29 February 2012

The "Christian" right's contraceptive fear mongering

If you've been paying any attention to current events lately, you know that the right wing is engaged in a major crusade not only against abortion but also against contraception. Yes, they want to take away our birth control pills.

And the spin is astounding.

For example: In a recent email to supporters, Tom Minnery, Senior VP of the ultra-conservative group Focus on the Family, warned of the following:
"[O]ur federal government is mandating that all women receive free contraceptives, sterilizations and drugs that could cause the early abortion of preborn babies."
He is making it sound as though all women will be forced to receive (and, by extension, use) contraceptives or be sterilized or take abortion drugs.

Relax, people! As I pointed out on Facebook and Twitter recently, nobody would be forced to use birth control, just like nobody would be forced to marry someone of the same sex.

Birth control is a choice. And we want you to have that choice available to you if you want or need it, just as we want to be able to choose for ourselves how we use our bodies.

That's why we call ourselves "pro-choice".

28 February 2012

Big business vs. human rights: SCOTUS to decide

Can U.S. corporations be held liable for complicity in human rights abuses committed abroad? Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, which asks this question.

In a recent Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times, EarthRights International cofounder and executive director Ka Hsaw Wa summarizes the case:
The plaintiffs are Nigerians who suffered abuse under a brutal military dictatorship in the mid-1990s; they sued Royal Dutch Petroleum, better known as Shell, over its alleged support of this violence. Shell is arguing that corporations are not responsible for human rights abuses under such circumstances; that individual employees who are complicit in torture, summary executions and other crimes against humanity can be held liable, but not corporations. An appeals court decided that international law, which is considered under the Alien Tort Statute, backed up that claim.

That decision misreads international law, which does not shield corporations from responsibility, and is a major setback for human rights cases based on Doe vs. Unocal. The justices will consider whether the U.S. will become a haven for companies that are allegedly complicit in the most heinous crimes or whether it will continue to provide a legal forum for accountability and justice.
In its 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, SCOTUS decided that corporations are entitled to the same First Amendment rights as people.

Would they dare now to decide that corporations don't also bear the same responsibilities and accountability?

>> Read the LA Times piece on the Kiobel case: When big business and human rights collide

27 February 2012

Wikileaks promises major data release

According a new press release from Wikileaks, they will be leaking some major information regarding global intelligence gathering.

An excerpt from the release:
Today WikiLeaks began publishing The Global Intelligence Files – more than five million emails from the Texas-headquartered "global intelligence" company Stratfor. The emails date from between July 2004 and late December 2011. They reveal the inner workings of a company that fronts as an intelligence publisher, but provides confidential intelligence services to large corporations, such as Bhopal's Dow Chemical Co., Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and government agencies, including the US Department of Homeland Security, the US Marines and the US Defense Intelligence Agency. The emails show Stratfor's web of informers, pay-off structure, payment-laundering techniques and psychological methods, for example:

"[Y]ou have to take control of him. Control means financial, sexual or psychological control... This is intended to start our conversation on your next phase" – CEO George Friedman to Stratfor analyst Reva Bhalla on 6 December 2011, on how to exploit an Israeli intelligence informant providing information on the medical condition of the President of Venezuala, Hugo Chavez.

The material contains privileged information about the US government's attacks against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks and Stratfor's own attempts to subvert WikiLeaks. There are more than 4,000 emails mentioning WikiLeaks or Julian Assange. The emails also expose the revolving door that operates in private intelligence companies in the United States. Government and diplomatic sources from around the world give Stratfor advance knowledge of global politics and events in exchange for money. The Global Intelligence Files exposes how Stratfor has recruited a global network of informants who are paid via Swiss banks accounts and pre-paid credit cards. Stratfor has a mix of covert and overt informants, which includes government employees, embassy staff and journalists around the world.

While it is important that any wrongdoing be exposed, I hope Wikileaks will take care and block out any identifying information that could endanger people's lives.

Stay tuned. The media will likely have a field day with this.

25 February 2012

Amnesty USA director on Book TV this weekend

This weekend, Suzanne Nossel, the new executive director of Amnesty International USA, will appear on C-SPAN2's Book TV along with Richard Thompson Ford, author of the book Universal Rights Down to Earth.

Here is Book TV's write-up on the show:
"Mr. Ford attempts to explain what is both gained and lost when describing a controversy as a matter of universal rights. When trying to change the lives of millions by enforcing what western nations believe are universal human rights, are there unforeseen issues that should be accounted for? He debates this question with the executive director of Amnesty International USA, Suzanne Nossel."
Show dates and times:

• Saturday, Feb. 25, at 10:00 pm
• Sunday, Feb. 26, at 9:00 pm
• Monday, Feb. 27, at 12:00 am

I expect it will be an interesting discussion.

24 February 2012

New hero: Lesbian judge refuses to perform marriage ceremonies; strengthens my own resolve

Kudos to Dallas County Judge Tonya Parker, who is refusing to perform marriage ceremonies to highlight the sad fact that same-sex couples cannot marry in Texas. Parker, a lesbian, refers couples to other judges instead.

I applaud Judge Parker's commitment to her principles. Her story strengthens my own already-steadfast resolve to not remarry until my lesbian and gay friends can also marry here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Same-sex couples should not be treated as second-class citizens. No one should.

23 February 2012

DOMA ruled unconstitutional - again (but the haters keep fighting - on our dime)

On February 22, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White ruled in the case of Golinski v. United States that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional.

Karen Golinski, the plaintiff, is an attorney for the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Because of DOMA's restrictions, Golinski had been denied federal employee health benefits for her wife. In his Wednesday ruling, Judge White wrote that "DOMA, as applied to Ms. Golinski, violates her right to equal protection of the law under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution by, without substantial justification or rational basis, refusing to recognize her lawful marriage to prevent provision of health insurance coverage to her spouse." And he ordered the defendants to ignore DOMA and stop interfering with Golinski's efforts to enroll her wife in her family health benefit plan.

Interestingly, Judge White was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush. But that makes no difference to the homophobes, who will likely appeal the decision.

In this case, the homophobes defending DOMA in the courts are the Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, who vowed to fight efforts to repeal DOMA when the Obama administration backed away from any such defense. And they're using our tax dollars to do it.

These are the same Congresscritters who complain about Democratic overspending.

Interfaith coalition urges politicians to stop playing the religion card

If you've been following the 2012 presidential campaign season at all, you're probably aware that religion is playing a big part in it. Combine a widespread distrust of Mitt Romney's Mormonism with Rick Santorum's rabid Catholicism and the still-ongoing whisperings about President Obama's true religious leanings, and it sometimes seems as though the campaign is more about religion than it is about unemployment and the economy.

This is, of course, despite the fact that Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution states that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

So a diverse coalition of national religious organizations has issued an Interfaith Statement of Principles, calling on all candidates for public office to honor our nation's religious freedom and avoid stirring up religious controversy.

An excerpt:
Candidates for office bear the primary responsibility for setting the proper tone for elections. Anyone who legitimately aspires to public office must be prepared to set an example and to be a leader for all Americans, of all faiths or of no faith.

What is ethical is every bit as important as what is legal. Therefore candidates for public office should:

• Attempt to fulfill the promise of America by seeking to serve and be responsive to the full range of constituents, irrespective of their religion.

• Conduct their campaigns without appeals, overt or implicit, for support based upon religion.

• Reject appeals or messages to voters that reflect religious prejudice, bias, or stereotyping.

• Engage in vigorous debate on important and disputed issues, without deliberately encouraging division in the electorate along religious lines, or between voters who characterize themselves as religious and voters who do not.

Abiding by these principles, candidates for public office help ensure decency, honesty, and fair play in political campaigns, and they honor America's oldest and most fundamental values. Likewise, voters who insist on adherence to these principles contribute to the protection of our religious freedom.
The statement was signed by the following organizations:

American Islamic Congress
American Jewish Committee
Anti-Defamation League
Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty
Interfaith Alliance
Islamic Society of North America (ISNA)
Hindu American Foundation
Muslim Advocates
National Council of Churches USA
Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF)
Sikh Coalition
Union for Reform Judaism
The United Methodist Church - General Board of Church and Society
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries

Will this statement make a difference? Quite possibly not. But it needed to be said, and so I applaud these organizations that made it happen.

To read the full statement on the Anti-Defamation League's website, go to: www.adl.org/main_Interfaith/Interfaith-Statement-of-Principles.htm

22 February 2012

Why Prop 8 won't go to SCOTUS any time soon

The homophobic backers of California's Proposition 8 - the 2008 ballot initiative which outlawed same-sex marriage in that state - have made a move that may keep the measure from heading to the U.S. Supreme Court any time soon.

Disappointed that the Ninth Circuit Court of appeals recently upheld a lower court ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional, Prop 8 backers are asking that same court to reconsider that ruling with an 11-judge panel. (The previous ruling was made by a 3-judge panel.) According to the Silicon Valley Mercury News, "[a] majority of the 9th Circuit's 25 full-time judges must vote to rehear the case with an 11-judge panel, a procedure known as 'en banc' review."

In the meantime, same-sex marriages remain on hold in California. I guess the homophobes figure that if they can't successfully outlaw same-sex marriage in that state, they can at least stall it for as long as possible.

21 February 2012

Fighting for equality shouldn't be necessary

California's Proposition 8 - the 2008 ballot initiative which outlawed same-sex marriage in that state - remains tied up in the courts. And the fight for equality drags on.

And it occurs to me that we shouldn't have to fight for equality for any minority group in America. This is because our nation was founded on the priciple that that "all men are created equal" - not just the heterosexual ones.

What we're facing is a matter of having that endowed equality recognized and accepted in practice - minority group by minority group. 100 years ago, American women fought for the right to vote. African-Americans had their civil rights struggle 50 years ago. Now it's the LGBT community's turn.

As long as certain groups are held down as second-class citizens, some are indeed not equal.

And that is downright un-American.

And so, sadly, we must fight, battle by battle...

19 February 2012

500 U.S. deaths from police Tasers; Amnesty calls for strict guidelines

On February 13, Johnnie Kamahi Warren died after a police officer used a Taser on him at least twice outside an Alabama bar. The police had been called when Warren became disorderly and combative at the bar.

Warren's death raises the Taser-related death toll in the U.S. to at least 500.

Warren was unarmed. And that is not uncommon. In fact, a 2008 report by Amnesty International (AI) examined data on hundreds of deaths related to police Taser use and found that an alarming number of those who died were unarmed.

According to the report, "Tasers are frequently deployed in situations where firearms or other weapons would not be an option. For example, police have used Tasers on unarmed people who fail to comply immediately with instructions, who struggle while they are being handcuffed or who try to run or walk away from minor incidents. People who are intoxicated or verbally disruptive, but not committing, or threatening to commit, a serious crime have also had Tasers used against them."

More recently, AI cited the case of Roger Anthony, who last November "fell off his bicycle and died after a police officer in North Carolina shot him with a stun gun. The officer reportedly shocked Anthony – who had a disability and hearing problems – because he did not respond to an order to pull over." Anthony, too, was unarmed.

In the wake of the grim new milestone of 500 Taser-related deaths, AI is repeating its call for tighter limits on police use of lethal weapons. "Of the hundreds who have died following police use of Tasers in the United States, dozens and possibly scores of deaths can be traced to unnecessary force being used," said Susan Lee, Americas program director for AI. "This is unacceptable, and stricter guidelines for their use are now imperative."

AI is calling for strict national protocols for police use of Tasers and similar stun weapons that would effectively replace local police policies that permit a wider use of the weapons, often in situations that do not warrant such a high level of force.

While law enforcement agencies defend the use of Tasers, saying that they save lives and can be used to subdue dangerous or uncooperative suspects, AI contends that the weapons "should only be used as an alternative in situations where police would otherwise consider using firearms." Indeed, as we've seen at least 500 times now, Tasers can be just as lethal as firearms. And too often misused.

And so I contend that the unnecessary overuse of Tasers against unarmed and unthreatening individuals can only be called lazy and cowardly at best.

18 February 2012

Obama's counterterrorism successes continue

During the 2008 campaign season, the GOP kept accusing Barack Obama of being soft on terrorism.

And now the world can see how wrong they were.

On Obama's watch, Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki were found and killed; Muammar Gaddafi was ousted (and later killed by rebel forces); the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were drawn down; and a new nuclear arms reduction treaty was negotiated with Russia.

And the successes continued over the past few days:

On February 16, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called "underwear bomber" who tried to blow up a Detroit-bound jet on Christmas Day 2009, was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences plus 50 years, ensuring that he will die in a federal prison.

And on February 17, federal agents thwarted an alleged plot to carry out a suicide attack on the Capitol. The would-be bomber is in federal custody.

So, all in all, contrary to all the ongoing criticism from the right, we've been safer under Obama's watch than under the previous (Republican) administration.

Will the voters bear this in mind when they go to the polls in November?

14 February 2012

Washington gay marriage bill signed (but already in peril)

Yesterday, just in time for Valentine's Day, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire signed into law a measure legalizing same-sex marriage in that state. The House had passed the bill last Wednesday, a week after the Senate approved it. This is a positive step forward for equality - maybe.

Opponents of the new measure are hoping to block the bill via a referendum.

According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "The law goes into effect on June 7, unless opponents succeed in gathering 120,577 valid voter signatures to force a referendum in November. If so, marriage equality would be held up pending a decision by Washington voters.

As with Proposition 8 in California, if the homophobes are successful in challenging the new Washington law, it could remain tied up in the courts for years.

Stay tuned, with fingers crossed for equality.

13 February 2012

Philly Mag blogger jumps the gun on Whitney Houston's cause of death

This post doesn't deal with my usual topics of human rights and social justice. Instead, it deals with irresponsible journalism. But it needs to be said, because a free and accurate press is necessary for true democracy. So here goes:

Shame on Mike Bertha for jumping to a conclusion and presenting it as fact on his blog for Philadelphia Magazine.

Earlier today, he wrote:
Philadelphians Remember Whitney Houston. The 48-year-old singer died of a prescription drug overdose over the weekend.
How does he know that she died of a drug overdose when the toxicology test results likely won't be known for several weeks?

The CBS 3 report he cites says nothing about the cause of death.

Assuming that the cause was a drug overdose, since Houston has a known history of drug and alcohol abuse, is like me assuming that Bertha is going to botch any other "fact" he may happen to report in the future.

I want to assume that some of what he will write will be accurate. Shouldn't our late singer also be given the benefit of the doubt, pending medical proof either way?

I emailed Bertha to point this out (although not in so many words). He responded with the following:
"I meant to link, 'died of a prescription drug overdose' to the TMZ article from early this morning that says the Houston family that [sic] it appears that it was prescription drugs and not drowning. I apologize for the mix[-]up."
So instead of jumping to his own conclusion and presenting it as fact, he is simply republishing someone else's premature (and obviously unconfirmed) conclusion.

I don't see this as a mix-up, as he called it. I see it as lazy journalism.

Maybe he's just too busy auditioning for Fox News.

"Unnatural" acts in nature?

As is typical when I write in favor of gay rights, as I did last week in the wake of the latest Prop 8 development, my email inbox fills with hate mail from the homophobes.

This time, many of them had a common theme - that gay sex is "unnatural".

So I decided to respond to some of them with a question: Homosexual behavior has been observed in nearly 1,500 non-human animal species. So is it really unnatural even though it occurs in nature?

So far, I've gotten only one reply to that question - from someone who simply denied that homosexuality occurs in the animal kingdom.

He reminded me that the right-wing radicals never let facts or logic get in the way of their hysteria.

09 February 2012

Contraception, ultrasounds, and right-wing double standards

Catholic Church officials and other conservatives are up in arms over President Obama's decision to require all employee health care plans (with some religious exemptions) to cover contraception. As with Obamacare in general, they say that the government should not be in the health care business.

Ironically, however, it's many of these same conservatives who are behind the movements in some states to require ultrasounds for pregnant women who are considering abortion.

I guess it's OK for the government to be in the health care business only when it can disempower women.

08 February 2012

NOM's crazy anti-marriage propaganda

Yesterday, in a step forward for equality, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that California's Proposition 8 - the 2008 ballot initiative which outlawed same-sex marriage in that state - is unconstitutional. The case will now surely work its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

And so the bigots are out in force to catapult their propaganda all the way to SCOTUS.

A fundraising email yesterday from the homophobic National Organization for Marriage (which should really be called National Organization Against Marriage for All) included the following claim:
"A Supreme Court victory would preserve the marriage laws of 44 states, denying same-sex marriage radicals in their campaign to force gay marriage on the entire nation in one fell swoop."
(Ahem.) This is just hysterical nonsense.

Nobody is trying to force gay marriage on anybody. If you don't want to marry someone of the same sex, then don't. You will still be free to marry someone of the opposite sex.

As political commentator James Carville once said, "I was against gay marriage until I found out I didn't have to have one."

Beyond that, if you care what other consenting adults are doing in the privacy of their own bedrooms, you simply need to get a life. What they're doing is not about you.

07 February 2012

Prop 8 ruled unconstitutional - again - for now

Today, in another victory for equality, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that California's Proposition 8 - the 2008 ballot initiative which outlawed same-sex marriage in that state - is unconstitutional.

In the majority opinion, Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote:
"Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples. The Constitution simply does not allow for laws of this sort."
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, "The ban remains in effect while the case proceeds toward the U.S. Supreme Court."

And, given the current SCOTUS configuration, anything could happen there.

Stay tuned, with fingers crossed for equality.

03 February 2012

My racist liberal ex-boyfriend

Sometimes we on the political left tend to think that racial prejudice is the realm of those on the right. Indeed, the Southern Strategy was designed by Republicans, and Rush Limbaugh let his bigotry show through loud and clear when he played a little song called "Barack the Magic Negro" for his audience.

But, sadly, sometimes liberals show signs of their own bigotry. One such discovery a few years ago was painful for me personally. I was reminded of it just recently when I saw former boyfriend at a distance at my local supermarket.

I had dated Jim (not his real name) for a couple of months, and he seemed like a good match - tall, attractive, intelligent, liberal, and a strong environmental advocate. But then he started complaining a great deal about a woman he worked with. Whenever he complained about her actions, he mentioned that she was black.

Then, one day, I was treated badly by someone and complained to Jim about it. His first reaction: "Is she black?"

I asked him why he would assume such a thing, and he said that all of the difficult people he knows are black.

Since he works at the main headquarters of a major corporation, I know he must interact daily with people of various races, some of whom are good people and some of whom are perhaps not so nice. But I never heard him complain about someone whom he described as white. And I never heard him say anything nice about a person of color.

I don't call it coincidence, I call it prejudice. When I mentioned how uncomfortable it made me feel, he got defensive. He tried to defend his distrust of people of color. And he shrugged off my attempts to point out that some white people also do terrible things.

And so I stopped seeing him.

And so, when I saw him at the store last week, I turned quickly and walked the other way.

01 February 2012

Susan G. Komen bows to the right wing - and endangers women's health

Shame on the Susan G. Komen foundation! While the group has done some good work in the past in raising awareness (and money) for breast cancer research, we now see how little they really care about women's health.

The foundation has apparently succumbed to pressure from the anti-choice right, and has cut all its funding to Planned Parenthood for breast health screenings.

Note that this service by Planned Parenthood has nothing to do with abortion. It's about women's breast health. And without the low-cost screenings available through Planned Parenthood, low-income women might not be able to afford the routine medical care that can detect breast cancer in its early stages, when it is most treatable.

In defunding Planned Parenthood, the Komen foundation seems to be rejecting its own mission of saving women's lives. So who is really pro-life here?

The next time you see those pink marketing campaigns and are tempted to donate to the Komen foundation, please think twice and direct your charity dollars instead to an organization that really does work to save women's lives: Planned Parenthood