Israeli officials are usually pretty mad at the UN for something they did or said, or didn’t do or didn’t say. Today, Ambassador Ron Prosor’s outrage centered around a new UN report on Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children in the occupied territories, a report he complains mentions Israel altogether too much.

The report was supposed to be something of a compromise. The UN issued a recent report on violence against children in warzones worldwide, and was facing intense US and Israeli pressure not to mention Israel in this, despite the large death toll among children in last summer’s Israeli invasion of Gaza. In the end, they didn’t mention Israel in that official report, but released a separate report about Israel.

But the UN can’t win with Israel, and Prosor complained that the report about Israel, which again, was a report about Israel, mentioned Israel way more than it mentioned ISIS.

That would’ve been a fair complaint if Israel had been in the main report, where ISIS was one of the many violators spotlighted, but it seems absurd that Israel should expect, having gotten out of that report entirely, that this lesser report would also focus on countries other than Israel, even though it’s a report explicitly about Israel.

… or at least he tried to butcher them.  On this day 800 years ago, King John was compelled to sign Magna Charta, formally accepting a limit to his prerogative to ravage everything in England.  But the ink on his signature was barely dry before he brought in foreign forces and tried to wipe out the barons who had compelled him to sign the Charta.  The English almost lost their newly-recognized rights within months of the signing because they were not sufficiently suspicious of the King. As David Hume noted in his magisterial History of England, “The ravenous and barbarous mercenaries, incited by a cruel and enraged prince, were let loose against the estates, tenants, manors, houses, parks of the barons, and spread devastation over the face of the kingdom. Nothing was to be seen but the flames of villages and castles reduced to ashes, the consternation and misery of the inhabitants, tortures exercised by the soldiery to make them reveal their concealed treasures…”

Few people recall that Pope Innocent speedily sought to annul the charter and formally absolved King John of any obligation to obey Magna Charta.  English liberties received a boost from the death of King John less than a year after Runnymede.

The real lesson of Magna Charta is that solemn pledges do not make tyrants trustworthy.  Similarly, American presidents are required to pledge upon taking office that “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully… preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” At this point, that oath does little more than spur cheers from high school civics teachers.  It has been more than 40 years since any president paid a serious price for trampling the law.  And presidents have a prerogative to trample constitutional rights as long as they periodically proclaim their devotion to democracy.

In the final realm, Magna Charta was simply a political promise – and it would only be honored insofar as private courage, resolution, and weaponry compelled sovereigns to limit their abuses.

For an excellent analysis of why the heritage of Magna Charta did not prove a panacea in this nation, see Anthony Gregory’s The Power of Habeas Corpus in America (Cambridge, 2013).

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Here’s David Hume’s account of what happened after Magna Charta was signed (copied from the excellent Liberty Fund online version of Hume’s history): Continue

The maligned Warren Harding commuted Eugene V. Debs’ prison sentence and then invited the socialist anti-war felon to join him for breakfast in the White House. Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon, who otherwise might have landed in Leavenworth. George H.W. Bush pardoned Elliott Abrams after Iran-Contra. Bill Clinton, neither moralist nor saint, pardoned the fugitive crook Marc Rich. Barack Obama, who forgave all our chicken hawks, neocons, and torture lovers who lied us into Iraq, has offered not one word of understanding about the hard choices taken by Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning except to say he didn’t “think Mr. Snowden was a patriot” and that Manning “broke the law.” Continue

Democratic presidential candidate Lincoln Chafee is making waves with his odd foreign policy proposals – he’s put forth a daring plan to “Wage Peace”. The plan is daring only because it’s so rare for an American presidential candidate to make unconditional peace the cornerstone of his foreign policy.

On Rhode Island Public Radio this week, one local politico said that Chafee’s desire to wage peace “sounds nice – but one wonders how long we can maintain that position.” In other words, war is inescapable for whoever is elected President. It’s terrifying that this has become the default political position in the United States.

Chafee has gone so far as to say he would look to return Americans’ civil liberties, ban drones, bring Edward Snowden home, and end capital punishment (yes, this too is part of peace). Chafee’s platform went one step too far, however, when he said he’d consider talking to ISIS. This last idea is supposedly the one that proves everyone’s longstanding suspicion that Chafee is a few cards short of a full deck.

If talking to ISIS is a crazy idea, throw me in the insane asylum. Chafee’s suggestion that he’d explore “rapprochement” should give Americans hope that at least one public official, somewhere, is not seeking to become the next Murderer-in-Chief. Instead of blindly continuing his predecessors’ failed War on Terror, Chafee would make diplomacy America’s first option.

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Hisham Yahya, 13, is an eager student. As we sat in the large, empty yard of his school in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, with weapons debris scattered about, he said he missed going to class. “I just sit at home, it is so boring, and we have no electricity, nothing,” he said. “I want to go back to school so I can start learning again.”

It doesn’t look like Hisham’s school will be up and running again any time soon.

On March 26, the first day of airstrikes by a Saudi-led international coalition against the Houthi rebels who control the capital and much of the rest of the country, Yemen’s education ministry suspended all classes in Sanaa. Many other areas subject to coalition attacks and fighting between the Houthis and other armed groups soon followed suit. Across Yemen, 3,600 schools – 76 percent of the country’s total – have closed due to insecurity, according to the United Nations. As a result, about 1.85 million children cannot take this year’s final exams.

The school closures not only harm children’s access to education but make children more susceptible to recruitment by the many armed groups and tribal militias in Yemen that continue to use child soldiers.

Eighty-one schools have also been damaged in the fighting, UNICEF says. Hisham’s school, the Bilal primary school for boys in the Nuqum neighborhood, escaped relatively lightly, mostly with broken windows. It was damaged on May 11, when a coalition airstrike hit an arms depot on nearby Nuqum Mountain. Thirty-eight civilians were killed, including six children.

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“Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world… Shall we say the odds are too great? … the struggle is too hard? … and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message — of longing, of hope, of solidarity… The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise, we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Beyond Vietnam

Kabul – I’ve spent a wonderfully calm morning here in Kabul, listening to bird songs and to the call and response between mothers and their children in neighboring homes as families awaken and prepare their children for school. Maya Evans and I arrived here yesterday, and are just settling into the community quarters of our young hosts, The Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs). Last night, they told us about the jarring and frightening events that marked the past few months of their lives in Kabul.

They described how they felt when bomb explosions, nearby, awakened them on several mornings. Some said they’d felt almost shell-shocked themselves discovering one recent day that thieves had ransacked their home. They shared their intense feelings of alarm at a notorious warlord’s statement condemning a human rights demonstration in which several community members had participated. And their horror when a few weeks later, in Kabul, a young woman, an Islamic scholar named Farkhunda, was falsely accused in a street argument of desecrating the Koran, after which, to the roared approval of a frenzied mob of perhaps two thousand men, members of the crowd, with apparent police collusion, beat her to death. Our young friends quietly sort through their emotions in the face of inescapable and often overwhelming violence.

I thought about how to incorporate their stories into a course I’ve been preparing for an international online school that intends to help raise consciousness among people, across borders and share the results. I hope the school will help develop movements dedicated to simple living, radical sharing, service and, for many, nonviolent direct action on behalf of ending wars and injustices.

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