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VIDEO: Two North Koreans Share Harrowing Defector Story

Thu, 06/21/2018 - 16:03

Two outspoken North Koreans defectors spoke at the National Endowment for Democracy’s 2018 Democracy Award after being honored with the ceremony’s biggest prize. The National Endowment for Democracy said the award that went to four of the most effective nonprofit organizations standing for democracy and human rights in North Korea. The two North Koreans defectors who spoke, Ji Seong-ho and Sungjuu Lee, each made a big impact in the room with their amazing tales from inside the world’s worst dictatorship.

The National Endowment for Democracy said the award this year was meant to honor the “civil society movement for human rights and democracy in North Korea by recognizing the work of these four outstanding organizations”. In the two videos below, both speak. Ji Seong-ho is actually the president of 2018 NED Democracy Award, a reflection of the fact that the Democracy Award was focused on North Korea from the start. He also runs the North korea-focused organization, Now Action & Unity for Human Rights (NAUH), based in Seoul, South Korea.

The second video below features Sungju Lee identified as a consultant at the 2018 NED Democracy Awardee Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights. The four North Korean rights organizations recognized:

  1. The Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR) is the world’s first and oldest NGO devoted fully to the advancement of North Korean human rights. Founded in Seoul in 1996, NKHR has spread international awareness on human rights issues in North Korea by organizing conferences, concerts, and art exhibitions, and by establishing a network of NGOs to influence government policymakers and the UN. NKHR also runs education and resettlement programs for North Korean youth in South Korea. Accepting the award on behalf of the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights are Bum-Jin Park and Sungju Lee.
  2. Since 2010, Now Action & Unity for Human Rights (NAUH) has been working to improve human rights conditions in North Korea and achieve a unified Korean Peninsula. NAUH has spearheaded awareness campaigns on North Korea’s human rights conditions, organized campaigns calling for unification, hosted cultural exchanges between South and North Korean young adults, participated in radio broadcasts that relay news of freedom for North Korea, and helped rescue operations of North Korean refugees. Accepting the award on behalf of Now Action & Unity for Human Rights are Seong-ho Ji and Shi-woo Choi.
  3. The Seoul-based non-profit Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG) was founded in September 2014 to collect, document and visualize evidence of crimes against humanity in North Korea to support the ongoing effort to hold perpetrators accountable, and to bring victims’ needs and rights to mainstream awareness. Additionally, TJWG works on capacity building projects for Korean civil society. Accepting the award on behalf of Transitional Justice Working Group are Hubert Younghwan Lee and Sehyek Oh.
  4. Unification Media Group (UMG) is an independent multimedia consortium based in Seoul, comprising Daily NK, an internet periodical reporting on all aspects of NorthKorea; Radio Free Chosun, which broadcasts content targeting North Korean citizens; and Open North Korea Radio. UMG aims to provide residents of North Korea with credible, timely news and information, while reporting to the international community uncensored news from within the country. Accepting the award on behalf of Unification Media Group are Kwang Baek Lee and Sang Yong Lee.

The first video of Ji Seong-ho is about 3 minutes. Take a look:

The second video of Sungju Lee is about 6 minutes. Take a look:

Expert Discusses Promise of Zimbabwe’s Upcoming Elections

Thu, 06/21/2018 - 15:17

The following interview was organized, conducted and posted by the National Endowment for Democracy, a “private, nonprofit foundation dedicated to the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world”:

Alex Magaisa is a prominent Zimbabwean lawyer and constitutional expert currently teaching law at the University of Kent Law School in England. Between 2012 and 2013, he was chief of staff and principal advisor to Morgan Tsvangirai, then Zimbabwe’s prime minister in a coalition government and leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, the country’s main opposition party. In 2011–2012, Dr. Magaisa served as a key advisor to COPAC, the parliamentary committee that wrote Zimbabwe’s new Constitution, which was approved at a referendum and signed into law in 2013. He is the author of a widely acclaimed blog offering in-depth analyses of law and politics in Zimbabwe. He is currently a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy. On July 10, 2018, he will lead a presentation that focuses on “Elections in Zimbabwe: Autocracy and Stasis, or Democracy and Change?

In late July 2018, Zimbabweans head to the polls for the first elections since Robert Mugabe was removed from office after ruling the country for 37 years. The new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has promised to enact numerous reforms to improve Zimbabwe’s economic and political situation. Mnangagwa enjoys the support of the military and entrenched elite that served the Mugabe regime, making his willingness and ability to make positive changes unclear. Meanwhile, long-serving opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai died in 2018, leaving Nelson Chamisa to lead the opposition MDC-T party. These new internal political dynamics are occurring against the backdrop of increased interest by the Russian and Chinese governments in Zimbabwe’s vast mineral wealth.

Melissa Aten of the International Forum for Democratic Studies spoke with Alex Magaisa about these new political dynamics and what they mean for the future of Zimbabwe. (This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. The views and opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for Democracy.)

Read the full interview at National Endowment for Democracy.

A First: New Zealand Prime Minister Delivers Child in Office

Thu, 06/21/2018 - 15:04
link

VOA – ENGLISH

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gave birth to her first child, a girl, Thursday, Ardern said in a posting on Instagram.

Ardern, 37, became New Zealand’s youngest prime minister when she took office through a coalition deal last year after an inconclusive election, and now becomes the first woman in the country’s history to give birth while in office.

“Welcome to our village wee one,” Ardern wrote on Instagram. “Feeling very lucky to have a healthy baby girl that arrived at 4.45 pm weighing 3.31 kg (7.3 lb) … We’re all doing really well thanks to the wonderful team at Auckland City Hospital.”

She posted a picture of herself, smiling and holding the baby in a blanket, with her partner, television presenter Clarke Gayford.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has stepped in as acting prime minister and will run the country for the next six weeks while Ardern takes maternity leave, according to an agreement they published earlier.

Ardern gave birth in Auckland Hospital, the country’s largest public hospital, with her partner, television presenter Clarke Gayford, at her side.

Ardern is one of the few elected leaders to hold office while pregnant. Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto gave birth while she was prime minister in 1990.

Supportive public

The public has generally been supportive of the popular prime minister. New Zealand has long had a progressive reputation and was the first country to give women the right to vote in 1893 and Ardern is the country’s third female prime minister.

Ardern found out she was pregnant on Oct. 13, just six days before she was propelled into the job when Peters, the leader of the New Zealand First Party, announced he was siding with her Labour Party in post-election negotiations.

Peters is a colorful political veteran who first entered Parliament in 1978 and has held senior positions in both center-left Labour and center-right National governments.

Ardern had played down the chances of any disruption arising from her absence, saying she and Peters would be in regular contact.

“There actually hasn’t really been a need to put down a plan. … We already talk about significant issues, that will just continue, we’ll just be in different roles,” she said in a interview with Fairfax media just before going on maternity leave.

Ardern has said she plans to return to work at the beginning of August.

Gifts from well-wishers

Then, Gayford will take care of the baby and will travel with Ardern between their Auckland home and the capital, Wellington, as well on international engagements.

Ardern worked until late into her pregnancy, regularly encountering members of the public who touched her stomach and passed on gifts such as “onesies” and miniature rain boots, known as “gumboots.”

“It’s been great,” she told reporters at her last major public event before giving birth. “New Zealanders are incredibly generous people and have been generous in their support of me regardless of the politics just as another human being going into a new stage of life.

Gambian Protests Force Resignation of National Police Chief

Thu, 06/21/2018 - 14:55

VOA – ENGLISH

Gambia’s police say the national police inspector general has resigned after two civilians were shot dead this week during a demonstration against sand mining. Police spokesman David Kujabi has announced Landing Kinteh’s resignation.

Human rights groups have pressured President Adama Barrow to hold accountable those who ordered police to “shoot and kill,” saying excessive force brought up painful memories of the previous government.

Police have said they arrested five officers and six civilians. An investigation has been opened into Monday’s shooting in Faraba Banta, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of the capital, Banjul.

Rights groups say Gambia’s government under Barrow must show its ability to conduct credible investigations. Barrow took office in early 2017 after longtime President Yahya Jammeh, whose government faced widespread allegations of abuse, stepped down.

link

“They Don’t Want You to Know” – Conspiracy Theories

Thu, 06/21/2018 - 14:46
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Consider these propositions: climate change is a hoax, vaccines are dangerous and the Deep State is not only a thing, but hobbling Trump’s efforts to make America great again.

Big conspiracies almost never exist. Small scale ones do, broadly defined at law as two or more people (together) doing an act or thing in furtherance of crime. Actually, one can get into deeper legal hot water faster with friends than alone.

But are overarching, complicated cabals with many players and moving parts influencing world events? Nah. Belief in them is widespread, however, and discloses various personal traits. For many, the X-Files is more documentary than TV fantasy. Such people comprise up to a third of Americans in the case of the climate change “hoax,” for example. This is important: irrational beliefs, be they religious or conspiracy based, can do fantastic harm.

Countering them can be frustratingly ineffective. Research has shown that fighting bad facts with good facts can just entrench the original falsehoods, a type of confirmation bias known as the backfire effect. Conspiracy theorists dig even in deeper asserting that people who try to debunk conspiracy theories may, themselves, be party to the conspiracy. It’s a no win situation like the old “When did you stop beating your wife?” question.

Conspiracy theories don’t grow everywhere equally, they thrive in low information environments like countries lacking a free press and free speech. Iranian society is known for its embrace of them and throughout the Arab world, where free speech is at a premium, all sorts of Zionist blaming nonsense is taken as truth. In some cases, like Saudi Arabia, along with old timey anti-Semitism, a supernova of the genre, Zionist conspiracy theories are even taught in schools. For further reading, a full and fascinating multi-decade catalog of the many bizarre political beliefs in the Islamosphere’s media is compiled by memri.org.

If we look under hood of individuals prone to conspiracist ideation we find some interesting quirks.  A meta-analysis by academics Douglas and Sutton informs us that believers tend towards lower educational attainment and lower analytic thinking. Our conspiracy minded president refers to them as “the poorly educated” – whom he loves, apparently. (Interestingly, belief in conspiracies is also high in narcissists).  Such deficiencies lead to a childlike tendency to perceive agency and intentionality where it does not exist. We are a pattern seeking species but with conspiracy nuts the dial is turned to overheat.

Religiosity is higher in conspiracy theory believers, hardly a surprise. Once one accepts virgin birth, talking snakes, 72 virgins or miracles there’s really nothing on the crazy table that’s off limits. Additionally, the theories travel in groups with those believing in one conspiracy theory tending to believe others, as well as psychic or paranormal phenomena: UFOs anyone?  Belief also appears to be stronger when events are especially large in scale or significant and leave people dissatisfied with mundane, small-scale explanations.

Demographically members of groups who have objectively low status via ethnicity or income are more amenable to conspiracies. Also, research suggests that conspiracy belief is stronger when people experience distress as a result of feeling uncertainty.

Large conspiracy explanations can be comforting as they provide a missing link to explain injustice, usually ascribed to the malevolence of bad actors. More satisfyingly, they define the world in black and white: conspirators vs. victims. They are conducive to in group/out group thinking with the out group (unbelievers) denigrated as “sheeple” for not seeing the truth. The theories may promise to make people feel safer as a form of cheater detection in which dangerous and untrustworthy individuals are recognized and the threat they pose is reduced or neutralized.

Finally there’s virtue signaling, a fancy psycho-neologism for showing off, implying “I’m the guy with the answers, I know stuff. I look behind the lies and find truth when the sheeple can’t.” Don’t underestimate that motivation, we all like to show off our knowledge but conspiracy theorists take it one step further by asserting access to somehow secret or inaccessible facts.

Though the psychological literature is slim, perhaps another motivation is that being in a minority of opinion believers get a charge out of their defiantly contrarian posture and the social disharmony it creates. There is actually a weird cachet to the fanaticism of standing one’s ground even in the face of real evidence and sane explanations. Perhaps it is this psychiatric tick which is motivates Roseanne Barr?

Unfortunately, for all the effort, push back from society and an energy sapping cognitive dissonance, conspiracy theories are more appealing than satisfying. They provide a phony world view without solutions. It’s a reaction to powerlessness that disempowers its believers due to nobody taking them seriously. The above studies have also shown that it makes people less inclined to take actions that, in the long run, might boost their autonomy and control via voting and party politics.

Externally, the theories are damaging and an assault on rational, reality based decision making. Experiments show that exposure to conspiracy theories decreases trust in governmental institutions, even if the conspiracy theories are unrelated to those institutions.

Even without a president who actively promotes them, a terrifying reality itself, it is trust in our institutions, not our leaders or their theories, which makes American democracy great. People do die from vaccine-preventable diseases. Environmentally, the climate change hoax theory permits denial of a real, science based threat of catastrophe. Abroad, how is Middle East peace possible with one side being taught crazy and evil myths about the other in schools?

Of some relief, Douglas & Sutton believe education can beat down the crazy in conspiracy nuts. For the general good and a respect for fact based decision making our individual contribution surely has to be to challenge them. And not forward their theories in any context.

The Border Children

Thu, 06/21/2018 - 14:19

God damn the man and the apostates he represents who would hurt a child fleeing from murder and death. Their parents have no choice but to gather them up and run for their lives, on a quest to freedom and safe passage from prying eyes. But lo, they find at freedom’s hill a cast of characters as abominable and evil as they come who falsely represent the creed of the America’s: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Who is this in the charge of this abysmal trial, as trusting children wrenched from the arms of their mothers? May they rot in hell’s great tomb and never be remembered, in the light of its amber hue and the warmth of its glow.

Who smashed the hopes of the innocent that we love?

Bring down hell fire and woe on the backs of these calloused beasts and do not remember their names in the Book of the Living. For they sold your innocents for power and lorded it over them. To their dismay destroy every one of them and leave none to flee because they hurt the ones in need. I pray.

Spread of Vietnam Street Protests Bares Deep-Seated Anger

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 19:10
link

VOA – ENGLISH

The spread of street protests in Vietnam this month shows a latent fear of China, worries about freedom of speech and distrust of the lawmaking process, analysts say.

Demonstrations with occasional violence reached 10 cities, including Vietnam’s largest, and attracted about 30,000 people June 9 and 10, London-based rights group Amnesty International said. Protests June 17 brought out thousands more.

At least 150 people were detained in the Communist country that frowns on dissent and police beat some demonstrators, according to Amnesty International. Eight people have been arrested, Vietnam’s Tuoi Tre newspaper reported.

Protesters throughout the country were responding to a National Assembly bill that would let foreign investors lease land up to 99 years in three special economic zones. They figured that investors from China, a political rival of Vietnam, would lease the land. Urban protesters also decried a cybersecurity law passed in the assembly June 12. The bill could lead to rules that let police monitor more closely what people post online.

“I think the underlying current of the protests is they don’t trust the government, and they don’t trust the National Assembly or they don’t trust the legislation,” said Trung Nguyen, international relations dean at Ho Chi Minh University of Social Sciences and Humanities.

Cybersecurity law

The assembly, Vietnam’s legislature, put off the 99-year lease bill until October for possible revisions. But protesters still fumed, as they do not know the October outcome. In the cities, protesters spoke out against the cybersecurity law as the specific rules on what’s permitted online will emerge only after about six months.

The law might let the government ask internet providers to share information about what common users say online, an Amnesty International official said. It might extend to people’s everyday gripes, said Adam McCarty, chief economist with Mekong Economics in the capital Hanoi.

“I think it’s purely political. They’ve always been monitoring blogs and some people have been arrested over the previous years,” he said. “But this one is a more obvious and blatant monitoring of everybody, even people not really actively trying to overthrow the government.”

In June 2017 the Ministry of Public Security proposed the Law on Cybersecurity to give it more power over prohibited content and anti-government activities. The assembly voted or 423-15, with 28 abstentions, in favor of it.

Second wave of protests

Protests surfaced June 17 in Ha Tinh province of central Vietnam, where thousands again opposed the cybersecurity law and the idea of leasing land to Chinese interests.

China makes up 6.8 percent of Vietnam’s foreign direct investment now, media reports say. The two sides fought a border war in the 1970s and today they vie for sovereignty over parts of the South China Sea.

About 200 were “detained, beaten and interrogated” in the financial center Ho Chi Minh City on Sunday, Catholic news website Ucanews.com reported.

The news website said tens of thousands of Catholics, including priests from Ha Tinh province, had attended “special masses” Sunday “to pray for justice and peace in the nation and for government leaders to protect the country.”

People at the rallies dispute the overall process for passage of new laws, Nguyen said.

“They think that there’s something wrong with the way the National Assembly is working,” Nguyen said. “They get instructions from the (ruling Communist Party’s) politburo and they are now working like a rubber stamp.”

In one province, Binh Thuan, protesters came with bricks and Molotov cocktails. They burned vehicles, injured police officers and damaged official buildings June 10 and 11, VietnamNet Bridge news website reported.

Vietnamese officials have accused extremists of inciting some of the protests. Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong appealed Sunday for calm.

Next moves

The sustained protests point to a “momentum,” said Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

The demonstrations were “not planned,” she said, and questions about the outcome of the cybersecurity law remain on people’s minds.

“I think that these protests are of a pretty unique nature and that the momentum is continuing 10 days later, (and) we’re in a different digital environment, so I think there’s a lot of unknown factors that are definitely difficult to predict,” Hah said. Vietnam does not block websites, allowing people to mobilize via social media.

But as long as Vietnam’s economy keeps growing, raising people’s incomes through job creation, protests are unlikely to reach a tipping point, said Maxfield Brown, senior associate with the consultancy Dezan Shira & Associates in Ho Chi Minh City. The economy grew 6.8 percent last year.

“The location of the protests and the intensity of them suggest to me that it’s isolated groups of people who were already feeling disgruntled about something prior to (cybersecurity) becoming an issue,” he said.

VIDEO: Reimaging Government Beyond the Nation-State

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 16:27

Recently, the Chair of Democracy Earth Foundation talked about the need for alternative systems of organizing governments as opposed to the age-old nation-state during a conference put together by the Personal Democracy Forum, an organization dedicated to building new policy around “technology’s impact on government, politics, media, and democratic societies”.

Democracy Earth Foundation is part of a global effort to update governments and voting systems through modern technology. Among their efforts, Sovereign is an especially innovative solution. According to their website, “With the rise of open source software and peer to peer networks, political intermediation is no longer necessary. We are building Sovereign, an open source and decentralized democratic governance protocol for any kind of organization.” Here is some information on the speaker in the video below, Pia Mancini, from the Personal Democracy Forum:

Democracy activist, open source sustainer, co-founder at Open Collective and Chair of DemocracyEarth Foundation. She worked in politics in Argentina with The Net Party, a party she co-founded and helped develop DemocracyOS, technology for democracy around the world. YCombinator Alum, Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum, globe-trotter and Roma’s mum. Now based in NYC.

The video of Pia Mancini’s speech is about 25 minutes. Take a look:

Worries Spike Over Reported Arrest of Dervish Iranian’s Lawyer

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 16:07

VOA – ENGLISH

The United States says it is “deeply concerned” by reports that Iran has arrested a lawyer who defended a religious minority member executed by Iranian authorities on Monday for allegedly killing policemen.

In a tweet posted Tuesday, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Washington is concerned that the lawyer, Zeynab Taheri, was reportedly detained for “disturbing” Iran’s public opinion.

“We call for her immediate release and (an) end of the Iran regime’s persecution of the Gonabadi Dervishes,” Nauert said. The executed man whom Taheri defended, 51-year-old bus driver Mohammad Salas, was a member of Iran’s Gonadabi Dervish community, a minority religious sect.

Iran hanged Salas on Monday at Raji Shahr prison near Tehran after convicting him of using a bus to kill three police officers during an anti-government protest by Dervishes in the capital in February. Salas confessed to killing the policemen during a trial that concluded in March, but rights activists said he had been tortured into making that confession.

The main overseas news site covering Iran’s Gonadabi Dervishes, Majzooban Noor, reported Taheri’s arrest on Tuesday, saying the prosecutor of the second branch of Tehran’s Culture and Media Court charged her with disseminating lies, anti-government propaganda and disturbing public opinion. Majzooban Noor did not specify the source for its report, which rights activists shared on social media.

Several rights groups focused on Iran have said Taheri released an audio recording last month, in which a man thought to be Salas denies the charges against him. The recording was posted on a Twitter account that the groups said belongs to Taheri. The account continued to post and retweet messages on Tuesday after reports emerged of Taheri’s arrest, and it was not clear who was in control of it.

In a further twist to the reports about Taheri, Iran’s state news agency IRNA said it “interviewed” the lawyer on Tuesday and quoted her as denying that she planned to release evidence of Salas’ innocence.

IRNA said posts on messaging app Telegram had suggested that Taheri would publish such information. But it said Taheri stated that such posts had nothing to do with her.

The European Union criticized Salas’ execution on Tuesday, one day after the United States used stronger language to condemn Tehran.

In a statement, EU foreign affairs spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said the trial of the bus driver “raises serious questions about the respect for fundamental rights and due process” in Iran. She also reiterated the EU’s long-held opposition to the death penalty “under all circumstances.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a tougher-worded statement on Monday, saying Washington “condemns” Iran for executing Salas. In a tweet, he also urged U.S. partners and allies to join in “condemning” what he called a “brutal and unjust execution.”

Iranian authorities have said five security personnel were killed and more than 300 people were arrested during the February 19-20 clashes between police and the Dervishes, also known as Sufis.

The Dervish protesters had been demanding the release of arrested members of their community and the removal of security checkpoints around the house of their 90-year-old leader, Noor Ali Tabandeh.

Dervishes have long complained of harassment by Iran’s Shi’ite Islamist rulers, who view them as heretics.

In a Tuesday interview on the set of VOA Persian’s Early News program, U.S.-based Iranian Dervish rights activist Hamid Gharagozloo said Iranian authorities feel threatened by Tabandeh’s popularity.

“Tabandeh has spent 60 years fighting for the rights of people who cannot defend themselves and won praise from Iranian lawyers, activists and philosophers,” said Gharagozloo, a member of the London-based International Organization to Preserve Human Rights.

Gharagozloo said Tehran also sees a threat in Dervish beliefs. “That is not because Dervishes are violent or want to topple the regime. Dervishes’ philosophy is based on helping humankind – a constructive philosophy that Iranian leaders fear will cause the fall of their militiamen who subscribe to violence.”

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Persian Service.

Must Read Native American Reactions to Trump Immigration Policy

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 15:21
Burial of the dead after the massacre of Wounded Knee – link

VOA – ENGLISH

“Indian Country remembers,” Mark Trahant, editor of Indian Country Today wrote in Monday’s edition of the pan-Native news site. “This is not the first administration to order the forced separation of families.”

He later told VOA, “I basically wanted to show the recurring nature of history. It’s a story so familiar.” President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy has separated nearly 2,000 youths from their parents since April, triggering outcry from many Native Americans who find parallels in their own history with the U.S. government.

Author, speaker and storyteller Gyasi Ross, who comes from the Blackfeet Nation and how lives on the Port Madison Indian Reservation near Seattle, Washington, suggested on Twitter that the policy is no surprise:

Native Americans are no strangers to the break-up of families.

“Most [non-Native] Americans do not know their own history, partly because any history that was embarrassing was not taught in school,” said Oglala Lakota journalist Tim Giago, editor of Native Sun News Today. “Native Americans were taken from their parents starting in the late 1800s and shipped to places like Carlisle, PA and Genoa, Neb. to Indian boarding schools. We are still suffering from the trauma it caused.”

Fellow journalist Vi Waln, editor of the Lakota Times, expressed a sense of solidarity with those detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“Many Indigenous people are praying for the [detained undocumented] children to be reunited with their families and for the United States to do the right thing,” Waln said. “But we know from experience that this might not happen.”

O.J. Semans, a Rosebud Sioux tribe member and executive director of South Dakota-based voting-rights group Four Directions, echoed Waln’s comment, remembering another government policy which encouraged placement of Native American children in non-Native foster families.

“In the 1970s, we had 25 to 35 percent of tribal children ripped away from their families. It took until 1978 to get Congress to create a law, the Indian Child Welfare Act, to curtail the abductions,” he said, predicting that the current policy of separating migrant and refugee children from their parents will leave lasting scars.

“The trauma of children being ripped away from their parents — the only true love they have — will haunt their dreams and memories till the day they die,” Semans said.

One Native American mother offered heartfelt sympathy for the immigrant parents.

I just can’t imagine my children being taken away and not knowing if I will ever see them again,” said a member of the Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas, who asked that her name not be used.

She said she believes the policy is racist: “Do you think we’ll see this happening to Canadians illegally crossing the border? No!”

Jefferson Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians, released a statement Tuesday which said, in part,” Congress and the President should take heed of such abhorrent mistakes from the past and actually live the moral values this country proclaims to embody by immediately ending this policy and reuniting the affected children with their parents. Families belong together.”

But not all Native Americans oppose Trump’s policy.

“I think we as a government have the right to detain anyone who comes here illegally,” said Rick Cuevas, a disenrolled member of thePechanga Band of Luiseño Mission Indians in California and author of the Original Pechanga blog.

“And those who are going after the Trump administration now were the same ones protecting Barack Obama as he was separating children from parents. His policies allowed 50,000 unaccompanied minors into the country,” he added.

A surge in migration of unaccompanied minors in 2014 led the Obama Administration to place unaccompanied minors in closed housing units until they could be transferred to family in the United States while they awaited court proceedings.

Trump has blamed Democrats for the current policy, announced in April, citing a “horrible” laws that call for children of families attempting to illegally cross the U.S. border to be taken from their parents.

However, there is no U.S. law or court decision that mandates that action.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says it has no policy on separation, but that children and parents may be separated in situations in which “DHS cannot ascertain the parental relationship, when DHS determines that a child may be at risk with the presumed parent or legal guardian, or if a parent or legal guardian is referred for criminal prosecution, including for illegal entry.”

In 2017, U.S. border agents apprehended more than 41,000 unaccompanied minors attempting to cross the southwest border of the U.S., and U.S. customs officials report that between October 2017 to March 31, 2018, nearly 40,000 families attempted the same crossing.

The Importance of the New Indonesian Security Council Seat

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 15:01

VOA – ENGLISH

Indonesia has been chosen as one of five non-permanent members of the United Nations Security Council after a competitive bidding process, inaugurating what is likely to be a period of greater diplomatic and geopolitical activity for the world’s fourth largest country.

This is Indonesia’s fourth time on the Security Council, the most powerful U.N. body, which is charged with maintaining “international peace and security.” Non-permanent members are elected every five years; the 2019 lineup also includes Germany, South Africa, the Dominican Republic, and Belgium.

Despite its size and population, Indonesia has not always been a vocal geopolitical actor, focusing instead on economic growth and internal affairs. But in recent years, it has pivoted toward becoming a regional power, leading major efforts on maritime security and also expressing solidarity with Muslim communities in places like Myanmar and Palestine. Indonesia Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi has already said that the Palestinian issue will be a “concern” for Indonesia during its Security Council tenure.

Marsudi heavily lobbied member states in advance of the election last week. Indonesia competed against the Maldives for one of the non- permanent seats allocated to Asia and Africa.

After the election, she told reporters that Indonesia would prioritize “peace and stability [and] combating terrorism and radicalism.”

“We will continue to advocate for greater transparency and accountability,” said Marsudi. “We will always make ourselves available and accessible to all members, to listen to their concern and expectations and bring those voices to the council.”

Potentially increased role

A non-member state only has five years on the council so its powers are somewhat constrained from the start. But one area where Indonesia might make an impact is in peacekeeping, since it currently ranks “9th out of 121 contributing countries to U.N. peacekeeping operations,” according to the Lowy Institute.

The seat could also reinforce Indonesia’s vision of being a “global maritime fulcrum, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s ambitious plan to make Indonesia a regional maritime power both in the economic and security spheres.

“Indonesia could use its seat to advocate more for maritime security,” said Pandu Utama Manggala, a researcher at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo. “The world is no longer only dealing with terrorism and extremism, and Indonesia has many more areas in which to contribute.”

“Indonesia and the U.K. are the only two countries in the next Security Council with huge maritime borders, which will give them authority on the subject,” he added. “Maritime security includes things like piracy, smuggling, and human rights, so it is a broad issue.”

Beyond the U.N. effort, Indonesia also created a foreign aid agency for the first time earlier this year, another indicator of a more outward-looking foreign policy.

Limits of action

But not everyone is sure that the Security Council seat will translate to real power.

“It’s all about the prestige,” said Yohanes Sulaiman, a lecturer at General Achmad Yani University. “Jokowi is not really that interested in foreign affairs and Retno is not that forceful either, she is more of a safe player.” He contrasted the present, decentralized era of Indonesian politics under Jokowi to the last time Indonesia had a Security Council seat, under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

“Now it’s different from the SBY years, when power was centralized and Indonesia could make a point on the world stage,” he said. “Jokowi lets everybody talk… there is no coordination.”

Political analyst Aaron Connelly also wrote on Twitter that he was “not quite so optimistic” about Indonesia’s human rights commitments, because “Indonesian diplomacy on the Rohingya crisis has been superficial and feckless thus far, and Jakarta is likely to oppose sanctions or an [International Criminal Court] referral” for Myanmar, which has been accused of perpetrating a genocide against the Muslim Rohingya minority.

Indonesia may also be yet unprepared for scrutiny into its own human rights record; just yesterday, the country barred the U.N. high commissioner for human rights from entering its eastern provinces of Papua, where there has been a long-running separatist conflict and ongoing violence.

In fact, some of the most promising diplomatic overtures from Indonesia are coming from non-state actors. A leader of the Indonesian Sunni Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama, considered the world’s largest Muslim organization, visited Israel last week for an interfaith dialogue, despite the deep current anti-Semitism in Indonesia.The same leader,Yahya Cholil Staquf, also met with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in the White House last month.

VIDEO: Why Fixing American Democracy is Up to Us

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 12:26

Recently, the Head of Policy at nonprofit Data for Democracy talked about the need for public pressure for pro-democracy reforms in a conference put together by the Personal Democracy Forum, an organization dedicated to building new policy around “technology’s impact on government, politics, media, and democratic societies”. From the bio at her personal website:

Renee DiResta is the Director of Research at New Knowledge, and Head of Policy at nonprofit Data for Democracy. Renee investigates the spread of disinformation and manipulated narratives across social networks, and assists policymakers in understanding and responding to the problem. She has advised Congress, the State Department, and other academic, civic, and business leaders about understanding and responding to computational propaganda and information operations.

In 2017, Renee was named a Presidential Leadership Scholar, and had the opportunity to continue her work with the support of the Presidents Bush, President Clinton, and the LBJ Foundation. In 2018, she received a Mozilla Foundation fellowship and affiliation with the Berkman-Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University to work on their Media, Misinformation, and Trust project. She is a Founding Advisor to the Center for Humane Technology, and a Staff Associate at Columbia University Data Science Institute.

Description of the event:

The problem of disinformation is bigger than anyone understands, and no one group is in a position to solve it. Not the tech platforms, not government regulators, not the watchdog groups. To turn things around—to even understand how to try—we need to think bigger and collaborate better. In this workshop with speaker Renee DiResta, participants will join guest experts to plot shared approaches and advocacy that can increase accountability and help reverse the disinformation crisis, building on the research and activism that has already begun.

The video of Renee Diresta’s speech titled, “Democracy: Fixing It is Up to Us“, is about 20 minutes. Take a look:

How World Cup is Used to Cover Russian Rights Crackdown

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 12:07

VOA – ENGLISH

Human rights campaigners say Russia is using the glitz of the World Cup to try to gloss over its deteriorating human rights record — and they want tournament organizer FIFA to use its leverage to force change.

The 12 Russian host cities have enjoyed a World Cup makeover, as Russia presents a friendly face and photogenic scenery to hundreds of thousands of visitors. Tanya Lokshina, Russia program director at Human Rights Watch, is urging visitors to dig a little deeper.

“Our message to the fans is: Take a little time and learn more about the human rights crisis in Russia today, about what is, in fact, happening under the tournament’s glitter.” She described the situation as the biggest crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union.

“Russian citizens are denied their rights to speak freely, to protest freely, and people actually go to jail for posting online things like ‘Crimea is not Russia.'”

Among those locked up is Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who criticized Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and is serving a 20-year jail term on terrorism charges.

In the Russian republic of Chechnya, Oyub Titiev, director of the human rights group Memorial, has been detained on drug charges, which his supporters said are false and politically motivated.

Before the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the release of several political prisoners. Campaigners are hoping he may repeat the gesture.

“We got a confirmation from FIFA that the organization’s leadership is engaging on the issue and hoping for a positive resolution,” Lokshina said.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino insists world football’s governing body is engaging Russia on the issue.

“Concrete progress has been made in terms of human rights and the way we are dealing with human rights questions. Also through football and through an event like the World Cup,” he said in a recent interview.

On the opening day of the World Cup, gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell was arrested after staging a protest outside the Kremlin, calling for an investigation into the torture and disappearance of several gay men in Chechnya. In 2007, Tatchell was attacked in Moscow by neo-Nazis and suffered partial brain damage.

A short walk from the Kremlin lies Diversity House, set up to provide a safe space for LGBTQ and other minorities to watch the games. Pavel Klymenko, of the equality campaign group FARE Network that organized the facility, said it is intended to make a political point.

“This house is a way of saying to everyone — to the footballing world, to the Russian society — that minorities are part of the game, part of society.”

The fear is that once the fans and footballers return home, Russia’s human rights crackdown may intensify.

The Key to Amending Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Court Law

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 12:04

VOA – ENGLISH

Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, welcomed on Tuesday the adoption by Ukraine’s parliament of a law to create an anti-corruption court, but said lawmakers needed to amend it to guarantee the court’s effectiveness.

Creating an independent and trustworthy court dedicated to handling corruption cases is one of the key conditions for Ukraine to receive further funding under its $17.5 billion aid-for-reforms program from the IMF.

Earlier in June, parliament passed the law after months of delay, but the draft contained an amendment that activists said would undermine the reform by allowing appeals on existing cases to be handled by the current courts system.

In the Fund’s first direct comments on the law, Lagarde said she had spoken with President Petro Poroshenko and said she was encouraged by the adoption of the legislation.

“We agreed that it is now important for parliament to quickly approve … the necessary amendments to restore the requirement that the HACC (anti-corruption court) will adjudicate all cases under its jurisdiction,” she said in a statement.

The law is meant to ring-fence court decisions from political pressure or bribery in Ukraine, where entrenched corruption remains a deterrent to foreign investors and knocks two percentage points off Ukraine’s economic growth each year, according to the IMF.

Establishing the court, adjusting gas prices and honouring budget commitments are key conditions to unlock the next loan tranche under the IMF program, which expires next year.

Lagarde said she and Poroshenko had “also agreed to work closely together, including with the government, toward the timely implementation of this and other actions, notably related to gas prices and the budget.”

Campaign Seeks 100,000 Young California Voters in 2018 Elections

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 10:47

From Rock the Vote:

Rock the Vote, the nonpartisan group that powered voter registration for the March for Our Lives, today released the 2018 California Voter Guide, a new tool to get the thousands of new voters informed and prepared for the polls this year.

Since the mass demonstration for gun reform on March 24, Rock the Vote has facilitated an influx of online voter registration with state agencies and third parties. In California, weekly pre-registrations tripled after the March, according to California Secretary of State Alex Padilla.

Rock the Vote is launching an issue-driven decision-making guide to the California ballot today to turn these new voters out at both the primary and general elections June 5 and November 6, respectively.

“Issues like gun violence prevention, criminal justice reform, and climate change are far more important to young voters than any one candidate,” said Jen Tolentino, director of policy and civic technology at Rock the Vote. “Young Californians have an incredible opportunity for impact this year. We’re ensuring that each and every person, especially new voters, have the freedom to vote and the tools to elect candidates who will act for our future.”

The California guide is the first in a series of state guides to launch for the 2018 midterms. It will be the first statewide election since the state implemented pre-registration to vote for 16 and 17-year-olds in September 2016, with over 120,000 teenagers having pre-registered since then. More than 50,000 are now voters. This swell is a sign that young people might make good on their potential to be the largest voting bloc in California, especially compared to 2014 where only 7.8 percent of eligible 18–24-year-olds voted in the general election, a record low.

“It’s important for me to participate in the election because I know the power I hold. Voting is important to me because we have to fight for our reproductive rights, fight for gun control, fight for immigrants, and fight for people of color,” said Zeyna Faucette, an 18-year-old student at Hamilton High School who registered after the February mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. “I want to vote because I want a say in what happens to me. I want elected officials that will protect the rights of all and keep our communities safe.”

The youth vote could have a decisive impact on eight congressional races in California, according to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning And Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University.

The guide will include responses to issue-based questions from state-wide candidates, and complete down-ballot information, including ballot measures. It also includes information on early voting, absentee and vote-by-mail requests, and election-day polling place information.

The Voter Guide was developed in collaboration with various California based organizations: ACLU California, American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, United Way of Greater Los Angeles, and more.

VIDEO: Political and Social Regression in Nicaragua and Venezuela

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 10:00
link

The Hudson Institute, a politically conservative non-profit American think tank founded in 1961, organized the June 18th event in Washington, DC. The panel included some of the latest thoughts from American conservative foreign policy experts on ongoing political crisis in Nicaragua and Venezuela. The Nicaraguan Minister of Education Humberto Belli, the veteran Editor-in-Chief of La Nación Armando Gonzales, and the one of the leaders of the Venezuelan Popular Will party David Smolansky Urosa participated in the event that was facilitated by moderated by Hudson Senior Fellow Ambassador Jaime Daremblum. According to the event description:

Nicaragua and Venezuela have continued to regress into political and social repression, further abandoning the pretense of democracy and resorting instead to violations of human rights and assaults on civil society actors. President Daniel Ortega and President Nicolás Maduro have consolidated control over their countries’ media, military, and police forces, co-opting established institutions of government–or inventing new ones–to suit their needs and financially benefit their allies. In response, citizens of both countries are mobilizing more determined opposition in an effort to recover the freedoms they deserve.

On June 18, Hudson Institute hosted a panel to discuss the current political situation in Nicaragua and Venezuela. Participants included former The panel was .

Hungary’s Continued Slide Towards Authoritarianism

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 09:04
Orbán and Merkel in 2015 – link

From Human Rights First

Human Rights First today released a new report documenting the Hungarian government’s ongoing efforts to undermine its judiciary, stifle civil society, and deepen ties to Russia. Hungary’s False Sense of Security comes in advance of tomorrow’s expected vote in the Hungarian parliament on the so-called “Stop Soros” legislation, a bill that would criminalize activities seeking to aid migrants and those seeking refuge from violence and persecution. The report follows a May 2018 research trip to Hungary, and draws on interviews with activists, journalists and other experts.

“Hungary is on the brink of making a major break from European and NATO values. If its parliament votes tomorrow to further attack civil society it will raise serious questions for its allies. Washington can’t afford to let Hungary slide further into authoritarianism,” said Brian Dooley of Human Rights First, author of today’s report.

Today’s report includes recommendations on how the United States should respond to the Hungarian government’s assault on peaceful dissent, anti-corruption activism, and the rule of law, including the imposition of visa bans on corrupt officials, and financial support for civil society.

On June 5, in remarks at the Heritage Foundation, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Wess Mitchell outlined the Trump Administration’s approach to Europe, noting that democratic norms and institutions form the foundation of transatlantic security and prosperity. July’s NATO Summit gives the United States an opportunity to state in no uncertain terms that it is concerned with the Hungarian government’s actions, and to raise bilateral security-related matters, such as the issuance of Hungarian visas and passports.

In April 2017, Human Rights First released, “No Society Without Civil Society: Orban, Putin, and Why the United States Should Resist Hungary’s Attack on NGOs,” a report that detailed Prime Minister Orban’s close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government’s systematic assault on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and independent media. Human Rights First has for many years recommended how the U.S. government should respond to Hungary’s assault on democratic institutions and the rule of law.

“The coming weeks will be vital for Hungary, and for its allies. It’s time for the European Union and the United States to decide what to do with an increasingly unreliable partner. Anyone interested in America’s national security needs to seriously worry about Hungary,” added Dooley.

VIDEO: Building Democratic Resilience by Organizing Civic Resistance

Tue, 06/19/2018 - 20:00

Recently, the Executive Director of MoveOn.org Civic Action talked about the need for reorganizing civic resistance in a conference put together by the Personal Democracy Forum, an organization dedicated to building new policy around “technology’s impact on government, politics, media, and democratic societies”. MoveOn.org Civic Action’s Executive Director Anna Galland’s work involves organizing millions of MoveOn.org members cultivated at the grassroots into the nationally influential progressive organization it has become. From her bio at MoveOn.org:

A native of Evanston, Illinois, she has led issue advocacy and electoral campaigns at MoveOn since 2007… Working closely with MoveOn Political Action’s Executive Director, Ilya Sheyman, she has overseen MoveOn’s growth and development since 2013— tripling MoveOn’s budget, growing its grassroots membership and reach, and launching innovative new programs to harness technology and people-power, including an open petition platform that’s supported tens of thousands of grassroots-led campaigns and a VideoLab that’s driven more than 300 million views to original progressive content. She has three young children and lives in the Chicago area.

The video of Anna Galland’s speech titled, “Organizing Civic Resistance and Building Democratic Resilience“, is about 30 minutes. Take a look:

Ohio Democratic Voters Sue State Over Gerrymandered Maps

Tue, 06/19/2018 - 19:36

Democratic voters in Ohio are challenging the state’s re-drawing of 16 House of Representatives districts saying that they were unfairly re-drawn to give advantage to Republicans. The lawsuit against the redrawn maps also says that they were designed unfairly to give advantage to Republicans, a process known also as gerrymandering.

The current spat began in 2011 when Ohio Governor John Kasich signed a Republican sponsored bill into law that re-drew 16 of Ohio’s House of Representatives seats. The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio on May 22 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) representing the Democratic Party’s argument. The official title for the court case is, A. Phillip Randolph Institute v Kasich and could potentially make it’s way all the way up to the Supreme Court.

Official congressional portrait of John Kasich – link

The case will have important ramifications in upcoming elections as Ohio, a key battleground state that has major influence upon the American political landscape, especially when it comes to Presidential elections.

“This 12-4 map prevents large portions of Ohio’s voting population from ever having their votes meaningfully deployed to count, much less see their democratic will reflected, in their congressional delegation,” a statement filed by the ACLU read. Allegations in the lawsuit say that Republicans are practicing what is known as “packing”, which is a means by which a party re-draws a map to unfairly give an advantage to one side over the other.

The strategy of “packing” is where the redistricting is used to redraw different district lines to coincide lump like-minded voters together in ways that offer political advantage. The other complementary tactic that is used in political mapping is known as “cracking.” Cracking is defined as a process involved in spreading voters of a particular type among many districts in order to dilute their influence and deny them a sufficiently large voting bloc in any particular district.

Many Democrats argue that the shape the newly redrawn maps doesn’t give the opposing voter enough influence on the election by setting up a system where their vote doesn’t count as much as Republicans. “Both tactics force the voter of those from the opposing party to be used inefficiently, by placing the opposing party’s voters in districts where their votes will not have any impact on the outcome,” the statement continued.

Ohio is currently ruled under what is known as a Trifecta which means one party (the Republicans) control all three branches of Government: the Governorship, the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Republicans won the House of Representatives in the last election 66 to 33, and in the Senate, the Republicans increased their advantage in 2016 from 24 to 9.

Ohio has elections in 2018 in both the House of Representatives and also the Senate, however it is highly unlikely that a ruling on this case will be determined in time to have a significant impact on the elections. But on Tuesday, the U.S Supreme Court made headlines by ruling against the lawsuits that would have blocked new district maps in Wisconsin and Maryland – sending a strong message likely to set the tone for further cases such as in Ohio. The case in Wisconsin was brought by a group of Democratic voters, and the case in Maryland was brought by a group of Republicans.

“If the way the congressional lines were drawn were such an issue for the ACLU, A. Phillip Randolph Institute, and League of Women Voters, why did they wait for six years to file a lawsuit challenging the maps,” Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted said in a statement.

In my opinion, if the Supreme Court rules that this round of Ohio redistricting is unconstitutional, it should remain consistent and rule in favor for Republican voters who have also had been affected by redrawn maps in states such as Illinois and Maryland. Only a solution that works for both parties is likely to stick.

Highlighting George Clooney’s Life of Celebrity Activism

Tue, 06/19/2018 - 19:16
George Clooney with Barack Obama in 2016 – link

VOA – ENGLISH

George Clooney’s Hollywood career spans more than three decades, with memorable roles including fighting vampires, playing Batman and drifting through space in “Gravity.” But Clooney’s other accomplishments, including directing, screenwriting and activism, led to him becoming the latest recipient of the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award.

Clooney, 57, was honored at a star-studded tribute gala earlier this month at the Dolby Theatre, where he has been a frequent guest because of the Academy Awards, including in 2006 when Clooney won for best supporting actor. TNT will air the tribute on Thursday at 10 p.m. Eastern and Pacific.

The star was all smiles during the tribute, where he was honored by stars from Jennifer Aniston to Bill Murray, along with his parents and his wife Amal. Photos of him playing his most memorable roles overlooked the stage as the celebration unfolded, and Clooney told his own story through video vignettes.

Here are some of the highlights of the gala:

The Early Years

During his acceptance speech, Clooney spoke about when he was new to Hollywood.

“When I was a young, broke unemployed actor, not only did I not have a job, I didn’t have an agent, I couldn’t get auditions,” he said. “I was lucky enough to be able to do a few short films for some up-and-coming young directors at the AFI.”

Laura Dern was the first to mention one of Clooney’s early films, “Grizzly 2,” which was never officially released. Dern and Clooney both had a short sequence in the film in which they climb a mountain and get eaten by a bear. Dern reminisced about how the two were stranded in Hungary after the film ran out of funding.

Clooney accrued more TV and film gigs with shows such as “ER” and “The Facts of Life” which eventually led to his major film roles in “From Dusk ‘Till Dawn” and “Batman & Robin.”

Global Activism

Amal Clooney, a distinguished human rights lawyer, noted her husband’s Kentucky manners and tendency to stick up for the most vulnerable, even on the film set.

The actor’s social justice work was cited even early on in his Hollywood career.

Actor Richard Kind said Clooney once convinced him to help clean up East Los Angeles after the LA riots in 1992. He also joined in the fight for same-sex marriage and more recently, helped raise money for victims of Hurricane Harvey and mentored survivors of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

When Clooney tried to bring attention to the humanitarian crisis in Sudan in 2012, he was arrested for crossing a police line with his father, a moment he said he’s proud of. He was also the U.N. designated Messenger of Peace from 2008 to 2014.

“Look, if the cameras are going to follow me where I go, then I’m going to where the cameras should be,” he said in one of his vignettes.

“A Celebration of Life”

Apart from his activism, Clooney is also known far and wide for his eternal trickster spirit.

Jimmy Kimmel called Clooney “the world’s most diabolical prankster” and told of the actor’s biggest pranks. He once filled Bill Murray’s luggage with gravel and Chris O’Donnell’s car with popcorn. He also ended his film “Monuments Men” with a memorial dedication to his father, who is still alive.

But the actor himself wasn’t immune to the comic relief. Murray quipped about how Clooney was receiving the award at such a young age.

“I know that all of you thought the same thing that I thought: George is dying,” said Murray. “So, this isn’t really a lifetime achievement award. It’s a celebration of life.”

When the time finally came to receive his award, Shirley MacLaine gave Clooney a tongue-in-cheek lecture, encouraging Clooney to keep preserving his talent and ethics against time.

“Please mix your comedy, your humanity, your serious need to help us understand who we are,” said MacLaine. “Please direct more.”