28 December 2011

Anti-choice rhetorical tricks

People keep using the label "pro-life" to refer to anti-choice conservatives. But that is misleading. After all, I too am pro-life. I think life is a great gift from Mother Nature. I'm all for it.

However, I also respect a woman's right to control her own reproductive destiny. After all, it's her body that is used - yes, used - to grow a parasitic embryo/fetus until it reaches viability.

That makes me also pro-choice.

It does NOT make me "pro-abortion", although I frequently hear that label being hurled from the right towards the pro-choice crowd.

Abortion is not something we would attempt to push on people, despite what the right-wing talking heads would want you to believe. Instead, even though we might find the idea of abortion unsettling, we will not impose our own belief system onto others. We leave it up to the pregnant woman to decide (i.e., to choose or not).

And abortion is not something we aspire to, despite what they might say. It is simply a choice for those (hopefully rare) occasions of unplanned pregnancy when parenthood is not a practical alternative for the woman, for whatever reasons.

For the debate to be waged in fairness, the terms to use are "pro-choice" and "anti-choice".

But those terms don't have the spin power of the labels "pro-life" and "pro-abortion". They're not emotional enough to rile up the sheep.

And the term "anti-choice" is perhaps a bit too telling.

Don't be fooled.

19 December 2011

Human Rights Watch calls for reform in North Korea in wake of dictator's death

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il died over the weekend. His youngest son, Kim Jong Un, has been groomed to be his successor.

In light of the dictator's death, Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned his record of human rights abuse and called for reform.

"Kim Jong-Il will be remembered as the brutal overseer of massive and systematic oppression that included a willingness to let his people starve," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of HRW.

"North Korea under Kim Jong-Il has been a human rights hell on earth." Roth added. "Kim Jong-Il ruled through fear generated by systematic and pervasive human rights abuses including arbitrary executions, torture, forced labor and strict limits on freedom of speech and association."

"When he assumes leadership, Kim Jong-Un should break with the past and put the human rights of North Koreans first, not last," said Roth.

Roth also called for pressure from the international community: "The international community should take this transitory period of power in North Korea to press for the country's new leader to steer the country in a new direction and cease repression of its citizens. Pressing North Korea to comply with human rights demands contained in the latest UN General Assembly resolution on North Korea, and allowing the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea to visit the country, would be a good start."

All good goals, but I shall not hold my breath.

Stay tuned.

>> Read HRW's full news release on this subject.

13 December 2011

We're not really leaving Iraq

On Monday, President Obama, accompanied by Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki, announced that all American troops will be out of Iraq by the end of this month, as promised.

But that doesn't mean we'll be out of there completely.

In fact, the U.S. State Department says that it has requested $3.8 billion for operations in Iraq during the 2012 fiscal year.

Per a State Department spokesperson: "This figure includes mission operations, such as security, logistics, and life support, as well as construction, educational and cultural exchanges, contributions to international organizations, and other general management expenses."

In other words, it's going towards keeping civilian contractors (i.e., war profiteers) in business.

I guess that's one way to keep some people employed in this economy.

12 December 2011

International Court honors Angelina Jolie

Once again, Angelina Jolie proves that she's more than just a pretty face.

Last night, at a New York event marking the 10th session of the Assembly of the States Parties of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Jolie was honored with a Justitia Award for Civic Support of the Year as a global citizen working for the plight of refugees and victims around the world, and for continuously supporting the Court.

It's a shame that the U.S. doesn't show so much support for the Court. Our country was previously a signatory to the ICC, but George W. Bush unsigned us in 2002. He was apparently uncomfortable with the idea of international justice.

That said, other recipients of this year's Justicia Awards are as follows:

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the first Prosecutor of the ICC, received a Justitia Honorary Award for his dedication and determination in institutionalizing the Court;

Christian Wenaweser, the current President of the Assembly of State Parties, received a Justitia Honorary Award for his leadership in the Court;

Botswana President Ian Khama received the Justitia Statesman of the Year Award for his unwavering support of the ICC and his leadership in Africa;

Benjamin Ferencz received the Justitia Lifetime Achievement Award for his pursuit of the rule of law, including his leadership role in the Nazi-war-crimes tribunal of Nuremberg, and for being the strongest advocate for an ICC for more than a half a century;

• The Invisible Children organization received the Justitia Award for the Civic Campaign of the Year for their determination in highlighting the abduction and forced enlistment of children as soldiers in Uganda by the Lord’s Resistance Army.

I think it's wonderful - and ironic - that these honors were awarded on U.S. soil. Take that, George W!

10 December 2011

Thoughts and actions for 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 63rd 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


Adopted by UN General Assembly Resolution 217A (III) of 10 December 1948

Preamble

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.
-----

Amen.

04 December 2011

Troy Davis's sister succumbs to cancer

On December 1, Martina Davis Correia lost her long battle with breast cancer. Correia was the sister of Troy Davis, who was executed by the state of Georgia on September 21 amidst worldwide protest.

Georgia went ahead with the Davis execution despite compelling evidence suggesting that he was 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 was no physical evidence linking Davis to the crime. His conviction was based solely on that questionable testimony by witnesses.

Despite her own medical concerns, Correia fought tirelessly for justice in her brother's case, and against the death penalty in general. Correia was chair of the Steering Committee for the Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) Program to Abolish the Death Penalty, and served for 11 years as AIUSA's death penalty abolition coordinator for Georgia. In 2010, Amnesty's Irish section presented Correia with the Sean McBride Award for Outstanding Contributions to Human Rights. She was an inspiration to those of us in the human rights community who knew her, or knew of her.

Curt Goering, chief executive officer for AIUSA, issued the following statement upon the news of Correia's death:
"Our hearts are breaking over the loss of this extraordinary woman. She fought to save her brother's life with courage, strength, and determination, every step of the way. She was a powerful example of how one person can make a difference as she led the fight for justice for Troy Davis, even as she endured her own decade-long battle with cancer. And despite the terrible blow of his execution, she remained brave and defiant to the core of her being, stating her conviction that one day his death would be the catalyst for ending the death penalty. Even as Martina's health failed, she was making plans to continue her work against the death penalty in her brother's memory, as he urged his supporters to do just before he was put to death. She was a tenacious fighter, a graceful inspiration to activists everywhere, and a true hero of the movement for human rights. At this sorrowful time, we at Amnesty International offer our profound sympathy to her family."
RIP, Martina Davis Correia.

May her legacy live on and touch many more lives.

30 November 2011

For World AIDS Day: Getting to zero

Thursday, December 1, is World AIDS Day. This day each year is dedicated to raising awareness of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

This year's World AIDS Day theme is "Getting to Zero", marking a campaign that runs until 2015 with the goal of getting to zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths.

Accordingly, below are 10 goals for 2015, as listed on the United Nations website:

• Sexual transmission of HIV reduced by half, including among young people, men who have sex with men and transmission in the context of sex work;

• Vertical transmission of HIV eliminated and AIDS-related maternal deaths reduced by half;

• All new HIV infections prevented among people who use drugs;

• Universal access to antiretroviral therapy for people living with HIV who are eligible for treatment;

• TB deaths among people living with HIV reduced by half;

• All people living with HIV and households affected by HIV are addressed in all national social protection strategies and have access to essential care and support;

• Countries with punitive laws and practices around HIV transmission, sex work, drug use or homosexuality that block effective responses reduced by half;

• HIV-related restrictions on entry, stay and residence eliminated in half of the countries that have such restrictions;

• HIV-specific needs of women and girls are addressed in at least half of all national HIV responses;

• Zero tolerance for gender-based violence.

Ambitious goals, but worthy ones.

>> Read more on the UN website.

28 November 2011

In praise of retiring Rep. Barney Frank

U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) announced today that he will be retiring from Congress at the end of his current term and so will not seek re-election in 2012.

Frank has been in Congress since 1980. He came out as gay in 1987 - the first member of Congress to do so. And he has won re-election time after time ever since.

While many celebrities and ordinary citizens have spoken out on the principle that "it gets better" for LGBT persons who don't give up, Frank lived that slogan by example each and every day that he's been out of the closet.

My thanks go out to Rep. Frank for his decades of work to promote civil rights, social justice, reproductive choice, and other progressive causes.

27 November 2011

Oregon governor rightly suspends death penalty

In a September 7 debate among the GOP presidential hopefuls, Texas Governor Rick Perry seemed quite proud of leading the country in death row executions. He indicated that he loses no sleep over the possibility of executing an innocent person. This is despite the fact that we now know that at least one innocent man - Cameron Todd Willingham - had died by lethal injection on Perry's watch.

In sharp contrast, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber wants to take no such chance. On November 22, Kitzhaber announced that he would allow no more executions through the end of his time in office.

During a previous term as Oregon's governor in the 1990s, Kitzhaber presided over two executions, despite personal doubts about the morality of the death penalty. Kitzhaber had this to say about those executions: "They were the most agonizing and difficult decisions I have made as Governor and I have revisited and questioned them over and over again during the past 14 years. I do not believe that those executions made us safer; and certainly they did not make us nobler as a society. And I simply cannot participate once again in something I believe to be morally wrong."

Kitzhaber pointed to flaws in Oregon's criminal justice system, which he described as "broken": "Oregonians have a fundamental belief in fairness and justice – in swift and certain justice. The death penalty as practiced in Oregon is neither fair nor just; and it is not swift or certain. It is not applied equally to all."

Indeed, studies in several states have shown that the death penalty is applied in a discriminatory, arbitrary, and uneven manner, and is used disproportionately against racial minorities and the poor. For example, a 1998 study of death sentences in Philadelphia found that African-American defendants were almost four times more likely to receive the death penalty than were people of other ethnic origins who committed similar crimes. That's not justice, it's discrimination.

Human rights group Amnesty International, which describes the death penalty as "the ultimate, irreversible denial of human rights", hailed Kitzhaber's decision. Furthermore, said Rob Freer, Amnesty International's USA researcher, "Oregon's state legislature should seize the opportunity provided by Governor Kitzhaber and turn this temporary moratorium into permanent abolition."

Doing so would follow a growing trend in death penalty abolition in the U.S. Illinois abolished the death penalty in that state earlier this year, joining 15 other states and the District of Columbia which had previously halted the practice.

The trend extends also through much of the rest of the world. The U.S. is one of very, very few western nations that still engage in state-sponsored killing. In maintaining the death penalty here in the U.S., we align ourselves with the other executing nations of the world such as Afghanistan, China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, and a handful of other countries known for their systematic violations of human rights.

This is apparently the kind of company that Rick Perry is proud to keep. Kudos to Governor Kitzhaber for instead moving his own state forward towards a more civilized approach to criminal justice.

22 November 2011

Amnesty reminds GOP candidates that torture is wrong

Tonight, starting at 8:00 pm ET on CNN, the Republican presidential contenders will have another debate. This one will focus on national security.

In advance of the debate, the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International reminded the the candidates that waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation techniques" are torture, and that torture is illegal.

Tom Parker, Amnesty International USA policy director for terrorism, counterterrorism, and human rights, issued the following statement:
"As the candidates prepare [for] Tuesday evening's debate, Amnesty International would like to remind them that torture is prohibited in all its forms under both United States and international law.

"At the previous national security debate in early November, some candidates spoke out in favor of reintroducing the unlawful interrogation techniques that led to the horrors of Abu Ghraib among other things. It has been widely established by military experts that these techniques are counterproductive at best.

"As a party to the United Nations Convention against Torture, the United States has an obligation to reject such methods and hold those who use them accountable before the law. Any candidate that embraces unlawful interrogation tactics not only does a terrible disservice to torture victims everywhere, but to a country already terribly wounded by its past behavior."
Will the candidates take these words seriously? I'm not optimistic. And that is perhaps what's most disturbing.

17 November 2011

California Prop 8 update: Back to Ninth Circuit

Today, the California Supreme Court ruled that an organized group of homophobes do have legal standing to appeal a lower court ruling that Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot initiative which outlawed same-sex marriage in that state, is unconstitutional.

This ruling was the result of action on the part of a determined group of bigots who decided to pursue the issue even after the State of California declined to pursue the case.

I had hoped that the Court would rule otherwise, which would have let stand the original ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional.

But, now that this technicality is out of the way, the case will move back to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which had requested today's clarification.

And I'm guessing that the case will eventually make its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, where anything could happen.

Stay tuned. And keep fingers crossed for equality.

16 November 2011

SEIU endorses Obama for re-election

Today, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) officially endorsed President Barack Obama for re-election in 2012.

This is not surprising, given that most Republicans running for office these days appear to want to kill unions, not support them.

Some excerpts from SEIU's endorsement announcement:
"President Obama is the only candidate for president who shares our vision of America as a land of opportunity for everyone. We need a leader willing to fight for the needs of the 99 percent, and stand with hard working families to say that the world's wealthiest corporations must pay their fair share."
and
"President Obama is looking to turn things around, but he needs help from all of us to be heard over his wealthy opponents, people who seem to believe that the only thing wrong with the economy is that they have to share it.

"From now until Election Day, next November, we need to dedicate ourselves to this goal. We will knock on doors, we will talk to our friends and neighbors and coworkers, and we will fight shoulder to shoulder alongside working families across this nation to show the one percent that they aren't the only ones willing to fight for America's future."
Indeed, it will require a lot of work on the part of the left to hold on to the White House and Senate and take back the House of Representatives.

And I know that many of us are disappointed that we haven't seen as much change as we had hoped for in 2008. But to lose in 2012 would make matters much, much worse.

We must rebuild the momentum.

Kudos to the SEIU for doing its part.

09 November 2011

Big wins yesterday for women and workers

There were some good voting results yesterday.

Voters in Mississippi rejected an initiative which would have defined a "person" to include every human being "from the moment of fertilization", and which would likely have presented a serious challenge to Roe v. Wade.

At the same time, voters in Ohio rejected a Republican law that had limited the collective bargaining rights of public workers.

Hopefully this is a sign that America is growing tired of extreme tea party politics.

And hopefully that trend will continue through the 2012 elections.

08 November 2011

Ellen DeGeneres named Special Envoy for Global AIDS Awareness

Earlier today, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that comedian and TV talk show host Ellen DeGeneres has been named as a Special Envoy for Global AIDS Awareness.

In her announcement, Secretary Clinton shared the following vision: "By lending us your energy, compassion, and star power to serve as our Special Envoy for Global AIDS Awareness, your words will encourage Americans in joining you to make their voices heard in our campaign to achieve an AIDS-free generation. The enormous platform of your television show and your social media channels will enable you to reach millions of people with the strong and hopeful message that we can win this fight."

DeGeneres responded: "I’m honored to have been chosen by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as Special Envoy for Global AIDS awareness. The fight against AIDS is something that has always been close to my heart. And I'm happy that I can use my platform to educate people and spread hope. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go look up what 'envoy' means."

Congratulations and thanks to Ms. DeGeneres for taking on this new role in addition to all the valuable work she has already been doing in support of various humanitarian causes.

And let us all hope that Secretary Clinton's vision of an AIDS-free generation really can soon be realized.

(photo by Alan Light)

07 November 2011

Execution stay for Hank Skinner, but DNA testing not a sure thing

Texas death row prisoner Hank Skinner had been scheduled for a November 9 execution, despite the existence of untested DNA evidence that he contends could prove his innocence.

Fortunately, today the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued a stay of execution. But there's a catch: As noted on the blog The Agitator, "it doesn’t look like this is an order for DNA testing so much as a stay to determine whether [a new Texas law] allows Skinner to get DNA testing."

This technicality makes me uncomfortable, because there should be no excuse for executing Skinner as long as there is evidence that has not been considered. Texas should want to be absolutely sure it is not killing an innocent person. And so Texas should want to test the evidence for that reason alone.

Unfortunately, the Texas authorities have been fighting it every step of the way. What are they afraid of?

Fingers crossed in hopes that true justice will ultimately prevail.

Stay tuned for updates.

03 November 2011

Establishment of religion?

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution clearly states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." Our nation's Founding Fathers drafted that Amendment for good reason: They knew from experience (via the Church of England's influence over the British government) that mixing religion with politics can impede individual freedom and democracy.

But that didn't stop the U.S. House of Representatives from taking a vote on Tuesday to reaffirm the phrase "In God We Trust" as the national motto. It passed by a vote of 396-9!

As Rev. Barry Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, noted in a recent Washington Post blog post, "'In God We Trust' became the national motto is 1956 at the height of the Cold War. It was slap against those Godless commies. The fact that it was as bland and generic an endorsement of faith as one could get was actually seen as a plus."

It was unnecessary alarmist divisiveness then, and it's unnecessary alarmist divisiveness now.

As Rev. Lynn also noted in his blog post, "The fact is, we had perfectly good unofficial motto for a long time. 'E Plubus Unum' ('Out of Many, One') appears on the Great Seal of the United States, which was codified in 1782. That phrase really encapsulates what the United States is about. It celebrates that we are a diverse nation, a people drawn from many backgrounds who are united as Americans."

But apparently Congress is still afraid of the Godless commies.

Or a president with a foreign-sounding name, whom too many Americans mistakenly believe to be a secret Muslim.

But 396-9?

The Founding Fathers are surely spinning in their graves.

01 November 2011

Kim Kardashian and the real marriage threat

Those on the right speak out against same-sex marriage, saying that it would destroy the sanctity of the institution.

But would it?

I know several same-sex couples who have maintained loyal, faithful relationships that have lasted much longer than my own heterosexual marriage did.

And then we have reality TV star Kim Kardashian, who has filed for divorce after only 10 weeks of hetero marriage. And I don't think the gays had a hand in the fate of Kardashian's short union.

So think about it: Who - or what - is the real threat to the sanctity of marriage in this country?

28 October 2011

Poll: Hillary Clinton would have a better chance than Obama of winning in 2012

According to TIME, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would have a better chance than Obama of beating the leading Republican presidential hopefuls in 2012:
A national poll conducted for TIME on Oct. 9 and 10 found that if Clinton were the Democratic nominee for President in 2012, she would best Mitt Romney 55% to 38%, Rick Perry 58% to 32% and Herman Cain 56% to 34% among likely voters in a general election. The same poll found that President Obama would edge Romney by just 46% to 43%, Perry by 50% to 38% and Cain by 49% to 37% among likely voters.
This speaks well of the new image that Clinton has created for herself after her years as First Lady, when she was seen as a polarizing figure.

Not so much for Obama.

But, of course, I've heard Clinton say multiple times in interviews that she is not interested in running for any political office once this term is up.

And I certainly cannot see her challenging Obama for the 2012 Dem ticket. (She's too classy for that.)

But is there a lesson that Obama can learn from this?

27 October 2011

SCOTUS to review health care cases in November

Per Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog:
"The Supreme Court will take its first look at the challenges to the new federal health care law at its Conference on Thursday, November 10. Five of the six pending petitions (the sixth is not ready yet) were distributed to the Justices' chambers on Wednesday, for consideration at that private session. Although a grant of review is not assured, that is highly likely, since all sides agree that the Court should take on the controversy, and the constitutionality of a key provision of the new law has been decided differently by federal appeals courts."
Given the current makeup of the Court, anything could happen.

Meanwhile, for more information:

>> An overview of the various petitions that have been filed, and the specific issues involved, can be found on the SCOTUSblog site here.

>> The actual filings in these cases can be found on the Supreme Court's website here.

24 October 2011

Urgent petition: Call for DNA testing for Hank Skinner

As I wrote in a recent column, Texas death row prisoner Hank Skinner faces a November 9 execution date for a triple murder, despite the existence of untested DNA evidence that Skinner says could prove his innocence.

Instead of testing the DNA to ensure they've got the right guy, Texas just wants to go ahead and kill him.

There's no way that this can be called justice.

A hearing was conducted today in federal court in an attempt to force the prosecution to hand over the evidence for testing. But we must do more than just sit idly by as we await the results of this last chance at justice. We must leave no stone unturned. This is literally a matter of life and death.

What you can do:

>> Please click here to sign an online petition from change.org. The petition calls on Gray County District Attorney Lynn Switzer to turn over the DNA for testing before it is too late.

Please hurry. The petition will close on November 1.

Thank you!

23 October 2011

Will Rick Perry kill another innocent man?

Texas governor and Republican presidential contender Rick Perry has faced criticism from the left (and applause from the right) for his heavy-handed use of the death penalty. And Perry has said that he loses no sleep over the possibility that he may have executed an innocent man.

This is despite the fact that it appears that Perry has done just that - and could very likely do it again very soon.

In 2004, Texas death row prisoner Cameron Todd Willingham was executed for an alleged arson that claimed the lives of his three daughters in 1991. However, a later forensic review of the case led to the conclusion that "a finding of arson could not be sustained." In other words, the fire for which Willingham was executed was probably just an accident.

Instead of acknowledging that an innocent man may have been executed, and working to correct the system that allowed such a grievous error, Governor Perry appears to have taken steps to impede the investigation into the Willingham fiasco.

And now we have another Texas death row prisoner, Henry Watkins "Hank" Skinner, facing a November 9 execution date for a triple murder, despite the existence of untested DNA evidence that Skinner says could prove his innocence.

Skinner had been convicted and sentenced to death for the New Year's Eve murder in 1993 of his girlfriend Twila Busby and her two adult sons. The DNA in question went untested during the original trial because Skinner's attorney was afraid that it could incriminate his client - a decision that Skinner contends he never agreed with.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that Skinner may pursue a civil rights claim to obtain the DNA testing. In the meantime, however, Texas has jumped the gun. Instead of waiting for the civil rights suit to unfold, and for the DNA to be tested to ensure they've got the right guy, the state went ahead and scheduled the November execution.

What are they afraid of - the possibility that Skinner's conviction, like Willingham's, might be proven wrong?

Governor Perry, as noted above, has bragged that he really does not care. Neither, apparently, does anyone else in charge of the busiest death chamber in the country.

Killing a prisoner, apparently, is more important to them than killing the right prisoner.

Killing a prisoner, apparently, is more important to them than true justice.

21 October 2011

Amnesty International's remarks on Gaddafi's death

Yesterday, Libyan dictator Mu'ammar al-Gaddafi was killed by rebel forces. The Libyan people celebrated in the streets. He was, after all, a brutal tyrant.

But human rights group Amnesty International (AI) noted in a press release that "[al-Gaddafi's death] brings to a close a chapter of Libya's history marked by repression and abuse, but does not end the story."

"The legacy of repression and abuse from Colonel Mu'ammar al-Gaddafi's rule will not end until there is a full accounting for the past and human rights are embedded in Libya's new institutions," said AI Senior Director Claudio Cordone. "Colonel al-Gaddafi’s death must not stop his victims in Libya from seeing justice being done. The many Libyan officials suspected of serious human rights violations committed during and before this year's uprising, including the infamous Abu Salim prison massacre in 1996, must answer for their crimes."

"The new authorities must make a complete break from the culture of abuse that Colonel al-Gaddafi’s regime perpetuated and initiate the human rights reforms that are urgently needed in the country," he added.

AI also called on Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) to "make public information about how Colonel al-Gaddafi died, making the full facts available to the Libyan people."

In addition, AI called on the NTC to "ensure that all those suspected of human rights abuses and war crimes, including Colonel al-Gaddafi's inner circle and family members, are treated humanely and, if captured, given fair trials."

Amen. Only then can Libya's new government truly progress beyond the brutality and lawlessness of the Gaddafi era.

20 October 2011

10 days' pay for two faces full of pepper spray

NYPD Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna (aka "Tony Baloney") rose to fame (or, rather, infamy) when he was caught on video pepper spraying two peaceful female Occupy Wall Street protesters without provocation.

On October 18, the NYPD meted out its "punishment" for that particular act of police misconduct. The New York Daily News reports:
"The NYPD found that Bologna violated departmental guidelines and docked him 10 vacation days, or the equivalent amount of pay, police sources said."
By the way, the article goes on to mention that Bologna makes $154,300 a year.

So this is a high-ranking and highly paid police officer who should be setting a proper example for the force. Yet he pepper sprays two innocent people for no discernable reason, and he's given what amounts to a slap on the wrist.

I'm hoping that his victims will sue - and win. That would be true justice.

19 October 2011

Wear purple tomorrow to fight bullying

It started last year, and is happening again this week.

Thursday, October 20, is Spirit Day, named for the purple stripe of the rainbow flag representing "spirit".

On Spirit Day, please wear purple to show your support for ending the plague of bullying aimed at LGBT persons. I certainly will. (The photo is from last year's Spirit Day.)

12 October 2011

New SCOTUS decision in Abu-Jamal case is good, but not enough

The drama continues in the case of America's most famous living death row prisoner.

On October 11, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a request from the Philadelphia District Attorney to overturn a federal appeals court decision declaring Mumia Abu-Jamal's death sentence unconstitutional. Abu-Jamal had been convicted and sentenced to death for the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.

Now, according to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), "Mr. Abu-Jamal will be automatically sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole unless the District Attorney elects to seek another death sentence from a new jury."

This development is good, but it's not enough.

For years, rights groups have been speaking out against Abu-Jamal's death sentence. 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 a new trial "in a neutral venue, where the case has not polarized the public as it has in Philadelphia."

Abu-Jamal's 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 found on Abu-Jamal was a .38 caliber.

This most recent court decision, however, concerns only the penalty, not the question of guilt or innocence. At this stage, the death penalty was challenged because of flawed jury instructions in the sentencing phase of Abu-Jamal's 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.

Professor Judith Ritter of Widener Law School, who, along with the LDF, represented Abu-Jamal in this phase of his case, weighed in on the new decision: "Like all Americans, Mr. Abu-Jamal was entitled to a proper proceeding that takes into account the many substantial reasons why death was an inappropriate sentence. Our system should never condone an execution that stems from a trial in which the jury was improperly instructed on the law."

Indeed.

Again, this latest development is good, but it's not enough.

Unless Abu-Jamal is granted a new - and fair - trial to address his guilt or innocence, I will not believe that justice has truly been served.

I shall not hold my breath.

10 October 2011

Why I won't celebrate Columbus Day

Today, the second Monday of October, is Columbus Day in the USA -- a federal holiday recognizing Christopher Columbus' arrival to the Americas on October 12, 1492.

But I will not be celebrating.

What we learned about Columbus in school was not the whole truth. In some cases, it wasn't the truth at all.

First of all, Columbus did not originate the theory that the earth is round. Such had been known since ancient times.

Columbus also did not discover America. Leif Ericson and his Norsemen had built a settlement in what is now the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland and Labrador some 500 years before Columbus wandered into the West Indies.

And, once Columbus got here, he enslaved the Native Americans and forced them to convert to Christianity, while helping himself to the new world's gold and other precious resources.

In other words, it seems that he paved the way for the better-known genocide and subjugation of Native Americans that took place on the North American mainland in later centuries.

Is this the kind of thing we should be celebrating?

Not me.

05 October 2011

Oral arguments tomorrow in appeal of Gitmo death case

Tomorrow, oral arguments will be heard in the case of Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld. This is a civil case filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) on behalf of the families of two Guantanamo detainees who died in June 2006 under "questionable circumstances". Plaintiffs include the United States and 24 federal officials, including former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, "for their role in the arbitrary detention, torture, and ultimate deaths of Yasser Al-Zahrani of Saudi Arabia and Salah Al-Salami of Yemen."

The case had been dismissed in February of 2010. However, CCR has since filed a motion for reconsideration in light of new evidence: Four brave soldiers who were stationed at Guantanamo at the time of the deaths have come forward "with eye-witness accounts strongly suggesting a cover-up of the cause and circumstances of the deaths and that the men may have been killed at an off-site location."

So will justice be served this time around? I am not optimistic, but I will keep my fingers crossed. Stay tuned.

>> Learn more about this case at ccrjustice.org.

04 October 2011

Christie not running - this time

Today, despite calls from some key members of the GOP for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to run for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, he announced that he will definitely not run.

In a way, I'm relieved, because I was concerned that Christie might be harder for Obama to beat than any of the other current GOP contenders. On the other hand, I'm guessing that Christie will reconsider for 2016.

With Rick Perry apparently having jumped the shark, it now appears that Romney may be the one to beat in 2012.

Can Obama do it?

30 September 2011

New international human rights logo

A new international human rights logo has been chosen in a competition organized by the German Foreign Ministry. More than 15,000 logos were submitted.

The winning entry was designed by Pedrag Stakic, a 33-year-old freelance graphic designer from Serbia. The logo combines two universal symbols -- a hand and a bird --- to symbolize a "free, just, and peaceful world."

This beautiful open-source logo can be downloaded from www.humanrightslogo.net and used freely for the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights.

29 September 2011

Sarah Palin's media enablers

The media pundits on all sides are abuzz with speculation on whether or not Sarah Palin will soon announce her candidacy for the 2012 presidential race. Rumor has it that she will announce by the end of this month. That means either today or tomorrow.

Frankly, I don't care either way. Unfortunately, the media do seem to care -- a lot.

Palin is easy headline fodder, and so they are more than happy to eat right out of her hands, giving her the attention she craves with very little real work required on Palin's part.

Palin has become the Paris Hilton of politics -- famous for being famous (and photogenic), with or without a real job.

And that I why I suspect she will not run. It would require real work, unnecessary work.

Because the lazy media would rather cover her every irrelevant move than deal with the real problems facing this nation and the world -- like the bankers who go unpunished after causing the economic crisis that continues to drag on, and the Bush administration's war crimes which remain unpunished.

Ironically, these are the same media that Palin routinely criticizes.

Like Palin, I guess the media just don't want to do too much work.

28 September 2011

Troy Davis funeral details

Troy Davis's funeral will be held on Saturday, October 1, starting at 11:00 am, at the Jonesville Baptist Church, 5201 Montgomery Street, Savana, Georgia. According to Amnesty International, "The service is open to the public, but media cameras will not be permitted."

Cards and donations can be sent to the Davis family at:
"I am Troy Davis", P.O. Box 2105, Savannah, GA 31407

Prior to Saturday's funeral, flowers and plants can be sent to:
Sidney A. Jones and Campbell Funeral Services
124 West Park Avenue, Savannah, GA 31401-6439
(912) 234-7226

25 September 2011

Troy Davis funeral expenses

As you probably already know, Troy Davis was executed in Georgia on September 21 despite compelling evidence suggesting that he was innocent.

Now, to add insult to injury, Troy Davis's family must pay all funeral expenses.

If you would like to help, go to troyanthonydavis.org and click the "Donate" button on the left side to donate via Paypal.

23 September 2011

President Perry's Secretary of State

If Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry wins the White House, we can kiss the First Amendment's establishment clause goodbye.

Perry wears his fundie Christianity on his sleeve, and is promising to govern the way he thinks God wants him to -- and that means backing Israel to the hilt. Screw the innocent little Palestinian children whose legitimate homes are being illegally destroyed by Israeli "settlers".

Per an interview with Mother Jones: "When ... asked if he believes America's continued support for Israel is a theological priority, Perry answered: 'As a Christian, I have a clear directive to support Israel. So from my perspective, it's pretty easy. Both as an American, and as a Christian, I am going to stand with Israel.'"

As a friend commented to me about this: "Nice to know that God is going to be the new Secretary of State if Perry wins."

And what an un-Christlike God that would be.

22 September 2011

Troy Davis, RIP

At 11:08 pm in Georgia last night, Troy Davis was pronounced dead.

Cause of death: Lethal injection for a crime he might not have committed.

His execution had been delayed from the originally scheduled time of 7:00 pm so the U.S. Supreme Court could consider a last-minute plea for a stay.

But the high court decided instead to allow Georgia to kill a possibly innocent man.

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. In other words, there is reasonable doubt as to Davis's guilt.

But they killed him anyway.

And, if Davis's claim of innocence was true, that means the real killer walks free.

This is not justice.

20 September 2011

Troy Davis still in limbo

Yesterday, after a hearing, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles failed to issue its life-or-death decision in the Troy Davis case.

We expect a decision today, so stay tuned.

Depending on the decision, actions are planned as follows (per the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty):
-----

If Clemency is granted or the execution is temporarily stayed:

- Atlanta: gathering of gratitude at 7pm at Central Presbyterian Church (across the street from the Capitol at (201 Washington St. SW; Atlanta, GA 30303)

- Everywhere: gatherings of gratitude and a call to commit to building the abolition movement are encouraged. Check with your state coalition to see what plans they have.

If clemency is denied:

- We will urge the Board to reconsider, asking everyone to send more emails and faxes to the Board

- Tuesday will be a "Day of Protest"

- People are asked to wear a black armband, with "not in my name!" written on it

- ATLANTA: protest rally at the state capitol 7pm (Washington Street side);

- Everywhere: protests are encouraged. Check with your state coalition.

-----
Fingers crossed for justice. There is no excuse to execute a possibly innocent man.

UPDATE (10:45 AM): The Georgia Board has rejected clemency for Troy Davis. He will die tomorrow at 7:00 pm despite all the evidence that he may be innocent.

19 September 2011

Troy Davis's last hope

Today, the Georgia Board of Pardons & Paroles will review the case of Troy Davis, who is scheduled for execution on Wednesday despite considerable evidence that he might be innocent.

At this point, it appears that Davis has exhausted all other legal options, so his fate now rests with the Board.

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.

Nevertheless, the Board rejected previous calls for clemency.

Will they make the same reckless mistake this final time around? Or will they take seriously the hundreds of thousands of signatures on petitions in support of Troy Davis that have been pouring in from around the world, and grant clemency?

Fingers crossed for the latter.

Stay tuned.

17 September 2011

Rick Perry embraces science (when it's convenient)

Now that the Republican presidential contenders are all busy fighting amongst themselves, Rick Perry has suddenly reversed course and decided to embrace science - just this once.

In responding to Michele Bachmann's claims that the HPV vaccine (mandated in Perry's Texas) causes mental retardation, Politico quotes Perry as follows:
"It was an ill choice of response when she had no scientific backing, to say the least," Perry said. "There were a number of venues that have responded to that and responded appropriately. To put our vaccinations of our children in question with hearsay and innuendo is not in the best interest of the healthcare of our citizens... To make statements without clear and incontrovertible evidence is not good for the general debate and my bet is if Mrs. Bachmann had the opportunity to retrieve those words that she certainly would."
But don't worry. He still doesn't believe in global warming.

14 September 2011

1/6 of Americans now live in poverty

This is shameful: Here in the USA, often touted as the richest nation in the world, almost 1/6 of us live in poverty.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. poverty level jumped to 15.1 percent last year. This is a 17-year high, attributed at least in part to the ongoing unemployment crisis.

And it gets worse: 22 percent of our children under 18 are living in poverty.

To add insult to injury, the number of people without health insurance increased to 49.9 million -- a new high.

So we can all just starve or die of untreated illnesses.

Meanwhile, the richest of the rich continue to grow richer, enabled by their paid servants on Capitol Hill.

And, unlike the rich, we must still pay our taxes as we starve and die.

13 September 2011

Is Obama's jobs bill doomed?

Obama's jobs bill looks like a good, if perhaps inadequate, start at creating much-needed jobs. Some money would go towards infrastructure, some towards schools, some towards police and fire department payrolls, etc. All important work to keep things running.

But don't hold your breath.

According to The Hill, Obama wants to pay for it all "by raising taxes on the wealthy and businesses."

Surely that won't pass the GOP-dominated House.

The GOP will likely push instead for more cuts to social services that benefit everyday people, so that the rich won't have to pay their fair share.

And, if recent history is any indication, any "compromise" will likely also result in reducing the cost of the plan, and therefore reducing the number of jobs created.

How much will Obama bargain away this time in the name of "compromise"?

And who will the voters blame next November?

08 September 2011

Help save Troy Davis from 9/21 execution

An execution date of September 21 has been set for Georgia death row inmate Troy Davis. That is less than two weeks from today.

This is despite overwhelming evidence that I believe provides reasonable doubt as to Davis's guilt in the case: 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.

But, this past March, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected without comment Davis's appeal to overrule a federal judge who decided that Davis's innocence claim wasn't good enough.

The SCOTUS decision cleared the way for Georgia to execute a man who may be innocent, while the real killer will remain unaccountable.

What you can do:

>> Please click here to sign Amnesty International's petition to Georgia's Board of Pardons & Paroles urging them to grant clemency. Amnesty will deliver our signatures next week.

And please ask your friends to sign it too.

This may be our last remaining chance to stop this injustice!

07 September 2011

Obama caves in to the polluters

In case you haven't heard about this, since it came down at the start of a holiday weekend: Last Friday, President Obama gave in to the corporate polluters and rejected new standards for air quality.

In a staff blog post for the National Resources Defense Council, John Walke points out that
"[Obama's] own rationale for interference defies the Clean Air Act and a unanimous Supreme Court decision, elevating unlawful considerations above public health, science and the law."
The New Jersey Star-Ledger editorial board had this to say about it:
"Tens of thousands of people are dying prematurely each year from breathing dirty air. Many more fall ill with asthma, bronchitis or heart attacks. But major polluters don’t want to talk about the smog that’s killing them.

"They’d rather spin this into an economic threat. Dirty industries know they can exploit unemployment anxiety by howling that stronger standards under the Clean Air Act would lead to job losses."
And Obama fell for it.

He apparently doesn't care about the quality of the air that his two young daughters will have to breathe in the future.

And apparently he doesn't care about the fact that pursuing clean energy alternatives could more than make up for any job losses from reduced pollution.

All he apparently cares about is appeasing the Republicans and their corporate overlords.

05 September 2011

This Labor Day, reflect and take action!

Today is Labor Day in the U.S. - a holiday on which we honor the American workforce.

But what is there to celebrate this year, when some 9.1 percent of us are unemployed, and millions more underemployed?

What is there to celebrate this year while American businesses continue to ship our jobs overseas where they can take advantage of slave-level wages?

What is there to celebrate this year while Republican presidents across the nation are doing everything they can to destroy the unions that have for decades given the American middle class a fair shot at the American dream?

What is there to celebrate this year while Congress insists on tightening the national belt rather than providing stimulus funds that could create jobs that could fix our crumbling infrastructure, thereby solving two problems at once?

What is there to celebrate this year when our democracy has morphed into a corporate plutocracy?

I suppose we can celebrate the fact that We The People are still allowed to vote and to speak out. So we must keep the pressure on Washington and on state houses across the country.

Here are some pro-worker actions you can take right now with just a few clicks of the mouse:

>> Tell Congress:Tax Wall Street to heal Main Street

>> Tell Congress: Just Say 'No' to the 'No JOBS' Act!

04 September 2011

The two faces of Barack Obama

With President Obama running for a second term, I cannot help but wonder which Obama we will see as the reelection campaign heats up over the coming year.

In 2008, we saw Obama the Candidate, who promised us change we can believe in. He inspired and energized us.

Now many of us on the progressive end of the political spectrum are dealing with 2+ years of disappointments from Obama the President.

We're still holding prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

We're still wasting money on unnecessary military operations.

The unemployment rate is still much too high.

The bankers are still raking in obscene salaries and bonuses as home foreclosures continue.

The rich still enjoy their Bush-era tax cuts (which are now Obama-era tax cuts).

And our Social Security and Medicare are on the line as possible bargaining chips in the ongoing budget wars.

This is not change I can believe in.

Perhaps Obama feels trapped in a position where he has no choice but to "negotiate" with the right. But negotiation, by definition, is supposed to be at least two-sided, with some give-and-take on all sides.

So has Obama pushed back strongly enough? I haven't heard enough words in his speeches to convince me that he has. I just keep hearing him use the word "compromise" while what he actually does is capitulate.

Still, next year, we the voting public will have to choose between Obama and his still-unknown Republican challenger.

More progressive Democrats have proven unelectable in the past, so we won't see a Dennis Kucinich or a Russ Feingold reaping any kind of surprise overthrow victory at next year's Democratic National Convention. And a progressive running as a third-party candidate (remember Ralph Nader?) would only potentially steal enough votes from Obama to reward us with a President Bachmann, a President Perry, or (at best) a President Romney.

So will Obama step up to the plate and try to win back the progressive base that worked so hard to get him elected in 2008?

If so, will enough of us support him?

That last question is not a rhetorical one. Sometimes we just have to face reality and vote for the proverbial lesser of two evils. We cannot afford any more Republican Supreme Court appointments.

But we can - and we must - make noise in the meantime. For democracy. And for true change that we really can believe in.

01 September 2011

Pastor wants atheist watch list

Internet pastor Mike Stahl thinks atheists should be listed in national registries, like sex offenders and terrorists.

He seems to think that if you don't believe in a magical deity, then you're a threat to those around you.

I would like Pastor Stahl to consider the following:

- Islamic terrorists are motivated by religion -- not by atheism.

- Christian terrorists (Hitler, McVeigh, Rudolph, etc.) are motivated by religion -- not by atheism.

- Many of the most high-profile sex offenders today are members of the religious clergy, or are religious cult leaders -- not atheists.

The atheists I know are smart, peaceful types who would never engage in terrorism and would never inappropriately touch a child. Nothing physically dangerous about them.

That said, by definition the only thing that separates atheists from others is that they simply do not believe in any of the alleged gods -- just as you do not believe in the gods of all those other religions besides yours. Should Buddhists be registered too, since they do not believe in your specific Judeo-Christian god?

Of course, radical religious nuts will not let fact or logic get in the way of their blind hysteria.

"I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."
-- Stephen Roberts

31 August 2011

GOP governors and hurricane relief hypocrisy

All year we've been hearing from the GOP that the Obama administration spends too much money.

But now that the east coast is recovering from the effects Hurricane Irene, Republican governors of storm-ravaged states like New Jersey and Pennsylvania can't wait to get some government handouts of their own.

Don't get me wrong: I think it's great that the federal government is providing funds to help the states recover from the storm's devastation. The funding itself isn't the issue here. The issue is the GOP hypocrisy.

It appears that the GOP leaders decry federal spending only until they need some of that federal money for their own local interests.

30 August 2011

Katrina, Bush, and election timing

Yesterday was the 6th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Coincidentally, this anniversary has arrived while much of the east coast of the United States is still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Irene, which struck over the weekend.

And, in observing President Obama's calm and practical response to the threat and aftermath of Irene, I couldn't help thinking about George W. Bush's opposite response to Katrina.

According to Firedoglake, while New Orleans was under water, George W. Bush "famously said the day after Katrina hit that New Orleans 'dodged the bullet.' And ... continued on with his vacation, clearing brush, riding his bike, getting a new guitar ... all the while, New Orleans was drowning ... for days before the President seemed to get the message."

Katrina struck 7 months into Bush's second term. And I cannot help but wonder if he would have been reelected if Katrina had happened prior to the 2004 election.

I hope not.

On the other hand, in light of the recent rise of the Tea Party, nothing would surprise me.

26 August 2011

August 26 is Women's Equality Day

Today, August 26, is Women's Equality Day. On this date in 1920, the 19th Amendment was incorporated into the United States Constitution, giving women the right to vote and to hold elective office.

We've come a long way since the days of the suffragettes, but we must not rest on our laurels. Conservatives would like to roll back much of the social progress we accomplished in the 20th century. Like the suffragettes, we must stand strong and keep raising hell in the ongoing fight for equality and social justice for all.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
-- Margaret Mead

24 August 2011

Right winger disappointed that earthquake didn't destroy White House

Yesterday, a 5.8 earthquake hit the east coast of the United States. Centered in Virginia, the quake was felt as far north as New Hampshire. I felt it here in Philadelphia, and it was very weird.

A few hours later, I ran into my Republican neighbor. After exchanging some small talk about the earthquake, he said, "Too bad the quake didn't destroy the White House."

He was not laughing when he said this. I could tell that he was serious.

This is a good demonstration of right-wing "logic":

1. He doesn't consider that the building is used by presidents of both parties.

2. He doesn't consider that President Obama (whom he resents, despises, and regularly refers to as a "jerk") is not in the White House but is currently vacationing at Martha's Vineyard.

3. He doesn't consider (or maybe he does) that a collapse of the White House would injure or kill countless White House staff, not just the president he so hates. And not everyone who works at the White House is a liberal, or even partisan.

But I didn't bother to point these things out. I know this neighbor well enough to recognize when I would be wasting my time and energy.

And so I must resign myself to the fact that he will continue to cancel out my vote in every single election. And I will continue to be adult enough to not wish that his own home would crumble.

23 August 2011

Amnesty calls for release of American hikers in Iran

Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, two American hikers who were arrested by Iranian officials along the Iraq-Iran border in 2009, were recently sentenced to eight years in prison for spying and illegal entry into Iran.

Sarah Shourd, who was arrested with them, was released last year for medical reasons.

Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's Middle East Director, believes that their trial was not conducted in a fair manner.

"The conduct of this trial has quite simply made a mockery of justice. There does not appear to be any substance to the allegations that Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal are spies," said Smart. "The way this case has been handled from the outset strongly suggests that they are being held as a bargaining chip to allow Iran to obtain unspecified concessions from the US government."

Indeed, no evidence was presented in court to suggest that Bauer and Fattal are spies. And some eyewitnesses maintain that the hikers were inside Iraq, not Iran, at the time of their arrest. But it seems that Iran's court system is about as fair as those Guantanamo military tribunals.

Their lawyer is planning to appeal the sentence. Fingers crossed for justice.

21 August 2011

No true justice for the West Memphis Three

On August 19, three men walked out of prison in Arkansas after spending nearly 20 years behind bars for a triple murder that they maintain they did not commit. The crime involved the brutal killing of three eight-year-old boys.

Damien Echols had been on death row for the murders. Jessie Misskelley, Jr. and Jason Baldwin were both serving life sentences. They had been nicknamed the "West Memphis Three".

Their first big break came in 2007, when new forensic evidence showed that the DNA from the crime scene did not match any of the defendants. After four years of appeals, a plea agreement was reached by which the three would enter Alford pleas in exchange for having their sentences reduced to time served. Under an Alford plea, a defendant can assert his innocence while acknowledging that prosecutors have enough evidence to obtain a conviction.

So what led to the convictions if the DNA says otherwise? Campbell Robertson, writing for The New York Times, describes the web of hearsay, speculation, and coercion that led to the guilty verdicts:
"The grotesque nature of the murders, coming in the midst of a nationwide concern about satanic cult activity, especially among teenagers, led investigators from the West Memphis Police Department to focus on Mr. Echols, a troubled yet gifted 18-year-old who wore all black, listened to heavy metal music and considered himself a Wiccan. Efforts to learn more about him through a woman cooperating with the police led to Mr. Misskelley, a 17-year-old acquaintance of Mr. Echols's.

"After a nearly 12-hour police interrogation, Mr. Misskelley confessed to the murders and implicated Mr. Echols and Mr. Baldwin, who was 16 at the time, though his confession diverged in significant details, like the time of the murders, with the facts known by the police. Mr. Misskelley later recanted, but on the strength of that confession he was convicted in February 1994.

"Mr. Echols and Mr. Baldwin soon after were convicted of three counts of capital murder in a separate trial in Jonesboro, where the proceedings had been moved because of extensive publicity in West Memphis. The convictions were largely based on the testimony of witnesses who said they heard the teenagers talk of the murders, and on the prosecution's argument that the defendants had been motivated as members of a satanic cult. Mr. Misskelley's confession was not admitted at their trial, though recently a former lawyer for that jury's foreman filed an affidavit saying that the foreman, determined to convict, had brought the confession up in deliberations to sway undecided jurors."
Now the DNA evidence exists that casts reasonable doubt as to their guilt. Why then were they forced to acknowledge otherwise as a condition for their release? It was either that or remain in prison (and, in Echols' case, remain on death row).

Lawyers for the three defendants say that they will pursue full exoneration. That would be one big step towards true justice in this case.

Another big step would be to reopen the case and find the real killer(s).

We owe it to the victims and their families.

19 August 2011

Weather "coincidences"

Record-breaking heat in the summer. Record snowfalls in the winter.

Hurricanes here. Tornadoes there.

Massive floods here. Serious droughts there.

Just as the climate scientists warned us about.

But global warming is a hoax, says Fox News - and some GOP presidential candidates.

So I guess it's all coincidence.

Deadly coincidence.

So enjoy your coal-fueled power and your gas-guzzling SUV.

After all, we'll all be dead before the worst predicted consequences hit the fan.

But don't you care about your grandchildren's and great-grandchildren's future on a planet that is dying at our own hands?

Is your giant minivan really worth the risk?

17 August 2011

Rick Perry's rogue state attitude

As expected, Texas Governor Rick Perry has thrown his hat into the presidential campaign ring. And he hit the ground running over the weekend with a speech heavily criticizing President Obama.

For example: "We are indignant about a president who apologizes for America," said Perry, as quoted by the Washington Times.

Are we, Governor Perry?

First of all, in a fact check of Perry's speech, the Washington Post reported the following:

"We examined this claim in great detail some months ago, and there is no evidence Obama ever apologized for America. (Some might argue — though we don’t agree — that some of his early speeches had an apologetic tone, but that’s an entirely different matter.) Go back and look at our original column, which includes a number of examples of George W. Bush saying much more apologetic-sounding phrases than Obama."
But, of course, the GOP doesn't care much about facts that disprove their knee-jerk talking points.

That said, I for one admired Obama's ability to point out (if not apologize for) the misguided and arrogant foreign policy of his predecessor. That is how you win hearts and minds.

On the other hand, Governor Perry would apparently prefer that the U.S. do whatever it wants, without apology, regardless of international law and protocol.

That, Governor Perry, is the definition of a rogue state.

And apparently, like a certain Texas governor-turned-president before him, he doesn't care.

12 August 2011

Corporations are like Mitt

Yesterday, while campaigning at the Iowa State Fair, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told the crowd that "corporations are people."

No, Mitt, corporations are not people.

Corporations are born on a piece of paper, conceived of legal jargon and clever tax loopholes.

People have flesh and blood, hearts and minds.

Corporations are just vehicles, often used by those whose hearts and minds are a little more greedy and selfish than the average person. Corporations don't care.

And just because corporations represent the tax loopholes and lack of accountability that you love so much, that doesn't make them people, Mitt. Although - if they were people - they would be much more like you and much less like the people in your audience yesterday.

11 August 2011

Warren Jeffs's legacy?

On Tuesday, polygamist pedophile pervert Warren Jeffs was sentenced to life in prison for having sex with underage girls whom he called his "spiritual wives". Fortunately, this sentence guarantees that he won't be raping any more 12-year-olds.

But what about the followers he leaves behind in his fundamentalist Morman sect? Surely there will be a successor to lead the group going forward, just as there were leaders before Jeffs.

Will Jeffs's arrest and conviction teach them that their practices are wrong? Or will they see it (as Jeffs does) as religious persecution?

Sadly, I suspect the latter.

I feel so sorry for the children, who are brainwashed from birth, and who suffer without knowing any better.

I hope the lay authorities will keep a close watch on things.

10 August 2011

Wisconsin recalls should be an inspiration, not a discouragement

Yesterday, in the Wisconsin recall elections, only two Republican senators were recalled, with the other four surviving. So the GOP retains control of the state Senate.

It would be easy to feel discouraged by this. But we cannot afford to.

We should appreciate the victories in those two cases, and let them inspire us to spread the movement throughout the country, to other states where Republican governors and legislators are working to undermine workers' rights and the middle class.

To give up now would be to risk forfeiting the America we grew up in.

We cannot afford that at any cost.

09 August 2011

Torturer Graner out of prison; high-level accountability still lacking

Charles Graner, who gained fame as one of the Abu Ghraib prison guards posing with thumbs up amongst the abused and bloody detainees in the infamous torture photos from that prison, was released on August 6 after serving a 6 1/2 year sentence at Ft. Leavenworth military prison.

Some of his co-offenders, including Abu Ghraib dominatrix Lynndie England, have also served time for their war crimes.

It is good that these low-level soldiers were held accountable once their abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib came to light. They clearly did wrong, and they probably knew it at the time. But were they simply having too much fun following the misguided orders they were given?

Abu Ghraib may have been the work of a few bad apples, as was an excuse at the time. But the rottenest of apples happened to be sitting in the West Wing and the Pentagon. Little Lynndie England sat in a prison cell for following orders (to break the detainees), while Donald Rumsfeld sat comfortably at home.

The Bush administration's actions were evil but cunning. The Bushies hid - and continue to hide - behind the legal justifications that they ordered from their legal counsel. And Jay Bybee and John Yoo were unscrupulous enough to twist rhetoric and law to the point where it would seem to justify the unjustifiable.

And, for some unimaginable reason, it has all gone unchallenged, even by the Obama administration.

So, despite the low-level convictions and sentences, torture ultimately wins.

Humanity loses, as does the rule of law.

And, perhaps most distressing of all, this could lend itself to an unthinkable sort of slippery slope over time.