Kevin Bales, co-founder of Free the Slaves and well-known human trafficking expert, first estimated there to be 27 million slaves worldwide. This was an approximation offered in his 1999 book Disposable People. Since then, the topic of human trafficking has garnered international attention—yet for the past 14 years, the estimated number of slaves worldwide rested at Bales’ original approximation. But now, with a team of researchers at the Walk Free Foundation, Bales has introduced a new number: 29.8 million. The new “Global Slavery Index 2013” seeks to measure international slavery and human trafficking, and to provide informational tools for institutions fighting the problem.
Two potential weaknesses of such a report lie in its definition (how broad or specific it is, how easy to measure) and its methodology: how does one measure the global population of slaves worldwide, when slavery is an illegal and clandestine activity? The report’s authors explain their methodology, which focused primarily on secondary collection (via both governmental and non-governmental reports) and representative random sample surveys. Nick Grono, CEO of the Walk Free Foundation, told The Guardian, “Measuring a hidden crime is very challenging, but there are efforts to measure domestic abuse and drug trafficking. A lot of it boils down to taking the best data on reported issues and then looking at the scale of the unreported or ‘dark’ problems.”
The index’s definition of slavery and human trafficking has received some skepticism. Bridget Anderson, Deputy Director of the Centre on Migration, Policy, and Society at Oxford, told The Guardian this report gathers “unjust situations” around the world and labels them as “slavery.” “You have a definitional problem, everything depends on the definition and if you use tricky words like ‘forced’, you are already straying into difficult territory,” she said. Here is an excerpt from the report’s definition section:
In 2013, modern slavery takes many forms, and is known by many names. Whether it is called human trafficking, forced labour, slavery or slavery-like practices (a category that includes debt bondage, forced or servile marriage, sale or exploitation of children including in armed conflict) victims of modern slavery have their freedom denied, and are used and controlled and exploited by another person for profit, sex, or the thrill of domination … The chains of modern slavery are not always physical – sometimes escalating debts, intimidation, deception, isolation, fear or even a ‘marriage’ that is forced on a young woman or girl without her consent can be used to hold a person against their will without the need for locks or chains.
One can see Anderson’s point. Not only does this definition include a plethora of hidden, illegal criminality—it also includes criminality across a broad variety of platforms: the trafficking of persons across borders, private commercial labor, sex slavery, child soldier kidnappings, and forced marriages. Also, from reading Bales’ books and a variety of other books on the subject, I have learned “coercive labor” situations often do involve pay. But they involve pay in ridiculously minuscule amounts, offset by mountains of employer-determined debt. Thus, the “bondage” described is of a tricky and hidden nature.
The report’s definition is not necessarily wrong. It is good to have some broad (albeit sketchy) statistics on the issue. But Grono himself admitted “the data is not that strong; we want to be open about this. If a government says they don’t agree [with the data], we will say great, let’s work with a national statistics office to do a study across the country to try and analyse the scale of the problem.”
While child and forced marriage are awful human rights abuses, should they be included in the Global Slavery Index? Perhaps so—but consider, we now have a conglomeration of commercial, domestic, and sexual exploitation in the same dataset. How does one begin to parse a number so large? The index’s inclusion of basic law information for the top 10 worst countries in the index could be helpful—if one fights trafficking in Mauritania, Haiti, Pakistan or India. But this is a limited contribution.
This is not meant to be harsh—the report’s authors are working for a noble cause. But one hopes they can improve the index with time. Perhaps a next step would be to specify data according to definitional groupings. What if one was to apportion the numbers for each nation according to commercial, domestic, and sexual slavery (perhaps another category for child soldiers, as well)? It would require more work, of course, but this division would allow for more practical data offerings. 29.8 million is a horrid and shocking number. But it is also, unfortunately, a rather useless one at this point.
In light of the impending government shutdown, D.C. Mayor Vince Gray and the D.C. Council have seized the opportunity to fight for their city’s autonomy by declaring every District governmental employee an “essential” employee. If the federal government does shutdown, the District will continue to run, business as usual. While Gray’s stand leaves District residents breathing a sigh of relief that their garbage collection will continue, the move stretches the limits of charitable interpretation.
According to Section 1, Article 8 of the Constitution, Congress has the power to “exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over the district.” The District government falls under federal control, and so under the Antideficiency Act. Congress passed the Antideficiency Act in 1884, the AP reports, in order to gain greater financial control over federal agency spending. However, the legislation was more formal than practical, and “agency chiefs…assumed Congress didn’t want them to turn off the lights and go home….This look-the-the-way system worked for decades.” That is, until Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti interpreted the bill as a ban on governmental work lacking federal funding approval. Although he moderated his interpretation to allow essential government services, such as the military, to continue even without an approved spending bill, his reading has ruled to the present day.
The District is technically under federal control; it exists as the seat of the federal government, independent of any particular state’s jurisdiction. However, the District is not just an amalgamation of governmental buildings: it is also home to 632,323 tax-paying individuals who depend on local services, such as the DMV and garbage collection. These residents voted in April earlier this year to approve a charter amendment securing budget autonomy from Congress; that measure is not set to go into effect until January 1, 2014. In the meantime Mayor Gray has argued that “it is ridiculous that a city of 632,000 people—a city where we have balanced our budget for 18 consecutive years and have a rainy-day fund of well over a billion dollars—cannot spend its residents’ own local tax dollars to provide them the services they’ve paid for without Congressional approval.” Thus, his justification for expanding the word “essential” to cover all District employees.
As a resident of the District, I have a certain sympathy for Gray’s position: I, too, hope that my trash continues to be removed every Wednesday morning. However, redefining the word “essential” in a game of political chicken with the Office of Management and Budget overreaches the District’s current political limits. The contract of our country, for which the District serves as the seat, is that our political proceedings are not intended to rest on the whims of those in whom we have invested governmental authority. We have legal recourse to change laws that we disagree with, and the District did just that by passing the referendum going into effect next year. Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney even suggests that by employing the District’s contingency fund, a stand-off between local and federal authorities might be entirely (legally) circumvented.
Like the Affordable Care Act, D.C.’s local subjection to federal whims may be bad policy. The answer to bad policy, however, is not civil disobedience on a governmental scale. The D.C. Council, though they may want to do so, cannot justly achieve their autonomy by stretching a federal word past its breaking point. Nor can the House Republicans justly attempt to undo one law, Obamacare, by shutting down the entirety of the government. The answer to bad policy is politics, conducted with respect for the rule of law and the integrity of our governing institutions.
Vaccination has been a widely adopted practice in the U.S. since the very beginning. Thomas Jefferson himself was a great proponent–particularly of the smallpox vaccination, which he received shortly after its development in 1796.
Yet last week, in North Carolina’s Guilford and Forsyth counties, as many as 1,400 students faced suspension because their parents failed to vaccinate them. Those parents have opted out of the medical practice: their children have not received the required tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine, commonly known as TDaP. According to North Carolina state law, children must have up-to-date vaccinations or face suspension.
The decision to vaccinate doesn’t merely affect the child in question, but can also affect a family’s community by threatening the health of other children. It pushes a family decision into the public arena. Some people, such as Phil Plait, argue that the community impact is so great, the government is right to mandate vaccination. Plait, despite his personal libertarian leanings, explains:
In some areas, public school authorities have mandated that students be vaccinated for various diseases, and that of course can run afoul of parents’ beliefs. I’ve wrestled with this problem for a while, and I eventually came to the conclusion that a parent does not have the right to have their child in a public school if that child is unvaccinated … It puts other children at risk.
The societal aspect Plait references is “herd immunity.” Herd immunity is “when a critical portion of a community is immunized against a contagious disease, [so] most members of the community are protected against that disease because there is little opportunity for an outbreak.” David Perry frames the problem this way:
Happily, in a population of vaccinated people, infectious but preventable diseases have trouble spreading even to the immunocompromised. But herd immunity breaks down when vaccinations are not administered to all who can medically receive them. At that point, people who chose to refuse vaccinations endanger those who had no choice.
“Those who had no choice” refers to individuals born with immunodeficiency disorders. Such individuals are protected if their community is, for the most part, vaccinated. But the more their peers refuse vaccination, the more at-risk these individuals become. The possible societal fallout explains why so many support vaccine mandates. Yet while such mandates are well-intended, particularly considering children who can become ill and even die from preventable diseases, the question of liberty still remains. When should the government demand vaccination from dissenters? Can the government, as the Center for Disease Control puts it, employ “the police power of the state” to coerce parents against their will and perhaps consciences?
Vaccination could be a strong case for governmental health mandates: no one wants a child to die from a preventable disease. Nevertheless, if the government has a right to mandate vaccination because “it knows best,” it may slide into legitimating other less crucial mandates. Many people agree that children should receive vaccination, but such agreement should not authenticate governmental coercion. As it currently stands, these mandates require children in government-funded schools to vaccinate their children. However, parents need not enroll their children in such schools. This seems a just arrangement.
America has not yet reached a level of non-vaccination worthy of governmental intervention; hopefully citizens will recognize the medical and societal value of Plait’s argument before we reach that point. “If you want to rely on the public trust then you have an obligation to the public trust as well,” he said. “And part of that obligation is not sending your child to a place with other children if they aren’t immunized against preventable, communicable diseases.”
Ultimately, while there is a clear medical case for vaccination, some amount of wariness is justifiable. Liberty and freedom, however, require more than doing as we please: they require a consciousness of the community, a dispassionate and informed evaluation of the facts, and decision-making based on evidence of what is best for both the individual and society as a whole. Some parents—for religious, philosophical, or other reasons—may still choose to opt out of vaccination, and thus out of government programs like public school. That is their prerogative. But such parents must realize that by opting out, they are also putting other children at risk.
From the New York Times report on President Obama’s speech at the memorial service for the 12 victims of last week’s mass shooting at Washington’s Navy Yard:
The question is not, he said, “whether as Americans we care in moments of tragedy. Clearly we care. Our hearts are broken again. The question is do we care enough?”
“It ought to be a shock to all of us, as a nation and a people,” he said. “It ought to obsess us. It ought to lead to some sort of transformation.”
I’ll admit it: after absorbing the facts about Aaron Alexis—he passed two background checks and legally purchased a gun; his job as a military contractor had furnished him with secret-level clearance to enter the Southeast D.C. installation—I did feel something like a sense of resignation: While the red flags look obvious in hindsight, this one would’ve been hard to prevent.
Yet this is not to say that I, or anyone else who reacted as I did to this terrible tragedy, am “resigned” to gun violence in general. It strikes me as curious that President Obama would lament a lack of hysteria over violent crime. (And despite the shocking nature and national trauma of mass shootings, they are a subspecies of violent crime.) This is a man whose party suffered nationally for years due to law-and-order Republican politicking. Concern over violent crime, the stoking of fear of violent crime, used to be a big winner for the GOP—that is, until crime rates did this crazy thing throughout the ’90s and steadily declined.
In fact, they’re still declining—despite the economic downturn of recent years. Gun violence, in particular, is down sharply since 1993. Indeed, the Washington Post reports: “Before last Monday’s mass killing at the Washington Navy Yard, the District’s homicide count was about on pace with 2012, a year that ended with 88 slayings, the fewest in a half-century.”
Could more have been done, institutionally, to prevent the Navy Yard massacre? Absolutely. I’m open to establishing a universal federal background check in the fashion described here. But it would be an odd thing indeed if Americans were in a panic over a threat that is, empirically speaking, gradually subsiding.
That’s not “creeping resignation.”
The German government forcibly seized four children from their parents in a raid last Thursday in Darmstadt, Germany. Why? Because the Wunderlich children were home schooled – an illegal activity viewed by the German government as “child endangerment.”
Reports by World Net Daily and The Daily Mail said the police were armed with a battering ram, and held father Dirk Wunderlich to a chair while they removed the children. A team of 20 social workers, police, and special agents entered the home. According to a report by the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), an organization that advocates for parental choice in education, the children were taken to unknown locations and officials told the parents they would not be seeing their children “anytime soon.”
In a phone interview, Wunderlich called the episode a “nightmare.” He said that for several days, he has felt “very down and crushed,” but is trusting that “this terrible thing is one piece in God’s big plan.”
Michael Donnelly, lawyer for HSLDA, said, “This shouldn’t happen in Germany. This is a very peaceful family.”
Not only did the German government seize the children – they seized the children’s passports as well. This prevents the family from attempting to move to another country where homeschooling is permissible. According to Wunderlich, the children could be taken from them permanently if they made such an attempt. “Our children are prisoners of the German government,” he said.
The Wunderlich family has been trying to homeschool their family legally for years, and attempted moving to other countries with greater educational freedoms. Although they found refuge in France, Mr. Wunderlich was unable to find a job. They had to return to Germany.
For the Wunderlichs, homeschooling is preferable for both religious and educational reasons. Wunderlich believes school can be a rather “artificial place for learning.” Via homeschooling, their children can immediately pursue and study specific interests. He also believes homeschooling has bolstered family relationships. But living in Germany has been hard for them. There are few homeschooling families in Germany. “In America, it’s perfect,” Wunderlich said. “But here in Germany, most parents are alone … if people were gentle and nice, it would be better, but society and authorities are against homeschoolers.”
German law states children must attend school from age six to 18. Homeschooling is not permissible. Two German Supreme Court rulings on the subject have given the state equal authority as parents over children’s education. The law is meant to ensure children receive the appropriate socialization, Donnelly said.
But according to Donnelly and other homeschooling advocates at HSLDA, this law is in direct contravention of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Germany has signed. The ICCPR gives the following permissions to parents: “The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.” This parental liberty, Donnelly says, includes the right to homeschool.
In addition, Germany has signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which says states party to the covenant “undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents … to choose for their children schools, other than those established by the public authorities, which conform to such minimum educational standards as may be laid down or approved by the State and to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.”
When the State Department announced its new office for religious engagement last week, Secretary John Kerry promised that the “separation of church and state” would be preserved. But Salon writer Austin Dacey questioned that statement Sunday:
“Constitutional or not, official interfacing with ‘faith-based organizations’ will constitute a troubling form of government endorsement: the defining of some communities, among various porous-bordered normative and discursive communities, as ‘religions’ and the anointing of some individuals as recognized spokespersons for those communities.”
How much can the state interact with various faith groups without violating the Establishment Clause? Different commentators have contributed to this discussion over the past week. Some said the project will give state officials needed insight into other nations’ religious policies. While the U.S. has always enforced religious/political separation, other states have linked them indelibly. “The U.S. model works in the U.S. because it is a long-established part of the country’s culture, history, and constitution,” wrote Linda Woodhead at Religion Dispatches on Sunday. “Obviously, this is not the case in other countries. Here in the U.K., for example, religious freedom needs to be advanced by going with the grain of existing arrangements, rather than by attempting to start again.”
In their book Religion, The Missing Dimension of Statecraft, authors Douglas Johnston and Cynthia Sampson write that “Foreign policy practitioners in the United States … are often inadequately equipped to deal with situations involving other nation-states where their imperatives of religious doctrine blend intimately with those of politics and economics. At times, this has led to uninformed policy choices, particularly in our dealings with countries of the Middle East.” This view seems relevant when considering recent diplomatic difficulties with Egypt, as well as Syria.
Some authors spoke favorably of the attention this initiative will bring to humanitarian crises and religious persecution: “As important leaders of society, builders of social capital, and trusted community figureheads, outreach to religious actors and institutions needs to become a routinized part of U.S. diplomacy across all regional and functional domains,” wrote Peter Mandaville at the Brookings Institution. “Whether we are talking about stabilizing Afghanistan, bringing prosperity to Africa, or achieving democracy in the Arab world, a focus on religion and religious actors needs to be front and center in our diplomacy and development work.”
Is it indeed the State Department’s role to stabilize Afghanistan, bring prosperity to Africa, and “achieve democracy” in the Arab world? How can it achieve such a broad transformation through dialogue with religious leaders who – it must be acknowledged – often disagree, even to the point of violence? Such a political effort may necessitate the sort of government endorsement that Dacey cautioned against.
The U.S. has a long tradition of state/religion separation. We believe the government should not play favorites with various religions or denominations. There is danger that this initiative will encourage such favoritism, despite Kerry’s assertion that it will help religious people “unify for the greater good … without crossing any [Constitutional] lines whatsoever.” In actual practice, one fears that “crossing lines” may be an all-too-easy temptation.
Excited about the latest iteration of the iPhone, expected to be soon announced? Here’s a sneak peek into some of the buzz bubbling out of Apple HQ: “new reports suggest that the latest version (which is being referred to as the iPhone 5S) will include a fingerprint scanner.” According to leaked reports, ”the fingerprint scanner is meant to unlock the phone – though it could also be used for other things, such as making mobile payments more secure.”
Conor Friedersdorf over at The Atlantic can certainly see the appeal of a way to secure his phone that doesn’t require repeated code-punching to unlock, but then pulls back and considers:
If I store a thumbprint on my iPhone, does that mean the government would be free to seize it, sans warrant, on the theory that I forfeited any expectation of privacy when I gave it to Apple?
There is reason to think so.
He goes on to note:
The government doesn’t need a search warrant to extract location data from cell-phone users, a federal court ruled Tuesday, noting that a cellular subscriber, “like a telephone user, understands that his cellphone must send a signal to a nearby cell tower in order to wirelessly connect his call.” …
Its judges noted that the Fourth Amendment confers not a general right to privacy, but protects citizens against certain kinds of government intrusion. But isn’t government intruding into my affairs profoundly regardless of whether it monitors my movements directly or tracks them via a third party?
In the ongoing revelations about NSA spy powers, Julian Sanchez reads between Sen. Ron Wyden’s lines to piece together that there is very likely a bulk cell-location tracking program ongoing. It has already been reported that the government possesses the capacity to track phones even when they are turned off.
Furthermore, the Wall Street Journal reports that the FBI “can remotely activate the microphones in phones running Google’s Android software to record conversations, one former U.S. official said,” albeit under strict court supervision.
What might make such practices easier? An Android phone that already has an always-on microphone and a separate processor dedicated to natural-language processing for voice recognition. Conveniently, that is one of the stand-out features of the newly announced Motorola Moto X (above), the first high-end phone to be produced since Google bought the cell phone giant.
The Moto X will draw on much of the same groundwork that powers the (in)famous Google Glass to always be listening for your commands to further reduce the inherent friction of smartphone use. (Fred Armisen brilliantly parodied just how “natural” such commands could be on SNL this spring.)
This comes on the heels of Microsoft announcing its grand plan for a new media center/game console that would place a video camera and microphone in front of millions of living rooms across America, always connected to the internet, and always on, listening and watching for commands.
As the tech industry continues its traditional “revolutionary” pace to bringing new features and interfaces to our lives, they are starting to find consumers much more concerned about potential breaches of privacy than they would have in the past. Possibilities that would have been shrugged off before are now being seized upon, and sometimes forcing companies to backpedal from parts of those always-on requirements altogether.
As Megan Garber puts it, “our laws and our social norms need to do a better job of keeping up with our racing-forward technologies.” If Edward Snowden has done nothing else, he has made American consumers vigilant of their privacy, just before it could have been too late.
Pfc. Bradley Manning was found guilty of more than 20 crimes, including several violations of the Espionage Act, but was significantly acquitted of the charge of aiding the enemy. The Washington Post reports:
The judge, Army Col. Denise Lind, found Manning guilty of most of the more than 20 crimes he was charged with, including several counts of violating the Espionage Act. She also acquitted him of one count of violating the Espionage Act that stemmed from his leak of a video that depicted a fatal U.S. military airstrike in Farah, Afghanistan. …
Had Manning been convicted of aiding the enemy, he would have faced a life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole. Civil libertarians feared that a conviction on that charge, which has not been used since the Civil War, would have sent a chilling message to would-be government whistle-blowers. …
Lind ruled in January that any sentence the Army private receives should be reduced by 112 days because of his mistreatment in confinement.
This past September, Chris Bray reviewed Chase Madar’s The Passion of Bradley Manning: The Story of the Suspect Behind the Largest Security Breach in U.S. History, which he describes thusly: “Writing from what often seems to be a leftist perspective, Madar nevertheless builds on a deeply conservative explanatory foundation in which political illnesses have cultural causes.”
The book “necessarily and appropriately looks beyond the figure of Manning himself to ask how we understand information, how we perceive our relationship to state authority, and how people who serve the armed power of the state see their own place in its project.”
Bray describes how, “Pulling at the masks that cover neoconservative and neoliberal foreign policy, Manning seems to have been engaged in a small-r republican project, looking for ways to give informed citizens the knowledge to restrain state power.”
Read the rest of the review here.
While I probably should have a strong opinion about the Trayvon Martin-Zimmerman verdict, I’m coming up short. I barely paid attention. Steve Sailer, who watches such things, pointed to media clues that a non-guilty verdict was coming–especially the Times‘ hand-wringing that “race” wasn’t a part of the trial. And so it happened. Last summer I had feared (pointlessly) that the verdict would come just before the election, provoke riots, and lead to a Romney victory (and a war with Iran). Fred Reed, a smart guy and TAC contributor who used to be a DC police reporter, predicted riots more recently. But Fred hasn’t lived here since the ’90s (he’s an expat in Mexico, and invariably speaks highly of the place), and I think he’s out of date. We can hear and mouth ritualistic evocations of Emmett Till till the cows come home and continuous media intimations that “race” underscores everything in American society. But that’s an exaggeration, once at least arguably true, less and less so with each passing year.
I’ll go out on limb—there won’t be large riots; America’s black communities are not, generally speaking, dry tinderboxes of racial resentment. The people who might want to provoke or lead riots way are less influential in black America than during the ’90s or ’60s or any other time when there were riots. Problems in black America are legion, as black leaders know better than anyone—but there are fewer people who want to blame racism for everything. Obama’s election has made a difference—one being there now seems to be, proportionally, a far higher percentage of highly agitated “race men” among conservative Republicans than there are among left-leaning blacks. But the conservative Republicans won’t riot either.
Marvin Horne, a raisin farmer, officially owes the government “at least $650,000 in unpaid fines. And 1.2 million pounds of unpaid raisins, roughly equal to his entire harvest for four years.” In a remarkable feature for the Washington Post, reporter David Fahrenthold explains:
In a given year, the government may decide that farmers are growing more raisins than Americans will want to eat. That would cause supply to outstrip demand. Raisin prices would drop. And raisin farmers might go out of business. To prevent that, the government does something drastic. It takes away a percentage of every farmer’s raisins. Often, without paying for them. These seized raisins are put into a government-controlled “reserve” and kept off U.S. markets. In theory, that lowers the available supply of raisins and thereby increases the price for farmers’ raisin crops. Or, at least, the part of their crops that the government didn’t just take. For years, Horne handed over his raisins to the reserve. Then, in 2002, he refused.
The national raisin reserve was created by the Truman administration. As Fahrenthold writes, Horne’s “life has now become a case study in one of Washington’s bad habits — a tendency never to reexamine old laws once they’re on the books.”
Meanwhile, in the well-publicized throes of sequestration, one Pentagon department is reverting to another staggering, if more straightforward budgetary practice:
While Hagel is asking Congress not to take a knife to next year’s budget, the Department of Defense is actually having a hard time spending all of this year’s money. As Al Kamen at the Washington Post reports, at least one office within the Pentagon is practically begging its employees to “Spend the money! Spend it all! Spend it now!”
Why this desperate, ill-timed spending craze? The federal government, as Kristen Hinman notes, allocates funding on a “use-it-or-lose-it basis.” If the department doesn’t exhaust its budget by September, Congress assumes it can survive with a smaller budget. “So every summer,” she writes, “federal agencies race to spend down their coffers.”
Arcane regulations and egregious government spending (induced by preposterous laws) aren’t new. But as these stories illustrate, the federal budget has consequences — whether it’s a 64-year-old raisin reserve or acquisitive Pentagon employees (suffering a 20 percent pay cut and weekly furloughs). Despite their obvious flaws, mechanisms like the sequester do bring budgetary challenges to the forefront, and show us what we need to fix. At Democracy in America, Will Wilkinson claims that “big, dumb, indiscriminate across-the-board cuts” sometimes reveal urgent problems, or money that isn’t being spent wisely: “Meat cleavers work, and they aren’t in practice so indiscriminate as they may seem to be.”
It might be time to take a meat cleaver to the “Raisin Administration Committee.”