Human Rights, Freedom, and Pluralistic Democracy

===================  Introduction =============

Voters are engrossed with immigration and inflation – issues dominating the U.S. presidential campaign. It is easy to forget the important fundamental  foundations of democracy, human rights, and free speech must be strengthened, for progress to be made in creating a more just society in all the more visible components.

In a dramatic display of its power, The Supreme Court [SCOTUS] released its 6-3 decision in Trump v. United States, dramatically redefining the concept and breadth of presidential immunity. 

"Today, the conservative-captured Roberts Court made law what former President Nixon once infamously asserted – that when a President commits what would otherwise be a criminal act, it is not illegal. It is an assertion that was met at the time with horror and disgust and today’s decision is worthy of the same response. It defies reason that our courts cannot hold accountable Presidents, with the vast power that they wield, for their criminal abuse of that power.

  •  The American Constitution Society 

If the President is not accountable; no one else will respect a demand to be held accountable.

A President could take away your Freedom to Elect your government: by instructing the Attorney General to selectively investigate [black list] political opponents on compliance with Election Laws;

A President could take away your Religious Freedom with rules favoring a particular religion within Government Departments;

A President could become the Orwellian Big Brother by defining “misinformation” to the Press – effectively taking away your Freedom of Speech.

==============   Right to Bear Arms  ===========

Other Freedoms like the Right to Bear Arms (2nd Amendment) could be regulated according to the President’s whims; with no Media journalists to question him/her and no SCOTUS restraints. 

Even before this latest SCOTUS ruling; improving the regulation of firearms to reduce unnecessary deaths had barely been addressed by Congress or the Supreme Court; largely thanks to the outsized lobbying power of the NRA and similar organizations (financed to a great extent by the firearms manufacturing industry, which helps stir up unfounded fears that "the government is about to take your guns").. This is an issue where an 18th century concept desperately needs to be brought into the 21st Century. 

Demonstrating its ultra-conservative bent; the Supreme Court recently voted 6 to 3 to strike down the Trump-era ban on "bump stocks" which enable semiautomatic rifles to fire so rapidly as to rival machine guns (which are banned, from private ownership).  The bump stock ban was put in place in 2017 after the Las Vegas mass shooting with AR-15s outfitted with them, resulting in 60 deaths and hundreds injured within 11 minutes. The SCOTUS majority said that the definition of a machine gun was that it continues to fire with just one pull of the trigger, while a bump stock attached to it uses the bump of the recoil that enables it to continue firing. 

The three justices who dissented stated that using a technicality to effectively enable a new kind of machine gun, served to "legalize an instrument of mass murder".

But not all is lost; by an 8-to-1 vote. SCOTUS did agree in a separate decision, that the government had the right to take guns away from those convicted of being domestic abusers.

To put this in perspective from the standpoint of human rights, more Americans have died from gun violence just since 1970 (about 1.4 million) than in all our wars (1.3 million). There are 300 million firearms and 22% of new purchases are bought without even a background check. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were more deaths from firearms (including accidents and suicides) in 2021, 48,830, than in any year since 1968 (the last on record):  

Compared with other major countries, the U.S. is an outlier, with homicide rates 77 times those of Germany (which has 20 guns per 100 people compared with the U.S. with 121):

There are many ways to find ways to regulate guns without infringing on the Second Amendment that allows Americans to own them. As New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof points out, liberals fail to protect the public by trying to ban or severely restrict many firearms, but Prohibition of any kind does not work well and can't get bipartisan support: . Instead, reduction of harm should be the goal. "The model should be like we regulate other dangerous things, such as automobiles, alcohol, and tobacco," he wrote. There is a great deal of evidence that background checks (including an emphasis on mental health) make a big difference, as do safe storage, not allowing those under 21 to buy, and requiring training. A comparison of states with strong laws that are enforced compared with those that are looser shows the former have far fewer gun deaths per capita. One of the strictest, California, has a 38% lower  firearms mortality rate than the national average.

=============  Civil Rights ===============

Civil Rights abuses, by ethnicity and gender, are also a threat to Freedom, as demonstrated in the Black Lives Matter [BLM] and #MeToo movements.

Karen Bass, the recently elected mayor of Los Angeles, has developed arguably the most successful progressive message on crime. A former community organizer who spent 12 years in the House of Representatives, she has struck a balance by calling for both the hiring of hundreds of additional police officers and tougher punishments for abusive officers. “We must stop crimes in progress and hold people accountable”.

U.S. leaders need to work towards bipartisan solutions to these all critical issues. "Defend freedom, but lower the cost," should be the foundational principle of reforms. Creative use of modern technology, as evidenced by the effective use of drones by Ukraine; and Special Forces, can hold down human and dollar costs. When Police join forces with Social Workers, we solve lawlessness with less pain: see my article on homelessness:

===========  International Freedoms =================

Americans Must Be Committed To These Principles in the Rest of the World

President Franklin D. Roosevelt had to be very careful about helping the United Kingdom after Nazi Germany began World War II in September 1939, since the U.S. government was bound by the Neutrality Acts of the 1930s. His efforts led to the March 1941 Lend-Lease program.  The Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941 suddenly changed the minds of most Americans about isolationism, even the many who had previously isolationist/pacifist sentiments. Appeasement of Germany in the 1930s did NOT lead to peace.

It is shocking today that Republicans, always known for their militant opposition to the perceived enemies of the U.S. and often criticized for their eagerness to intervene against them around the world; should now be defending the leaders of Russia, China, and North Korea. Before Donald Trump took over the party and encouraged neo-isolationism among its grassroots members, who would have thought that some GOP leaders would be supporting his hostility towards NATO, which was formed to protect the alliance of the U.S. and key nations in Europe from aggression by the Soviet Union. Many attribute the fall of the U.S.S.R. in 1991, in part to the Reagan Doctrine of encouraging freedom behind the "iron curtain" of communism:

Russia's second invasion of Ukraine in June 2024 caused previously neutral Sweden and Finland, to join NATO. The first invasion occurred in 2014, when it seized the eastern Donbas region and the Crimean Peninsula, with little assistance from other countries.

Russia’s invasion  has caused the displacement of 8 million Ukrainians out of a population of 41 million, creating the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since WW2. Thanks to Ukrainian courage, technical ingenuity, and creative deployment,  with tremendous support from many nations, they have largely kept Russia, with its callous disregard for civilian casualties, from occupying most of their country -- while inflicting enormous casualties on the invaders. 

Clear violations of human rights, and the Rules of War, have been addressed by the ICC. Senior Russian officials, including Putin, have address warrants against them. Some infringements by Ukrainians have also been addressed. It’s critical that the ICC be impartial. The UN Security Council should be reformed such that it cannot be stymied by the veto of a single nation; which naturally was used by Russia in the Ukraine war. This will be the subject of a future article.

Unfortunately, under Trump, we’ve an alarming new Republican attitude supporting authoritarians in general, from Hungary to Brazil, with anti-immigrant sentiment driving Europeans to the right from France to Italy. 

While political moderates are united on the need to fully back Ukraine, there is less agreement about the Israel-Hamas war, since both sides have committed such serious violations of international law that almost every nation has condemned both for their excesses. 

The U.S. and other countries have been unable to persuade Israel (under Netanyahu) to move towards a Two State Solution, which was agreed to by Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin in the Oslo Agreement of 1993. PM Rabin was assassinated in 1995 for this agreement, by an illegal Israeli settler.

In the current Gaza conflict, Hamas was the aggressor with the initial killing of 1,139 people on Oct. 7, 2023 and taking of 251 hostages. However, as of June 22, 2024, 37,396 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and another 1,478 Israelis have been reported killed. The dropping of 29,000 shells and huge bombs on the Gaza Strip relatively indiscriminately by Israeli forces has caused greater destruction than the bombing of Dresden, Hamburg, and London during WW2 combined (the number of munitions dropped by the U.S. during the Iraq War 2004-2010 was just 3,678).  The USA and others have been unable to get Israel to restrain its military tactics; whose effects are alienating the Arab countries which had hoped to eventually become part of a new Middle East at-peace, with Israel eventually recognizing a Palestinian state. 

Israel's policies towards Palestinians have been compared to South Africa's apartheid period by Human Rights Watch in a 213-page report: (as well as by the late U.S. President Jimmy Carter). 

Arabs comprise 20% of Israel's population of 9.3 million, while 2.5 million Palestinians live in the Israel-controlled West Bank and 350,000 in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem, and another 1.9 million in the Gaza Strip. 

The United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights [UDHR]  should apply to the Ukraine war and Israel-Hamas war, and to ANY other conflict. ALL parties should respect the related legal authorities: the International Court of Justice [ICJ] and International Criminal Court [ICC]. 

We believe that the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights [UDHR] should supersede the claims to sovereignty by individual nations/groups. Human rights and freedom are tightly linked. Article 18 of the UDHR specifically addresses Religious Freedom.

The world cannot long endure, half free and half oppressed.

Attempts by any nation to exempt itself, especially when rulings go against its desires, will render all of International Law ineffective. Unfortunately, the US House of Representatives has chosen to be selective in supporting International Law.   

The US and other democratic nations will have little moral standing in preventing Human Right violations in China (Uighurs), Russia (jailing/executing political opponents), and other repressive regimes; if they have exempted themselves!

============  Conclusions  ===========

Unless pragmatic political moderates in the U.S. join together to work towards universal human rights, freedoms, and the spreading of real pluralistic democracy, our domestic and global future will be dim. Throughout the world, effective “Checks & Balances” should be encouraged to restrain the natural tendency to concentrate and centralize power -- into absolute power by one individual. 

What can you do about these critical issues as a citizen or someone who is hoping to become one? Simply voting is obviously not enough, especially given the bias  in favor of each state's majority for presidential and Senate elections and allowing the party in control to design House districts that favor it and protect incumbents.  Unfortunately, most Americans don't pay close attention to politics or understand the accuracy or bias of what they read, watch, and listen to. 

That gives tremendous power to those who are willing to become more active in participating in democracy, such as making donations to candidates, getting signatures for ballot initiatives, going door-to-door to register voters, making phone calls to potential supporters, responding to online posts, and so forth. Given how close so many elections are, one individual doing even a little extra work can make a real difference.


Dr. Sean Subas has more than four decades of experience as a senior executive, consultant, and entrepreneur with a wide variety of organizations. He received an M.S. in physics and his Ph.D. in Artificial Intelligence (AI) - electrical engineering from Purdue University, where he was a Fulbright Scholar; before earning his M.B.A. at the University of California at Berkeley in 1982. He has authored numerous articles in academic and lay publications; and received national awards for innovation, business development, and teamwork.

Contributions by:

Scott S. Smith is a freelance business journalist and small business and nonprofit marketing consultant. He has written two books: Extraordinary People: Real Life Lessons on What It Takes to Achieve Success and God Reconsidered: Searching for Truth in the Battle Between Atheism and Religion.