What will Become of Us?

Here at Just Atonement, we pay close attention to events taking place around the world that can help us accurately anticipate the future and achieve our twofold goal of protecting democratic institutions and mitigating the impact of climate change. Our primary concern lies with the world we are leaving for our children and we work every day to inform, inspire action, clarify principles, and light the way to a safer, wiser, and more sustainable future for all of us.

So when we encounter certain studies or face global events that relate to our goals, we often pause and ask: What does this mean for us? And sometimes the answer is far from simple.

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This week, we’re examining this study in the journal Nature, which provides evidence that Antarctic ice sheets are not only melting (which we already knew) but are melting much faster than researchers previously believed.

The rate of Antarctic ice loss has tripled since 2007. This is a difficult fact to process, specifically because no individual among us can take a quick, easy form of personal action that will have any impact on this melting rate within our lifetimes.

News and conversations about injustice, policy decisions, elections, and cultural trends can light a spark that can quickly flare into personal and collective change. But news about a melting continent doesn’t have the same effect. The scale is so massive and incomprehensible that no matter the context in which it’s presented, and no matter the metaphors and scaling mechanisms used to bring it into perspective, it still tends to produce one response in the recipient: paralysis. We stop moving, and we regain our ability to continue on with the day only when we decide to stop thinking about it.

Antarctica itself is a world that most of us will only ever see in our imaginations, and no youtube video can fully capture the spectacle of a collapsing ice sheet the size of Manhattan. So with that in mind, we’re asking for your support. Please let us know what this information means to you. How does it affect you as you hear it? Do you find it upsetting? Does it increase or diminish your urge to act, or spark an impulse to take protective action on behalf of yourself, your family, or the natural world? Are you awed, inspired, or unconcerned?

We are constantly amazed to find ourselves alive in an era in which we have so much control over the longevity and ultimate fate of the human race, compared to the control exercised by our ancestors. But how we will we use this control? How will we wield the remarkable tools available to us, the tools that allow us to understand how our actions impact the planet, and the tools that allow us to communicate with each other on a vast and rapid scale?

 Help us find answers to these questions by sharing your response to the news above. We’ll use your answers to guide our path forward.

Please leave a comment on our Facebook page, send us a message, or contact us directly.

The United Nations and Water Management

As the planet warms, scientific communities and governments around the world are working to identify and stay ahead of the major areas of concern that will result from this change first, second, and third.

For example, here at Just Atonement, we recognize that what begins as a global temperature increase will eventually result in shifting patterns of human movement and migration; as sea levels rise and natural resources expire in some areas and open up in others, human beings will move across the planet from one place to another in large numbers. These population shifts will lead to cultural collisions and mergers that may be impossible to accurately predict, but it’s our obligation to anticipate this upheaval all the same and make an effort to identify what these seismic shifts will require of us as a civilization.

Another widely-recognized—but still unpredictable—global flashpoint relates to water and water resource management. While much attention has been devoted to the issue of rising sea levels and flooding, massive droughts are an equally imminent aspect of rising temperatures and shifting ecosystems. India (home to about 1.3 billion people, or about one fifth of the global population) is now experiencing what the government identifies as the worst water crisis in its history. Read more here.

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So our question for the moment is: How does the United Nations address issues related to water distribution? Water is essential to human life, and access to drinkable clean water is a fundamental human right, one that is often controlled and disrupted by policy, politics and class divisions around the world.

The United Nations has no single specific entity dedicated exclusively to water issues. Because water concerns run through almost every one of the organization’s major efforts to sustain peace and to protect human rights and the global rule of law, water and sanitation programs are distributed among about 30 programs under the UN’s aegis, and their shared efforts are coordinated by a group called UN Water and its partners, who work to facilitate communication between these diverse entities.

UN Water: 1.) monitors and reports on the water-related actions of these 30 groups 2.) provides data that informs policy decisions, and 3.) inspires action.

The members and partners of UN Water support each connected entity in combined efforts to build sustainability agendas, create disaster risk reduction frameworks, secure financing for development, and anticipate climate change.

To learn more about UN Water’s goals and accomplishments since the 1970’s, please check out their homepage here: http://www.unwater.org/about-unwater/

And for a simple breakdown of each of the key dimensions of global water and sanitation issues, please click here. http://www.unwater.org/water-facts/

What is Populism?

Every now and then, a highly recognizable but not well understood term sidles into our discourse and becomes a household word, invoked by everyone from candidates on the trail to analysts who we rely on to explain complex social and political systems. We’ve seen this happen with words like “recession” and “healthcare reform”, and any number of “isms” that are used as an insult in one sentence and a proud political identity in the next.

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Right now, a dangerous form of populism appears to be on the rise in vulnerable areas of Europe and South America. But before we can attempt to understand these trends or determine what they foretell, we should agree on what the term means.

And the most important thing to recognize about this word is simple: It doesn’t really mean anything. There is no concrete or specific definition that ties the word to any political agenda. A “populist” is not a fascist, a conservative, a liberal, or an anarchist. A populist is not “popular”. The term doesn’t refer to any specific location on the ideological spectrum from left to right; rather, it refers to a strategic approach to a political goal, not the goal itself.

No matter what they hope to achieve, populists target their appeal to what they see as “the people”, or the many, instead of the “elite”, or the few. They often strive to ingratiate themselves with large majority factions that believe they have been overlooked or ignored by policy makers. Populists are not pluralists. Instead of embracing a multicultural audience, they target a single group within the audience and reassure the members of that group that they have value, often promising to restore a sense of identity and influence that the group members believe they have lost.

Why is this approach so problematic? What could be dangerous about promising to dismantle elite, exclusive institutions that benefit the rich at the expense of the poor? Because this strategy often turns the destructive, dismantling energy of “the people” against two entities that are easily vilified: minorities and the rule of law.

The populist approach also historically brings out the worst in all of us. Populism tends to leverage and exploit some of the weaker elements in our souls: fear of outsiders and immigrants, fear of those who don’t look like we do, distrust of the media, and distrust of anything aligned with “the elite”, including higher education and seemingly oppressive institutions (like banks and courts). If we are members of the target audience, populism promises simple solutions that will fix all of “our” problems. The solutions seem easy to understand and easy to implement, and they often appear to be rooted in a kind of homespun common sense. Unfortunately, these simple fixes place the blame for complex societal and economic problems at the feet of easily-maligned systems and people—like immigrants, women, vulnerable minorities, the disabled, and the very poor, as well as more abstract entities that still make easy targets, like “science”, “politicians” and “the rich”.

How do we avoid falling under the sway of populist appeals? We can start by distrusting quick fixes that seem too simple to be true. And how do we recognize the rise of populist leaders in areas and countries that are not our own? We can look for certain hallmarks, like direct appeals to members of threatened majority groups, easy promises that soothe personal fears and grievances, and passionate speeches that are long on fear-mongering and short on policy and substance. All of us are vulnerable to the influence of populist messaging—regardless of our personal group identities or our position on a wealth or political spectrum. We all have a responsibility to stand guard against the flawed and dangerous implications of these types of appeals. Learn more by clicking here, here, or here.

Venezuelan Security Forces Avoid Accountability

On Friday, the United Nations human rights office released a report calling on the government of Venezuela to seek justice for the victims of a recent wave of extrajudicial killings. During these events, security forces have swept through poor neighborhoods in Venezuelan cities in what have been officially called “crime fighting operations”.

Between July 2015 and March 2017, officers for the Operation for the Liberation of the People, carrying out an apparent crime reduction initiative, have moved through streets and entered homes, killing over 500 people. Most of the targets of these killings have been young men. In many cases, according to the UN report, evidence has been staged to make it look as though the killings took place after an exchange of fire.

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The officers involved in the killings have been granted immunity and none have faced charges.

The UN has called for an investigation into these killings and representatives have proposed the involvement of the International Criminal Court, but so far, UN investigators have been denied access to Venezuela and have based their findings on interviews with victims and witnesses.

Some of the evidence has been provided by exiled former Attorney General Luisa Ortega.

Increasingly authoritarian president Nicolas Maduro has led the country into a spiral of recession and hyperinflation, and as Venezuela’s currency loses value, hunger and discontent have sparked unrest and uncertainty. Maduro has responded to the UN report by calling the accusations of unaccountability “lies” and blaming the country’s economic strife on recently imposed US oil sanctions.

The UN report has been released just the United States has announced plans to leave the UN

Human Rights Council, of which Venezuela is still a member.

Last year alone, about 125 Venezuelan people died in anti-government protests. Inquiries into these deaths and those caused by the 2015-2017 sweeps both fall to the Bureau for scientific, criminal and forensic investigations, but the bureau is also allegedly responsible for these killings.

The lack of accountability for those involved, and the economically unstable and increasingly authoritarian climate of Venezuela, mark a path toward humanitarian crisis, a path that has been accelerated by Maduro’s questionable electoral victory earlier this spring. It remains to be seen how the member nations of the Human Rights Council will respond, but the US has limited its influence over this response by withdrawing its participation.

The combination of authoritarian governments and economic instability often place nations on a path toward systemic human rights violations. And as this progression takes place, we often see familiar signs: pushback and defensive posturing on the part of a challenged or illegitimate leader, immunity for officials who carry out crimes against civilians, and the state’s refusal to cooperate with international bodies, including investigators.

We anticipate another well-known hallmark will result from this ongoing spiral: a refugee crisis. Emigration will likely accelerate from Venezuela to surrounding states, and those who leave will likely reach US borders before the crisis is resolved. Our level of preparation will determine whether this influx can be absorbed and our response can earn the respect of the global community, or if our current chaotic and inhumane approach at the southern border will still be prevalent at that time.

Families Separated at the Border

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Last week, we discussed the announcement by the United Nations regarding the Trump administration policy of separating asylum-seeking families at the US border. At that time, the UN had recently called out the practice as a violation of human rights, and an already-high profile and much-discussed situation has received a growing level of attention during the intervening week.

The elements of the policy are reviewed in detail by Vox, here in a helpful breakdown that discusses the realities of the situation and dispels some false narratives before they take root.  

But many of us still have questions about the policy, the practice, its execution, and what we can personally do to take action on behalf of those who have been harmed by these events. Here’s a quick set of questions and answers that may be helpful.

Are children really being pulled from the arms of their asylum-seeking parents at the border? Or is this an exaggeration of real events or a burst of new attention being focused on a long-standing practice?

Yes, children are being separated from their parents. And yes, this form of enforcement has arrived with the Trump administration and is part of a newly established “zero-tolerance” mandate explained in the link above. It is actually happening, and it wasn’t happening before October of 2017. Many of those who have been separated from their children are forthright asylum seekers who have committed no crimes and broken no laws.

I have a specific question. How can I get to the source?

Contact the Us Department of Health and Human Services (https://www.hhs.gov/), which runs the Administration for Children and Families (https://www.acf.hhs.gov/), which manages the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

I want to help these children directly. I am a lawyer/journalist/prospective foster parent/non-profit organization/community leader/ etc. What do I do?

If you are a lawyer or if you wish to donate to groups providing direct aid to separated families, please click here for a list of organizations that need your help.

(This excellent article is regularly updated with new groups and new actions, so check back in again later.)

To reach the “Unaccompanied Alien Children’s Services” program within the ORR, contact the ORR main office by calling here: 202-401-9246.

If you speak fluent Spanish, Mam, Q’eqchi’ or K’iche’ AND have a paralegal background, contact the Texas Civil Rights Project here. www.texascivilrightsproject.org.

All I can do is donate. Where do I go?

The Slate article above lists several organizations that can help, but you can start here with the Texas Civil Rights Project https://texascivilrightsproject.org/ and the ACLU.

Meanwhile, check in with Just Atonement and join our efforts to take a legal stand on behalf of those who are harmed by policies and corporate actions that benefit institutions and the wealthy at the expense of the most vulnerable among us.