still so strong."

Since 2001, the U.S. has been the largest supplier of arms to Israel. The U.S. has also provided considerable funding each year for Israel to buy arms despite U.S. legislation that restricts such aid to consistently gross human rights violators. Since 2002 Israel received over $21 billion in U.S. military and security assistance. Put simply, Israel's military intervention in the Gaza Strip has been equipped to a large extent by US-supplied weapons, munitions and military equipment paid for with U.S. taxpayers’ money.

Even after the start of the current conflict and reports of serious violations of international humanitarian law by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in Gaza, U.S. authorities continued to authorize large shipments of U.S. munitions, including white phosphorus munitions, to Israel.

In January, Amnesty called for a suspension of all arms transfers to Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups until there is no longer a serious risk that such equipment will be used for violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses. The Department of State should lead the call for accountability.

If we suspect our weapons are being used in attacks that are indiscriminately killing civilians, we must act.

Urge Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to immediately call for an investigation into Israel’s use of U.S. arms in Gaza and a suspension of military aid.

Last month you called for an independent investigation into all parties involved in the conflict in Gaza. We are happy to report that your voice was heard. Over 45,000 messages were sent to Secretary Clinton and UN Representative Susan Rice, who highlighted the importance of an investigation. Additionally, three Members of Congress, including the highest ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, visited Gaza and witnessed firsthand the humanitarian devastation.

Larry Cox
Executive Director
Amnesty International USA

PS. Visit our blog to read more about the conflict in Gaza and the effects of white phosphorous munitions

Why We Fight: A Look into the Military-Industrial Complex

  • Want to learn more about the collusion between Congress, the media, the Pentagon, and corporations that is the military-industrial complex?
  • Want to learn more about the manipulation of the American public to suit the needs of a few power-seekers within the American government?
  • Want to learn more about ways in which American foreign policy is skewed to protect national interests rather than defend "freedom"?
  • Want to learn the ways in which American military force is indeed one of the sources of human rights problems around the world?
  • Then check out Why We Fight, a documentary by director Eugene Jarecki that heeds President Dwight Eisenhower's warning in his 1961 farewell address of the dangers of the military-industrial complex.
Thursday, February 26, 2009, after school in Room 407.
Be there!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tell Secretary Gates: No troop escalation without a strategy

Dear Friends,

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a hold over from the Bush Administration, has recommended a sharp increase -- 17,000 new troops -- in our military presence in Afghanistan.

While President Obama has been a staunch opponent of the war in Iraq, he has approved Gates' plan to increase our military presence in Afghanistan, which has the potential to become a new quagmire in the Middle East.

On Tuesday, February 17th, President Obama announced that he plans to deploy an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan - that's a 50 percent increase.

However, the Department of Defense has not yet completed its research on the situation in Afghanistan, nor its long term strategy for the conflict in Afghanistan, including an eventual exit strategy.

I just took action to tell Defense Secretary Gates not to escalate the conflict in Afghanistan until we have a long-term strategy in place, including an exit strategy. I hope you will, too.
Please have a look and take action.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Urge Secretary Clinton to Act on Injustices in the Congo!

The ten-year tangle of alliances, invasions and proxy warfare centered in the Democratic Republic of Congo has made the region the world's deadliest killing ground since WWII.

Rape is systematically used as a weapon of war and children are forced to fight for armed groups. Peace in the DRC means putting an end to the institutionalized violence against women and children.

Click here to watch a video of Congolese children speaking about their experiences as child soldiers.

The recent dramatic reversal of alliances between the DRC and its conflict-entangled neighbors, Uganda and Rwanda, combined with the withdrawal of Hutu rebels has opened a small window for peace in the region.Your action today can help us make real progress on ending violence against women and children across the region.The U.S. has considerable economic and political influence over both the DRC and Rwanda—no other country combines such influence.

Sign our letter to Secretary Clinton asking her to leverage our voice to strenghten support for the UN peacekeeping mission and protect women and children in the DRC.

Rape is used in the conflict as a calculated strategy to destabilize opposition groups as well as promote fear and submission. It is not unusual for mothers and daughters to be raped in front of their families and villages. Human rights activists working to end violence against women often face grave threats of violence themselves.

Justine Masika Bihamba is one such activist. Because of her work to end violence against women, she and her family have been targeted.Justine described the current situation in Congo as a war against women.

"When two sides fight, the one punishes the other by raping women," she said.Putting an end to the rampant sexual violence and the use of child soldiers is essential to ensuring peace in the region.

Secretary Clinton has said that women's rights are one of her top priorities. Make sure her promises become reality.

Add your name to our letter to Secretary Clinton urging her to take concrete steps to protect women in the DRC.

Larry Cox
Executive Director
Amnesty International USA

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Make the SOA History!

Make the School of the Americas History!

Tuesday, February 17 is Close the SOA Call-In Day!

TOLL FREE: 1-800-473-6711

Please take a few minutes of your day to participate in the Nationwide Call-in Day to support legislation to close the School of the Americas, renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation!

Please call the D.C. offices of your Representative and your Senators by calling the Capitol Hill Switchboard (TOLL FREE: 1-800-473-6711).

Ask to speak with the foreign affairs legislative assistant and here is a suggested message for you to convey:

"As a constituent living in _________, I am calling Congressman/woman ________ to urge him/her to contact Rep. McGovern and ask to be an original cosponsor of the Latin America Military Training Review Act of 2009, formerly HR 1707 in the 110th Congress. This legislation will be introduced in the next few weeks. The bill is identical to HR 1707and would suspend operations at the School of the Americas, renamed WHINSEC, and investigate the history of human rights abuses and failed policies of the institution.

New information indicates that WHINSEC has allowed known human rights abusers to instruct and receive training at the school. Argentina and Uruguay are two more countries that have made public announcements they will no longer send students to the school, citing the negative image and history of this institution. Despite demands by Congress to have oversight over the curriculum and promote human rights, the Pentagon is now denying all requests to provide information to human rights organizations and the public about students and graduates of the school.

I urge you to contact Cindy Buhl in Representative McGovern's office and ask that your boss be added as an original cosponsor of this legislation. I hope you will represent my views and support this bill."

Torture survivors Patricia Isasa from Argentina and Pablo Ruiz from Chile and others are among the scores of human rights activists who are visiting Congressional offices on Capitol Hill today to call for the closure of the SOA/ WHINSEC.

You can amplify their voices with your phone call and let your Members of Congress know that there are thousands around the country who feel very strongly about this issue.

Please take the time and call the Capitol switch board now: 1-800-473-6711

Sunday, February 15, 2009

International Social Justice Day

International Social Justice Day

February 20, 2009 is an important day for all persons in our global
village but especially for those of us committed to living the Good
News of peace and justice.

The World Day of Social Justice is being observed for the first time
following its unanimous adoption by the 192 member States of the
United Nations during their November 2007 General Assembly.

For a copy of prayer for this day (and other days), go to:

The global leadership team of the Brothers and the Lasallian world community is encouraging recognition of this day.

God be blessed.

Friday, February 13, 2009

the scourge of human trafficking

See BBC News report below. Two years ago CCHRIST hosted an evening symposium on war-affected children at WQED that also highlighted the problem of human trafficking.

UN calls for trafficking action

Sex workers in Vilnius
The report says sexual exploitation is only one aspect of human trafficking

The world must do more to confront the largely unstudied and neglected phenomenon of people-trafficking, the United Nations has said in a report.

So little is known about the problem, says the report, that no estimate can be given of the number affected.

The report also points to a more basic problem: the lack of a common understanding of what human trafficking is, and whom it affects.

But it is "a crime that shames us all", said the UN's Antonio Maria Costa.

In the report - "Global Report on Trafficking in Persons", released by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) - the UN paints a picture of a shadowy form of human slavery little understood by governments, and only rarely adequately tackled.

The report points out that the most commonly used term for the problem - "people-trafficking" - itself emphasises the transaction aspects of the crime, rather than the day-to-day experience of modern enslavement.

And it suggests the trafficking phenomenon is little understood in all its forms from child soldiering to sweatshop labour, domestic servitude, and even entire villages in bondage.

'Monster's tail'

The report cites statistics suggesting that sexual exploitation is the most common form of human trafficking (at 79%, followed by forced labour at 18%).


But it says this itself may be an "optical illusion", because "sexual exploitation is highly visible in cities or along highways while forced labour is hidden".

"We only see the monster's tail," Mr Costa says.

"How many hundreds of thousands of victims are slaving away in sweat shops, fields, mines, factories, or trapped in domestic servitude? Their numbers will surely swell as the economic crisis deepens the pool of potential victims and increases demand for cheap goods and services", he said.

The report also highlights another little-understood aspect of human-trafficking: the fact that female offenders have a more prominent role in people-trafficking than in any other crime, with women accounting for more than 60% of convictions in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Knowledge gap

The report does applaud the "tremendous progress" made by countries in combating a crime it says has only recently been acknowledged - saying that over the space of just five years until 2008, the proportion of member states with legislation outlawing the major forms of trafficking rose from a third to four-fifths.

But it says most countries' conviction rates rarely exceed 1.5 per 100,000 people - "below the level normally recorded for rare crimes... and proportionately much lower than the estimated number of victims".

"It is sick that we should even need to write a report about slavery in the 21st Century," said Mr Costa.

In order to increase the conviction rate, the UN argues, countries and multilateral organisations need to do more to understand the problem itself.

"What we know is the tip of the iceberg, but have no assessment of the iceberg itself," Mr Costa told the BBC.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Ask your Rep. to Support Resolution Backing Envoy to Middle East!

Mitchell Returns From Mideast;
Ask your Rep. to Support Resolution Backing Envoy

After being appointed as Special Mideast Envoy on January 22nd, former Senator George Mitchell quickly headed to the Middle East for a whirlwind trip Jan. 26 - Feb. 3 that included visits with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, a roundtable meeting in Jerusalem with humanitarian agencies working in Gaza. He also made stops in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and France.

[Click here to read a brief summary report on the trip included below.] Mitchell is set to return to the region before the end of the month. His challenging and complex mission, coming on the heels of the Gaza war and amidst political changes in Israel and ongoing strife between Fatah and Hamas, will require a diligence and commitment that deserves strong public and Congressional support.

Please contact your Representative today and ask him or her to co-sponsor H. Res. 130, a new resolution backing Special Mideast Envoy Sen. Mitchell! Congressman Bill Delahunt (D-MA) and 31 other Members - a diverse group of Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Arab-American Representatives, Democrat and Republican - have joined together to introduce H. Res. 130 expressing support for the appointment of former Senator George Mitchell as Special Envoy for Middle East Peace.

This new resolution commits to "supporting President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and Special Envoy Mitchell in their vigorous pursuit of a diplomatic resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab conflicts based on the establishment of 2 states, the State of Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, and with recognized borders."

In a press release on the resolution, Rep. Delahunt, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight said, "The recent fighting in Gaza has refocused the world's attention on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict…George Mitchell is the right man at the right time to help bring a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute." When President Obama announced the Mitchell appointment on January 22nd he said his Administration will "actively and aggressively seek a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians".

H. Res. 130 sends a strong signal of Congressional backing for Senator Mitchell's mission and for robust U.S. peacemaking efforts. The tasks ahead are difficult and both Congressional and constituent support will be vital if the Obama Administration is going to achieve concrete results on the ground and meaningful progress toward a just and lasting two-state solution.

TAKE ACTION TODAY: Ask your Representative to Co-sponsor H. Res. 130 Further Background on the Resolution: H. Res. 130 cites key recent statements by Obama, Clinton and Mitchell demonstrating their commitment to achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace, including President Obama's January 22nd statement that he, ''was deeply concerned by the loss of Palestinian and Israeli life in recent days and by the substantial suffering and humanitarian needs in Gaza'" The resolution refers to Senator Mitchell's "well-received report on the causes of the second intifada in April 2001" - a report that cited both Israeli settlement activity and Palestinian violence. H. Res. 130 also expresses its appreciation to those engaged in helping to achieve the recent cessation of hostilities in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel, and calls on the international community "to aggressively pursue efforts that facilitate a just and lasting resolution of these conflicts".

Click here to view the full text of the resolution and the list of original co-sponsors.

Special Envoy Sen. Mitchell's Trip to the Region: A Brief SummaryIn key statements made during his Jan. 26 - Feb. 3 trip, Sen. Mitchell emphasized the importance of consolidating the cease-fire, including ending the smuggling and re-opening the crossings based on the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access. He also raised the urgent Gaza humanitarian needs. In every location Mitchell stressed President Obama's commitment to achieving a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace.

With Prime Minister Olmert, Mitchell said the "United States is committed to Israel's security and to its right to defend itself against legitimate threats." In Ramallah, he stated President Obama's commitment to "a better future for all Palestinians, whose legitimate aspirations for an independent and viable state, shout be met." At the UNRWA compound in Jerusalem, he announced that the President has directed the use of another "$20.3 million to provide emergency food and medical assistant to the wounded and displaced in Gaza."

Mitchell stressed that the tragic violence in Gaza and in southern Israel offers "a sobering reminder of the very serious and difficult challenges and unfortunately the setbacks that will come." Press reports indicate that the Arab Peace Initiative and Iran's role in Palestinian affairs were discussed in meetings in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Paris.

While Mitchell was gone, the State Department fielded a number of questions, including why the Obama Administration has not yet commented on Israel's continued settlement activity and how emergency aid will be channeled to Gaza.

The State Department also clarified that Mitchell will report to both Secretary of State Clinton as well as President Obama. Now that Mitchell has returned from what was billed as an initial "listening tour", he is set to go back to the region before the end of the month. The Feb. 10th Israeli elections, ongoing strife between Fatah and Hamas, and the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza create a complex backdrop, and substantive progress will require creative and serious engagement.

In a press conference with Secretary of State Clinton on February 3rd, Mitchell said, "the situation is obviously complex and difficult, and there are no easy or risk-free courses of action. But I'm convinced…that with patient, determined, and persevering diplomacy, we can help to make a difference and that we can assist those in the region achieve the peace and stability that people on all sides long for."

Key Statements and Documents Related to Special Envoy Mitchell's Trip
Remarks by Secretary Clinton and Special Envoy Mitchell After Their Meeting, Washington, DC, February 3, 2009
Mitchell Statement at UNRWA Compound, Jerusalem, January 30, 2009
United States Humanitarian Support to Palestinians, U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC, January 30, 2009
Mitchell Statement at Palestinian Authority Presidential Compound, Ramallah, January 29, 2009
Mitchell Statement at King David Hotel, Jerusalem, January 28, 2009
Mitchell Statement following meeting with President Mubarak, January 28, 2009
Mitchell Report 2001

TAKE ACTION: Ask your Representative to Co-sponsor H. Res. 130, the new resolution backing the work of Special Mideast Envoy Sen. Mitchell

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Five Ways to Fix the Stimulus: Sign the petition!

This week, the Senate will consider a mind-bogglingly large stimulus package - the latest figures put it somewhere in the neighborhood of $900 billion. A stimulus package this large may be necessary because our economy is in dire straits. But there is a right and a wrong way to stimulate the economy.

I just signed a petition asking my senators to invest in green infrastructure and healthcare instead of corporate tax cuts and "clean coal" -- I hope you will too.
Please have a look and take action.


Human Rights and Darfur: Sign the petition!

The Bush administration, for the last five years, has “given only lip service”1 to the full deployment of peacekeepers in Darfur according to the new U.S. ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice. Now we’re ready to see if President Obama and his staff can turn old promises into concrete actions during their first 100 days in office.

Ask President Obama to make action in Darfur a priority.

Amnesty International is partnering with the Save Darfur Coalition to collect 1 million signatures to deliver to the White House to stress the need for Darfur to be at the top of President Obama’s agenda. Killings, rapes, and torture have overwhelmed Darfur for over six years now, and no path to resolution is in sight.

The decision about whether to indict Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide is expected to be handed down soon by the International Criminal Court. It is imperative that the Obama administration take a clear stance from the beginning: Accountability and justice must be achieved in Darfur.

President Obama has said that he recognizes the need for firm commitments and immediate action to bring the crisis in Darfur to an end. Now is the time for him to stand behind those words, and put policies into action. President Obama: Stand up for the people of Darfur.
Standing up for human rights in Darfur is more than ‘the right thing to do’, President Obama believes it is our “moral obligation”2 – and we couldn’t agree more.

That is why it is vital for the Obama administration to take action and make Darfur a priority in the first 100 days.