14 September 2014

Get a flu shot, give a free vaccine to a child who needs it

It's time for my annual flu shot, and I'm going to get mine at Walgreens this year. That's because Walgreens is partnering with the United Nations Foundation's Shot@Life campaign.

When you get a flu shot at Walgeens now through October 13, the program will provide a vaccine against polio or measles to a child in a developing country.

To learn more about the Shot@Life program, click here.

Note: Walgreens is not paying me to promote their flu shots (or for anything else). I just think this program is worth sharing.

13 September 2014

Student POC released from prison in Tajikistan

More proof that worldwide activism can save lives: According to Amnesty International, Alexander Sodiqov has been released from prison in Tajikistan and is now back home in Canada!

Amnesty considered Sodiqov a prisoner of conscience "who was detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression, as he had been undertaking legitimate academic research intended for publication." He was the subject of Amnesty's Urgent Action 157/14.

Thanks to all who took action on his behalf.

08 September 2014

Busted: See satellite images of Russian military build-up in Ukraine

Amnesty International has released satellite images that appear to illustrate "a build-up of Russian armour and artillery in eastern Ukraine." This is despite the Kremlin's denial of any involvement in the fighting in Ukraine.

You can view the images here.

Click on an image to view a detailed analysis of what you're seeing.

Thanks to technology like this, it's harder now for the bad guys to hide their actions.

Read more about Amnesty's findings in Ukraine here.

02 September 2014

Amnesty condemns Israel's latest illegal land grab

We recently learned that Israel is planning to illegally "settle" 988 acres of Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank - the largest such land grab in 30 years. Even the generally pro-Israel U.S. government is pushing back this time.

And now Amnesty International (AI) - which researches, reports on, and condemns human rights abuses on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - has issued a statement about this latest move by Israel, saying that "[t]he Israeli authorities' outrageous plan to expropriate nearly 1,000 acres of land in the West Bank is illegal and must be rescinded immediately."

"Israel's strategy of illegally confiscating land for settlements in the West Bank must stop once and for all," said Philip Luther, AI's Director for the Middle East and North Africa. "Not only it is illegal under international law but it is leading to a wide range of violations of Palestinians' human rights on a mass scale."

"Reports that that the Israeli cabinet justified this land grab as a reaction to the deplorable murder in June of three Israeli teenagers suggests this is an act of collective punishment and that Israel is moving further and further away from its obligations under international law," Luther continued.

According to AI, "Israel is appropriating the land based on its interpretation of a law dating back to the Ottoman era which declares an area 'state land' if it has not been cultivated or farmed for several consecutive years." But the Ottoman era was hundreds of years ago. Things have changed, including international human rights laws and treaties.

It's time for Israel to get with the 21st century and start respecting Palestinian human rights and other obligations under international law. Failure to do so will only continue to exacerbate tensions throughout the Middle East region. And we certainly don't need that.

28 August 2014

A mayor's immigration irony

In his column today in the Washington Post, Dana Milbank writes about the anti-immigration rantings of Judith Flanagan Kennedy, mayor of Lynn, Massachusetts.

I couldn't help but notice the mayor's name, which clearly suggests that she is of Irish descent. And I couldn't help but recall the stories of how badly Irish immigrants were treated a century ago. They got no respect - kind of like the Guatemalan immigrants of today whom the mayor disparages.

Sadly, I'm sure the mayor doesn't see the irony here.

24 August 2014

Rights groups react to the murder of journalist James Foley

James Foley was a much stronger journalist than I could ever hope to be. Foley went missing in Syria in 2012, and it appears that he remained stoic right through the last words he spoke on video just before his brutal beheading by an Islamic State terrorist thug.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), "Islamic State kidnaps, kills, and threatens journalists wherever it holds sway. Syria is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists, with at least 70 killed covering the conflict."

Amnesty International (AI) has called Foley's murder a war crime. "Those who carried out the killing and those who ordered it must face justice," said Margaret Huang, AIUSA's Deputy Executive Director of Campaigns and Programs.

"It is imperative that all warring countries and others with interests in the region use all diplomatic means possible to ensure that no more journalists - or others carrying out their legitimate work in the area – are killed for doing their job," declared Said Boumedouha, AI's Deputy Director of Middle East and North Africa Program. "The militants also claim to be holding another U.S. journalist, Steven Sotloff, and state that his life depends on U.S. President Barack Obama's next move."

"The implication made in the video that journalists are being targeted in revenge for the U.S. government's involvement in Iraq is deeply alarming and increases fears that other hostages may be at heightened risk," Boumedouha continued. "Journalists, like all civilians, are bystanders in armed conflict and must be protected from harm rather than singled out for brutal killings."

Human Rights Watch (HRW) agrees, stating that "[g]roups detaining journalists should immediately and unconditionally release them."

"James went to Syria because of his commitment to exposing the horrors civilians faced since the uprising against the government there," said Peter Bouckaert, HRW's Emergencies Director and a personal friend of Foley's. "He, like the other journalists who are now held prisoner in Syria, courageously risked his life so that the world might know the truth and act to ease the suffering of the Syrian people."

Bouckaert continued: "I wish there was no video showing his brutal execution to haunt his family and friends forever. It is unbearable to think of Jim's final terror-filled moments, designed by the Islamic State to horrify us all. It is unbearable to think that there are still other hostages in the hands of the Islamic State, hostages kept for the same purpose. It is unbearable to think of the hundreds of mostly nameless Iraqis and Syrians who have suffered the same fate as Jim at the hands of the Islamic State, but Jim would want us to think of them."

"Goodbye, dear Jim," said Bouckaert. "We will remember you for the beauty of your life well lived and not its brutal end."

21 August 2014

9/21: Join me in NYC for the People's Climate March (or get active where you live)

Hundreds - literally hundreds - of organizations have joined together to plan what we hope will be the largest climate march in history.

The People's Climate March is scheduled for September 21, starting at 11:30 am, in New York City. Please join me there, if you can.

Get the details at www.peoplesclimate.org/march. There you'll find info on the march route, a schedule of events, transportation and housing information, and everything else you need to know to participate.

If you can't get to NYC:

Other events are being planned around the world throughout that weekend.

To find an event near you, or to organize an event, go to www.peoplesclimate.org/global.

18 August 2014

New report on U.S. hunger brings alarming news

Today, the organization Feeding America released the results of a new study on hunger in America. The group calls the study "the nation’s largest and most comprehensive insight into charitable food distribution in the United States."

While the report seems partially self-promotional for the Feeding America program, its data is nonetheless alarming.

Some highlights (or, I should say, lowlights):

The Feeding America program serves 46.5 million food-insecure people each year. That's 1 in 7 Americans. Yes, 1 in 7!

That number includes 12 million American children and 7 million seniors.

20% of households served by Feeding America have a member who has served in the U.S. military. In other words, we support our troops by making them resort to food pantries and other services so they won't starve.

41% of supported households have a member with a post-high-school education.

And one has to wonder how much worse the problem would seem if the report were to factor in those who do not seek or accept food donations from Feeding America or other relief agencies. I know they're out there.

>> Read more and download the report.

14 August 2014

Ferguson and Gaza

In Ferguson, Missouri, just outside of St. Louis, citizens continue to protest the recent shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown at the hands of a local (and as yet unnamed) cop.

And the police are overreacting, to put it mildly. Provoked by a very few unruly protestors, they have been using tear gas, and military equipment and tactics, against even peaceful demonstrators. They've even arrested some reporters who were covering the protests.

These cops are engaging in collective punishment, which is a clear-cut human rights violation. You can take action against your aggressors; they are fair game. But innocent bystanders are supposed to be off-limits.

It reminds me of the current situation in Gaza, where the Israeli military is overreacting to a handful of rockets and a handful of casualties - mostly military - perpetrated by a few bad apples.

Israel has responded by bombing civilian structures, including multiple United Nations bomb shelters. As a result, the Palestinian death count - mostly civilian - has risen to at least 1,959.

Violence is never a viable solution to a political/diplomatic problem - be it in Ferguson or in Gaza. And hope is lost whenever a Gazan baby is injured or killed, and also whenever an innocent Ferguson protestor has his or her human rights violated by those whom we pay to protect us from such things.

11 August 2014

Amnesty releases new report on civilian casualties in Afghanistan

Today, Amnesty International released a new report on "failures of accountability for civilian casualties caused by international military operations in Afghanistan."

Says Amnesty: "Thousands of Afghan civilians have been killed since 2001 by international forces, and thousands more have been injured. This report examines the record of accountability for civilian deaths caused by international military operations in the five-year period from 2009 to 2013. In particular, it focuses on the performance of the US government in investigating possible war crimes and in prosecuting those suspected of criminal responsibility for such crimes. Its overall finding is that the record is poor."

According to the Geneva Conventions, civilians are supposed to be off-limits in armed combat. Unfortunately, that standard is too often ignored. And, too often, the violators get away with their war crimes.

Please help me spread the word. The more people know, the more they will fight back. Hopefully.

>> Download the report. (PDF)

04 August 2014

More evidence that Texas executed an innocent man

I've written before about the likelihood that Cameron Todd Willingham, executed by Texas in 2004 for an alleged arson that claimed the lives of his three daughters, was actually not guilty. A posthumous 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.

Now there is even more reason to believe that Willingham's conviction was based on faulty "evidence". According to the Washington Post, a former witness in the Willingham trial, who had claimed that Willingham had confessed to him in prison, now says that he lied in order to get a lighter sentence for himself.

The arson issue was reason enough to give Willingham the benefit of the doubt. This new revelation sheds an even harsher light on the injustices in our so-called justice system.

And Texas likely killed an innocent man. An irreversible punishment. Oops!

I can think of no better reason to oppose the death penalty.

24 July 2014

'An eye for an eye' is a problem

Last night, there was another botched execution - this one in Arizona. It took Joseph Wood almost two hours to die, during which time he was reportedly gasping and snorting while strapped to the gurney with the fatal drugs flowing into his veins.

This comes just three months after another botched execution. In Texas in April, Clayton Lockett died after reportedly writhing and groaning for 43 minutes.

The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishments, including torture. I am not a doctor, but it sure seems as though Wood and Lockett may have been slowly tortured to death. In any case, we don't know for certain how much pain they experienced. And that unknown seems like reason enough to immediately abolish lethal injection.

But some people seem to think that torturing the torturer is the fair thing to do.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said in an official statement regarding last night's Joseph Wood execution that "[t]his is in stark comparison to the gruesome, vicious suffering that he inflicted on his two victims - and the lifetime of suffering he has caused their family."

That's the old "eye for an eye" attitude. Wood made people suffer, so he deserves to suffer at least equally. But we as a society should be above the level of the criminal.

And, surprisingly, I got a similar pro-death reaction from a Facebook friend who (unlike Gov. Brewer) is otherwise fairly progressive. She saw it as possible karmic payback. But it's not up to us human beings to dole out karmic justice. It is, by definition, best left to some higher force in the universe. Because we humans are so fallible.

As Mohandas Gandhi said, "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind."

23 July 2014

Tomorrow, 7/24: Day of Action for Gaza!

The Israeli military continues its attacks on Gaza, and innocent Palestinian men, women, and children continue to die.

NPR reported today that the Palestinian death toll had risen to 649 in the 16 days since the assault began, most of them civilians. By comparison, only 29 Israelis have died in the conflict, most of them soldiers. In other words, it's a very lopsided massacre. And civilians are supposed to be off-limits in armed conflict, per international law.

We must raise our voices and do something about this.

So, on Thursday, July 24, activists and concerned Americans across the nation will participate in an urgent National Day of Action for Gaza.

Please join us.

What you can do:

Sign on and tell Congress to push for a ceasefire now!

• Use social media to spread the word and share the petition to Congress.

Find a protest near you.

• Get more ideas at Code Pink's Pink Tank.

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."


"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.