Author: Friends of TFC

Syria: Improvised Mines Kill, Injure Hundreds in Manbij

Homemade landmines have killed and injured hundreds of civilians, including dozens of children, in Manbij, a city in northern Syria. The antipersonnel mines, often called improvised explosive devices, were planted by the extremist group Islamic State, also known as ISIS, which until recently controlled the city. Most of the mines appeared to be victim-activated and therefore banned under international law.

During a five-day investigation in the city from October 4 to 9, 2016, Human Rights Watch collected the names of 69 civilians, including 19 children, killed by improvised mines in schools, homes, and on roads during and after the fighting over control for the city. The total is most likely much higher because Human Rights Watch was not able to collect information from all neighborhoods and villages. Hospital staff said that they had treated hundreds of people injured by improvised mines.

Your Problem with Gays or Guns Is Not Political

Not too long ago, perhaps as a rite of passage before becoming a new American, I did something I’d done only once before: I went to a range and shot some guns. Lots of guns. All shapes, ages, and sizes.

For a guy born British, such a thing feels very strange – because guns feature nowhere in British culture.

Accordingly, I was unsurprised by the reaction of my mother when I called home and told her that I’d had a great time learning about firearms and discovering I wasn’t a bad shot, even with a second-world-war Enfield. “That’s the last thing I’d ever imagine you’d enjoy doing,” she said to me. She wasn’t being judgmental: it was an expression of genuine surprise.

Totalitarian tendencies in post-Maidan Ukraine

In Ukraine, the state apparatus, far-right movements and patriotic citizens are working together to shut down debate and silence criticism.

Under Ukraine’s pre-Maidan criminal regime, any pressure on journalists used to provoke a wave of indignation. This indignation, which came from journalists, human rights defenders and civic activists themselves, even became a precursor to the first Maidan in independent Ukraine — the protests under the banner of “Ukraine without Kuchma”.

Information about temnyky, the authorities’ secret instructions to the press about what they should and should not report, and the murders of critics of the regime invariably provoked protests. The arrest of a journalist solely for expressing his opinion in print could raise a wave, even a tsunami, of public outrage. Indeed, in 2004, putting an end to temnyky was one of the slogans behind the Orange protest.

Landfills have a huge greenhouse gas problem. Here’s what we can do about it.

We take out our trash and feel lighter and cleaner. But at the landfill, the food and yard waste that trash contains is decomposing and releasing methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Landfill gas also contributes to smog, worsening health problems like asthma.

Globally, trash released nearly 800 million metric tons (882 million tons) of CO2 equivalent in 2010 — about 11 percent of all methane generated by humans. The United States had the highest total quantity of methane emissions from landfills in 2010: almost 130 million metric tons (143 million tons) of CO2 equivalent. China was a distant second, with 47 million (52 million), then Mexico, Russia, Turkey, Indonesia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Brazil and India, according to the Global Methane Initiative, an international partnership of government and private groups working to reduce methane emissions.

Amid crackdowns on mass migration, Central Americans organize to curb violence

Nearly half a million migrants have been apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol in 2016, while hundreds of thousand of others have been detained and deported en route through Mexico. Within this number is a record-breaking number of Central Americans seeking asylum in what Amnesty International called “the world’s least visible refugee crises.” Many of these asylum seekers have escaped communities torn apart by violence, the drug trade and poverty, but human rights groups report that an alarming number of them are subject to serious danger en route to the border.

KRG: Men, Boys Fleeing Fighting Arbitrarily Detained

Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) security forces are arbitrarily detaining men and boys ages 15 and over who are fleeing Mosul and Hawija during the offensive against the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) in a facility near the Debaga displaced persons camp.

The men and boys fleeing from ISIS-held territory into the KRG are being detained for indefinite periods even after they pass an initial security check for possible ties to ISIS by KRG security forces. They are denied access to lawyers and detained, sometimes for weeks, even if they are not individually suspected of a crime, while KRG authorities conduct further security screenings on them. The only legal basis for detention under national law is individualized suspicion of having committed a crime recognized in the penal code, and individuals should only be detained under criminal justice system rules.

Peace in Colombia?

In a shock result, Colombians rejected a peace accord to end five decades of conflict. Does that mean a return to violence? Or can progressive forces build upon the innovations of the peace process? Tatiana Garavito takes stock.

The chief negotiator had been clear. If voters did not ratify the peace accord between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government, then the country would be left staring into an ‘abyss’. There was no Plan B.

And on the night of 2 October it looked as if that abyss had opened up as the ‘no’ vote won by the narrowest of margins – 50.2 to 49.8 per cent.

The Swedish Case for Limited Government

Sweden punches way above its weight in debates about economic policy. Leftists all over the world (most recently, Bernie Sanders) say the Nordic nation is an example that proves a big welfare state can exist in a rich nation. And since various data sources (such as the IMF’s huge database) show that Sweden is relatively prosperous and also that there’s an onerous fiscal burden of government, this argument is somewhat plausible.

A few folks on the left sometimes even imply that Sweden is a relatively prosperous nation because it has a large public sector. Though the people who make this assertion never bother to provide any data or evidence.

I have five responses when confronted with the why-can’t-we-be-more-like-Sweden argument.

Hackers Publish Kremlin Aide’s E-Mails, Allege Plan to Destabilize Ukraine

On Tuesday, the Ukrainian hacking collective “Kiberkhunta” (CyberJunta) leaked more than 2,000 e-mails from the inbox of Vladislav Surkov, an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin who is often cited as a key advisor on the Kremlin’s Ukraine policy. The leaked e-mails, which are dated between September 24, 2013, and November 25, 2014, suggest an unprecedented hack into a top Kremlin official’s private accounts.

The leak follows Monday’s leak of two documents allegedly sent to Surkov that describe a Kremlin initiative to destabilize Ukraine between November 2016 and March 2017. The documents, also released by Kiberkhunta, include an e-mail to Surkov on August 26, 2016, from his assistant, Pavel Karpov (who Kiberkhunta says signed documents under the name “Nikolai Nikolaievich Pavlov”) titled “Priority Action Plan to Destabilize the Social-Political Situation in Ukraine,” and “Concrete Action Plan on the Promotion of the Federal Status of Zakarpattia Oblast.”

Countries of Southeast Asia: Squeezed Between Beijing and Washington

Today, the countries of the ASEAN are going through a very difficult period in their history, when their unity, cohesion and prosperity are being challenged as never before. The basic concept of independence of the region from the influence of external forces, embraced by this coalition, is hardly observed. Today’s objective is not to minimize foreign influence, but to ensure the ASEAN remains an integral, coherent regional organization despite the fact that the United States and China continue fighting tooth and nail for dominance in the Southeast Asia and the East Asia as a whole.

Bob Dylan’s embrace of Israel’s war crimes

Controversially, musical genius Bob Dylan received the Nobel Prize for literature last week.

Even some critics who acknowledged his musical brilliance have argued that awarding a musician was a step that too dramatically expanded the definition of literature. What few dispute is that his music inspired millions in the midst of the anti-war and civil rights movements.

But there is also a less pleasant, less known side to the artist, particularly his views on Israel, Meir Kahane and the Jewish Defense League.

In 1983, in The New York Times, Stephen Holden described Dylan’s album Infidels as “a disturbing artistic semirecovery by a rock legend who seemed in recent years to have lost his ability to engage the Zeitgeist.”

ObamaCare: Things Fall Apart

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka “ObamaCare,” was intended to dramatically increase the number of Americans with health coverage while “bending the cost curve” (that is, reducing the expected increases in price over time).

The plan managed the first goal, at least in the short term. Unsurprising, isn’t it, that more people get coverage when the law requires them to buy it, penalizes those who won’t, and subsidizes those who can’t afford to?

Israel Limits Palestinian Villages Water to “Two Hours a Week”

As the water shortage in Palestinian territory continues; new reports show the Palestinian people are getting less water than ever.

Israeli rationing of water is now essentially a summer tradition in Palestine but this year has been unprecedented. Currently, some territories in the West Bank are under such tight water rations that they have only been getting water “for one hour, twice a week.”

Venezuela: Government Assails Critics as Crisis Deepens

The Venezuelan government has targeted critics of its ineffective efforts to alleviate severe shortages of essential medicines and food while the crisis persists, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Regional governments should press the administration of President Nicolás Maduro to adopt immediate measures to better address the profound humanitarian crisis, including by exploring avenues for increased international assistance.

The 78-page report, “Venezuela’s Humanitarian Crisis: Severe Medical and Food Shortages, Inadequate and Repressive Government Response,” documents how the shortages have made it extremely difficult for many Venezuelans to obtain essential medical care or meet their families’ basic needs. The Venezuelan government has downplayed the severity of the crisis. Although its own efforts to alleviate the shortages have not succeeded, it has made only limited efforts to obtain international humanitarian assistance that might be readily available. Meanwhile, it has intimidated and punished critics, including health professionals, human rights defenders, and ordinary Venezuelans who have spoken out about the shortages.

Solitary Confinement Saps Our Country’s Collective Conscience

Over 125 years ago, in a death penalty case called In re Medley, 134 U.S. 160, 170-71 (1890), the United States Supreme Court wrote that solitary confinement was a “further terror and peculiar mark of infamy.” The Court described it further as an “additional punishment of the most important and painful character.”

Alluding to this ancient recognition of solitary confinement’s mind-destroying, soul-sapping, and otherwise dehumanizing effects – a view shared today by every reputable mental health professional, scientist, and reasonable, justice-loving person – Justice Kennedy wrote (in his 2015 concurrence in Davis v. Ayala, 135 S. Ct. 2187, 2209-10): “The human toll wrought by extended terms of isolation long has been understood, and questioned, by writers and commentators.” Kennedy’s opinion highlights the unsurprising conclusion that, “research still confirms what this Court suggested over a century ago: Years on end of near total isolation exact a terrible price.”