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.

21 March 2014

Judge rules Michigan's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional; appeal pending

It's happening in one state after another.

In the latest step forward towards equality for all, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman today ruled that Michigan's ban on same-sex is unconstitutional.

But, as in some other states with similar recent rulings, Michigan's homophobic Attorney General is pursuing a stay pending an appeal of the decision.

Stay tuned for updates, with fingers crossed for equality.

18 March 2014

Animals prove that homosexuality is natural

Today I got a newsletter from Tony Perkins, president of the homophobic Family Research Council.

In the newsletter, he talks about "natural" marriage, referring to heterosexual marriage between a man and a woman.

This, of course, implies that same-sex marriage is unnatural.

He conveniently ignores the fact that numerous species of animals have been known to engage in homosexual activity - in nature. That makes it natural, Mr. Perkins - by definition.

16 March 2014

Remembering Rachel Corrie on this sad anniversary

Today, March 16, 2014, marks the 11th anniversary of the death in Gaza of American student and peace activist Rachel Corrie.

This brave and compassionate young woman died at the age of 23 when she was crushed by a US-made Caterpillar D9 military bulldozer in Rafah while acting as a human shield, trying to stop the unlawful demolition of a Palestinian home. The Caterpillar's driver, working for the Israeli occupation, refused to stop.

And now, 11 years later, Israeli forces, still funded by our tax dollars, continue their human rights abuses against innocent Palestinian families and international sympathizers.

Learn more:

In 2004, Amnesty International published a comprehensive report on the Palestinian home demolitions from a human rights perspective.

Download it now: Israel and the Occupied Territories: Under the rubble: House demolition and destruction of land and property

10 March 2014

Oscar-nominated documentary studies boastful assassins

Over the weekend, I watched the movie "The Act of Killing", which received an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary. It had been recommended by a human rights colleague, and I can see why it was nominated - and recommended.

This fast-moving two-hour documentary centers around a genocide in Indonesia in the 1960s, in which a million or more artists, intellectuals, and ethnic Chinese were assassinated by government-sanctioned death squads in an effort to "exterminate" all "communists". It's worth noting that the ruling military regime at the time - along with its anti-communist effort - was proactively supported by the U.S. government.

Director Joshua Oppenheimer spent several years in Indonesia researching the genocide. In the process, he met Anwar Congo, a death squad leader who had personally killed as many as 1,000 alleged communists. Congo and his fellow assassins were proud, even boastful, of their actions. And so Oppenheimer ingeniously decided to allow the killers to tell their own stories on film. The result is this movie.

It's disturbing in that the killers who star in the movie are proud of their actions, and eager to share the gruesome details. While making "their" movie, they boastfully reenact various killings in order to show us just how clever and brutal they were.

One assassin, Anwar Congo's old friend, explains - or, rather, justifies - why he feels no guilt:

"'War crimes' are defined by the winners. I'm a winner. So I can make my own definition."
The concept of human rights is held in disdain in this culture, and is ridiculed. And the killers are regarded as heroes in their country.

Will this filmmaking exercise cause any of the killers to finally recognize and confront the wrongness of their actions? Watch the movie and then let me know if you think so.

Meanwhile, check out this great interview with director Joshua Oppenheimer on Democracy Now - here.

09 March 2014

CNN to launch new series on death penalty tonight

Tonight, CNN will premiere a new series of one-hour documentaries focusing on the death penalty in the U.S. The series, titled "Death Row Stories", is produced by Alex Gibney and Robert Redford, and is narrated by longtime anti-death-penalty activist Susan Sarandon, who won an Oscar for her role in "Dead Man Walking".

According to CNN, "[e]ach episode attempts to unravel the truth behind a different capital murder case," and will "call into question various beliefs surrounding America's justice system and the death penalty."

Tune in at 9:00 PM ET/PT.

I blame you for the snowstorms

This winter has been harsh and merciless, with record-breaking snowstorms, floods, droughts, and other weather disasters all across the U.S. And I believe the climate scientists who say that these extreme weather conditions are an expected consequence of global climate change.

Accordingly, I blame you - yes, you, dear reader - for all the snow I've had to shovel, because of all the carbon you've pumped into the atmosphere through your own actions.

Indeed, the United States consistently ranks in last place year after year in National Geographic's Greendex survey, which measures the environmental impact of consumer habits and lifestyles in more than a dozen countries.

People in India, China, Brazil, Hungary, South Korea, Mexico, Argentina, Russia, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Great Britain, Australia, France, Japan, and Canada were judged to be more environmentally responsible than Americans. Yes, you read that right. India. China. South Korea. Mexico. Et cetera. All more proactively concerned than we Americans are about saving this planet for our children and our grandchildren.

But this should come as no surprise. Whether we can blame it on ignorance, apathy, arrogance, or just laziness depends on the person, but I see it every day. You, my fellow Americans, talk about global warming, and sometimes you sound genuinely concerned. But that's as far as it goes. Talk is cheap. And so you continue to be part of the problem.

For example:

You, my fellow Americans, grumble about high gasoline prices even as you continue to drive your big, gas-guzzling SUVs.

You, my fellow Americans, see yourselves as heroes for recycling case after case of empty Aquafina bottles each week, despite the fact that the production and transportation of your bottled water more than cancels the environmental benefit of your recycling. And despite the fact that many brands of bottled water actually come from the same sources as public tap water - and are less regulated. So you're wasting your money as you waste the environment.

You, my fellow Americans, congratulate yourselves for turning down the thermostat when the weather gets chilly, but then you use a wood-burning fireplace to compensate, despite the fact that fireplaces contribute to pollution - and human respiratory problems.

And you, my fellow Americans, eat lots of meat. You love your steaks, chops, and burgers, despite the fact that eating less meat is even better for the environment than driving a hybrid car. Scientists at the University of Chicago have discovered that a typical American meat eater is responsible for nearly 1.5 tons more greenhouse gases per year than a vegan, due to the environmental impacts of animal agriculture.

So here we are. In last place. Below India. Below China. Below Mexico.

Because of you, my fellow Americans, and your spoiled American way of life.

And yes, I blame myself as well. After all, I drive a gasoline-powered car. And, while I've been a vegetarian for more than a decade, I am not a vegan. I recognize the effects that my consumption of dairy and eggs have on the planet.

And I'm sorry.

Please be sorry too.

And let's all work harder to save this planet before it's too late.

Let's get serious and do everything we can to personally reduce our carbon footprints.

And let's do everything we can to put the polluters out of business and shift our society towards clean, renewable energy sources.

Let's move America out from the bottom of that list.

Or else shoveling lots of snow will soon be the least of our problems.

08 March 2014

John Kerry's remarks for International Women's Day

Today, March 8, is the annual observation of International Women's Day.

To mark this occasion, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued the following statement, which I thought was worth sharing:

International Women’s Day is a moment to pause and reflect on the contributions of women to the world and to reaffirm our commitment to continued progress on gender equality. It’s also a powerful reminder that women are advancing peace and prosperity around the world in really remarkable ways.

I see it every day as Secretary of State.

I see it in Ukraine, where women are working on the frontlines as volunteers for the Maidan Medical Service. They are raising their voices for freedom and dignity, and we must all step up and answer their call.

I see it in Afghanistan, where women are starting companies, serving as members of parliament, teaching in schools, and working as doctors and nurses. They are the foundation on which Afghanistan’s future is being built.

I see it in Syria, where women are getting restrictions on humanitarian access lifted by offering food to regime soldiers at the checkpoints.

I see it in Mali, where women are risking their lives as advocates for women’s and children’s rights.

Everywhere I travel, in every meeting, I can see firsthand the promise of a world where women are empowered as equal partners in peace and prosperity. But here’s what’s most important: all of the fights and all of the progress we’ve seen in recent years haven’t come easily or without struggle. And we still have work to do.

Our work is not done when one out of every three women is subjected to some form of violence in her lifetime.

We cannot rest knowing that girls younger than 15 are forced to marry and that they are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their twenties.

We cannot hope to break the cycle of poverty if we fail to harness the talent and productivity of half the world’s population. And we cannot hope to break the cycle of war if women are not enlisted as equal partners in the work of peace.

So here’s what I’m saying and what we all need to demand: Women must be involved in the decisions that affect us all. They must have a place at the peacekeeping tables and in the tough negotiations following deadly conflict. They must have a seat on the boards of corporations that impact our economies, and they must have a voice in the halls of justice that uphold the rule of law.

When we invest in our mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters, we invest in a brighter future for the world. The United States stands ready to protect and advance the health, education, and human rights of women and girls everywhere, because women’s progress is human progress.


06 March 2014

Pussy Riot members attacked in Russian McDonald's; Amnesty calls for investigation

This morning, Pussy Riot's two most famous members, Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina, were the targets of "an apparently unprovoked and premeditated attack" in Russia, according to Amnesty International. Both women were recently released from a Russian prison after serving time for protesting the Putin regime.

According to Amnesty, video evidence "appears to show a group of men barging in and violently interrupting the activists' breakfast in a McDonald's restaurant near the Nizhny Novgorod train station. The activists, who were joined by other members of the new prisoners' rights NGO 'Zone of the Rights', say they were in the city to inspect a local prison colony."

Both Pussy Riot members were injured during the attack. In other words, this wasn't just some harmless prank.

Sergei Nikitin, Director of Amnesty's Moscow office, issued the following statement in response to the incident:

"By all accounts, this violent attack appears to have been premeditated by an organized group. The unidentified assailants chanted slogans, held aloft a banner and filmed the entire incident.

"The Russian authorities must not tolerate such attacks on peaceful activists. They must launch a prompt, impartial and independent investigation into this and all such incidents, and bring those responsible to justice."


However, given the current political climate in Russia, I shall not hold my breath.

05 March 2014

Poem: The End of Violence

I'm no poet, but I awoke with the following words in my head, which I felt compelled to share:


The End of Violence

Violence begets violence
which begets more violence
until only one is left standing
trying to make it all alone.

27 February 2014

State Department releases annual human rights reports; now needs to walk the talk

Today, the U.S. State Department released its annual country-by-country reports on human rights practices around the world.

Five themes were highlighted as particularly noteworthy:

• Increased crackdowns on civil society and the freedoms of association and assembly

• Restrictions on freedom of speech and press freedom

• Accountability deficits for security forces abuses

• Lack of effective labor rights protections

• The continued marginalization of vulnerable groups

It's good to see these issues exposed in detail by our government.

In some cases, however, seeing the U.S. judge other countries' human rights abuses looks somewhat like the proverbial pot calling the kettle black. (Consider, for example, our own ongoing history of extrajudicial killings.) And there is no section for the U.S. itself.

The reports show that the State Department can talk the talk. Now it needs to make an extra effort to walk the walk.

>> Browse the reports.

Yesterday was a bad day for homophobes

Yesterday, a federal judge ruled that Texas's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. This comes on the heels of a similar ruling earlier this month in Virginia.

Then, a few hours later, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed SB 1062, a highly controversial bill that would have legalized discrimination under the umbrella of "religious liberty". If this bill had become law, anyone could refuse service to any other individual(s) simply by citing religious sensitivities. And the LGBT community was widely considered to be a primary target.

While I'm generally not a big fan of Governor Brewer, I applaud her decision in this case, even though it was probably influenced by pressure from the Chamber of Commerce and other third-party groups who were concerned with the potential economic hit that the state could take if the bill became law.

The fact is that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is meant to ensure the separation of church and state. SB 1062, if enacted, would have violated that clause, in my opinion. And it would have taken much too long for the whole thing to be overturned by the courts.

So thank you, Governor Brewer, for standing up to the homophobes in Arizona.

And thank you, District Judge Orlando Garcia, for your Texas ruling in favor of love over bigotry.

26 February 2014

Texas same-sex marriage ban ruled unconstitutional; appeal pending

In another step forward for equality and fairness, a federal judge ruled today that Texas's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. This comes on the heels of a similar ruling earlier this month in Virginia.

However, as in the Virginia case, the same judge stayed the decision pending a likely appeal, meaning that same-sex marriages will not begin any time soon.

Still, it's nice to see that the momentum continues, and is spreading even to red states like Texas.

Stay tuned for updates, with fingers crossed for equality. Love between two adults should be encouraged and celebrated, not forbidden by bigotry.

24 February 2014

Ugandan president signs "Jail the Gays" bill

Bad news from Uganda: Amnesty International reports that President Museveni has signed the infamous "Jail the Gays" bill into law. Under this draconian law, homosexual behavior could carry a penalty of life in prison.

Michelle Kagari, Amnesty's Africa Deputy Director, issued the following statement about this shameful development:

"This deeply offensive piece of legislation is an affront to the human rights of all Ugandans and should never have got this far.

"This legislation will institutionalize hatred and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people in Uganda. Its passage into law signals a very grave episode in the nation's history.

"The Anti-Homosexuality Bill will further criminalize consensual sexual activity between adults of the same sex, with some offences carrying life imprisonment. It also includes offences such as 'promotion of homosexuality', which will directly impact human rights defenders and healthcare providers. It makes a mockery of the rights enshrined in the Ugandan constitution."

Stay tuned for news on how we can fight this injustice.

20 February 2014

Urgent petition: Stop Uganda's 'Jail the Gays' bill

Last month, I reported that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni planned to veto a draconian anti-gay law under which homosexual behavior would carry a penalty of life in prison.

Now, however, he appears to have changed his mind, and plans to sign the bill tomorrow.

Accordingly, the group All Out is collecting signatures on a petition in a last-minute attempt to pressure Museveni and Ugandan politicians to "stop the bill from becoming law, prevent it from being used, and protect all Ugandans from violence, arrests, and discrimination." And more.

>> Please take a stand for human rights and sign the petition here.

17 February 2014

10 years ago today, Texas executed an innocent man

February 17, 2014, marks the 10th anniversary of the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham by the state of Texas.

Given the fact that Texas is known as the execution capital of the country, another execution anniversary would normally come as no surprise. But what sets Willingham's situation apart is that he was likely innocent of the crime for which he was sentenced to death.

Willingham had been convicted of an alleged arson that claimed the lives of his three daughters in 1991. However, a later forensic review of the case led to the conclusion that "a finding of arson could not be sustained." In other words, the fire for which Willingham was executed was probably just an accident. David Grann wrote an excellent in-depth article about the case for the New Yorker, which can be found online here.

Willingham's case is not the only one in which an innocent person was likely put to death. There is evidence of at least a few more.

In addition, according to the Amnesty International, "over 130 people have been released from death rows throughout the country due to evidence of their wrongful convictions. In 2003 alone, 10 wrongfully convicted defendants were released from death row."

I cannot think of a better argument against the use of capital punishment. Death is permanent, and you cannot resurrect an executed individual if you later discover that you killed the wrong person. Would you want to be the juror or the executioner who made it happen?

Given the fallibility of the criminal justice system, the continued use of the death penalty is reckless and irresponsible. We as a nation should be above this kind of thing.

14 February 2014

Virginia's same-sex marriage ban ruled unconstitutional; appeal pending

In another step forward for equality and fairness, a federal judge ruled last night that Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

However, according to the Washington Post, the same judge "stayed her decision pending appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, meaning same-sex marriages will be not be immediately available in the commonwealth."

Stay tuned for updates.

04 February 2014

Marriage equality goes to court in Virginia

A tourism slogan says: "Virginia is for lovers."

But is it really?

Today, a hearing was held in the Federal District Court of Eastern Virginia in a case of two couples who are challenging Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage.

The plaintiffs were represented by Ted Olson and David Boies, who had successfully argued against California's Proposition 8.

At the end of the hearing, Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen told the court: "You'll be hearing from me soon."

Stay tuned, with fingers crossed in hopes that she rules in favor of equality, not discrimination.

A victory would mean that the tourism slogan will finally speak to everyone.

27 January 2014

Dreadlocks don't make you stupid (or a lowlife)

I am not a sports fan, so I don't know much about Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, aside from the recent controversy in the media about Sherman's recent adrenaline-fueled post-game rant. (As if we haven't all had our overly excited moments.)

And, given my general lack of interest in the world of sports, I haven't said anything about that controversy. Until tonight.

Tonight, I ran into my ultra-conservative neighbor, who was complaining about the fact that this "stupid lowlife" cornerback would be glamorized via his participation in the Super Bowl despite his recent "thuggery".

I asked this neighbor why he called Sherman a stupid lowlife.

The response: Just look at him!

Um, OK. I've seen photos. Sherman is black and he wears his hair in dreadlocks. Bingo!

Despite my sports apathy, I had read enough about Richard Sherman to know that he is a Stanford graduate. I pointed out this fact to my neighbor, and noted that it seemed rather incongruous to refer to a graduate of such a prestigious university as either stupid or a lowlife.

In response, my neighbor angrily muttered something about Affirmative Action, and stomped away. Typical.

This was a prime example of prejudice, which literally means "prejudgment" or "preconceived opinion" - in this case, that someone with dark skin and dreads doesn't fit the profile of a properly entitled Stanford grad.

And it seemed so desperate and pathetic.

26 January 2014

Help stop human trafficking

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

According to the organization Free the Slaves, 21-30 million people are enslaved in the world today. They're used as child soldiers, sweatshop workers, sex slaves, and more. They are given no rights, no dignity, and no compensation for their labors or their pain and suffering. They are powerless, even here in 2014.

According to an article by J.J. Gould in The Atlantic, "[t]here are now twice as many people enslaved in the world as there were in the 350 years of the transatlantic slave trade."

And this isn't just happening in third-world countries. According to Covenant House, which helps homeless kids in North America, human trafficking is "a $9.8 billion industry that forces over 100,000 American children into prostitution each year."

What you can do:

Urge your members of Congress to cosponsor the bipartisan House and Senate versions of the Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Trafficking Act.

Explore these online resources from UNICEF's End Trafficking Project.

• Donate to Free the Slaves, Covenant House, and/or UNICEF's child protection programs.

Thank you.

23 January 2014

Texas executes Mexican citizen, violates international law

On Wednesday, January 22, the state of Texas executed Edgar Arias Tamayo, who had been convicted of a 1994 murder.

But this was no ordinary execution - even for the death penalty capital of the U.S.

Tamayo was a Mexican citizen, and his attorneys argued that he was denied his right to seek help from the Mexican consulate, which may have assisted in his defense.

Psychological testing was also allegedly inadequate. As a result, said Andrea Hall, Mid Atlantic Regional Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator for Amnesty International USA, "the jury did not hear significant evidence of Tamayo’s intellectual disabilities, information that could well have tipped the scales towards life imprisonment."

Nevertheless, regardless of pressure from the International Criminal Court, the U.S. State Department, and elsewhere, the courts declined to stay the execution.

Hall characterized the execution as "a blatant affront to the United States' obligations under international law."

"The price [of this execution] may be much higher," she said. "We may very well have put our relationships with foreign countries, as well as the safety of Americans living and traveling overseas, at risk."

But, apparently, Texas is too bloodthirsty to care about such things.

19 January 2014

Uganda president vetoes anti-gay law, but still hates gays

I recently posted a link to an online action urging Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to veto a draconian anti-gay law under which homosexual behavior would carry a penalty of life in prison.

It appears that the international pressure has made a difference - sort of.

First, the good news: President Museveni has refused to sign the bill into law.

Now, the not-so-good news: Museveni still believes that gays are "abnormal" and unacceptable, and he still wants to eradicate them. But he says he wants to employ other methods, specifically economic ones, to address the perceived problem.

I'm not entirely sure what economics has to do with sexual orientation, but a friend pointed out to me that the U.S. and other countries threatened to stop aid to Uganda if the anti-gay bill were to pass.

I guess that shows that money is more powerful than even deeply entrenched bigotry - at least to some extent.

17 January 2014

Amnesty says NSA revisions fall short

After months of revelations and controversy, President Obama has called for some changes to the NSA's surveillance program.

However, Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) believes that the revised policy still falls far short on safeguards.

Steven W. Hawkins, AIUSA's executive director, explained:

"The big picture takeaway from [the president's] speech is that the right to privacy remains under grave threat both here at home and around the world. President Obama's recognition of the need to safeguard the privacy of people around the world is significant, but insufficient to end serious global concern over mass surveillance, which by its very nature constitutes abuse.

"President Obama took welcome steps to increase transparency, institute additional safeguards for citizens and non-citizens alike, and restrain his administration's bulk collection of some types of information. However, he failed to acknowledge the abusive nature of mass surveillance or put international human rights standards at the center of U.S. policy.

"President Obama's surveillance adjustments will be remembered as music on the Titanic unless his administration adopts deeper reforms.

"The President's recognition of the need to restrain surveillance of people around the world, while welcome, falls short of what's needed to protect the right to privacy and prevent targeting of people based on their beliefs or background. Furthermore, executive Order 12333 [enacted by Ronald Reagan to extend powers and responsibilities of US intelligence agencies] remains a potential blank check for abuse.

"Shifting the storage of information does not address the fundamental problem: the collection of mass personal data in the first place. Even if additional checks are put in place, ordinary people remain at risk of secret rulings by a secret court, and national security letters still evade judicial review.

"Regardless of citizenship or location, all people have the right to privacy under international law, and government surveillance must comport with human rights principles, including necessity, proportionality, and due process. Furthermore, people have the right to blow the whistle on evidence of abuse.

"To protect privacy and ensure security, the Obama administration and Congress should put human rights principles at the center of surveillance reform. Human rights safeguards allow for lawful, effective surveillance while protecting against unchecked executive power."


This brings to mind the words of one of this nation’s great Founding Fathers:

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
-- Benjamin Franklin
President Obama would do well to remember this.

16 January 2014

Vatican faces UN committee on child sexual abuse (and disappoints)

This morning in Geneva, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child formally questioned Vatican officials on its record of child sexual abuse.

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which represents the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) in the case, was less than satisfied with the Vatican's performance today, pointing out that "the committee had requested concrete data and facts, which the Vatican refused to provide."

Pam Spees, CCR's Senior Staff Attorney, had this to say about the proceedings:

"The Vatican has consistently refused to accept responsibility for its role in perpetuating rape and sexual violence against children in the Church and further enabling it by protecting offending priests. So its performance at the United Nations this morning was not surprising. The Vatican attempted to relegate the issue to the past and claim it is a new era, that they now 'get it', but they continue to refuse to turn over records for prosecution, punish higher-ups that covered up the crimes, or provide any real evidence that they are now putting the safety of children above the reputation of the Church. Nonetheless, today's hearing is a milestone in calling for an end to these days of impunity. The international community is demanding answers, and that is the first step toward true accountability and, we hope, an end to the widespread violence against children.”
Fingers crossed for continuing progress on this heartbreaking - and infuriating - issue.

>> Read more about the case.

15 January 2014

Nigeria adopts strict new anti-gay law; help stop Uganda from doing the same

A strict anti-gay bill became law in Nigeria earlier this week.

Per Reuters (my former employer):

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed a bill on Monday that criminalizes same-sex relationships, defying Western pressure over gay rights and provoking criticism from the United States.

The bill, which contains penalties of up to 14 years in prison and bans gay marriage, same-sex 'amorous relationships' and membership of gay rights groups, was passed by the national assembly last May but Jonathan had delayed signing it into law.

Meantime, homophobes in Uganda are trying to adopt their own draconian anti-gay law. The Ugandan Parliament has already passed a bill that would carry a punishment of life in prison for "aggravated homosexuality".

In fact, the Ugandan bill goes beyond outlawing homosexual behavior.

Amnesty International summarizes the bill's other provisions and implications as follows:

• A person who provides HIV counseling could be convicted of "promoting" homosexuality.
• A person who officiates a same-sex marriage could be put in prison for life.
• A person suspected of being gay could face forced HIV testing.

If enacted into law, this bill would send a clear message that people who violently attack others because of their perceived or actual sexual orientation will not be held accountable for such attacks.

This law will go into effect as soon as Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signs it.

What you can do:

>> Click here to urge President Museveni to veto the bill.

Thursday: UN committee to question the Vatican on child sexual abuse

On Thursday, January 16, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child will formally question the Vatican on its record of child sexual abuse. The session will take place in Geneva.

According to Pam Spees, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), "[t]his is the first time the Vatican has been called by an international body to account for its handling of the crisis of sexual violence throughout the Catholic Church."

CCR represents the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) in the case.

"Throughout the world, children and vulnerable adults have been and continue to be subjected to widespread and systemic rape and sexual violence by priests and others associated with the Roman Catholic Church," said Spees. "The Vatican’s policies and practices enable this violence."

>> Learn more about the case.

>> Watch the livestream of the UN session and/or CCR's follow-up review.