Hacked E-Mails, Leaks and Transparency
Are we enabling hackers? Every time someone is hacked, not only is the fact known, but what is hacked is made public. Sure the gossipy part of us reads what Colin Powell had to say about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. But do we actually need to know what he said? Is that truly newsworthy? What cause has been advanced? The ratings of certain news outlets or the voyeuristic part of us? Same thing when Sony was hacked a while back. Careers were lost over it, but was it necessary for us to know what celebrity said about what executive? The media make no distinction between what is relevant and what is not. Similarly they make no distinction between leaks, which are at times legitimate, that is when they have no axe to grind, and hacks. In the personality base media age, it is tempting to go for the lowest denominator—one way our culture has gotten to be the way it is—but that does not mean it is right, or constructive. Indications are that Russia was behind hacking Powell’s email. That’s important and something we need to know.
Transparency may be a need, but hacking is not to the way achieve it. And so we need new guidelines to better handle hacked material. We need media to abstain from using it just to use it. We need them to better gauge what is really in the national interest and what is in the given media outlet’s interest. We need a public to refrain from consuming the information. For as long as we do, it is incentive for the media to continue. I respect and applaud the self-restraint of Dave Pell not providing a link in his piece on Colin Powell’s hacked emails in his NextDraft newsletter. Why can’t more of us follow the example. In most instances, it is enough to report a hack has occurred. The way it stands, we make it worthwhile for hackers to continue. We reward them, encourage them and perpetuate a problematic status quo.
UNICEF has issued a report which puts the plight of today’s uprooted children as a global crisis in stark perspective. I’ve been reading about children as victims of war, and refugees, and the consequences of the number in several publications I follow. An article by Alexandra Zavis in the 9/19/16 LA Times put it in a way that makes quoting from it readable. The report says 50 million have fled from wars, persecution and poverty.
- About half of the 50 million children driven from their homes is due to conflicts and persecution, the other half is in search of a better life.
- There are 11 million child refugees and asylum seekers. Children in 2015 accounted for one third of the world’s population, but half the refugees. Mostly from Syria and Afghanistan.
- Turkey hosted the largest number of refugees, probably also the largest number of child refugees. In Lebanon one in 5 is now a refugee. In the US it’s one in 1200.
- 17 million children are displaced within their own countries, mainly in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and South Sudan. Not much can be known about them and it’s hard often to reach and help them.
- 20 million children are driven from their home because of poverty, climate change and reasons other than war. They often have no documentation, and have no protected legal status making them particularly vulnerable.
- In 2015 the US hosted 3.7 million child migrants. Saudi Arabia hosted 2 million and Jordan 1.4 million.
- 100,000 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum from 78 countries in 2015, they were mainly from Syria, Eritrea, Somalia and Afghanistan and can be easily exploited by smugglers and traffickers
The numbers tells us the magnitude of the problem, but they paint a sad picture for the future. These children with no or very little schooling along with the scars of their hardships face a bleak future. It will be hard for them to earn a living and thus they cast a pall over development , a cloud which is bound to affect many if not all countries. Leaving aside moral, ethical and humane reasons, we need to understand that helping them now has less consequences than not helping them.
Gun Ownership: A New Picture
A new survey jointly conducted by public health researchers at Harvard and Northeastern Universities gives a fuller and edifying picture of gun ownership in the US. There are, says the survey whose results were first published in The Guardian, 265 m guns in the US, which is more than one for every adult. Here is the intriguing statistic, 133 m of these guns are in the hands of 3% of US adults. This suggests an average of 17 guns per super gun owner. The US gun stock has increased by 70 m since 1994, so has the proportion of female owners. Although gun violence has plummeted handguns form a large proportion of the gun stock. The disconnect between the increase need to own a gun at a time when gun violence is down is something the researchers found of value. It suggests, one says, that that gun ownership is driven by an “increasing fearfulness”. This they think is relevant because it could point to future areas of involvement for those trying to decrease gun violence. Another surprising finding is that gun theft is higher than thought, 400,000 guns a year. Also a surprise is the fact that of the 30,000 suicide in the US, 20,000 are committed with guns. As a means to decrease the harm guns can do, researchers suggest that it may be possible to change people’s behavior in terms of storing guns and deciding how and when to use them. Other statistics worthy of note: Of the estimated 55 m gun owners, most average 3 guns; half own one or two; 7.7 m own between 8 and 140 guns.
While this survey points to the notion that the gun culture may not be as prevalent as we might have thought and, safe perhaps for the NRA and the lobbyists, also not as strong, it opens the door to more productive areas of activism to limit the harm guns do.
Human Trafficking: From Nigeria to Paris
Benin City is not on most of our radars, not in the news. In the south of Nigeria, it is not a priority for the Nigerian government which is busy with Boko Haram in the north. It makes it easy for traffickers who prey on the girls who live around there particularly in the rural areas near the city. They are well- organized groups, who prey on the poverty and the need for young girls—some as young as 12—to seek education and a better life. They are promised that in Paris that is what they will find, and “mamas” guide them through the process. They know that they will have to repay them for their passage and their schooling, and to ensure they will not default on their word, they are taken to a kind of which doctor which makes them swear they will and through elaborate rituals and ceremony drives home the point that should they not repay their debt, harm will come to their family. They are then given a “juju” a kind of amulet, reminder of what will happen if they do not do what they are told. When they arrive in Paris, they are locked into a room and learn of their fate. The first French word they learn is prostitute. They are at first escorted to a section of Paris mostly inhabited by Africans, and the “mama” who often herself started in the same way, has to negotiate for them until they know enough French to ask 20 euros for a trick, 100 for the night. They are stationed in white vans parked enough apart so a client can park in between. Later they are transferred to other more affluent areas, where customers are mainly white. They are there nude or clad in the thinnest thong underwear and a skimpy bra and work from sundown until 2am. There is no health care should they be hurt by clients or elsewhere, and should they get pregnant, the “mamas” performs the abortion. They cooperate or are told they could die and their families suffer. Afraid, believing in the power of the “juju”, cut off from all contacts, unaware of much given their background, they comply to a life that is a form of slavery—unless they can occasionally be rescued by one of the few organizations combatting trafficking.
If this happens in Paris, it happens in other cities. If Benin City is a source so are many other cities. In fact PBS ran a piece about another branch of this operation sending Nigerian girls to Italy. I read about the Paris operation in a recent issue of the French magazine Paris Match, a cross between Time and People and despite the moving interviews of the PBS segment, the Paris Match pictures were so graphic they are still before my eyes.
It’s not that knowing will help the lives of these young girls, it’s that the more we know, the more these activities are made public, the more a momentum against trafficking can build. Already this momentum has led to these girls being treated as victims and not perpetrators should they be arrested.
We are surrounded by so many serious issues that sometimes the problems not affecting many people can slip through the radar. Despite the amount of reading I do to write these pieces, I was not aware that forced catheterization was among them. In several states including Indiana, Utah, Idaho, Washington and South Dakota, forced catheterization is and has been used. A good illustration of how it happens is the case of Jamie Lockard in a small town in Indiana. He was stopped by the police for going through a stop sign. Suspecting he was intoxicated they gave him a breathalyzer test. He blew .07 which is right under the limit. They then got a search warrant for both a blood test and an urine test and took him to an emergency room. Later, in a deposition Lockard related what happened there. He said he couldn’t urinate, (although the hospital said he wouldn’t) so the officers handcuffed him to a bed, one took one ankle, another took another, while a nurse inserted a 16 inch catheter into his penis. In his deposition he describes it as “just as if somebody would take a burning hot coal and stick it up your penis.” To be noted is that his blood alcohol test showed .05. Lockard sued on the grounds his civil rights had been violated. He also believed that if it had happened once, it could happen again to him or to anyone else. The judge in Indiana threw out the case ruling that the police officers were entitled to qualified immunity, meaning they can be protected for bad guesses and grey areas. The US Supreme court has ruled on extracting blood and bullets in order to gather evidence, but the area of forcibly extracting urine remains unresolved. However, in another similar case in Indiana a few years before, a judge ruled against the officer. As a result the practice in that county was stopped. This divergence highlights another facet of this problem. There is no consensus as to how it should be handled and more often than not it seems court cases go for the officers and against the person who underwent forced catheterization. True, the number of people involved in what one defense lawyer called a barbaric practice is relatively small, but that’s not the point. Barry Friedman, a New York University law professor who has written on this subject summarizes the issue—as well as why I chose to write about it—when he said in an interview with The Marshall Project that what should shock us is that it happens at all.
Medecins Sans Frontieres: A Lesson In Principle
If there’s one group that meets with as much approbation as one can in our modern world, it is Medecins Sans Frontieres. They recently turned down a million doses of a pneumonia vaccine from Pfizer, the big pharma giant. The head of MSF explained why. Pfizer’s was a one time donation. Sure many children would benefit and many lives would be saved. But that would not solve the problem. The problem is how unaffordable the vaccine PCV13 sold as Prevnar 13, is. A course of treatment is 3 to 4 doses, and one doze in Morocco costs $63.70, $67.30 in Tunisia (who is about as far from Morocco as Norther California is from Southern). It is $58.40 in France but in the US it is about $137. One of the problems is how difficult it is to obtain data about costs, sales, profits, variation in prices. Not surprisingly Pfizer is secretive. It holds several patents on the drug, including some for how the drug is made. A South Korea company came close to duplicating PCV13 but Pfizer sued and the idea had to be discontinued. The vaccine can reduce death from strep pneumonia in children by 88%. Still no matter how difficult the decision was, MSF turned down the donation. Donations of a million doses would have helped treat the children under the current care of MSF, but the problem would still exist. MSF does not want to be at the mercy of drug companies which serve their interest first. For MSF this would spell an uncertain future not only for the needed vaccines in years to come, but also for other high priced drugs. Given the shortage of data about drugs and prices, making it even more difficult for groups like MSF to bargain, WHO along with UNICEF and MSF began a database where all can input what they know. Meanwhile the action of MSF is to be hailed. How many of us would have the foresight and the moral courage to do what they did. Perhaps they can set an example and inspire us should we be in a position to do something similar with the drugs we take or the issues we support.
To Ponder On
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”