28 May 2011

Happy 50th birthday, Amnesty International!

Today is Amnesty International's 50th birthday!

AI is marking this occasion with a 16-minute video that explores the organization's formation, growth, and human rights victories through the years. It's pretty impressive, if I do say so myself.

Check it out: 50 Years - Amnesty International

26 May 2011

Will the New York election get the message through?

In a special election in New York on Tuesday, Democrat Kathy Hochul won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. She won the election in the very Republican 26th District, where the GOP has held that seat for more than 40 years.

Some pundits say that Hocul's win sends a clear message to the GOP that the people - even in Republican districts - are firmly against the Medicare "reform" that's been brewing in the House.

But will the GOP really get the message?

Fortunately, the Senate voted down the Medicare nonsense yesterday, so it's safe for now. But the GOP-controlled House is far more radically skewed to the right.

Now 2012 is the next hurdle.

What will happen then? Will the voting public remember?

In the current political climate, nothing would surprise me. So stay tuned. And keep fingers crossed in hopes of some sanity.

25 May 2011

Busted for sex, but not for war crimes

Politico reports that the U.S. Justice Department apparently plans to prosecute former senator and presidential candidate John Edwards "for allegedly violating campaign finance laws in an effort to cover up his extramarital affair."

The case involves allegations that Edwards spent more than $1 million of campaign funds to cover up his affair with Rielle Hunter.

Still, that same "Justice" Department has yet to press charges against the members of the George W. Bush administration who spent our tax dollars on a war of aggression against a non-threatening nation and who authorized the torture of human beings.

So it appears that lying about sex is bad (see also: Bill Clinton), but committing war crimes can be easily overlooked.

Is this what the U.S. now stands for?

24 May 2011

GOP's war on women - well summarized

The GOP has spent most of this year so far defunding Planned Parenthood and undermining Roe v. Wade.

I just came across a headline on a Care2.com blog that sums it all up so well:

"War On Women: It's Better To Have Teen Moms Than Fund Planned Parenthood"

And to those on the right who would respond with calls for abstinence, I have two words to offer: Bristol Palin

20 May 2011

After Middle East speech, Amnesty urges Obama to turn words into action

Yesterday, President Obama gave a speech regarding various Middle Eastern issues - from the burgeoning democracy movements in that region to the ongoing trouble regarding Israel and Palestine.

The full text of Obama's speech can be found on the official White House website here: Remarks by the President on the Middle East and North Africa

Instead of commenting on the speech myself this time, I will let Amnesty International do the talking.

In response to Obama's speech yesterday, T. Kumar, International Advocacy Director for Amnesty International USA, issued the following (justifiably skeptical) comments, calling on Obama to turn his words into actions:
"President Obama delivered a strong denunciation of the abuses that are being committed in the region and rightly underscored the importance of supporting civil society and the rights of those who are most marginalized. But he has made similar remarks in the past, and his administration's policies have not consistently matched the rhetoric.

"Amnesty International welcomes the fact that President Obama highlighted the demolition of Shiite mosques in Bahrain and demanded the release of political prisoners there. We urge him to put his words on Bahrain into action, as he has done on Libya and Syria; otherwise, his words will ring hollow.

"The president focused quite emphatically on development and anti-corruption efforts, especially in Egypt, which is essential to reversing terrible poverty there and supporting economic progress. This is a policy initiative with real potential to help advance the full range of human rights for all Egyptians.

"The president also left unanswered the question of whether the United States will support demands for accountability for leaders in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere who have been deposed. Justice will not be served until those responsible for human rights abuses are held to account.

"The fact that the president failed to mention political prisoners in Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates begs the question: Will the United States push to see that human rights in those countries also are protected? The question is left unanswered."
And so are many other questions.

On a more optimistic note, however, I can say this: I am certain that we are better off with Obama and Biden in charge at this point in history than we would have been with McCain and Palin running the country.

19 May 2011

IMF chief presumed guilty?

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, heretofore the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, is being held in a New York jail awaiting trial for the alleged sexual assault of a housekeeper at the Manhattan hotel where he had been staying.

When the news broke, a friend asked me if I thought he was guilty. My response was simply, "I wasn't there, so I don't know."

While the media reports do tend to suggest that a crime did occur, I like to respect that old American principle that a defendant is to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

For that reason, I was disturbed by the calls for Strauss-Kahn to be removed from his IMF position. It all seemed premature. As it turns out, he resigned last night, stating, "I want to devote all my strength, all my time, and all my energy to proving my innocence."

But I wonder to what extent the resignation really was his own choice, given all the pressure in the media. Why wasn't it good enough to have an interim chief run the show in the meantime?

Think about this: What if you were accused of a crime that you did not commit, and you were fired from your job for it before you even had your day in court?

If Strauss-Kahn is found guilty at trial, then he should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. That would be justice.

But it is not right for a punishment to precede a conviction. That is not true justice.

16 May 2011

US gets bad marks in Amnesty International annual report

On May 12, Amnesty International (AI) released its annual report on the state of human rights in the world. The report examines the human rights records of 159 countries around in the world during 2010.

The United States of America got some bad marks again this year, primarily related to human rights violations in the "war on terror" and our continued use of the death penalty.

"US President Obama's promise that the Guantanamo detention centre would be closed by January 2010 was not fulfilled," AI notes in the report. "By the end of the year, 174 people remained held in the prison. The only Guantanamo detainee so far transferred to the US mainland for prosecution in a federal court was tried and convicted. Two Guantanamo detainees were convicted by military commission during the year after pleading guilty. Revised rules, issued in April, governing military commission proceedings for so-called 'war on terror' suspects showed that there was little hope that the US administration would make substantial reforms and uphold human rights."

Also in the "war on terror", AI's report criticizes the Obama administration for its failure to prosecute the instigators of torture and other human rights violations by the Bush administration: "[I]n the USA, those responsible for crimes under international law committed as part of the 'war on terror', such as torture and enforced disappearance, were not held to account. In November, former President George W. Bush admitted that he had authorized the use of 'water-boarding' (a form of torture in which the process of drowning a detainee is begun) during his administration. Nevertheless, accountability and remedy for human rights violations committed as part of the USA's programme of secret detention and rendition remained non-existent. In November, the US Department of Justice announced, without further explanation, that no one would face criminal charges in relation to the destruction in 2005 of 92 tapes depicting evidence of 'water-boarding' and other torture techniques used against two detainees held in 2002."

Regarding the death penalty, AI's report notes that "[46] prisoners - 45 men and one woman - were put to death in the USA during the year. This brought to 1,234 the total number of executions carried out since the US Supreme Court lifted a moratorium on the death penalty in 1976." AI describes the death penalty as "the ultimate, irreversible denial of human rights, and calls for worldwide abolition of the death penalty "to end the cycle of violence created by a system riddled with economic and racial bias and tainted by human error."

In this year's report, AI has again exposed the US not as a nation of laws and justice, but as a nation of impunity and injustice.

I am ashamed for my country, as every citizen of conscience should be.

You can obtain a copy of the report, or browse the report by region or by country, at: http://www.amnesty.org/en/annual-report/2011

12 May 2011

Delaware governor signs bill allowing same-sex unions

It's not marriage, but it's still a positive step forward towards equality for all:

Last night, Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed a bill allowing civil unions or domestic partnerships for same-sex couples in that state.

Homophobes are threatening legal challenges to the new law. It seems the new law offends their "religious" convictions. Hopefully fairness and equality will win in the long run. After all, this is not supposed to be a theocracy.

PS: Who would Jesus discriminate against?

11 May 2011

Hypocrite for president?

Today, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich is expected to announce that he will run for president in 2012.

This is the same Newt Gingrich who was having an affair of his own while leading the efforts to impeach Bill Clinton.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. An editorial published today in the New Jersey Star-Ledger lists 10 quotes from Gingrich that should make us very nervous. Read it here: Newt's back, but GOP should keep looking

Gingrich. Trump. Bachmann. Are there any potential GOP candidates who don't seem like cartoon characters?

10 May 2011

Obama thinks I should have my head examined

In an interview that aired Sunday night on CBS's 60 Minutes, President Obama defended the mission to kill (rather than capture) Osama bin Laden. Furthermore, he said that anyone who disagreed with the bin Laden assassination "needs to have their head examined."

Um, that would be me.

Don't get me wrong! When I heard the news that bin Laden was dead, I was ecstatic. The news appealed to a primal, emotional side of me. We got the bad guy! Revenge is sweet!

Then the human rights advocate in me got to thinking, especially when I heard Obama say that "justice" was done.

No, Mr. President. The bin Laden assassination was violent revenge. True justice would have involved capturing bin Laden, giving him a fair trial in accordance with international laws and standards, and then punishing him accordingly.

Yes, it would have created a media circus. But justice isn't always easy. That's why the Bush administration had to tapdance around it so much.

So perhaps what we really need to examine here is not my head. Perhaps what we really need to examine here is the law -- you know, that stuff you learned at Harvard and taught at the University of Chicago.

That said, I will defer to an expert.

Here is a very good piece by Chip Pitts, law professor and former board chairman of Amnesty International USA: KILLING BIN LADEN: UNQUESTIONABLY CORRECT?

Apparently Chip needs to have his head examined too.

09 May 2011

A Mother's Day lesson in stereotypes and assumptions

Yesterday was Mother's Day. I am not a mother, but each year on that day I find many strangers wishing me a happy Mother's Day. They see this middle-aged woman and assume I must be a mother, even though I have remained child-free by choice.

Yesterday was no different. I had stopped into a convenience store, and the young man behind the counter wished me a happy Mother's Day. I decided to have some fun with it. So I replied, "Happy Mother's Day to you, too!"

He got a confused look on his face. So I smiled warmly, looked him in the eye, winked, and said, "I'm not a mother either."

Then he got a look of pity on his face and said, "I'm so sorry."

I replied, "No need. It was my decision."

Then I sensed a light bulb suddenly flashing inside his head. And I think a lesson was learned.

As I was leaving, I heard him greet the women who had been in line behind me.

He said to her, "It's mother's Day. Are you a mom?"

She said, "Yes."

He said, "Then happy Mother's Day!"

I hope the lesson sticks.

05 May 2011

A question or two for the torture apologists

In the wake of Osama bin Laden's assassination, some on the right are (rightly or wrongly) attributing that "success" to our use of waterboarding and other "harsh interrogation" methods (i.e., torture) of Islamic detainees. They speak of waterboarding as if it were a good thing.

Do they feel, then, that the U.S. was wrong in convicting and punishing several Japanese soldiers for waterboarding American and Allied prisoners during World War II?

If not, why the double standard?

(Rhetorical questions, of course.)

04 May 2011

41 years later, could Kent State happen again?

Today - May 4, 2011 - marks the 41st anniversary of the Kent State massacre, in which members of the Ohio National Guard opened fire on students who were protesting the invasion of Cambodia. Four students were killed and nine others were wounded. Some of the victims were mere bystanders who were not even involved in the protest. None deserved to be shot at.

And I wonder if this sort of thing could happen again. All it would take is one misguided order from someone in charge.

After all, police routinely rough up and arrest political protesters all over the U.S. It's happened to some friends of mine. And there's often a fine line between injury and death.

Freedom of speech? Freedom of assembly? Really?!

03 May 2011

Human rights group reacts to bin Laden's death (then I weigh in)

With the news that U.S. forces had killed Osama bin Laden over the weekend, the group Human Rights First issued the following statement:
"Osama bin Laden, like many criminals before him, used terror - including the killing of innocent civilians - to get the United States to abandon its principles. Some claimed that our nation's openness and respect for individual liberties made the United States vulnerable to terrorism. With bin Laden's demise, the United States should ensure that his goal is definitively rejected. The strength of our country lies in its belief in the inherent dignity of all people and respect for universal human rights. We are strongest when we live up to these beliefs."
My two cents: Indeed. However, here we are with a president today who refuses to hold accountable those who so quickly abandoned this nation's principles in the wake of 9/11. Obama says he wants to look forward, not backwards. But unless we look back at the mistakes made - and hold the perpetrators accountable - our principles will remain shattered.

02 May 2011

Osama killed, local news says "Obama" (twice)

I awoke this morning to the news that U.S. forces had located and killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

I cringed, however, when the male anchor at the local NBC TV affiliate accidentally said that "Obama" had been killed. I cringed again when a young male reporter then promptly made the very same mistake.

They both promptly corrected themselves. But these news "professionals" this morning sounded more like teabaggers.