Here is my interpretation on how the US performs in regard to the 40 rights and freedoms in the Human Freedom Index:

The right to:

- travel in own country
Certain probation restrictions prevent travel outside of a certain state or county, and are sometimes too onerous for the crime. Other than that, the US does well, unless this right implies that public transportation ought to be available for travel within a country and within regions, in which case the US fails in most cases.
- travel abroad
Not much of a problem, except in a few cases
- peacefully associate and assemble
Dispite being a right guaranteed by the first sentence of the bill of rights, the US makes a mockery of this these days. Ask anyone who has been to or attempted to join a protest or rally in the last few years.
- teach ideas and receive information
It's a mixed bag. See media sections below
- monitor human rights violations
I think we're doing OK.
- ethnic language
The US does fine on this one

The freedom from:

- forced or child labor
Almost every state in US employs compulsory prison labor - everything from chain gangs to call customer service call centers for major corporations, and again, due to draconian drug sentencing laws, the punishment does not always fit the crime. I would say this qualifies as forced labor. (Forced) child labor seems not to be too much of a problem, unless you count the operations of US based corporations overseas.
- compulsory work permits
Not a problem
- extra-judicial killings or "disappearances"
There are a few famous examples, including the FBI murders of Black Panther activists. These days we seem to be doing better.
- torture or coercion
Generally not a problem, but I shudder to think what might happen once in a while under those hot lights in the back of police stations
- capital punishment
The US is notoriously bad. We are the only western nation with capital punishment and execute far and away the most people. The abuses of the system are mammoth, from defense lawyers sleeping through trials to judges refusing to admit potentially exonerating DNA evidence. In executing persons under 18, we are in an elite league with states like Malaysia and Iran.
- corporal punishment
24 states allow corporal punishment in schools, and progressive activists are well acquainted with police batons as punitive instruments.
- unlawful detention
Again, ask anyone who has been to a protest in the past 10 years. The US is an abysmal performer
- compulsory party or organization membership
Not a problem
compulsory religion or state ideology in schools
Things are definitely getting worse in this area, with many school districts mandating that so called 'creation science' be taught along with evolution in public schools. The 'state ideology' question is a thorny one, but I for one certainly remember being indoctrinated with my share of lies about history.
- arts control
Giulliani's occasional stunts aside, this is thankfully not much of a problem.
- political censorship of press
This is a tough one. Although the government usually does not engage in active censorship (an exception being the recent revelation of a military official 'working' at CNN), the institutional filters acting on the media have the same effect as government censorship. See Manufacturing Consent.
- censorship of mail or telephone-tapping
As far as I know, a warrant is needed for wire tapping. However, I don't believe e-mail is subject to the same protections. Watch out for that V-chip.

The freedom for:

- peaceful political opposition
Why wasn't Ralph Nader allowed into the presidential debates, or even allowed to view them? Why are ballot access requirements different for 'third parties'? - multiparty elections by secret and universal ballot
The US has the most entrenched two party system of any democracy. It is a de-facto two party state, and considering the similarities of the major parties, a virtual one party state. Also let's not forget that while wealthy communities often vote with fool proof optical scanners, poorer precincts are usually left with century old voting machines or notoriously flawed punch cards.
- political and legal equality for women
As bad as things are culturally for women, legally they are basically on a par
- social and economic equality for ethnic minorities
Grade: D minus No elaboration necessary
- independent newspapers
- independent book publishing
- independent radio and television networks
The US makes a mockery of these freedoms given the agglomeration of media that has taken place over the last few decades. See Manufacturing Consent for a further discussion. I would venture to say the range of debate on, say CNN, is about as limited as Pravda was, with far reaching consequences for democracy and the ability to transmit information.
- independent courts
I think we're ok here, last winter's Judicial coup aside.
- independent trade unions
The US is OK on this one, unless take this as also implying the right to unionize, which, although guaranteed by law, is often not respected, especially by the likes of Wal-Mart.

The right to:

- a nationality
not a problem
- being considered innocent until proved guilty
Again, one of our cherished freedoms from the bill of rights. Sadly, it does not seem to apply any more if you're black and driving, or of any persuasion and attending a protest or political rally of any sort.
- free legal aid when necessary and counsel of own choice
If we take this to imply that the legal aid must be of a certain minimum quality, then we have somewhat of a problem. Convictions being upheld in cases where defense lawyers slept through trials is par for the course in American criminal justice.
- open trial
Generally we perform pretty well here.
- prompt trial
Here too
freedom from police searches of home without a warrant
Generally we're doing OK, although 'probable cause' is getting stretched ever dangerously further these days. Even watching an episode of Cops can be shocking.
freedom from arbitrary seizure of personal property
This is getting to be a problem in the US. If you're ever stopped for a traffic offense during a critical mass ride, good luck ever getting your bike back.

The personal right to:

- interracial, inter-religious or civil marriage
No legal obstacles here
- equality of sexes during marriage and for divorce proceedings
Several states have different minimum marriage ages for men and women, and most states have different ages of consent. Other than that, we're doing well.
- homosexuality between consenting adults
Anti-sodomy laws are still on the books in 12 states, and have been upheld by the Supreme Court time and again. Many states and localities give homosexuals no legal protection from discrimination. See also Defense of Marriage Act.
- practice any religion
Fine, unless that religion has a centuries old tradition of ritual payote use
- determine the number of one's children
Thankfully, laws restricting access to birth control were struck down by the Supreme Court a generation ago. The next step would be to require health plans to cover birth control methods like every other prescription drug.

So by my reckoning we pass with no serious reservations in only 13 of the rights and freedoms.

Never trust statistics you didn't fake on your own. Freedom House, an US-based non-profit organisation relases its own freedom index since 1972. It divides countries into three groups: free, partly free and not-free. Each country gets a score ranging from 1(free) to 7.9(non-free) based on political and civil rights granted (more on http://www.freedomhouse.org/research/freeworld/2000/methodology.htm ).

The best score today is a 1.1 reached by several countries including all Top 10 Human Freedom Index countries (except Germany and Belgium which get 1.2), the United States and several other countries (most noticeable Bahamas, Belize or Cyprus(Greece)).

Considering the many countries which get a 1.1, a 1.2 has to be a great lack of freedom. Me, living in Germany, never noticed that, nor did I feel less free than people on Cyprus. Some other numbers a worthwhile a look, too. The former GDR (German Democratic Republic, the Enemy) ranged from 7.6-7.7. making people there less free than people today in Iran or Iraq (round about 6.5). I don't think so. If I was a woman and had the choice between the GDR and Iran, I wouldn't think twice, choosing the GDR, which at least granted me the same, though not many, rights as a man. I am drifting away? No. I wanted to show you that this statistic isn't worth anything. At least for most of the countries. What does it tell us? People in Sweden and the US are equally free? Or in the US and in Belize? Or people are surpressed in countries like Belgium and Germany? No.

This w/u is a brief survey update of the performance of the United States of America in the pertinent criteria, using Purvis's as a template. I concentrate particularly on the developments since the Great Airline Massacre. Please bear in mind that I have no intention of claiming that the US is a dictatorship; it remains internally a highly free place. However, the public trauma and hysteria in 2001 led to widespread disinterest in civil liberty (as often happens at moments of crisis), and the current administration has made some threatening gestures in recent years.

The right to:

  • travel in own country: The FBI has implemented a "no-fly" list that excludes a huge number of innocent people from flying, presumably based on their names. (The list has not yet led to the detention of any terrorists, as one doesn't usually buy a ticket reading "Osama bin Laden.") We don't know who, exactly, is barred, because the list is secret, maintained without court oversight. The only legal course of action for those placed on the list is suing the federal government, and, given that civil rights attorneys have been prohibited from flying, that seems likely, in spite of the difficulty of filing such a suit without knowing whether the plaintiffs are on the list (the FBI won't say). Extra-legal profiling of Arabs and South Asians has also led some to avoid flying in frustration. (Some would also cite the ID requirements as overly restrictive.)
  • travel abroad: The US has become decidedly less free in this regard, as many Arab, South Asian, and Muslim citizens and lawful permanent residents have been accused without substantiation of attending al-Qaeda training camps upon returning from their birthplaces or ancestral countries. See Maher Arar for a description of why not to fly through the US if you are Arab.
  • peacefully associate and assemble: The US has taken a serious turn for the worse in this regard, as peaceful protests against the Iraq war were shunted to distant locations, if not blocked outright. In New York, police attempted to prevent Archbishop Desmond Tutu from speaking at a rally (just an example).
  • teach ideas and receive information: The exception of court suppression of certain algorithms through the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, the debacle over Diebold voting machines, and the semi-serious suggested "regulation" of postcolonial studies are all fairly exceptional, but there has been little downturn in this category, unless one counts the harassment and death threats received by peace activists during any war (Nicholas de Genova comes to mind). The state sporadically suppresses information on illegal weaponry and the production of recreational drugs. (I object to these practices -- on grounds of the First and Second Amendment grounds -- but they don't seem terribly serious.)
  • monitor human rights violations: The press have faced substantial restrictions in their reporting in Iraq and Afghanistan, although much of the shoddy coverage is due to press laziness.
  • ethnic language: Many states, including Massachusetts, have abolished bilingual education programs, and the phrasing of the laws indicate that teachers who speak a non-English language in class could be sanctioned, although this seems a remote possibility.

The freedom from:

  • forced or child labor: Prison slave labor continues to be an issue, and certain political figures have advocated for the return to compulsory military service, but child and forced labor remains marginal.
  • compulsory work permits: Still a-ok.
  • extra-judicial killings or "disappearances": No targeted assassainations, although some innocents are shot by police.
  • torture or coercion: Two words: Guantanamo Bay. There exists evidence that the US is "farming out" prisoners to countries where torture is legal (e.g., Maher Arar to Syria). As yet, Guantanamo-like conditions have not yet been applied to citizens or lawful permanent residents.
  • capital punishment: The US may be falling behind China in quantity of executions, but it continues a disturbing trend of failures in due process, including the denial of consular visits to non-citizens convicted of capital offenses. The death penalty continues to be applied almost exclusively to persons with inadequate legal representation. The execution of the mentally disabled is now illegal, but the execution of those convicted while minors is only now being challenged.
  • corporal punishment: "Pain compliance" continues to be a favorite police strategy in response to peaceful demonstrations, both lawful and disobedient.
  • unlawful detention: Damn. The President has pushed for legislation allowing for accused terrorists to be stripped of citizenship. Other citizens have been detained for months without legal access or charges; the state has defended these actions with absurd "enemy combatant" claims. A massive number of immigrants have been jailed based on spurious accusations of terrorist ties, prompting the Justice Department to issue a scathing report. The widespread arrest of peaceful protestors has expanded, in spite of numerous successful lawsuits (Seattle, for example). The developments of the past several years are extraordinarily disturbing, especially given the absence of serious public or legislative opposition. The courts remain somewhat combative when it comes to the detention of citizens, although they maintain that the Constitution only barely applies to lawful permanent residents.
  • compulsory party or organization membership: None.
  • compulsory religion or state ideology in schools: In spite of opposition from the Executive, courts have reduced the amount of God-imposition in schools. Many public school administrators still punish students expressing anti-war or perceived "unpatriotic" sentiments, although this practice is technically illegal. The teaching of evolution remains contentious in certain states.
  • arts control: There has been little or no backslide in this area.
  • political censorship of press: Again, there is virtually no state intervention in this area.
  • censorship of mail or telephone-tapping: The USA PATRIOT Act has expanded wiretapping, and the National Security Administration continues to surveil an unknown quantity of electronic and telephone communications, with no court oversight or public scrutiny. While export restrictions on encryption software have been eased, virtually no one uses it. This area, especially in terms of NSA (and FBI) monitoring, remains an area of enormous concern for many privacy advocates.

The freedom for:

  • peaceful political opposition: See "peaceful assembly." The Executive continues to wield "patriotism" like a blunt object, and the Democrats remain fairly uncritical in terms of civil liberties and foreign policy. Left-wing opponents, particularly anarchists, remain the open target of a great deal of state harassment and surveillance (for example, during the preparations of anti-war and anti-neoliberal protests). Still, assembly remains the major area of backslide.
  • political and legal equality for women: Women remain underrepresented in every branch of government, and they are barred from combat positions in the military. No apparent backslide, however, and women are rapidly becoming more formally educated than men.
  • independent newspapers, independent book publishing, independent radio and television networks: Fox News. Seriously. There exists no major TV news source that gave a serious voice to opponents of the invasion of Iraq, and the related protests received little coverage, in spite of their staggering size (300,000 in New York, before the war started). "Embedded reporters" often present a romantic and uncritical view of the invasion; in Afghanistan, Ted Rall documented the total dependence of the US press on "official" news sources; subsequently, many reporters have overstated the stability of Hamid Karzai's Kabul government, or ignored reports of civillian casualties based on official US denials. Many print news sources are somewhat more even-handed.
  • independent courts: The "enemy combatants" nonsense theoretically allows the trial of accused "terrorists" (see "innocent until proven guilty") to be tried in secret military courts -- in other words, wholly within the Executive Branch. This is a Big Deal(tm). Rather absurd mandatory minimum sentences curb the authority of even federal judges, leading to some gratuitous prison terms for drug convictions.
  • independent trade unions: The United States continues to tolerate unlawful labor practices on part of employers, particularly in the treatment of undocumented immigrants (who are in turn used as a weapon against citizens or documented permanent residents). In short, we are seeing the continuation of a decade and a half of backslide, although the union movement has in recent years become more assertive.

The right to:

  • a nationality: Extra-legal harassment of Arabs and South Asians has become a severe problem; many women in New York and Michigan haved stopped wearing the hijab thanks to a handful of assaults. Profiling based on perceived ethnic or national origin has become widespread in airports, although it is often official (if not theoretically in opposition to official policy). Again, such practices can't be attributed to government policy.
  • being considered innocent until proved guilty: Not if you're Arab, or a non-citizen, or you're Jose Padilla. We're clearly falling fast here. Also, "assets forfeiture" -- the seizure of property of drug suspects, before trial -- remains a widespread problem, and in many places the police have incentive to over-seize, as their departments retain the proceeds. The accused has to resort to costly legal action to get back her or his car, house, etc., even if found not guilty. Profiling of black and Latino youth remains a problem, as does mass arrests of protestors. Some drug and drug-related laws (the RAVE Act, for example) hold event promoters responsible for the drug use of others; some states theoretically allow punishment for the accidental "possession" of psilocibe mushrooms and cannabis growing wild on one's property.
  • free legal aid when necessary and counsel of own choice: The treatment of post-September 11th detainees comes to mind here. The Executive continues to claim the right to deny counsel, particularly to immigrants but occasionally to citizens, when the charges are "terrorism." Free legal counsel often remains dismal, a major problem in capital cases.
  • open trial: USA PATRIOT and related measures are concerted attempts to curb this right, in particular through the implementation of military tribunals. See "independent courts."
  • prompt trial: Ha. Jose Padilla. Kevin Mitnick. Many immigrant detainees have actually had to ask advocates to try to speed their deportation, rather than wait for a protracted, costly, and often lost-cause trial.
  • freedom from police searches of home without a warrant: This remains a non-issue, more or less. "No-knock" or secret warrants may be disturbing to some, but they still require court oversight.
  • freedom from arbitrary seizure of personal property: Assets forfeiture (see "innocent until proven guilty"). "Eminent domain" is routinely used to make way for football stadiums.

The personal right to:

  • interracial, inter-religious or civil marriage: Basically no problems, although some of us would argue that the God fanboys' prohibition of same-sex unions amounts to a prohibition of civil marriage (as I cannot marry without complying without someone else's religious criteria).
  • equality of sexes during marriage and for divorce proceedings: Not major problems.
  • homosexuality between consenting adults: Sodomy is legal! Yay! The military continues to bar homosexual practice. Although unrelated, punishment for consensual sex between closely-aged "majors" and "minors" (e.g., an 18-year-old and a 16-year-old) remains vastly higher vis-a-vis homosexuals.
  • practice any religion: Hell, we aren't France. Many civil-liberties advocates have noted the expansion of surveillance of mosques and Muslim religious organizations, although I know of no examples of this that could yet be construed as authoritarian.
  • determine the number of one's children: Nifty, no matter how thoroughly our President dislikes birth control.

The most disturbing backslides have occurred in the legal approach towards accused "terrorists," a vague legal designation that may include politically-motivated vandalism. The state, in particular the Executive, has taken on extraordinary powers in terms of detentions and surveillance. In many cases, the Executive has moved to supercede judicial authority in such cases, particularly with respect to non-citizens, allowing "law enforcement" to operate with impunity. In addition, violent suppression of large, peaceful protests has become the norm. Judicial response to both of these trends remains mixed, although legislative opposition has been virtually nil.

Probably the most frightening reality of all of this, however, is that public outcry has been so readily forestalled through the use of the designation of "terrorist." By restricting the most gratuituous of offenses to marginal groups -- suspected "radical" Muslims, especially, and those with minor visa violations -- the current administration has been able to set some rather frightening precedents. While I find the "it-might-be-us-next" logic obnoxious ("they" merit decent treatment whether or not it means anything for "us," for any value of "them" and "us"), many US voters appear unwilling to recognize that the treatment of non-citizens and perceived religious extremists (at least, the kind that doesn't get elected to office) will wind up weighing heavily on the Bill of Rights.

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