31 December 2010

Obama, Vick, and redemption

Some people are criticizing President Obama for calling Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and praising the team for hiring Michael Vick, who had previously been in prison for his involvement in an abusive dog fighting ring.

I am an animal lover, and have been all my life. I am even a vegetarian, because I cannot stand the thought of eating a dead animal. But I have to stand with Obama on this one.

What Vick did to those dogs is horrible, and he deserved the prison sentence he served. But Vick says he realizes now that what he did was wrong.

I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

After all, doesn't everyone deserve a chance at redemption?

And are those who disagree really so perfect themselves?

30 December 2010

Will redistricting squeeze Kucinich out of Congress?

Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) is one of the most progressive members of Congress. He boldly stands up for human rights and against corporate greed. He is a rare gem.

However, his Congressional seat may now be threatened -- not through an election but through redistricting.

The following is an excerpt from a note that Representative Kucinich recently distributed to his supporters:
Due to the new census figures, Ohio will lose two seats in Congress. The Ohio Legislature (Republican) will redraw the map with 16 instead of 18 districts for the 2012 Election. Speculation nationally, and more importantly, in Ohio is that my district may be eliminated, absorbed into parts of other districts. Keep in mind, given the early Ohio primary, the filing deadline could be only a year away.


Yet, in light of the strong chance that my district may be eliminated, my continued presence in Congress, to work for everything we care about, will obviously call for a much different strategy. I will not wait until a new Ohio map is produced to begin this crucial discussion of the consequences of congressional redistricting. I will not wait until the Ohio Legislature produces a new map to start thinking of the options. The question will not be: Who is my opponent? The question will be: Where is my district? Seriously.

We are going to have to prepare for a different kind of election, possibly in a different place because my district may be eliminated. We are going to have to organize in a different way, now. The question will remain: Where?

This discussion is consequential. Please participate by providing your insight and advice. advice@kucinich.us
Stay tuned for updates on the redistricting crisis and what we can do to help keep Kucinich in Congress.

29 December 2010

Senator Sessions hates our freedoms

Last week, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) stood on the Senate floor and railed against Obama judicial nominees who have, as he put it, "ACLU DNA".

Now let's think about this.

Having "ACLU DNA" means that the nominees care for the protection of our civil liberties. (The ACLU is, after all, the American Civil Liberties Union.)

His attitude suggests that Sessions does not care for the protection of our civil liberties -- the very freedoms that make this country great. I hope his constituents keep this in mind the next time he's up for reelection.

28 December 2010

After DADT repeal, is DOMA next? (I'm not optimistic.)

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has a reputation for misspeaking, but I hope this isn't one such case.

On ABC's "Good Morning, America" last week, Biden hinted that the recent repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" may soon lead to a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. "I think the country's evolving," Biden said, as quoted by the Los Angeles Times.

President Obama has admitted that he is still wrestling with the idea. He believes in civil unions but stops short of blessing the idea of marriage for same-sex couples. Maybe the fact that he too brought it up recently - just before signing the DADT repeal - is a good sign.

Obama has cited his religious beliefs as the reason why he opposes gay marriage. But maybe now he is starting to realize that the separation of Church and State means that you're supposed to govern by the Constitution, not by the Bible. And the Fourteenth Amendment, as California's Proposition 8 opponents have noted, seems to guarantee equality under the law.

More of a challenge, I'm sure, will be convincing Congress of this.

27 December 2010

Bradley Manning's pre-trial punishment

Private First Class Bradley Manning spent his Christmas this year in a 6-foot by 12-foot prison cell at the Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia, where he has been held since May. He is in solitary confinement. He is under continuous surveillance, and must respond to cell checks every five minutes. He cannot keep any personal items in his cell. And he is not even allowed to exercise in his small quarters.

These conditions, as described by Manning's attorney, David E. Coombs, seem like harsh and cruel punishment even for the most violent, most dangerous convicted criminals. But Manning has not been convicted of any crime at this point. He is accused of being the source of the classified U.S. government documents that Wikileaks has been sharing with the world, but he still awaits his day in military court.

Daphne Eviatar, Senior Associate of the Law and Security Program at Human Rights First, questioned the legality of Manning's treatment, saying: "At the very least, the conditions would seem to amount to a violation of Article 13 of the [Uniform Code of Military Justice], which states, 'No person, while being held for trial, may be subjected to punishment or penalty other than arrest or confinement upon the charges pending against him, nor shall the arrest or confinement imposed upon him be any more rigorous than the circumstances required to insure his presence, but he may be subjected to minor punishment during that period for infractions of discipline.'"

Eviatar continued: "No one has claimed that Bradley Manning has been anything less than completely cooperative with prison guards. And given that he's not accused of a violent crime, it's difficult to see why such extreme security measures are necessary."

According to Glenn Greenwald at Salon.com, Manning's detention conditions "constitute cruel and inhumane treatment and, by the standards of many nations, even torture," and are "likely to create long-term psychological injuries."

The case has caught the attention of the United Nations' special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, who is investigating Manning's treatment. According to the Washington Post, "The U.N. could ask the United States to stop any violations it finds." But would it even matter?

I get the impression that the military is trying to get some extrajudicial revenge on Manning. And this is another glaring example of how prisoner rights, the law, and true justice have all taken a back seat since George W. Bush declared his "war on terror".

This is what America has become. And we don't have Bush to blame for it now.

24 December 2010

Obama meets Dickens

It's Christmas Eve, and Barack Obama falls asleep in his cozy White House bed.

Soon he is visited in his dream by the Ghost of Christmas Past, who takes Obama back in time to Christmas 1940, where he sees the positive effects of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. Taxes had been raised on the rich, and the government had spent money on programs to create jobs and advance labor rights. And it was working. The U.S. economy was rising out of the Great Depression. Obama awakens and mumbles something about how FDR should have spent more time courting the Republicans who opposed his policies.

He falls back to sleep and is visited by the ghost of Christmas Present, who shows shows Obama all the hungry children -- not in Africa, but right here in the richest nation on earth. Obama is forced to look at the fact that some 20 percent of American children are now living in poverty, with little hope that their parents will find good jobs in this economy. Obama awakens and mumbles something about how the extended tax cuts for the wealthy will really begin to trickle down this time.

He falls back to sleep and is visited by the ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, who shows Obama a scene from Christmas 2012 in Wasilla, Alaska, where President-Elect Sarah Palin is celebrating with her family. Will he wake up and save us all from this nightmare? Or will he have some other excuse?

23 December 2010

First responders are better than Coburn

The good news: Yesterday, after quite a battle, Congress passed a bill that funds medical care and compensation for 9/11 first responders who are now experiencing health problems from working in the toxic environment at Ground Zero.

The bad news is that passage of this bill was in question in the first place. But Rep. Tom Coburn (R-OK) fought it and threatened to block the bill.

Alex Pareene at Salon.com analyzes Coburn's motives:
"Coburn's original objection was that the bill was too pricey -- though it was paid for by closing tax loopholes, which means that his real objection was that rich people were going to have to pay for non-rich people to have their illnesses treated...

"A bit of history: Coburn voted yes on exempting millionaires from the estate tax, and yes on tax cuts on capital gains and dividends, but he has been fighting fiercely to stop the government from paying for treatment for 9/11 first responders with cancer. (Un-fun fact: Coburn's a medical doctor and a cancer survivor himself!)"
In a comment posted in response to the Salon article, one reader wrote:
"I'd try to avoid disaster or illness. I guarantee you no first responder will ever come to this guy's rescue!"
I disagree with the commenter. Unlike Coburn, first responders have a heart and a conscience. They're professionals. When they're on the job, they're above politics. And, unlike Coburn, they want to save lives.

22 December 2010

Senate likely to pass START treaty today, despite personal issues in GOP

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate voted to advance the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). Today, they are expected to vote in favor of ratification.

This is good, because the treaty will reduce U.S. and Russian weapons stockpiles and provide protocols for ongoing verification of compliance. After all, why do we need to have enough nuclear missiles to destroy every civilization on Earth several times over? Why the hell would we want to?

But yesterday 28 Republicans voted against the treaty. I wonder why.

Are they just being contrary -- again?

Do they miss the dangerous excitement of the Cold War?

Or is it something much more personal? After all, nuclear missiles are the ultimate phallic symbol.

21 December 2010

Is Obama planning to cut Social Security?

Robert Kuttner at Polico says that "well-placed sources" have indicated that Obama and "key Senate Democrats" are planning to "embrace much of the Bowles-Simpson plan - including cuts in Social Security." Bowles-Simpson refers to the very scary "Cat Food Commission" -- i.e., Obama's deficit commission.

Kuttner goes on to suggest that Obama will drop this bomb during the next State of the Union address in January.

I hope Kuttner is wrong.

And I hope Obama realizes that it would likely seal his fate as a one-term president.

20 December 2010

Amnesty International responds to Wikileaks controversy

Human rights group Amnesty International was mostly silent for quite a while after the Wikileaks scandal hit the fan. Initially, Amnesty had responded only to a handful of select revelations that corroborated its suspicions of human rights abuses, like the airstrikes on Yemen.

Now Amnesty has released a much broader Q&A on the whole Wikileaks matter and freedom of expression. Below are some key excerpts.


Would prosecution of Julian Assange for releasing US government documents be a violation of the right to freedom of expression?

According to Amnesty International, criminal proceedings aimed at punishing a private person for communicating evidence about human rights violations can never be justified. The same is true with respect to information on a wide range of other matters of public interest.

At the very least, a significant number of the documents released by Wikileaks appear to fall into these categories, so any prosecution based in whole or in part on those particular documents, would be incompatible with freedom of expression.

Would prosecution of employees of the US government who may have provided documents to Wikileaks be a violation of freedom of expression?

US soldier Private Bradley Manning is currently in detention facing charges that include the leaking of national defence information.

While employees of a government have the right to freedom of expression, they also have duties as an employee, so a government has more scope to impose restrictions on its employees than it would have for private individuals who receive or republish information.

However, Amnesty International would be concerned if a government were to seek to punish a person who, for reasons of conscience, released in a responsible manner information that they reasonably believed to be evidence of human rights violations that the government was attempting to keep secret in order to prevent the public learning the truth about the violations.

Is it legitimate for governments to seek to keep their diplomatic discussions and negotiations confidential when they perceive it to be in their national interest?

Governments can of course in general seek to keep their communications confidential by using technical means or by imposing duties on their employees; it is not, however, legitimate for governments to invoke broad concepts of national security or national interest in justification of concealing evidence of human rights abuses.

Is Amnesty International concerned about the potential for harm to individuals as a result of the leaked information?

Amnesty International has consistently called on Wikileaks to make every possible effort to ensure that individuals are not put at increased risk of violence or other human rights abuses as a result of, for instance, being identifiable as sources in the documents.

However, risks of this kind are not the same as the risk of public embarrassment or calls for accountability that public officials could face if documents expose their involvement in human rights abuses or other forms of misconduct.


The full Q&A can be found at:


18 December 2010

DADT is repealed!

Good news for proponents of equality:

Today, December 18, the U.S. Senate voted to repeal the discriminatory and homophobic policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", which prevented gay and lesbian persons from serving openly in the U.S. military. It has already passed in the House, and President Obama is expected to sign it shortly.

It's about time. After all, in the Declaration of Independence, the great Thomas Jefferson declared that "all men are created equal". He didn't specify that this equality applied only the straight guys.

The conservatives who contend that this will "homosexualize the military" need to ask themselves if they really think that our military men and women are so conflicted in their sexuality that they will be easily "victimized" by the open service of their gay colleagues. Do they really so narcissistically think that their gay colleagues are going to be hopelessly attracted to them and constantly hit on them in a distracting and destructive manner? And do they really think that they might not be able to handle it?

If so, then it's their problem, not that of the gays.

God bless America.

17 December 2010

Wishing I could afford all the charities

It's that time of year again. It seems like every nonprofit organization in the world is emailing me and asking for year-end donations.

I wish I could afford to support all of the ones that do good work.

Unfortunately, I do not have a lot of money. I scrape just to support myself. Therefore, each year I must pick and choose just a handful of organizations that will get a small donation.

This year it's the following:

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

Amnesty International USA (AIUSA)

Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), Philadelphia Chapter

I wish I could do more. If I could, I would also send money to:

Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR)

Doctors Without Borders (MSF)

Human Rights Watch (HRW)

Human Rights First (HRF)

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

... and so many more.

If you can afford to, please support some of these important organizations yourself. Thank you.

16 December 2010

Painting a religion with too broad a brush

I just read of a sign that a right-wing protestor carried at a rally opposing the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque". The sign said "All I Need to Know About Islam I Learned on 9/11."

By that logic, one could say "All I Need to Know About Christianity I Learned When a Priest Molested Me."

But somehow I don't think the latter would go over as well with the Tea Party crowd.

15 December 2010

Jobs, taxes, and the meaning of insanity

Despite opposition from some progressive members of Congress, an article in The Hill suggests that Obama's tax cut "compromise" seems poised for final passage.

Too many people in Washington are drunk on Ronald Reagan's trickle-down Kool-Aid. They keep preaching that extending the tax breaks for the wealthy will help produce jobs for unemployed Americans. But how can anyone believe that? After all, these are George W. Bush's tax cuts, and we lost millions of jobs since those cuts were introduced - not to mention the adverse effect on the deficit.

But this time it's going to work, we're told. This time the money will trickle down.

Albert Einstein said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

So what does that say about the people in Washington? (And that means you, too, Mr. President.)

14 December 2010

Human rights group condemns government persecution of Wikileaks

ARTICLE 19 is a human rights organization working globally to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression. In response to the U.S. government's pressure on companies having an operational relationship with Wikileaks, crackdowns on access of Wikileaks documents by government workers and students, and other perceived mishandling of the issue, ARTICLE 19 released a statement containing the following interesting points. See the bottom of this article for a link to the full statement.
1. Denial of Services and Arbitrary and Non-Transparent Actions by Intermediaries

To date and without any legal justification, a number of companies have stopped providing services to WikiLeaks because of pressure from governments and elected officials. This has made it more difficult for individuals to access the site, which in turn restricts their right to freedom of information. ARTICLE 19 believes that in the absence of any legal authority or court ruling finding WikiLeaks' activities to be illegal, this pressure is unlawful and is in violation of national constitutions and international laws protecting freedom of expression. [...]

2. Lack of Legal Authority

As ARTICLE 19 commented earlier, we do not believe that recent releases of documents by WikiLeaks violate US national law or the law of any other nation. We recall that it is an obligation of governments - not of media and private individuals - to protect the confidentiality of official information, if necessary under legitimate interests. Furthermore, the US Espionage Act has never been used against a media organisation since its inception in 1917. At the time it was written, the Congress rejected amendments that would have expanded its scope in areas that were considered unconstitutional restrictions on the press. [...]

3. Blocking by Governments

ARTICLE 19 opposes various attempts by the US authorities to restrict access to WikiLeaks, in violation of their legal obligations to protect free expression. The prohibition of access to the WikiLeaks websites by US government branches, including by the Library of Congress, is foolish and irrational given how widely available the information is. Furthermore, the prohibition of access significantly weakens the role of Congress and its respected research arm, the Congressional Research Service, which, as an independent body, is responsible to oversee the actions of the executive. The unofficial warnings made to students that their future potential government careers may be imperilled [sic] if they discussed or linked to the WikiLeaks documents amount to intimidation. [...]

4. Whistleblower Protection

ARTICLE 19 would also like to reiterate our call for governments to adopt adequate protections for whistleblowers in this case and others. The UN Human Rights Committee and the European Court of Human Rights have stated that under international human rights law, Official Secrets Acts cannot be used to suppress secret information that is of public interest. [...]

5. Denial of Service (or DDOS) Attacks

ARTICLE 19 does not condone the denial of service attacks on Mastercard, Visa and other companies. However, we also note that there seems to be little effort made by authorities to identify and prosecute those who have conducted the attacks against WikiLeaks resulting in the website being taken offline, which also constitutes a violation of criminal law and a violation of freedom of expression.
>> Read the full statement (PDF).

13 December 2010

Will California execute an innocent man?

Kevin Cooper sits on California's death row at San Quentin. He was convicted of a quadruple murder back in 1983. Cooper has always denied any involvement with the murders. But a lot of prisoners claim they are innocent, whether or not they really are. So let's take a look at some facts of the case.

The sole survivor of the murders, Joshua Ryen, told the police that the murderers were three white men. Cooper is black. And Ryen repeatedly told police that Cooper was not involved in the murders.

Several weapons were linked to the crime, suggesting multiple killers, but prosecutors contended that Cooper was working alone. That suggests, as noted by Nicholas Kristof in a recent New York Times column, the unlikely case that "one intruder juggling several weapons overpower[ed] five victims, including a 200-pound former Marine like Doug Ryen, who also had a loaded rifle nearby."

And then there is this troubling account by Ninth Circuit Court Judge William A. Fletcher, in a lecture at the Gonzaga University School of Law. Fletcher was among five judges who had dissented the Ninth Circuit's decision to deny Cooper's appeal:

"On June 9, a woman named Diana Roper called the Sheriff's Department to tell them that her boyfriend, Lee Furrow, had come home in the early hours on the night of June 4. He arrived in an unfamiliar station wagon with some people who stayed in the car. He changed out of his overalls, which he left on the floor of a closet. He was not wearing a t-shirt that he had been wearing earlier in the day. He left the house after about five minutes and did not return. Roper called her father the next day to come look at the overalls. They both concluded that the overalls were spattered with blood. Roper turned the overalls over to the Sheriff's Department and told the deputy that she thought Furrow was involved in the murders. Roper later provided an affidavit stating that a bloody t-shirt found beside the road leading from the murder house had been Furrow's. It was a Fruit-of-the-Loom t-shirt with a breast pocket. Roper stated that she recognized it because she had bought it for him. She also stated that a bloody hatchet found beside the road matched a hatchet that was now missing from her garage.

"Furrow had been released from state prison a year earlier. He had been part of a murderous gang, but had been given a short sentence in return for turning state's evidence against the leader of the gang. The leader was sentenced to death. Furrow told friends that while he was part of the gang he killed a girl, cut up her body, and thrown her body parts into the Kern River. The Sheriff's Department never tested the overalls for blood, never turned them over to Cooper or his lawyers, and threw them away in a dumpster on the day of Cooper's arraignment."

Also, another prison inmate, Kenneth Koon, had confessed to his cellmate, Anthony Wisely, that he had committed the murders for which Cooper was convicted. Koon has since recanted his confession, but does it not call for a follow-up investigation just the same? (Rhetorical question, of course - unfortunately.)

All things considered, it appears to me that there is reasonable doubt as to Cooper's guilt in this case. And there is no excuse to execute someone when there is reasonable doubt that you've got the right guy. Indeed, in his dissent from the Ninth Circuit Court's decision against Cooper, Judge Fletcher stated, "The State of California may be about to execute an innocent man."

Still, all of Cooper's appeals have been denied, and his fate now rests with Governor Schwarzenegger.

Accordingly, there is a movement under way calling on Governor Schwarzenegger to commute Cooper's death sentence before he leaves office. E-mail can be sent to the Governor via: http://gov.ca.gov/interact#email

Unfortunately, Schwarzenegger denied clemency for Cooper in 2004, saying that the state and federal courts had reviewed the case extensively and found that the evidence establishing Cooper's guilt "is overwhelming." But I contend that the evidence in Cooper's favor is overwhelming as well.

I hope Governor Schwarzenegger will reconsider now and choose to err on the side of life, not death, in this case. He needn't play the Terminator in real life too.

10 December 2010

December 10th is Human Rights Day

Today, December 10th, is the anniversary of the adoption in 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations General Assembly.

This project was led by Eleanor Roosevelt in the wake of World War II, to define a worldwide, inter-cultural set of non-derogable human rights.

It wasn't an easy undertaking. There were lots of disagreements, lots of arguments. But, in the end, this inter-cultural group, representing virtually all regions and cultures of the world, agreed on the 30 articles set forth in the Declaration.

These rights were determined to be the fair universal standards required to ensure the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family, which is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world.

The cultural diversity involved in developing this Declaration is a testament to its universality and lack of bias.

So, on this 62nd anniversary of the UDHR, as I have done for the past few years, I present the Declaration in its entirety below.

Please read this Declaration, think about what it says, and think about how we still come up short, worldwide and here in the USA, on many (if not most) of the principles contained therein. Then take action to do something about it.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights


Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

Article 1.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2.

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3.

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4.

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5.

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6.

Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7.

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8.

Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9.

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10.

Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 11.

(1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.

(2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

Article 12.

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 13.

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 14.

(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.

(2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 15.

(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.

(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

Article 16.

(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Article 17.

(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.

(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Article 18.

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19.

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20.

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

(2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 21.

(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.

(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Article 22.

Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23.

(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24.

Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25.

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 26.

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Article 27.

(1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.

(2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Article 28.

Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

Article 29.

(1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.

(2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

(3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 30.

Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.


09 December 2010

If you boycott Amazon, you have to cut up your credit cards

Several people are now boycotting Amazon.com because of Amazon's decision to stop hosting Wikileaks on its servers. Amazon said Wikileaks had violated its service agreement.

But I have a problem with this boycott for two main reasons:

Reason 1: The effect that a successful boycott would have on low-level employees.

The Amazon warehouse workers, accountants, and clerical staff, for instance, had nothing to do with the Wikileaks decision. But, if a boycott is "successful" enough, those workers' jobs (and lives) could be adversely affected in this already-poor economy.

Reason 2: People tend to boycott selectively.

If you're going to boycott Amazon.com, I say you must also boycott Visa, MasterCard, and Paypal, since those companies also discontinued service to Wikileaks.

But I'm guessing that these people won't be cutting up their credit or debit cards any time soon. People don't boycott so quickly if it's personally inconvenient. And you can't do much these days without a Visa or MasterCard.

Also, as a friend pointed out to me, in the credit industry, lower transaction volumes can backfire on consumers and small businesses. If the volume is slower, the banks won't make less money, they'll just raise the rates for both the card holders and the merchants.

I think there are better ways to protest. We just need to look at the big picture, and do so logically, not hysterically, lest we look too much like the Tea Party.

08 December 2010

In memory of John Lennon

Today, December 8, 2010, is the 30th anniversary of the death of one of my heroes - musician and peace advocate John Lennon.

I'm not going to write a big, flowery eulogy. Instead, I will simply present some of his words that live on and continue to inspire me each and every day:

-- by John Lennon

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one
Rest in peace, Mr. Lennon. You are missed.

07 December 2010

SCOTUS to hear two big-business cases

In the Citizens United case earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of big business over democracy. And yesterday they agreed to hear two more cases in which big business is being challenged.

In Wal-Mart v. Dukes, they will decide if a sex discrimination case by some 1.5 million current and former Wal-Mart workers can proceed. The New York Times describes this case, and its implications, as follows:
"[The appeal is] the biggest employment discrimination case in the nation's history, one claiming that Wal-Mart discriminated against hundreds of thousands of women in pay and promotion. The lawsuit seeks back pay that could amount to billions of dollars.

"The question before the court is not whether there was discrimination but rather whether the claims by the individual employees may be combined as a class action. The court's decision on that issue will almost certainly affect all sorts of class-action suits, including ones asserting antitrust, securities and product liability, as well as other claims."
And in American Electric Power Co., Inc. v. Connecticut, the Court will talk global warming and corporate responsibility. Per Politico:
"Power companies are challenging a lower court ruling that allowed states and environmental groups to move ahead with a public nuisance lawsuit seeking to force the utilities to slash their greenhouse gas emissions."
I'm afraid of how these cases might turn out. But I'm keeping my fingers crossed anyway in hopes that the "little people" (in the Wal-Mart case) and the earth (in the pollution case) might see some real justice for a change.

06 December 2010

Christian hypocrisy in the GOP

The Republicans in Washington keep talking about God and "values". They like to make it look like they are on the side of God. And they like to make it seem like the Democrats are a party of loose morality, favoring abortion, gay marriage, and palling around with terrorists.

They are experts at crafting and delivering their message - good enough to inspire so many middle-class folks to vote against their own financial interests in the 2010 elections. Their message works because it appeals to people's base emotions, not their intellects. And reacting is so much easier than critical thinking, especially when we're so emotionally drained from these years of unemployment and home foreclosures.

They are so effective with their message that they don't think twice before selling the idea that God wanted George W. Bush to attack Iraq, God favors the Tea Party, and God wants Sarah Palin to be President.

They completely ignore the First Amendment's separation of Church and State. They publicly thump the bibles on which they were sworn into office. And they make sure they're seen praying.

But if you set aside the hysteria and look at the facts, Jesus was a liberal, and much of the New Testament condemns the attitude of the so-called right

For example:

Jesus denounced the moneychangers and condemned the greedy rich, saying, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." [Matthew 19:24] And Jesus stood up for the poor and underprivileged, saying, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." [Matthew 25:40]

So then how can the Republicans call themselves Christian (i.e., followers of Jesus Christ) as they hold the unemployed hostage while fighting for tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires?

Jesus acknowledged the need for both government and tax-paid government services, saying, "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's." [Matthew 22:21]

So then how can the Republicans call themselves Christian (i.e., followers of Jesus Christ) as they rail against taxes and "big government"?

Jesus healed the sick - even lepers - for free. He didn't ask them for an insurance card first, he just healed them because it was the right thing to do. Jesus was the original "socialized medicine" machine.

So then how can the Republicans call themselves Christian (i.e., followers of Jesus Christ) as they condemn the much less socialistic "Obamacare"?

And, as he stood there on the Mount, Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God." [Matthew 5:9]

Still, the Republicans call themselves Christian (i.e., followers of Jesus Christ) as they continue to call for endless war, be it legally and morally justified or not.

And they try to justify torture. So I ask them, in the words of the popular button and bumper sticker: Who would Jesus torture?

And I get no good answer to any of it.

03 December 2010

The homophobia will be televised

California's Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage in that state, goes back to court on Monday, December 6, with a two-hour hearing scheduled before the Ninth Circuit Court. And, unlike last January's hearings in U.S. District Court, Monday's proceedings will be televised. C-SPAN plans to broadcast it all live.

So those arguing in favor of the discriminatory Prop 8 will not be able to hide from the public behind closed courtroom doors this time. Their bigotry will be televised for all to see.

As the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said, "Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants."

02 December 2010

The party of Scrooges

At the stroke of midnight on December 1, unemployment benefits began to run out for some 2 million Americans. The Republicans in Congress say they don't want to extend the benefits again if it will add to the deficit. They seem to care more about the deficit than about the ability of the unemployed to feed their families.

Of course, it's just fine with them if we continue to pour billions of dollars into our ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. And of course they want to extend Bush's tax cuts for millionaires. Where money is concerned, killing brown people and making rich people richer are more important than feeding the children of the unfortunate Americans whose jobs were shipped overseas.

And just in time for the holidays!

Yes, Bill O'Reilly, there really is a war on Christmas. And it's brought to you by the Republicans in Congress who just ruined the holidays for so many unemployed Americans.

01 December 2010

The pope, condoms, and World AIDS Day

Today, December 1, is World AIDS Day. This day is set aside each year to raise awareness of the disease and to remember those who have died from it.

HIV/AIDS remains a huge problem worldwide. As of 2008, more than 33 million people (adults and children) were living with HIV/AIDS. Two million people died of the disease that same year.

And that is why I have a huge problem with the Catholic Church's opposition to condoms.

Sure, Pope Benedict XVI recently softened his stance somewhat (and conditionally). As the New York Times explained it, "Benedict said that for some people, such as male prostitutes, using them could represent a first step in assuming moral responsibility 'in the intention of reducing the risk of infection.'"

But, as the Times goes on to say, "The pope says in his own writings that he takes personal responsibility for the remarks, meaning they are not official church teaching."

Not all Catholic clergy, and indeed not all lay Catholics, agree with the Church's hard stance against condoms. It's just unrealistic. But the rule remains on the books. "Every sperm is sacred."

The Church would like to believe that making rules about condom use is going to control how and when people have sex. But, as we've learned from Bristol Palin and the demonstrated failure of abstinence-only sex education programs, telling people not to have sex is not ultimately going to stop them.

Until the Church wakes up and gets a more realistic grip on this life-and-death issue, it cannot truly be called pro-life.

30 November 2010

November 30 is Call Congress Day: Hands off Social Security!

President Obama's deficit commission (aka the "cat food commission") seems set on cutting Social Security benefits even though a large majority of Americans oppose such cuts.

So a broad coalition of organizations has designated today, November 30, as a national call-in day to oppose Social Security cuts.

Please take a few minutes to call your Senators and Representative today and let them know that there are healthier ways to save money -- like ending our unnecessary military involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Korea.

>> Click here to find the phone numbers for your Senators and Rep.

29 November 2010

U.S. gets human rights advice from the world

On November 5, the United States had its first-ever formal evaluation under the Universal Period Review process before the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). This process was established in 2006 to periodically review the human rights records of UN member states. But the George W. Bush administration apparently thought it was above this sort of thing.

As a result of this year's process, on November 10, the UNHRC issued a report of its findings and recommendations from the U.S. review. Most obvious were recommendations that the U.S. ratify several international human rights conventions and treaties that we have not yet formally endorsed. To no surprise, our use of torture and racial profiling, and the obvious culture of xenophobia apparent in our national discourse, also figured prominently in the feedback.

Below are some key excerpts from the report's recommendations on how the U.S. can improve its human rights standing in the world. The recommending nation appears in parenthesis after each item.
92.1. Ratify without reservations the following conventions and protocols: CEDAW; the ICESCR; the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families; the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance; the Statute of the International Criminal Court; those of the ILO; the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples, and all those from the Inter-American Human Rights System (Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela) [with similar recommendations by France, Russia, Spain, Canada, Japan, and several other nations];

92.51. Comply with its international obligations for the effective mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, because of their impact in climate change (Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela);

92.56. Repeal the norms that limit freedom of expression and require journalists to reveal their sources, under penalty of imprisonment (Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela);

92.66. Enact a federal crime of torture, consistent with the Convention, and also encompassing acts described as ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ (Austria);

92.67. Take legislative and administrative measures to address a wide range of racial discrimination and inequalities in housing, employment and education (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea);

92.68. Take legislative and administrative measures to ban racial profiling in law enforcement (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea);

92.70. Take appropriate legislative and practical measures to improve living conditions through its prisons systems, in particular with regard to access to health care and education (Austria);

92.75. End the blockade against Cuba2 (Cuba); Put an end to the infamous blockade against Cuba (Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela); Lift the economic, financial and commercial blockade against Cuba, which affects the enjoyment of the human rights of more than 11 million people (Plurinational State of Bolivia);

92.81. Take the necessary measures in favor of the right to work and fair conditions of work so that workers belonging to minorities, in particular women and undocumented migrant workers, do not become victims of discriminatory treatment and abuse in the work place and enjoy the full protection of the labour legislation, regardless of their migratory status (Guatemala);

92.82. Adopt a fair immigration policy, and cease xenophobia, racism and intolerance to ethnic, religious and migrant minorities (Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela);

92.85. Formulate goals and policy guidelines for the promotion of the rights of indigenous peoples and cooperation between government and indigenous peoples (Finland);

92.88. Invite United Nations Special Rapporteurs to visit and investigate Guantanamo Bay prison and United States secret prisons and to subsequently close them (Islamic Republic of Iran);

92.122. Abolish the death penalty and in any event, establish a moratorium as an interim measure towards full abolition (Australia); Abolish capital punishment and, as a first step on that road, introduce as soon as practicable a moratorium on the execution of death sentences (Hungary); That steps be taken to set federal and state-level moratoria on executions with a view to abolish the death penalty nationwide (Norway);

... and much more.
It is a good sign that the U.S. chose to submit itself to this level of scrutiny. However, good intentions will mean nothing if the Obama administration does not follow through on these constructive recommendations from its partners in the world community.

Talk is cheap. Rhetoric is cheap. The world wants action. And the world wants some positive change that we can all believe in.

Are we strong enough as a nation to comply? Sadly, I shall not hold my breath.

26 November 2010

How Black Friday encourages slavery

Today, the Friday after the Thanksgiving holiday, is nicknamed "Black Friday" here in the U.S. This is the day on which retailers hope to turn a nice profit from holiday gift sales.

And throngs of American consumers are happy to oblige. They are hitting the stores in huge numbers today, elbowing their way through the crowds, to spend their hard-earned money on toys and gadgets that have been made in Asian sweatshops by underpaid slaves working in horrific conditions. All this, of course, after the manufacturers outsourced the factory work that used to be done here in the U.S.

And so these consumers are supporting and encouraging the cycle of outsourcing, human rights violations, and U.S. unemployment.

And so the corporations have no reason to change their ways.

I plan to stay at home. I won't spend a nickel today. And the limited holiday shopping I do this season will support local and small businesses only. Please consider joining me.

25 November 2010

Help stop violence against women

Today, November 25, the fourth Thursday in November, is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.

November 25 is also the date on which the world observes the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

According to the Family Violence Prevention Fund(FVPF), "One in three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. It’s happening to someone right now, as you read this."

So the FVPF and other organizations are pushing for passage of the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA - HR4594/S2982) during the current lame-duck session of Congress. The bill has been stalled in Congress since February.

According to the FVPF, "The [IVAWA] would improve our government’s response when women and girls are victims of sex trafficking and rape during war and would provide aid to women’s groups on the ground that are working to help survivors of domestic and sexual violence. It would focus resources on prevention and ensure that our dollars are used in the most effective ways possible to help the people who need it most. In some countries, it truly could mean the difference between life and death for a woman or girl."

In the grand scheme of things, isn't this a bit more important than extending tax cuts for the very rich?

How you can help:

In observance of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, please urge your Senators and Representative to Support IVAWA.

>> Click here to take action online.

And, on this Thanksgiving holiday, let's be thankful for good organizations like the FVPF.

24 November 2010

My life-changing Thanksgiving column

Tomorrow, the fourth Thursday in November, is the Thanksgiving holiday here in the U.S.

Uncharacteristically, I did not write anything original this year to mark the holiday. So, instead, I present below a rerun of my first-ever Thanksgiving column, from 2004. A version of this piece was published in the Philadelphia Daily News that year, and won me my former role as a regular freelance columnist for that paper -- a gig that ended just over year later when the newspaper was sold.

Not all my memories of the Daily News are happy ones, but the experience was worthwhile and truly changed my life for the better. It made me a better writer and a stronger defender of human rights and social justice, with a much thicker skin under which to do my work.

And so here is the piece that started all this:

The first Thanksgiving: Prelude to genocide

As the American Thanksgiving holiday approaches, our minds wander to idyllic images of Pilgrims and Indians peacefully sharing a feast in celebration of the fall harvest. This November 25th, as we break bread with our families and friends, let us take some time to reflect on the fate of Native Americans in the centuries that followed the first Thanksgiving.

This nation was founded on principles of inalienable human rights and civil liberties. It would appear, however, that initially those guarantees applied only to those fortunate enough to have been born white European-Americans. As African-Americans remained enslaved in this country's early years, Native Americans didn't have it much better, enduring centuries of cultural, political, and economic repression, forced relocation, confinement to reservations, massacres by federal troops, and broken treaties.

As European-American settlers pushed westward in the late 18th century and through the 19th century, land theft of a massive scale ensued. In 1830, the 23rd Congress of the United States passed the "Indian Removal Act", legitimizing the land greed of the white settlers and resulting in the death or displacement of countless Native Americans. This legislation was signed into law by none other than all-American action hero President Andrew Jackson himself. (Think of that when you pull out your twenty-dollar bill to pay for your Thanksgiving turkey.)

Fast forward to the 20th century to find that things hadn't gotten much better. Beginning with President Ulysses Grant's 1869 "Peace Policy" and continuing well into the 20th century, more than 100,000 Native Americans were forced by the U.S. government to attend Christian boarding schools that tried to school, and sometimes beat, the Indian out of them. These children were separated from their families for most of the year and forcibly stripped of their language, culture, and customs in an effort to "kill the Indian and save the man". Virtually imprisoned in the schools, the children experienced a devastating litany of abuses, from forced assimilation and grueling labor to widespread sexual and physical abuse. School officials routinely forced children to do arduous work to raise money for staff salaries, and "leased out" students during the summers to farm or work as domestics for white families. In addition to bringing in income, the hard labor prepared the children to take their place in white society - the only one open to them - on the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder.

Those who remained on the reservations faced their own set of challenges. This form of apartheid separated Native Americans physically, socially, and economically from the world outside the reservation. Traditionally nomadic hunter societies were forced to learn to farm for their subsistence. Disenfranchised and disillusioned, the Native American population came to face the highest rates of poverty, suicide, alcoholism, high school drop-out, and teen pregnancy amongst ethnic groups in the U.S. - a trend that continues to this day.

This Thanksgiving, please take a moment to reflect on the fact that Native American history comprises so much more than just some stereotype caricature sidekicks to macho cowboy movie heroes. They are human beings, and they were here first.

A happy and peaceful Thanksgiving to all. During this holiday week and always, I am truly thankful for your support.

23 November 2010

Who needs START when we've got Sarah?

A group of Republican Senators, led by Jon Kyle (R-AZ), has been trying to block ratification of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). The treaty would reduce U.S. and Russian weapons stockpiles and provide protocols for ongoing verification of compliance.

Some right-wing media have also joined the anti-START chorus.

I guess they miss the dangerous excitement of the Cold War.

Or maybe they figure we don't need START since we've got Sarah Palin. After all, she can see Russia from her house, so she can keep an eye on their nukes.

22 November 2010

In terror prosecution cases, justice does not mean convictions

On November 17, in federal court in New York City, Guantanamo detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was convicted of a single charge of conspiracy in connection with the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. He was acquitted of 284 other counts against him. Ghailani was the first Gitmo detainee to be tried in federal court rather than a military commission. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for January.

Some on the right are pointing to the acquittals as proof that trying terrorism suspects in a civilian court does not work. But these critics are conveniently ignoring the fact that four other defendants in the same bombings had been sentenced in 2001 - also in federal court - to life in prison without parole. Ghailani could face a similar sentence, and will serve at least a minimum of 20 years.

They also misconstrue the fact that some evidence in the case - specifically, information obtained under torture - was inadmissible in the case. This is routine in credible legal systems, since experts agree that torture does not produce reliable intelligence. After all, under torture, the victim is likely to say whatever he thinks his torturer wants to hear, in order to make the pain stop.

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which represents a number of Guantanamo detainees, believes that the civilian court system is imperfect but still more just than the military commissions. CCR issued the following statement in response to the Ghailani verdict: "CCR questions the ability of anyone who is Muslim to receive a truly fair trial in any American judicial forum post-9/11. Both the military commission system and federal criminal trials have serious flaws. However, on balance the Ghailani verdict shows that federal criminal trials are far superior to military commissions for the simple yet fundamental reason that they prohibit evidence obtained by torture. If anyone is unsatisfied with Ghailani's acquittal on 284 counts, they should blame the CIA agents who tortured him." Indeed, and the Bush-Cheney administration that authorized the abuse.

Joanne Mariner, counterterrorism director at Human Rights Watch, also questions the military commission system's competence. "The federal court system has been tested over time, while the military commissions are making things up as they go along," said Mariner.

Daphne Eviatar, of Human Rights First, agrees. "The questions [Ghailani's] verdict raise are why the government has not tried all terror suspects in federal court and when will the government announce additional prosecutions," said Eviatar. "I have watched the hearings at Guantanamo and Ghailani's trial in New York. What strikes me is how efficient, fair, and transparent the federal court prosecution was in contrast to the recent Khadr decision at Guantanamo which left one with the uneasy feeling of justice gone awry. The military commissions remain rife with constitutional defects. Federal courts have far more legal tools to prosecute terror suspects."

Rob Freer, Amnesty International's USA researcher, addressed the critics' attitude as follows: "If the only procedure that critics of ordinary criminal trials would accept is one that guarantees convictions regardless of the evidence, then what has been demonstrated is a gross failure on their part to commit to the most basic principles of fairness."

So President Obama now faces an important choice: Appeasing the right vs. doing what's right.

Choosing the latter is the only way he'll be able to keep his campaign promise, albeit too late, of closing Guantanamo and returning this nation to the rule of law.

And it's the only way he'll be seen as leading, not following, his critics.

19 November 2010

Philly Eagles stadium to be greenest in the world

I am not a sports fan, but I like what the Philadelphia Eagles are up to these days when they're not playing football: They're transforming Lincoln Financial Field into what will be the most energy-efficient stadium in the world.

They are installing 100 spiral-shaped wind turbines, 2,500 solar panels, and a cogeneration power plant that can run on biodiesel.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, "the three sources will fully power any game, even as the stadium lights blaze, and the sound system blasts."

"In effect, the team will be off the grid," reports the Inquirer, "although the system will remain tethered to feed unneeded juice back into the grid."

Over time, the investment will pay for itself. According to the Inquirer, "[t]he team expects to save $60 million in energy costs over the next two decades."

The renovations are expected to be completed by opening day next September.

Go Eagles!

18 November 2010

Senate Republicans block Paycheck Fairness Act

Yesterday, Senate Republicans blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act from even coming to an up-or-down vote.

According to the National Organization for Women (NOW), "[t]he Paycheck Fairness Act would have closed loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and strengthened it by creating incentives for employers to follow the law. Additionally, the [A]ct would have assisted women in negotiating for better pay and promotion, furthered skill trainings for girls and women, restarted key research on the wage gap and tracked businesses' compliance with the law. Critically important, the Act would have prohibited retaliation against employees when salary information is shared."

NOW continued: "Women are now half of the paid workforce, but as the recession continues, many women find that their family financial circumstances have changed. An unprecedented number of women are family breadwinners due to deeper unemployment rates among men -- making pay equity essential not simply to the economic security of families but also to the nation's economic recovery."

I wonder how those Senators will explain to their wives, sisters, and daughters that women don't deserve equal pay for equal work?

17 November 2010

PA state legislature passes "shoot now, ask questions later" bill

On November 15, the Pennsylvania state legislature completed passage of H.B. 1926 and sent it to Governor Ed Rendell for his consideration.

This bill "[provides] for civil immunity for [lethal] use of force" in self protection. Specifically, this bill would make it legal for gun owners to shoot (and kill) anyone trespassing on their property or trying to break into their car. It would also make it legal to shoot (and kill) anyone on the street who is perceived to be a threat, even if the shooter could easily and safely leave the situation. It's a paranoid gun nut's dream come true.

And here's the trick: The bill is attached to another measure that would strengthen Megan's Law. So, if Governor Rendell vetoes the bill, he could (and likely would) be accused by his opponents of sympathizing with child molesters.

But it gets worse: In January, we get a new governor, the ultra-conservative Tom Corbett. If the bill does not make it past Rendell's desk before he leaves office, I have no doubt that Corbett would sign the bill without hesitation if the state legislature passes it again next year.

So I suppose I'll just have to practice looking harmless and unthreatening. Wish me luck on that.

16 November 2010

Lame ducks and taxes

Congress's lame duck session started yesterday and the media have been focusing on the likely fights in store over the renewal of Bush's tax cuts, which are set to expire at the end of the year if no action is taken.

President Obama and most Democrats would like to renew the tax cuts only for those making under $250,000. The Republicans, of course, along with some Dems, want to renew the tax cuts even for the wealthier people making more than $250,000.

Repealing the tax cuts for the wealthy would help to pay down the deficit. But the deficit hawks in Congress would rather cut services to the "little people" (if indeed they do want to balance the budget rather than just shout about it). They don't work for us, they work for the CEOs.

Will Obama and the Dems cave in to the Republicans? Rumors abound, but only time will tell for sure.

This is an opportunity for Obama to show some leadership and work hard against extending the tax cuts for the wealthy. If all else fails, he could let the extensions expire for everyone and we would all end up paying more. The Republicans could be blamed for that, due to their stubbornness and unwillingness to compromise on the side of true fiscal responsibility. That could ultimately translate into some campaign points, if only Obama and the Dems could get that message across in the next campaign cycle.

But, alas, I think we all learned this past election season that the Dems don't have a flair for effectively getting their message to the people.

15 November 2010

In Mumia case, judges argue penalty and sidestep justice

On November 9, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia heard arguments on whether Mumia Abu-Jamal, Pennsylvania's most famous death row inmate, should have his original death sentence reinstated or serve life in prison without parole. Abu-Jamal had been convicted and sentenced to death for the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.

Abu-Jamal's latest hearing was the result of a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court back in January, 2010, to throw out an earlier Third Circuit ruling that had rescinded his death sentence because of flawed jury instructions in his original trial. The issue involves how jurors were to weigh various mitigating factors that may have resulted in a sentence other than the death penalty.

The Supreme Court ordered the appellate court to reconsider its decision in light of a similar case in Ohio, in which the high court had reinstated the death sentence, saying that jurors do not need to agree unanimously on mitigating factors.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, a decision from the Third Circuit is "not expected before 2011."

Meanwhile, as the judiciary reconsiders the penalty, many are questioning the legitimacy of the original trial that led to Abu-Jamal's conviction.

A 2000 report by Amnesty International noted that "numerous aspects of this case clearly failed to meet minimum international standards safeguarding the fairness of legal proceedings." Amnesty expressed concerns about judicial bias and hostility, police misconduct, and the apparent withholding of evidence from the jury. Amnesty called for new trial "in a neutral venue, where the case has not polarized the public as it has in Philadelphia."

And, in 2009, the 95th annual convention of the NAACP passed an emergency resolution calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the cases of Abu-Jamal and some other prisoners.

A coalition of organizations and activists then followed the NAACP's lead and delivered more than 25,000 letters to the Justice Department, calling for a civil rights investigation into the Abu-Jamal case. This was accompanied by a press conference that included representatives of the NAACP, the National Lawyers Guild, Amnesty International, the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, the Riverside Church Prison Ministry, and other groups.

To date, the Justice Department appears to have ignored the matter.

Abu-Jamal's staunchest supporters insist that he is innocent, that he was set up, and that racial bias and witness coercion had played a big part in an unfair trial. They also point out that Faulkner was killed with a .44 caliber gun, while the gun that Abu-Jamal was licensed to carry as a nighttime taxi driver was a .38 caliber.

At the same time, there are many people here in the Philadelphia area, and probably elsewhere, who want to believe that Abu-Jamal is guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt, and who are calling for his prompt execution. They say that his execution will finally bring closure to Faulkner's family and his colleagues in the Philadelphia Police Department.

But I ask them this: How can true closure be achieved unless we are absolutely certain that justice was served in a fair and unbiased manner?

Without that, we're not looking at justice, but rather at a case of reckless revenge against a conveniently controversial character.

And that seems downright un-American.

12 November 2010

DOMA goes to court

Again the ACLU boldly stands up for civil rights and equality: The organization, along with other counsel, has filed a lawsuit against the federal government challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA defines marriage for all federal purposes as a legal union between a man and a woman.

The case, Windsor v. United States, was brought on behalf of Edith "Edie" Windsor, who in 2009 lost her spouse of 44 years, Thea Spyer. According to the ACLU, Windsor and Spyer had gotten married in Canada in 2007, and "were considered married by their home state of New York." But, because of DOMA, explains the ACLU, "Windsor was not able to claim the estate tax marital deduction that is available when the surviving spouse is of the opposite sex. In her lawsuit, Windsor is seeking to have DOMA declared unconstitutional and to obtain a refund of the federal estate tax that she was forced to pay following Spyer's death."

The ACLU notes that another lawsuit raising the same legal challenge to DOMA has been filed in federal court in Hartford, CT. "Brought by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders," the ACLU explains, "that case includes five married couples and one widower from three states who are harmed by DOMA in a variety of significant ways, including denial of health care coverage and social security benefits."

These cases will likely be tied up in the courts for years. But they're a good start, especially since we cannot expect the new Congress to do anything about it.

>> Learn more about Windsor v. United States.

11 November 2010

Gay and lesbian troops sacrifice more

Today, November 11, is Veterans Day in the U.S. -- an annual holiday honoring our military veterans.

On this day, I want to thank all our veterans for the sacrifices they have made for our country.

And I especially want to thank our gay and lesbian veterans. It seems to me that they must sacrifice even more than their straight colleagues, because they must deny their own true identities under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell".

And that just doesn't seem fair.

Will "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" remained forever stalled in the Senate?

Will it die there as the Obama administration shamelessly challenges court rulings that have struck down the policy?

Will our gay and lesbian service members ever see some change they can believe in?

10 November 2010

Justice Dept says no criminal charges for destroyed torture videos

The Justice Department again fails to address the torture of detainees under the Bush administration: On Tuesday, November 9, they decided against filing charges against CIA personnel who had destroyed videotapes of "harsh interrogations" of terrorism suspects.

According to Reuters, "The CIA has said it needed to destroy the tapes to guard against leaks that could endanger interrogators, but critics accused the agency of covering up illegal acts."

Couldn't they have guarded against leaks by locking the videos in a secure location instead of destroying the evidence? And didn't this all happen long before any of us ever heard of Wikileaks?

On a related note, Prosecutor John Durham, who led this "investigation", is also looking into "possible wrongdoing by CIA employees or contractors for harsh interrogations in Iraq and Afghanistan that went beyond approved limits," reports Reuters.

I'm amused by the use of the word "possible" here, since we've all seen pictures showing that prisoner abuse was more than just a possibility. On the other hand, Bush's justice department played semantic games to push the approved limits. Is "just following orders" a good enough excuse? We'll see.

Dixon Osburn of Human Rights First issued the following statement in response to Tuesday's Justice Department decision:

"Accountability is essential to restoring America's credibility as a nation of legal principle and a leader in human rights. We are disappointed that the Justice Department has chosen not to pursue charges in this case, but remain hopeful that the still pending Durham investigation into the actions of CIA interrogators and contractors involved in abusive interrogations will ultimately provide a full, fair, and objective review of allegations of illegal conduct."

I shall not hold my breath.

And, in the meantime, the U.S. dare not try to claim the moral high ground. We lost that even before Abu Ghraib.

09 November 2010

Troy Davis running out of options in life-and-death innocence claim

Troy Davis, an inmate on Georgia's death row, can't seem to get justice. And a new federal appeals court decision makes it clear that he is running out of options.

On November 5, citing federal habeas law, a federal appeals court ruled on a jurisdictional basis that Davis's only recourse at this point is a new appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court "because he had exhausted his other avenues of relief."

Davis is facing the death penalty despite an impressive number of factors that suggest he may be innocent of the murder for which he was convicted: Davis's original trial was flawed. Most of the witnesses have since recanted or contradicted their stories, with many claiming that they had been pressured or coerced by police. And there is no physical evidence linking Davis to the crime. His conviction was based solely on that questionable testimony by witnesses.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered that the new evidence be reviewed in federal court. That happened in June of this year, but U.S. District Court Judge William T. Moore Jr. ruled in August that Davis failed to prove his innocence. Unlike his original trial, in which the prosecution (theoretically) had to prove guilt, in this evidentiary hearing the onus was on Davis's attorneys to clearly prove his innocence. That amounts to trying to prove a negative.

So what now?

According to Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog, "Davis filed a notice that he would file a new appeal to the Supreme Court but also filed a separate appeal to the Eleventh Circuit, to cover all possible routes. So far, a new appeal has not yet been docketed in the Supreme Court."

So stay tuned.

The Troy Davis case makes a good argument for repeal of the death penalty in the U.S. It illustrates how procedural issues and judicial discretion can block the fair and thorough review of innocence claims, thereby risking the execution of an innocent person. That, I contend, cannot be called justice.

08 November 2010

The child soldier and Gitmo's kangaroo court

In October, a U.S. military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay sentenced Omar Khadr to 40 years in prison. A plea deal reduced his sentence to eight years. Under the deal, Khadr pled guilty to five charges, including murder and conspiracy to engage in terrorism.

What sets this apart from other terrorism cases is that Khadr was only 15 years old when he was arrested on an Afghan battlefield. He is also a Canadian citizen.

Because of his young age at the time of his arrest, Khadr has been recognized as a child soldier by the United Nations. As such, international standards prescribe that he be protected and rehabilitated, not prosecuted and abused.

Human Rights First explains: "In 2002, the U.S. ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, which prohibits the use of children under 18 in armed conflict and requires signatories to criminalize such conduct and rehabilitate former child soldiers as well as provide 'all appropriate assistance for their physical and psychological recovery and their social reintegration.' ."

But then, this is America in the age of the "war on terror", where human rights no longer seem to apply.

And the denial of Khadr's rights is nothing new.

Upon his arrival in U.S. custody, Khadr was allegedly subjected to harsh interrogations, beatings, and other ill-treatment. Interrogators allegedly threatened to kill Khadr's family if he didn't cooperate. This is how we treat our children in captivity.

And, despite the fact that confessions and other information obtained under torture and other forms of coercion are known to be unreliable, the judge in the case decided to admit it all into evidence anyway. So the deck was already stacked against Khadr at trial.

Amnesty International had this to say about the outcome: "Plea deals, while doubtless an efficient method for dispensing with cases quickly, do not always represent justice being done. They resemble more closely a high stakes game of poker - the defendant reviews his cards and then decides whether to bet on the hand he has been dealt or cut his losses by folding."

Amnesty continues: "The added twist at the Military Commissions is that the house gets to make the rules and stack the deck. Khadr had already written to Judge Parrish expressing his lack of faith that he could receive a fair trial. It seems that, having studied his cards, he decided to fold after all."

So there you have it: At Guantanamo Bay, "justice" is just a high-stakes poker game for brown-skinned males of all ages. Human rights be damned.

This is what America now stands for. And what George W. Bush began, Barack Obama continues.

06 November 2010

Olbermann broke a rule

Yesterday we learned that MSNBC had suspended "Countdown" host Keith Olbermann indefinitely without pay. This was because Olbermann had recently contributed money to three political candidates without obtaining the necessary prior permission from management.

The Internet is all atwitter (pun unintended), with bloggers and petitions calling for Olbermann's immediate reinstatement.

I, too, would like to see Olbermann back on the air in time for Monday night's show. But my reason is a selfish one -- I enjoy his commentary and his passion for progressive values, and, well, I miss him when he's not on the air.

But I recognize that he broke a rule, and punishment is appropriate. After all, Olbermann has himself criticized Fox News hosts who cross a line in promoting GOP candidates.

And therein lies the difference, as Olbermann's colleague Rachel Maddow pointed out during her own MSNBC show last night.

Danny Shea summarizes at the Huffington Post:
"Let this incident lay to rest forever the facile, never-true-anyway, bull-pucky, lazy conflation of Fox News and what the rest of us do for a living," [Maddow] said. "I know everybody likes to say, 'Oh, that's cable news, it's all the same. Fox and MSNBC, mirror images of each other.' Let this lay that to rest forever. Hosts on Fox raise money for Republican candidates. They endorse them explicitly, they use their Fox News profile to headline fundraisers. Heck, there are multiple people being paid by Fox News now to essentially run for office as Republican candidates.... They can do that because there's no rule against that as Fox. They run as a political operation; we're not."
It speaks highly of MSNBC to have acted on the side of ethics instead of letting their biggest ratings grabber go undisciplined for what may be perceived as a conflict of interest.

Perhaps the best next move would be for MSNBC to put Olbermann back on the air as soon as possible, but require that he open his program with a sincere, heartfelt apology.

After all, as Maddow also noted, "the point has been made."

05 November 2010

Lies, money, and the fate of our liberty

The November 2 elections whittled away at the Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate and gave the Republicans control once again of the House of Representatives.

So what prompted so many people to vote for the GOP -- the very same party that got this nation into the current economic mess?

Two things that go hand in hand: Lies and money.

The lies came via the campaign ads and partisan propaganda. The money to pay for them came from the corporations to whom the U.S. Supreme Court awarded the keys to the floodgates through its decision in a little case known as Citizens United. Big business can now pump unlimited funds into the election process to further its own interests, little people be damned.

To convince the voter of the need to vote Republican, and thereby preserve the greedy comfort of the very rich, the ads twist reality better than any circus contortionist.

I've heard ads slamming Democrats for supporting "Obama's bank bailout" -- even though it was actually Bush's bank bailout.

I've heard ads slamming Democrats for supporting "Obama's auto bailout" -- even though it was actually Bush's idea.

I've heard ads slamming Democrats for supporting "Obama's tax increases" -- even though Obama actually cut most people's taxes.

I've heard ads slamming Democrats for supporting "government-run health care" -- even though the same old greedy insurance companies will still be running it, and even though people love their government-run Medicare.

On a similar note, I've heard ads slamming "Obamacare" as if there's something wrong with wanting insurers to cover children with pre-existing conditions.

And I've heard ads slamming "Obamacare" as if there's something wrong with wanting insurers to continue your coverage when you get sick and really need it.

The ads are designed to appeal to emotion (usually fear), to strike the audience at a primal level that bypasses the filter of critical thought. It's a technique that folks like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have mastered quite profitably.

And it's a technique that works because it's much harder to think independently than it is to passively absorb whatever Fox News and the campaign airwaves happen to throw your way.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote, "Convinced that the people are the only safe depositories of their own liberty, and that they are not safe unless enlightened to a certain degree, I have looked on our present state of liberty as a short-lived possession unless the mass of the people could be informed to a certain degree."

I don't think Jefferson had the Fox News kind of "information" in mind, nor the kind of "enlightenment" that comes with corporate-sponsored campaign propaganda.

And so, by Jefferson's own reasoning, we appear to be reaching the end of true liberty -- if we really ever had it at all.