28 March 2012

Earth Hour this Saturday (March 31)!

On Saturday, March 31, at 8:30 pm local time, individuals, businesses, and municipalities around the world will turn off their lights for one hour - Earth Hour - in a show of concern for climate change and commitment to finding solutions.

I have participated in Earth Hour the past four years, and it always felt good. I plan to participate again this year, and I hope you will join me.

Earth Hour was started in 2007, and has been growing larger year by year. According to the Earth Hour Website, "In 2011, Earth Hour saw hundreds of millions of people across 135 countries switch off for an hour. But it also marked the start of something new – going Beyond the Hour to commit to lasting action on climate change. And with the power of social networks behind the Earth Hour message, we hope to attract even more participation so we can build a truly global community committed to creating a more sustainable planet."

To find out more, go to www.earthhour.org.

22 March 2012

On World Water Day (and every day), say no to bottled water

Today, March 22, is World Water Day. This date is observed each year to promote public awareness about issues related to clean water resources.

Unfortunately, access to clean water has become a big problem in some highly populated areas of the world. A big part of the blame goes to bottled water companies, who have taken a natural resource that had always been free and turned it into a corporate commodity that westerners - particularly Americans - willingly pay for.

Think back 20, 30, or 40 years. When you were thirsty, you turned on the kitchen faucet and poured yourself a glass of water. You thought nothing of it.

These days, I don't know many people who would drink the water from their kitchen faucet without at least filtering it first. I myself use a Brita water filter pitcher at home.

But that's not convenient enough, or glamorous enough, for some people. So they buy their drinking water in bottles. By the case. I see it flying off the shelves every time I go to the supermarket.

These same people who complain so loudly whenever gasoline prices go up past $3 per gallon think nothing of paying $10 per gallon for their drinking water. And they won't listen to the fact that bottled water is no cleaner and no safer than tap water, and often comes from the very same sources. To them, carrying around a bottle of commercially sold water is a status symbol, just like their big, bloated, gas-guzzling SUVs. If it's expensive, then it must be better.

And, by supporting the commercialization of water - by willfully paying corporations for something that they could otherwise get for free - they are compounding the problem. If water is something you have to pay for, then the poor will not be able to afford it. And, without clean water, it is impossible to survive.

If you buy and drink bottled water, you are part of the problem.

Please invest in a nice refillable water bottle and fill it from your tap - filtered or otherwise. It's a much more responsible example to set.

16 March 2012

Rachel Corrie's legacy

Today, March 16, 2012, marks the ninth anniversary of the death in Gaza of American student and peace activist Rachel Corrie. This brave and compassionate young woman died at the age of 23 when she was crushed by a US-made Caterpillar D9 military bulldozer in Rafah while acting as a human shield, trying to stop the unlawful demolition of a Palestinian home.

Rachel's family has sued the Israel Defense Forces and the Israeli Defense Ministry, and it has been a game of "he-said, she-said" in court. The bulldozer operator claims that he did not see Rachel. Her companions at the scene of her death insist that he had to have seen her.

And, according to the Los Angeles Times, the Corrie family has "accused Israel's military of failing to turn over key surveillance video taken at the Gaza Strip field where Corrie was run over by an Israeli military bulldozer."

The LA Times also notes that the judge's ruling in this case is expected next month.

Regardless of whether Rachel's death was an accident or something more sinister, and regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, I hope that her death will not be in vain. I hope her story will continue to illustrate the urgent need for an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has cost all sides too many innocent lives. And I hope her story will somehow inspire those who can make a difference.

14 March 2012

Congolese warlord convicted in first ICC verdict

On the heels of the launch of the new Kony 2012 campaign by the group Invisible Children, another African warlord is getting his just deserts.

Today, in its first-ever trial verdict, the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague found Thomas Lubanga Dyilo guilty of having committed the war crimes of "conscripting and enlisting children under the age of fifteen years ... and using them to participate actively in hostilities" in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) between September 2002 and August 2003.

In other words, he forced children into a life as child soldiers. And those children will never get those years back.

Sentencing will occur at a later date. Meanwhile, the defense has the right to appeal the decision.

"Depending on whether an appeal is made and on its outcome, today's decision should be remembered as a critical turning point in the fight against impunity for the most serious crimes known to humankind," said William R. Pace, Convenor of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court - a global network of more than 2,500 civil society organizations in 150 countries advocating for a fair, effective and independent ICC and improved access to justice for victims of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

"The horrendous and repeated instances of violence of the past century, not least against those most vulnerable in society, have necessitated the establishment of an international criminal court, and the Coalition has been working for many years towards this moment when justice has finally been delivered to some of the victims of these grave crimes through the ICC," Pace added. "Moreover, the continued prosecution of the crime of using child soldiers - of which this case forms a vital part - is having a real impact on government policy worldwide."

Kudos to the ICC for making this happen. This case sets a powerful precedent.

The ICC is currently also pursuing cases against other Congolese individuals, as well as situations in Uganda (i.e., the case against Kony and his cohorts); the Central African Republic; Darfur, Sudan; Kenya; Libyan Arab Jamahiriya; and the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire.

Stay tuned for updates, with fingers crossed for some justice for all of the victims in these cases.

13 March 2012

24 senators call for end to U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan

Last week, a bipartisan group of 24 U.S. senators signed a letter urging President Obama to bring our troops home from Afghanistan.

The letter states that we have done what we went there to do:
"The United States intervened in Afghanistan to destroy al Qaeda’s safe haven, remove the Taliban government that sheltered al Qaeda, and pursue those who planned the September 11th attacks on the United States. Thanks to the exceptional service and sacrifice made by the American Armed Forces and our allies, those objectives have largely been met. We should continue to confront America’s enemies wherever they are through targeted counterterrorism operations and end the large scale counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan."
And it makes the point that we just cannot afford to stay there:
"We simply cannot afford more years of elevated troop levels in Afghanistan. We are spending roughly $10 billion in Afghanistan each month at a time when we’re making tough sacrifices at home. Your recent budget calls for $88 billion more for the war in Afghanistan in 2013. If this money is appropriated, we will have spent a total of $650 billion in Afghanistan. A majority of Americans worry that the costs of the war in Afghanistan will make it more difficult for the government to address the problems facing the United States at home. They’re right."
Indeed. So will President Obama take this seriously?

I suppose time will tell. (Hopefully not too much time.)

Here is a list of the 24 senators who signed the letter:

Sen. Max Baucus (MT)
Sen. Jeff Merkley (OR)
Sen. Patrick Leahy (VT)
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (NM)
Sen. Tom Harkin (IA)
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (MD)
Sen. Herb Kohl (WI)
Sen. Patty Murray (WA)
Sen. Ron Wyden (OR)
Sen. Dick Durbin (IL)
Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY)
Sen. Maria Cantwell (WA)
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (NJ)
Sen. Bob Menendez (NJ)
Sen. Ben Cardin (MD)
Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT)
Sen. Sherrod Brown (OH)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI)
Sen. Tom Udall (NM)
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY)
Sen. Al Franken (MN)
Sen. Joe Manchin (WV)
Sen. Rand Paul (KY)
Sen. Mike Lee (UT)

>> View the full original letter and signatures (PDF)

12 March 2012

Is Kony 2012 the right thing to do?

By now, most people who pay attention to the news are likely aware of the Kony 2012 film and campaign. Launched by the non-profit organization Invisible Children (IC), the campaign shines a light on Joseph Kony, a leader of the brutal Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group that has terrorized Uganda since 1986. The LRA kidnapped children from their homes, and turned the girls into sex slaves and the boys into child soldiers. According to Wikipedia, "[a]n estimated 66,000 children became soldiers and two million people have been internally displaced since 1986" under Kony's brutal reign in Uganda.

In 2005, the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued an arrest warrant for Kony for war crimes, but he has yet to be captured. Kony is believed to currently reside in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, or Southern Sudan.

Through the Kony 2012 campaign, IC hopes to raise Kony's profile worldwide in hopes of finding him and bringing him to justice. And opinions on this tactic are diverse.

Some are criticizing the campaign as being another case of the white man trying to save black people. (The filmmaker and narrator is a white man, with his prominently featured little blond-haired boy.) IC addresses this by pointing out that 95% of IC's leadership and staff on the ground are Ugandans, not white people from America.

Raising other issues is Victor Ochen, director for the African Youth Initiative Network (AYINET) - Uganda, and himself a survivor of the LRA's war in Uganda. In a recent article, Ochen suggests that the problem is not as straightforward as IC's film might imply. He says that "much more needs to be done."

"In particular," says Ochen, "there is a need for much greater protection of civilians in South Sudan and the DRC and Central African Republic where the LRA is now active. Furthermore, many of the devastating effects of the war between the LRA and the Government of Uganda have still not been addressed in northern Uganda, even though the LRA has not been active here since 2006. These include the most serious physical and mental health effects, the weakening of key social and protective services, the nearly complete absence of remedy for harms suffered, and an utter lack of accountability."

"Second," Ochen continues, "as someone whose brother and cousin were abducted and who are among the thousands of disappeared whose fate is unknown, I join with other Ugandans who hope our relatives are still in captivity and will come back home alive. Any advocacy aimed at military bombardment of the LRA rebels remains therefore very sensitive throughout northern Uganda, and I imagine the DRC and South Sudan and Central African Republic as well, because thousands of children and adults have been abducted and have still not come home yet. My own father is deeply traumatized due to my brother and cousin's abduction, and every time he hears about any report of killing LRA rebels he is not sure whom they have killed and wonders if people are celebrating his beloved son's death. These are the feelings many families have. I agree that Kony must be stopped as soon as possible. However, it must be done in a way that avoids further civilian casualties and the loss of the lives of innocent children. Raising potentially false expectation such as arresting Kony in 2012 will not rebuild the lives of the people in northern Uganda. Rebuilding communities and rehabilitating victims is what we need. The stronger survivors become, the less Kony remains an issue. Restoration of communities devastated by Kony is a greater priority than catching or even killing him."

On the other hand, Human Rights Watch makes the point that "[a]rresting Kony and other LRA leaders would reaffirm that those who commit mass atrocities will face justice, and it would end the scourge of one of Africa's most brutal groups."

Amnesty International has addressed one of Ochen's concerns by stating that any efforts to arrest Kony must respect human rights. "Anyone joining the Kony 2012 campaign should insist that efforts to arrest Joseph Kony must respect human rights," said Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty's Africa director. "It is also vital to make sure that any action ensures the protection of civilians in the surrounding areas."

So clearly there is more to the problem than just finding Kony by making him famous, as IC hopes to do. But, if finding him and bringing him to justice are done carefully and properly, supported by recovery efforts to aid his victims, it would be a huge step forward for the people of central Africa who have suffered long enough.

08 March 2012

Thoughts on International Women's Day

Today, as every year on March 8, we mark International Women's Day. And so I've been thinking about where we women stand these days.

While we have seen many great advances in women's rights over the past century both here in America and in other parts of the world, we still have a lot of work to do to protect the rights we've won and to further chip away at all glass ceilings everywhere.

In fact, in recent weeks, it appears that we've got to work harder than we would have expected right here in the "land of freedom". While most American women take birth control for granted, the GOP has lately tried to take that away from us in an extension of their anti-choice agenda. They want to do away not only with abortion but with contraception as well. They do this despite the statistical fact that 99% of American women - including 98% of Catholic women - have used birth control.

They don't trust us women to control how our bodies are used. They want to be the ones in charge of that.

If they are allowed to win this battle, it will set an example for conservative factions in other parts of the world.

And if they are allowed to win this battle, where will they set their sights next?

As untenable as their agenda might seem at this point, we must take it seriously.

As long as we still have the right to vote, we can have a say in this along with our male supporters.

Vote blue in November.

07 March 2012

Sad news from Ohio

Last night, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, the most progressive member of the U.S. House of Representatives, lost his primary bid for reelection. He lost to Rep. Marcy Kaptur. The Democratic primary challenge was the result of redistricting after Ohio lost 2 House seats.

Kaptur will now face Republican challenger Samuel Wurzelbacher (aka "Joe the Plumber"), who won the GOP nomination in that district last night.

I am sad that we will no longer see Kucinich bravely and boldly standing up for progressive values on the House floor. But I have no doubt that he will find other ways to continue the fight.

Thank you, Congressman Kucinich, for all that you have done. And thanks in advance for all that you will continue to do.

06 March 2012

Wall Street on testosterone: Just what we don't need

Somehow I missed the story when it was new last month, but a friend just alerted me to it. I thought it worth sharing for those of you who, like me, missed it when the news first hit the internets:

According to the British newspaper The Daily Mail, lots of Wall Street bankers are now seeking testosterone replacement therapy to "maintain a competitive edge."

I guess they don't think they've done enough damage to our economy as it is. Imagine how much more destructive they could be with more testosterone coursing through their veins!

05 March 2012

Big business vs. human rights: SCOTUS wants to hear more

Last week I wrote about the case of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, which raises the question of whether U.S. corporations can be held liable for complicity in human rights abuses committed abroad. The U.S. Supreme Court was to hear arguments in the case on February 28.

In follow-up to the February 28 arguments, SCOTUS has decided to schedule the case for reargument.

According to Lyle Denniston, writing today at SCOTUSblog.com, "some of the Justices [on February 28] questioned whether the Alien Tort Statute allowed U.S. courts to hear lawsuits for violations of international law on foreign soil. That is the issue lawyers are to address in new legal briefs due on a schedule that runs through June 29."

So it may hinge on a technicality.

Stay tuned, with fingers crossed for some accountability and justice.

01 March 2012

GOP misogynists are actually screwing the insurance companies

Today, fortunately, the U.S. Senate voted to kill the Blunt Amendment, which would have allowed employers to censor which medications would be covered in their employees' health insurance plans.

Most of the public dialog about the bill focused on insurance coverage for contraception. Interestingly, I didn't see any talk of restricting coverage for Viagra, just birth control. Go figure.

All GOP senators but one (Olympia Snow, no surprise) voted for the amendment - and therefore voted against women's health.

But here is the irony in their vote:

In voting against insurance coverage for contraceptives, they also voted against the financial interests of the insurance companies that they're supposedly in love with. After all, contraception is much less expensive to cover than pregnancy/childbirth/obstetrics.