30 April 2013

The NRA's gun safety hypocrisy

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has the nerve to claim that it advocates gun safety.

Sure, the organization offers firearm training and safety programs. But don't be fooled. That same organization has been fighting tooth and nail against any kind of gun regulation or registration - and doing so quite publicly lately. Despite occasional lip service regarding mental health checks, their ultimate mission appears to be unfettered access to firearms for everyone. And that would include terrorists and violators of human rights worldwide.

Yes, it looks like hypocrisy. But it's not surprising. After all, in recent years the NRA has become the lobbying arm of the gun manufacturing industry. According to an article by Frank Smyth in The Progressive, "Two gun-making firms' chief executive officers, Ronnie Barrett and Pete Brownell, sit on the NRA board. And it should be noted that NRA revenues from fundraising - including donations from gun manufacturers - have grown twice as fast as income from members' dues, according to Forbes. More than fifty firearms-related companies have given the NRA almost $15 million since 2005 - the same year that NRA lobbyists helped get a federal law passed that limits liability claims against gun makers."

Clearly, safety is not what the NRA is really all about anymore.

25 April 2013

Good men don't commit war crimes

In an article about today's dedication of the George W. Bush Library, the Washington Post quoted President Obama as calling Bush a "good man".

I can think of more fitting adjectives.

After all, good men don't start unnecessary wars of aggression based on lies. And good men don't authorize torture - or have their attorney's perform semantic gymnastics to try to justify torture.

On the other hand, one must question Obama's judgment of the goodness of others. After all, Obama is the one killing innocent men, women, and children with his drones.

24 April 2013

Sorry, racists, but the Boston bombers are white

Some xenophobes and racists are confused these days. You see, the Boston bombers may be Muslim, but they're not from the Middle East.

In fact, they're literally Caucasian - from Chechnya, in the North Caucasus in the Russian Federation - an area for which the race was named. As Peter Beinart recently wrote in The Daily Beast, "You can’t get whiter than that."

The racists can take some solace in the fact that the suspects have (or, in Tamerlan's case, had) dark hair and dark eyes, and might look a bit exotic if you want to stretch it. And stretch it they will, in their need to condemn "the other". In their imaginations, if you're not Judeo-Christian, you can't be a proper white person.

But give the bigots a break: After all, most Americans would probably be unable to quickly point to Chechnya on a map. And that's a whole other sad (and perhaps somewhat related) issue.

22 April 2013

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and the maternal instinct

Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev lies in a Boston hospital recovering from gunshot wounds he sustained while fleeing police. Having followed the case rather closely, I think he clearly appears to be guilty. The video footage distinctly shows him leaving a bulky backpack on the sidewalk just minutes before it exploded. Nevertheless, I keep running into women - most of them middle-aged and older - who refuse to believe that Dzokhar could have willingly participated in the crime.

"He's a cutie," I keep hearing. And since he's so cute, and was popular in his social circles, he must have been somehow led astray in a weak moment by his less sympathetic older brother, they say. Maybe the brother drugged him. They see Dzokhar as a victim. This group includes one woman - a Fox News follower - who usually presumes guilt in high-profile murder cases, and calls for the death penalty in all cases.

But it's different with Dzhokhar. They're coddling him because his cuteness seems to bring out a protective maternal instint. And that protective maternal instinct can fuel denial.

Yes, Dzhokar is a nice-looking young man. But if he did commit the crimes he's accused of, he needs to be held accountable via a fair trial in federal court. And let's hope that the maternal groupies stay off that jury, to ensure true fairness.

And then may the evidence lead to an accurate verdict either way.

Things you can do on this Earth Day 2013 (and beyond)

Today, April 22, is Earth Day.

On this day, there are many things you can do to show your respect for the earth and its environment. Here are some ideas, repeated from last year's Earth Day blog post, since they're all still as relevant as ever (and so easy to do):

Say no to plastic bags: There are enough plastic bags in the landfills and in the oceans. If you haven't done so already, please invest in some reusable canvas bags and take them with you whenever you go shopping. You'll look cool and you'll help the planet.

Say no to bottled water: It's actually less regulated - and therefore possibly less safe - than tap water, and the plastic bottles they come in are a whole other horror story. Instead, invest in a reusable stainless steel bottle, and refill it with plain or filtered tap water. It's better for the planet, better for your health, and better for your wallet.

Go meatless for a day: A 2006 United Nations report called the meat industry "one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global." Eating 1 pound of meat emits the same amount of greenhouse gasses as driving an SUV 40 miles. So try going meatless on Earth Day. Then expand it to a once-a-week "Meatless Monday" - or more.

Do you have more ideas for simple things we can do to show our respect for this wonderful planet? Share them in a comment, and they could be included in next year's Earth Day post!

21 April 2013

What the Gosnell abortion trial really shows us

The Philadelphia murder trial of late-term abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell has now made the national news. Gosnell is accused of murdering seven preterm infants who were born alive during attempted abortions, as well as a pregnant Nepalese woman who died from an overdose of a sedative delivered by Gosnell's untrained staff.

Some anti-choice activists are pointing to the Gosnell case to demonstrate why abortion should be outlawed. But doing so is naive - and downright invalid - for a number of reasons.

First of all, Gosnell does not represent the average abortion provider. Those deaths clearly resulted from medical malpractice. According to the grand jury report, "[t]he clinic reeked of animal urine, courtesy of the cats that were allowed to roam (and defecate) freely. Furniture and blankets were stained with blood. Instruments were not properly sterilized. Disposable medical supplies were not disposed of; they were reused, over and over again. Medical equipment - such as the defibrillator, the EKG, the pulse oximeter, the blood pressure cuff - was generally broken; even when it worked, it wasn't used. The emergency exit was padlocked shut. And scattered throughout, in cabinets, in the basement, in a freezer, in jars and bags and plastic jugs, were fetal remains."

But the clinic conditions are only the beginning. The story gets much worse.

The grand jury report describes several cases in which Gosnell butchered - but didn't kill - his patients. There's the case in which Gosnell tore a woman's cervix and colon while trying to extract the fetus. There's the 19-year-old girl who fell into shock from blood loss after Gosnell punctured her uterus, and who subsequently had to undergo a hysterectomy. There were, of course, untreated infections. In many of these cases, Gosnell simply ignored or dismissed the problems, so responsible treatment was delayed until the women finally were able to seek proper medical help elsewhere.

Furthermore, Gosnell performed illegal abortions after 30 weeks of gestation, while Pennsylvania law bans abortion after 24 weeks, when a fetus is considered viable outside the womb. Then, to cover it up, he killed the infants by severing their spinal cords.

The rabid anti-choice crowd fails to mention the fact that those things do not typically happen at Planned Parenthood or other reputable abortion facilities. They won't let the facts get in the way of their typically hysterical propaganda.

Sadly, if draconian right-wing legislation continues to erode women's ability to obtain abortions in some states, and/or if Planned Parenthood continues to face funding cuts due to right-wing stubbornness on the issue, then surely we will see more Gosnell-type practices spring up to fill the void.

Outlawing abortion doesn't stop it from happening. It just forces women to resort to Gosnell-type back-alley providers. And, in doing so, it puts women's lives at risk. There is nothing pro-life about that.

19 April 2013

Revenge vs. justice for terror suspects

This evening, after a very dramatic 24+ hours, the authorities in the Boston area finally captured the second suspect in the marathon bombings. The first suspect - his older brother - was killed last night in a shootout with police.

The captured suspect, Dzhokar Tsarnaev, suffered at least one gunshot wound and lost a lot of blood, but hopefully doctors can patch him up well enough to survive and face justice.

Not everyone is happy that the younger Tsarnaev is alive. This morning, I discussed the case with a conservative acquaintance I'll call Judy (not her real name). Judy was relishing the death of the older Tsarnaev and she couldn't contain her excitement as she assured me that the police would kill the younger one as well.

Unfortunately, that kind of reaction is not unusual. Many people react to tragedies with such knee-jerk responses. In doing so, they're really seeking revenge rather than true justice.

I told Judy that I'd rather see the suspect taken alive. I explained that by taking him alive, we could potentially get lots of important information from him - his motive, whether there were other accomplices or even a terrorist cell in the area, and more. Then we could make him face his victims and their families in federal court, and lock him up so he can't harm anyone else.

Judy didn't want to hear it. She just wanted blood. "They'll kill him," she said, nodding her head, apparently trying to reassure herself. "They'll kill him," she repeated.

And I was thankful that Judy doesn't work in law enforcement.

18 April 2013

What the Senate's background-check vote shows us

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate blocked the Manchin-Toomey background checks amendment via a 54-46 vote (60 votes needed). The amendment would have required background checks on all commercial sales of guns, thereby closing the gun show loophole.

Their cowardly votes suggest that maybe those 46 senators believe that criminals, crazies, and terrorists should have unfettered access to firearms.

Or, perhaps more likely, their cowardly votes suggest that those 46 senators care more about appeasing the NRA than they care about the safety of their own constituents.

And they have the nerve to call themselves leaders.

17 April 2013

Rumor mongering vs. journalism

Today was a bad day for journalism.

All afternoon I saw headlines announcing that a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing was in custody and was headed to a courthouse.

Those reports appear to have originated with the AP. And those reports were dismissed by the officials who would know.

So the real truth is far less satisfying. But I'm proud that I didn't jump on the bandwagon that perpetuated the rumor.

In my very first college-level journalism course, I was taught to question everything. Indeed, the professor said: "Check everything out for yourself. If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out!"

While I'm sure that many AP reporters have mothers who really do love them, they need to stop taking other things for granted.

And the blame doesn't stop with the AP. Every news organization that forwarded the false report is equally to blame.

Shame on all of them!

16 April 2013

Are terrorists really cowards?

With the Boston Marathon bombing, as in the case of virtually every other terrorist attack against US interests, the politicians and talking heads refer to the acts as "cowardly".

But is that really an accurate assessment?

I think launching a terrorist attack takes some major cojones, and a very strong commitment to one's own values, for better or worse. Isn't that the opposite of cowardice?

Accordingly, I wonder if perhaps the "coward" label is maybe thrown out there loosely in an attempt to make the perpetrator feel small, which might lead some of the more mentally/emotionally unstable of them to make a mistake that might result in their detection and prosecution. (This doesn't make it wrong.)

What do you think?

10 April 2013

Today would have been Rachel Corrie's 34th birthday

Today, April 10, 2012, would have been Rachel Corrie's 34th birthday. But, sadly, Rachel is not here to blow out the birthday candles on her cake. That's because she was crushed to death in March of 2003 by a US-made Caterpillar D9 military bulldozer in Rafah while acting as a human shield, trying to stop the unlawful demolition of a civilian Palestinian home. She was only 23 years old.

I call myself a human rights activist, but Rachel was much more so. In my work, for the most part, I hide safely behind my keyboard. Rachel, on the other hand, voluntarily placed herself in physical harm's way and paid the ultimate price.

My admiration of Rachel couldn't be greater, nor could my grief at her ultimate demise.

08 April 2013

April 9 is Equal Pay Day

Tuesday, April 9, is Equal Pay Day 2013. This date symbolizes how far into the year a woman must work, on average, to catch up with what the average man earned in 2012 here in the U.S.

According to the Business and Professional Women's Foundation, women in the U.S. today on average make only 77 percent of what men earn. For women of color, it's worse: The 2009 earnings of African-American women were 67.5 percent of all men's earnings, with Latinas earning a mere 57.7 percent of all men's earnings.

As long as this gender gap continues, we're second-class citizens, with our time and labor worth less - and valued less - than those of our male counterparts.

Let's make some noise!

>> Download a fact sheet and other Equal Pay Day resources at the Business and Professional Women's Foundation website here.

02 April 2013

UN approves global Arms Trade Treaty: Good news, bad news

The good news: Today, the United Nations General Assembly voted in favor of a first-ever global Arms Trade Treaty to regulate the international flow of weapons. 154 nations voted in favor, and 3 against (Iran, Syria, and North Korea), with 23 abstentions. The signatory process will begin on June 3, and the treaty will enter into force 90 days after the 50th nation ratifies it.

The United States bravely voted in favor of the treaty despite intense pressure from the National Rifle Association, which opposes it. Apparently the NRA would prefer that warlords and other human rights abusers be allowed unfettered access to all the deadly weapons they need to oppress the masses.

Now, the bad news: According to Reuters, the NRA "has vowed to fight to prevent its ratification by the U.S. Senate when it reaches Washington." The NRA is saying that the treaty "would undermine domestic gun-ownership rights" - which is not true.

So, when the time comes, will the Senate give in to the NRA, or will it stand strong for human rights?

Stay tuned, with fingers crossed in hopes for the latter.

01 April 2013

In Aurora or anywhere, death penalty is not justice

Prosecutors in the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shooting case have rejected the defense's offer of a plea deal in which suspect James Holmes would have pled guilty in exchange for life in prison rather than the death penalty. The prosecution wants to go for the death penalty.

Some are saying that the death penalty would bring true justice and closure for the victims' families. According to CBS News, the best friend of one of the victims who died in the shooting reacted to the decision by saying, "I had a huge adrenaline rush," he said. "I love the choice, I love it, I love it ... I hope I'm in the room when he dies."

This friend apparently loves the prospect of more death, more killing. As if Aurora hasn't seen enough of that.

The death penalty may make some families feel better. But that's not about justice, it's about revenge. It's an emotional reaction rather than a thoughtful one. And it doesn't necessarily bring closure. In fact, the opposite may be true.

When a killer receives a life sentence, the victim's family gets immediate closure. They know that he will spend the rest of his life behind bars, with no freedom and in very harsh conditions, having to think every day about the reason he is there.

With the death penalty, on the other hand, families are forced to revisit the crime for years, often decades, through the necessary appeals process. Each step reopens that wound.

Some might say that the system should be sped up to avoid the years-long wait. But a look at the more than 300 former prisoners who have been exonerated in this country based on late-arriving DNA and other evidence makes it clear that we cannot rush it. We need to be sure that we are punishing the right person. There is no excuse for executing the wrong person - something that has happened at least a few times.

Even where guilt might seem obvious - as in the Aurora case - we must play by the rules to ensure equal justice for all. Otherwise, we are no better than the Taliban.