21 July 2014

Obama signs order to protect LGBT federal employees and contractors

Today, in another step forward towards equality for all, President Obama signed an executive order that guarantees workplace protections for LGBT employees of the federal government and federal contractors.

Then he urged Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit discrimination by any employer with at least 15 employees. Of course, that bill has gotten nowhere in the House, even after passing the Senate last November by a bipartisan vote of 64-32.

It shouldn't be an issue at all. This is 21st century America. Non-discrimination should be a no-brainer.

But let's be grateful for each small piece of progress. Kudos to President Obama for taking this step today.

20 July 2014

Israel uses shrapnel bombs in Gaza, violates international law

According to the European Institute for International Law and International Relations (EIILIR), a Norwegian surgeon told the French newspaper l'Humanité that "Israel is using Dense Inert Metal Explosive bombs in Gaza, violating the Protocol 1 of the Geneva Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, to which Israel is party."

Dr. Erik Fosse, on a humanitarian mission, said these bombs "have a shrapnel effect on civilians," and their use may amount to a war crime.

According to the EIILIR, "Dense Inert Metal Explosive are a mix of explosive material and small particles of chemically inert material, for instance tungsten. The metal is mixed in very small particles (1 – 2 mm) or in powder, and thus the micro-shrapnel can slice through soft tissue and bone. The mix, in a carbon fibre casing, has a very potent shrapnel effect in a small radius : the probability of killing people within a small radius is increased, and survivors may have to be amputated (esp. of the lower limbs), because the shrapnel cannot be detected through x-ray in the bodies of the victims and the injury cannot be cured. The tungsten powder « dissolves » in the body, and any minor injury interferes with the clotting process, leading to profuse bleeding."

And, to add insult to injury (literally), Israel dismisses these casualties as mere "collateral damage".

19 July 2014

Why I won't use eHarmony

When people think of online dating sites, eHarmony is probably one of the first ones that come to mind, because of their ubiquitous TV and radio ads. But, while I do some online dating myself from time to time, I will not use eHarmony.

I almost signed up for an eHarmony account several years ago, until I noticed something that rubbed me the wrong way: While I am a woman seeking a man, I couldn't help but notice that eHarmony didn't seem to accommodate women seeking women, or men seeking men.

This got me curious, and so I sifted through the site's FAQs until I found a statement that said something to the effect that their matching methodologies are based on their understanding of heterosexual relationships, and that they don't know enough about gay and lesbian relationships to do same-sex matching.

That implies that they think that gays and lesbians want something other than "normal" loving relationships. And this proves eHarmony's ignorance and prejudice.

Today, after losing some lawsuits alleging discrimination, eHarmony offers same-sex matching through its sister site Compatible Partners. Perhaps they think of it as "separate but equal". But separate is never equal.

So I'll have no part of any of it.

17 July 2014

Israel and Gaza ignore the rules of war

Today, after more than a week of trading missile fire, Israel launched a ground offensive on Gaza.

No good can come of this.

The history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is legendary for its huge numbers of civilian casualties. Calling them "collateral damage" doesn't make these deaths any easier to dismiss. We're talking about dead babies here. And, under international law, civilians are supposed to be off-limits in armed conflict.

According to the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions, relating to the protection of victims of armed conflicts:

"The civilian population and individual civilians shall enjoy general protection against dangers arising from military operations."

and:

"The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited."

and, especially applicable to this particular conflict:

"Attacks against the civilian population or civilians by way of reprisals are prohibited."

But neither party in this conflict seems to care much about all that. Does no one have a conscience here? Does no one have compassion?

Each side continues to point fingers at the other side and pass blame accordingly. As long as that continues, there will be no peace.

And, until each side can recognize the humanity on the other side, there will be no peace.

Today, I posted on Facebook a condemnation of this latest Israeli move. A reader pushed back by pointing out that Gaza has been bombing Israel, as if it justifies this escalation of violence.

As I then pointed out to her, two wrongs don't make a right.

And, as I pointed out to her:

"An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind."
-- Mohandas Gandhi

16 July 2014

July 16 - A bad day in history

This morning, with help from History.com, I am exploring events that have happened on July 16 through the decades. And I don't like what I see:

• On this date in 1945, the first atomic bomb was successfully tested in New Mexico. I wish it had never been invented.

• On this date in 2002, President George W. Bush unveiled his homeland security strategy, including preemptive military action abroad. The "war on terror" soon became a war on human rights.

• And on this date in 1958, Julia Lennon, mother of Beatle John, died in an auto accident. I'm sorry that she didn't live to see his great success, but grateful to her for giving him life (although his, too, ended much too early).

13 July 2014

Amnesty calls for UN investigation into civilian deaths in Israel/Gaza

As the Israelis and the Palestinians once again indiscriminately launch missiles at each other, the human rights group Amnesty International is calling for "a UN-mandated international investigation into violations committed on all sides."

According to Amnesty, "[u]nder international humanitarian law, parties to an armed conflict must distinguish between military targets and civilians and civilian objects, and direct attacks only at the former. Indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks are prohibited. The parties must take necessary precautions during attacks to minimize harm to civilians and civilian objects."

Regardless, since the current hostilities began to escalate last week, "more than 100 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip, most of them civilians who were not directly participating in hostilities. This includes at least 24 children and 16 women as of Friday morning. More than 600 people have been wounded, many of them seriously. More than 340 homes in Gaza have been completely destroyed or left uninhabitable and at least five health facilities and three ambulances have been damaged. In Israel, at least 20 people have been wounded by rocket attacks and property has been damaged."

"As the violence intensifies there is an urgent need for the UN to mandate an international independent fact-finding mission to Gaza and Israel to investigate violations of international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict. This is the first crucial step towards ensuring that those who have committed war crimes or other serious violations can be held accountable," said Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Amnesty International.

"The international community must not repeat previous mistakes, standing by and watching the devastating consequences for civilians of both sides failing to abide by and enforce the laws of war. Swift UN action is needed as lives hang in the balance," Luther continued.

I agree. But I shall not hold my breath. :-/

04 July 2014

Eating contests and starving babies

The news media are covering today's annual Nathan's hot dog eating contest at Coney Island as if it's an athletic event.

But it's not. It's quite the opposite, actually. It's gluttony. Unhealthy gluttony. And gluttony is as disgusting today as it was in the days of the ancient Romans.

But the American media are celebrating this gluttony - even as some 16 million children in this country currently experience food insecurity. These children don't know where their next meal will come from - or when - while food is being wasted on those Coney Island gluttons.

Enjoy your holiday picnics on this U.S. Independence Day. But please don't waste food. And, if you do, please atone by making a donation to Feeding America or your local food bank.

01 July 2014

With Rand Paul, will Guatemalans get good eye care?

What will Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) do on his summer vacation? According to the Washington Post, Paul, an eye doctor, will be going to Guatemala on a medical mission to help the blind.

While those plans are admirable, I am concerned about the fact that Paul is not certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology (ABO). Instead, Paul lapsed his certification, and then he and others created their own certification group. According to Fox News, whom I would have expected to defend the senator, "[Paul] is listed as the group's president; his wife, Kelley, is listed as vice president; and his father-in-law is listed as secretary." In other words, he certified himself.

I would be very reluctant to trust my eyes to someone like that. The Guatemalans should be, too.

30 June 2014

Huge Supreme Court salaries

In the wake of today's unfortunate Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, I did some research to find out how much we're paying the Justices. According to an article on the Houston Chronicle's website, the Chief Justice earned an annual salary of $223,500 as of May 2010, while the eight Associate Justices averaged $213,900. And that doesn't include the fringe benefits.

That's what we're paying the conservative five to sell out our individual religious freedoms in favor of the conservative beliefs of business owners.

That's what we're paying Justice Clarence Thomas to sit quietly and unengaged during most hearings.

And that's what we're paying Justice Antonin Scalia to spew racist remarks from the bench.

At least Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg consistently earns her keep through her wise dissents.

Your tax dollars at work.

29 June 2014

Benghazi suspect belongs in federal court

Libyan national Ahmed Abu Khatallah, a suspect in the Benghazi bombing, is in U.S. custody and has been arraigned in federal court.

Some in the GOP think he should be sent to Gitmo and tried in the kangaroo-court-style military commission system there, which has done little to achieve justice and has done much to erode America's image in the world with regard to human rights and the rule of law.

If our federal courts were good enough for Timothy McVeigh, and good enough to effectively lock away the perpetrators of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, then they're certainly good enough for Abu Khatallah.

In fact, they're more effective than the military tribunals, as the Center for American Progress pointed out a few years ago:

"The facts are clear: Criminal courts are a far tougher and more reliable forum for prosecuting terrorists than military commissions.

[...]

"The extensive record of criminal courts in successfully prosecuting terrorists stands in stark contrast with the shockingly poor military commissions system. Since 2001 - the same period in which military commissions have convicted just three terrorists - criminal courts have convicted more than 200 individuals on terrorism charges, or 65 times more than military commissions. Criminal courts racked up these convictions with none of the uncertainty that still plagues the military commissions system."

So those of us who oppose Guantanamo are not soft on terrorism. Quite the opposite, in fact. And we can sleep at night because, unlike Gitmo's sytem, our way complies with U.S. and international law.

Effective and legal vs. ineffective and extralegal: Shouldn't it be a no-brainer?

28 June 2014

Remembering my encounter with Fred Phelps

As LGBT Pride Month winds down, I am thinking about my encounter a while back with the now-deceased "Reverend" Fred Phelps, then head of the homophobic Kansas-based Westboro Baptist "Church", whose website can be found at GodHatesFags.com. Yes, that is their actual web address.

For decades, the Westboro folks have been traveling the country and picketing any public or private event that they think represents gay culture or its effects. They sometimes even picket soldiers' funerals, because they believe that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were punishments from God for America's tolerance of homosexuality - as if that makes any sense at all.

And those are some things that I cannot let go unchallenged. So I took advantage of an opportunity to confront Phelps in person - in public.

About 10 years ago, I was in downtown Philly during an LGBT pride festival and decided to check it out. While I am straight, these things tend to be a lot of fun, and a good way to network in my advocacy for LGBT rights.

The place was rockin'! People filled the street celebrating the progress we've made in LGBT civil rights. But, most of all, they were celebrating the fact that they could be themselves, that they could act naturally - at least within those six or eight city blocks.

By contrast, Phelps and his team of bigots set up shop on a street corner in the midst of the festivities, and Phelps used a bullhorn to spew his biblical misinterpretations and condemn all gays to eternal hellfire.

I recognized him instantly. He was tall, very thin, and sported a cowboy hat. Unable to resist, I walked up to Phelps and asked, "Sir, doesn't your Bible say, 'Judge not, lest ye be judged'?"

He paused for a moment and looked at me as if I were some repulsive insect.

Then he turned his back to me and continued spewing more pseudo-religious nonsense.

I guess it's easiest to change the subject if you have no real answer.

Fred Phelps died on March 19 of this year. There are rumors that he was excommunicated from Westboro prior to his death, but I haven't been able to sort that out yet.

What matters is that his legacy lives on through the leadership of his daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper (a lawyer and a very influential and controlling influence at Westboro) and Westboro spokesperson Steve Drain (whose daughter Lauren Drain wrote a fascinating book after her escape from Westboro).

Hopefully, more young people who have been brainwashed by these nuts will also wake up as Lauren Drain has done. Westboro will cease to exist if they run out of kids to hold their ugly signs.

27 June 2014

If you want to shoot, go to war

There was a story on the local Philly area news this morning about a fatal shooting overnight.

A TV reporter interviewed a relative of the victim, whose reaction was priceless: "If you want to shoot, go to war."

26 June 2014

SCOTUS rules that harassment and intimidation are constitutional

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts law establishing a 35-foot buffer zone protecting abortion clinics. The buffer zone was established to prevent protestors from too aggressively interfering with the clinics' day-to-day operations.

The Court said that the protestors have a First Amendment right to occupy the sidewalks surrounding the clinics. And, in doing so, they essentially ruled that the protesters have a constitutional right to harass and intimidate the clinic's patients and staff.

The Court's opinion suggests that Massachusetts should have instead addressed the issue using "less intrusive tools readily available to it," like having the police ask the protestors to move if they are blocking access to a clinic.

The First Amendment is important, but I don't think our Founding Fathers intended it to be an excuse for harassment and intimidation.

What about the right of clinic workers to freely enter their workplace without having to call for a police escort? And what about the right of their patients to freely access the constitutionally legal services that the clinics provide?

Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, today pointed out what may be the worst likely result of this ruling: "This decision will just embolden more outrageous violence against women and health care providers."

Alarmingly, the Court's decision was unanimous.

24 June 2014

"Commie" hypocrisy from the right

Among the many derogatory labels that the right tries to pin on President Obama is "Communist". They fear that Obama's alleged "Communist" goals are a threat to capitalism.

However, it is amusing to note that these are some of the same people who support corporations that send American jobs to Communist China, where they can exploit the cheap Communist sweatshop labor.

And I'm guessing that they can't even see the irony.

17 June 2014

New book out today by Damien Echols of the West Memphis Three

Over the years, I've written a number of columns and blog posts about the West Memphis Three - a trio of men who were convicted as teenagers for the 1993 murders of three eight-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. Presumed ringleader Damien Echols, who was 18 years old at the time of the murders, was sentenced to death. His codefendants, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Miskelley, Jr., who were still minors at the time, were both sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. There was no physical evidence connecting them to the murders. The conviction was based on a coerced confession by the intellectually disabled Miskelley and the testimonies of two witnesses who later recanted.

In 2011, the three were released on a controversial plea deal, after DNA evidence was discovered that would likely have proven their innocence.

In 2010, I met Echols at a book-signing event when he was promoting his first memoir, Life After Life, which was very good reading.

Today, Echols' new book, which he co-authored with his wife, Lorri Davis, will hit the bookstores. Echols and Davis met, fell and love, and got married all while he was on death row. All the while, Davis fought tirelessly for her husband's freedom, and led a full-time campaign to prove his innocence. Their new book, Yours for Eternity: A Love Story on Death Row", tells their love story through the letters they exchanged.

I just downloaded it to my Kindle, and I can't wait to dig in.

15 June 2014

The anti-gay crowd should watch this 2007 film - and rethink

Last night I watched the 2007 documentary For the Bible Tells Me So, about how conservative groups twist and exploit and cherrypick from the Bible to justify their their ignorant fear and hatred of gays and lesbians and the denial of human rights to the LGBT community.

The movie also presents some rational and very insightful analysis of the problem by some more enlightened conservatives whose family lives have been affected by discrimination (and harassment and threats of violence) against the LGBT community.

I wish everyone who opposes LGBT rights would watch this movie with an open mind and rethink their views.

In fact, I dare you.

14 June 2014

Philly transit workers strike for their rights

At midnight last night, workers from Philly's regional commuter rail system, run by SEPTA, went on strike after negotiations failed.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the two striking unions "offered to submit their labor dispute to binding arbitration [but] SEPTA declined arbitration." Apparently, the rich boss doesn't want to make himself beholden to the opinions of a third party. Is it a control thing?

At any rate, tens of thousands of daily commuters will now have to find a new way to get to and from work. That's more easily said then done, especially for lower-income workers. Even for the better off, driving into Philly each day won't be easy, especially with the increased demand for public parking.

This is a huge inconvenience. However, unlike many, I won't condemn the striking workers. SEPTA refused arbitration, and so the unions' only other options were to strike or roll over and allow the man to continue to walk all over them.

Article 23(4) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests." And so the SEPTA workers are simply fighting for their rights.

It's one way in which the people can wield a little bit of power.

So inconvenienced commuters would be better off blaming SEPTA. It didn't have to get to this point, but SEPTA let it happen.

01 June 2014

I'm straight, and now I could remarry

As a straight woman, my right to marry was never an issue. And so I took advantage of that right. Twice.

Neither marriage worked out, but I always knew that I could marry yet again if I found another Mr. Right. It's a privilege reserved in most U.S. states only for heterosexuals. And the third time's a charm, I'm told.

But I've always felt it unfair that I could marry any man I chose while my gay and lesbian friends did not have the freedom to marry their same-sex partners - even though many of my gay and lesbian friends have been in loving, committed relationships that have lasted much longer than either of my own marriages.

So, a number of times over the past several years, I took a public oath to not remarry until my gay and lesbian neighbors could also marry here in the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Recently, same-sex marriage became legal in Pennsylvania. So I can now marry again. But, unfortunately, all the good men my age seem to be either married or gay - or now, both.

So I will take this as a sign that I need to broaden the scope of my oath and not remarry until gay and lesbian couples can marry in every state of the union.

After all, why should I enjoy benefits that they can't simply because of whom we happen to love - no matter which state we live in?

26 May 2014

Thoughts on Memorial Day 2014: War, veterans' care, and partisan politics

Today is Memorial Day in the USA, a patriotic holiday set aside each year to honor the military men and women who have died in service to this country. I can think of no worthier reason for a holiday.

As much as I detest the concept and reality of war, and violence in general, human nature is such that nations must have a defense system in place to protect their citizens. And I can think of no more noble career than that of defending one's countrymen.

Problems arise when the military is used for offense rather than defense. But, in most cases, that is not the fault of our troops. They are just following orders. And so they deserve our support.

Sadly, too often, our surviving troops come home from deployments overseas only to find themselves homeless and/or affected by mental and physical scars of war. Then, to add insult to injury, the VA makes it as difficult as possible for our veterans to obtain the care they need. No wonder some 22 veterans per day are committing suicide.

We can - and must - do better. Instead, people in Washington just point fingers.

As we honor our fallen troops, we should also take time to consider that caring for our surviving veterans should not be a partisan issue. And anyone who tries to make it so does not really support our troops. Anyone who tries to make it so should be voted out of office at the next opportunity.

21 May 2014

PA governor lets same-sex marriage stand

Yesterday, in a big step forward towards equality for all, a federal judge ruled that Pennsylvania's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

Then, today, more good news: In a move that surprised me, ultra-conservative PA Governor Tom Corbett decided not to appeal the decision.

So it's done: Same-sex marriage is now legal in Pennsylvania. And gay and lesbian couples here no longer have to live like second-class citizens - at least where the legality of their marriages is concerned.

20 May 2014

Good news: Federal judge rules PA's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional

In another step forward towards equality for all, today U.S. District Judge John E. Jones II ruled that Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.

As of this writing, it is not known whether or not ultra-conservative Governor Tom Corbett's administration will appeal the ruling, but some church groups are urging him to do so.

With Corbett up for reelection in November, whatever he decides here - either way - could have some effect on his chances of staying in office.

In the meantime, marriage licenses for same-sex couples are being issued around the state. Congratulations to the happy couples whose unions will now no longer be seen as second-class.

18 May 2014

May 23: International day of action to close Gitmo

The group Witness Against Torture, in collaboration with Amnesty International and several other human rights organizations, have named Friday, May 23, an international day of action to close the prison at Guantanamo and end indefinite detention.

Actions are planned in dozens of cities in the U.S. and worldwide.

Click here for a list of events, or for resources to plan your own event.

-----

"When first they established Guantanamo Bay, it incensed me so much, as it does so many people, that in the war to preserve democracy and the rule of law, the first victim should be the rule of law.
-- Clive Stafford Smith, legal director of the U.K. charity Reprieve, which represents several Gitmo detainees

17 May 2014

May 17 - an historic day for equality

60 years ago, on May 17, 1954, in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional.

Then, 10 years ago, on May 17, 2004, same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts - the first U.S. state to take this step. Since then, 16 other states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage.

Progress takes time, but it always seems to win out in the long run. Especially on May 17, which also happens to be the birthday of one of my closest friends, and one of the most tolerant people I know.

Happy 10th anniversary to all the Massachusetts couples who rushed to get married as soon as it became legal in their state.

And happy birthday to my dear friend Patty.

14 May 2014

Israeli Supreme Court will hear Rachel Corrie appeal this month

Good news (hopefully):

On May 21, the Israeli Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case of Rachel Corrie's wrongful death in Gaza.

The background:

On March 16, 2003, Rachel Corrie, a remarkably brave and compassionate American student and peace activist, died at the age of 23 when she was crushed by a US-made Caterpillar D9 military bulldozer while acting as a human shield, trying to stop the unlawful demolition of a Palestinian home in Gaza.

Rachel's family sued the Israel Defense Forces and the Israeli Defense Ministry, and it has been a game of "he-said, she-said" in court. The bulldozer operator claims that he did not see Rachel. Her companions at the scene of her death insist that he had to have seen her.

In August of 2012, a district court in Haifa ruled that the Israeli army was not at fault for Rachel's death. The court decided that her death was instead an accident. And, to further add insult to injury, Judge Oded Gershon blamed Rachel for "[putting] herself in a dangerous situation." In his mind, apparently, bravery and resolve = recklessness.

Now:

According to the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace & Justice, "[t]he Corrie family appeal focuses on serious flaws in the lower court verdict which erred by ignoring and misinterpreting essential facts and misapplying legal norms. The appeal also challenges the lower court's total disregard of international law obligations as well as procedural advantages that were regularly granted to the state during the proceedings."

I am not a lawyer, but it looks as though the Corrie family has a good case here. However, I am not optimistic, given how the Israeli authorities are famous for skirting international law. That's why Rachel was there, after all!

Stay tuned, with fingers crosssed for justice.

11 May 2014

What you can do for the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls

By now you probably know that more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls were abducted last month by Boko Haram terrorists and remain missing. Some of the girls have reportedly been forced to marry their captors while others have been sold into slavery for $12 each.

And you may have heard that the U.S. and other nations are getting involved to help in the search to find the kidnapped girls and their abductors. In fact, it's been reported that U.S. Marines in Nigeria have already arrested two suspects.

It's good that outsiders are getting involved, in light of Amnesty International's recent discovery that Nigerian officials had received advance warnings that Boko Haram was planning to raid the girls' boarding school but did nothing to prevent it. Those poor girls clearly need outside help.

And you can help, too, with just a few clicks:

From Amnesty International: Click here to urge the Nigerian authorities to do more to secure the safe release of the girls and to ensure that the perpetrators of this attack are brought to justice.

This action will also urge them to "ensure that all children are able to access their right to education in safety, and to respect, protect, and fulfill the human rights of all Nigerians without discrimination."

From Equality Now: Click here to contact key officials in Nigeria who should have the resources to find and return the girls to their families. (While this action may seem redundant to the one above, it is important to cover all bases.)

This action will also call on the governments of Cameroon and Chad, where some of the girls were allegedly transported and sold, to find the girls and send them home.

From Human Rights First: Click here to urge U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to address the root causes of violence and extremism in Nigeria, as "economic desperation and human rights abuses committed by Nigerian security forces have fueled the rise of Boko Haram."

Human Rights First appreciates that the U.S. government is sending military, intelligence, and law enforcement advisors to Nigeria to support the effort to rescue the girls. But the organization believes that the Pentagon should also "partner with State and USAID to support anti-corruption, rule of law, and police reforms. It should also ensure that the United States is not allying with people in the Nigerian security services who are complicit in the victimization of the kidnapped girls or other civilians."

Petitions really do work, if enough people sign on. I've seen it happen time and time again.

So please help!

22 April 2014

Things you can do on this Earth Day 2014 (and beyond)

Today, April 22, is Earth Day.

On this day, there are many things you can do to show your respect for the earth and its environment. Here are some easy ideas, repeated from last year's Earth Day blog post, since they're all still as relevant as ever (and so easy to do):

Say no to plastic bags. There are enough plastic bags in the landfills and in the oceans. If you haven't done so already, please invest in some reusable canvas bags and take them with you whenever you go shopping. You'll look cool and you'll help the planet.

Say no to bottled water. It's actually less regulated - and therefore possibly less safe - than tap water, and the plastic bottles they come in are a whole other horror story. Instead, invest in a reusable stainless steel bottle, and refill it with plain or filtered tap water. It's better for the planet, better for your health, and better for your wallet.

Go meatless for a day. A 2006 United Nations report called the meat industry "one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global." Eating 1 pound of meat emits the same amount of greenhouse gasses as driving an SUV 40 miles. So try going meatless on Earth Day. Then expand it to a once-a-week "Meatless Monday" - or more.

Do you have more ideas for simple things we can do to show our respect for this wonderful planet? Share them in a comment, and they could be included in next year's Earth Day post!

14 April 2014

Our tax dollars and Washington's priorities

Tomorrow is April 15 - tax day in the US. It is the deadline for filing our income tax returns.

And where do our federal tax dollars go?

According to the National Priorities Project, 27 cents of each US tax dollar goes to national defense (which in recent years has been playing offense instead).

Only 2 cents goes to education.

And only 1.1 cents towards science.

08 April 2014

Take action for Equal Pay Day!

Today, April 8, 2014, is Equal Pay Day. This date symbolizes how far into the year a woman must work, on average, to catch up with what the average man earned in 2013 here in the U.S.

This pay gap not only unfair, it implies that women are of lesser value than men. And that is shameful.

What you can do:

The Senate is expected to vote on The Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 84) as soon as this week. According to the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, "[t]his important bill would update and strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which made it illegal for employers to pay unequal wages to men and women who perform substantially the same work."

Call your senators (202-224-3121) and urge them to vote "yes" on the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 84) and support equal pay for women!

05 April 2014

More on the "pro-abortion" myth

There's an email in my inbox from an anti-choice group. The subject line: "We Need Your Help Against Pro-Abortion Groups"

What they obviously don't understand is that virtually nobody is pro-abortion, and there are no "pro-abortion groups". But many of us - individuals and groups - are pro-choice.

Because a woman's medical decisions are none of my business. That makes me pro-privacy, not pro-abortion.

And because I don't want to see desperate women having to resort to the coat hangers and the back-alley butchers of the pre-Roe days. That makes me pro-health and pro-safety, not pro-abortion.

But such nuances lack the dramatic impact of that subject line in my inbox. And, sadly, such emotional appeals tend to work on some types of people who are quick to label and judge rather than think and consider.

27 March 2014

This Saturday, 8:30 pm: Be a part of Earth Hour!

On Saturday, March 29, at 8:30 pm local time, individuals, businesses, and municipalities around the world will turn off their lights for one hour - Earth Hour - in a show of concern for climate change and commitment to finding solutions.

I have participated in Earth Hour the past several years, and it always felt good. I plan to participate again this year, and I hope you will join me.

It's simple: Just unplug for those 60 minutes. Enjoy a dinner by candlelight, read a real book, or just spend the hour connecting (in real space, not cyberspace) with someone you care about. The powered-down possibilities are endless!

>> Learn more about Earth Hour.