29 November 2013

Boycott SodaStream this holiday season

Today, November 29, is the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, who have for so long been subjected to horrible human rights abuses.

This holiday season, peace and justice groups are calling for a boycott of SodaStream, which makes and sells a kitchen appliance that turns still water into carbonated seltzer and soda.

SodaStream appliances are produced in one of the largest illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. The company is also accused of exploiting Palestinian workers. To purchase their product is to be complicit in these crimes.

>> Read more here.

27 November 2013

Stand with Walmart strikers on Black Friday

Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year in the U.S., is just two days away.

On this Black Friday, brave Walmart workers will be picketing in protest of their low wages and the retaliation they experience for speaking out.

What you can do:

Find a protest near you, and stand in solidarity with these brave Walmart workers.

Every worker deserves fair treatment and a living wage.

22 November 2013

My close encounter with JFK

Today is a sad anniversary - 50 years since President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

On this anniversary, I recall the time I happened to come face-to-face with JFK, while he was in the White House and I was barely in kindergarten.

My family was taking the standard White House tour, when we came to a room with a curtain blocking the entrance. The guide indicated that the president was in a meeting behind that curtain.

Being a curious child, and standing very near one end of the curtain, I pulled the corner back slightly and peeked in. The president noticed me - a little girl Caroline's age - and he smiled and waved.

He radiated friendliness and charm. That day, he became my first crush.

I will never forget that brief moment when I learned at a very young age that great people are human and can be so down-to-earth.

And I think that lesson emboldens me in my human rights work today.

20 November 2013

November 20 is National Transgender Day of Remembrance; find a vigil near you

Today, November 20, is National Transgender Day of Remembrance. Equality Pennsylvania describes this day as an occasion "to remember transgender people who have been the victims of violence that often turns fatal."

Vigils are scheduled around the country to mark this occasion.

>> Click here to find an event near you.

19 November 2013

Liz Cheney's homophobia could harm her niece and nephew

The media are abuzz this week with the news that Liz Cheney, daughter of former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and currently a candidate for the 2014 Republican nomination for U.S. senator from Wyoming, has thrown her openly lesbian sister, Mary Cheney, under the proverbial bus - perhaps for political purposes. Liz had gone on Fox News Sunday this past weekend and said, "I do believe in the traditional definition of marriage."

Mary Cheney and her wife, Heather Poe, promptly fired back. A recent article from The Hill summarizes their reaction quite well with this quote from Poe:

"Liz has been a guest in our home, has spent time and shared holidays with our children, and when Mary and I got married in 2012 — she didn't hesitate to tell us how happy she was for us. To have her now say she doesn't support our right to marry is offensive to say the least."
So it appears that Liz Cheney's newfound(?) rejection of same-sex marriage is intended to score political points with the far-right factions of the Wyoming electorate.

But I'm not worried about the electorate. I'm worried about Liz Cheney's niece and nephew - Mary's and Heather's children. Samuel is 6 years old. Sarah is 4. How will they feel when they someday learn that their Auntie Liz has suggested that their moms' marriage is somehow invalid, perhaps making them "bastards" under some definitions?

Has Liz Cheney thought about this? Does she care at all about their feelings? Or does she care only about her political ambitions?

14 November 2013

Amnesty calls for the release of Chelsea Manning (and how you can help)

Amnesty International is calling for Chelsea Manning (formerly known as Bradley Manning) to be immediately released:
Amnesty International believes that Chelsea Manning, the US soldier sentenced to 35 years' imprisonment for leaking classified government material she believed was in the public interest, should be shown clemency and immediately released. This is in recognition of:

• Her motivation: Manning acted in the hope that she could spark a meaningful debate on the costs of war and specifically on the conduct of the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

• The extended period of time she has already spent in pre-trial detention and the treatment she received, which was described by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture as cruel and inhumane.

What you can do:

>> Read more and sign Amnesty's petition here.

12 November 2013

Hawaii legalizes same-sex marriage

Good news: Today, the Hawaii state Senate passed legislation allowing same-sex marriage in that state. The state House passed the bill last Friday.

The bill is now on its way to Governor Neil Abercrombie's desk. Abercrombie, a Democrat, has indicated that he will sign the bill.

With this measure, Hawaii will become the 15th U.S. state (plus District of Columbia) to legalize same-sex marriage.

35 more states to go.

Texas death row inmate volunteers to die tonight

Tonight, Texas will execute death row inmate Jamie McCoskey for a 1991 abduction and murder. He will be the 15th prisoner to be executed this year in that state.

Most prisoners fight for a stay of execution. But not McCoskey

McCoskey wants to die to escape the horrific conditions on death row. In an open letter to Governor Rick Perry, McCoskey's friend Petra de Jong describes the prison conditions:

"They are basically stuck in a box for at least 23 hours a day. No human contact, hardly any daylight, abysmal food with hardly any nutritional value, relentless heat, continuous noise and harsh, if not outright violent, treatment by guards. Men go insane in there. Men smear themselves with feces, men gauge their own eyes out (google for Andre Thomas if you are blissfully unaware of his tragic story), men scream day and night in absolute terror."
Amnesty International and other organizations and individuals consider the death penalty to be a gross violation of human rights. But McCoskey has volunteered for death in order to escape other gross human rights violations that he and the other inmates endure every day.

And Governor Perry just continues to brag about the "justice" system in his state.

11 November 2013

Because of Congress, some vets may go hungry on this Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day in the US - a national holiday set aside each year to honor those who have served our country in armed service.

Sadly, however, many low-income vets may go hungry on this holiday due to Congress's recent cuts in SNAP benefits (formerly called food stamps).

This is how Congress chooses to thank the brave men and women who risked life and limb for us, many of whom have been wounded or otherwise traumatized in service to this country.

It is nothing short of shameful. And it is nothing short of cruel.

09 November 2013

U.S. military to provide humanitarian support in Philippines

Yesterday, a powerful typhoon hit the Philippines, leaving behind much death and destruction.

Today, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) announced that Secretary Chuck Hagel has directed U.S. Pacific Command to support federal humanitarian relief operations in the Philippines.

According to the DoD, "The initial focus includes surface maritime search and rescue (SAR), medium-heavy helicopter lift support, airborne maritime SAR, fixed-wing lift support, and logistics enablers."

Further, said the DoD, "In coordination with the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. ambassador in Manila, the Department of Defense will continue to monitor the effects of Typhoon Haiyan and stands ready to help our ally recover from the storm."

It's nice to see the U.S. military being used for constructive - rather than destructive - purposes.

07 November 2013

Senate passes ENDA: Good news, bad news, and what you can do

First, the good news:

Today, the U.S. Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) by a vote of 64-32. The New York Times called it a "a bipartisan show of support that is rare for any social issue." ENDA, if it becomes law, would prohibit discrimination against LGBT persons in hiring and in the workplace.

Now, the bad news:

It still needs to pass in the House. Speaker John Boehner opposes the bill, and has threatened to not even bring it up for a vote. Apparently he thinks that discrimination is a value worth preserving.

What you can do:

>> Sign this petition urging Boehner to allow the House to vote on ENDA.

Palestinian activist wrongly arrested for US immigration fraud (and how you can help)

A Palestinian-American activist was arrested last month for immigration fraud, in what appears to be a misinterpretation or overreach by the Department of Homeland Security.

Here is a summary of her case, via the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), followed by a link to a petition on her behalf:

"Sixty-six year old Rasmea Odeh is a Palestinian-American feminist, activist, educator and community leader who has served as the Associate Director of the Arab American Action Network (AAAN) in Chicago since 2004. On October 22, Rasmea was arrested by the Department of Homeland Security and charged with immigration fraud. [...] Rasmea's hearing is scheduled for Nov 13. [...]

"Allegedly, in her application to enter the United States, Rasmea didn't mention that she had been arrested in Palestine by an Israeli military court. Apparently she was held in Administrative Detention by Israel 45 years ago for at least six months, without charges, a hearing, or a trial. The question on the form she had to fill out is generally interpreted to mean 'Have you ever been convicted of a crime and spent time in prison for that offense?' Her supporters say without a trial, there can be no conviction, and therefore she did not falsify her application."

How you can help:

An online petition calls for the charges against Rasmea Odeh to be dropped.

>> Read and sign the petition here.

05 November 2013

Lincoln's state passes marriage equality

Good news: Today, the Illinois state legislature passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage.

Governor Pat Quinn has indicated that he will sign it into law.

I think it's very cool that Abraham Lincoln's home state has now taken this modern-day step towards equality for all.

More bad guys with guns

Last night, there was a shooting at a large shopping mall in Paramus, NJ.

Just a few days earlier, there was a deadly shooting at the Los Angeles airport.

The NRA (on whose board sit the CEOs of 2 gun manufacturing companies) would like us to believe that these things happen because we need "more good guys with guns."

But I think it's because there are too many bad guys with guns, and too many mentally unstable people with guns - a problem that reasonable gun regulations could reduce.

Big difference.

Sadly, those who have the power to enact such regulations prefer to take their orders from the NRA.

How many more people must be killed or injured because of this?

03 November 2013

American hunger and the Christian right

I have seen hunger, up close and personal, right here in the richest nation on the planet. And, despite what the so-called "Christian" right keeps telling us, I know that laziness does not explain why poor people are poor.

I grew up in a small, depressed Appalachian town. My family had enough to eat because we had a large garden that yielded enough fruits and veggies to last throughout the year, and because my Italian grandmother, who lived with us, knew how to turn some cheap flour and yeast into wonderful homemade baked goods.

We also regularly fed many of the kids from the neighborhood, who would flock to our house when they smelled the delicious aromas emerging from the kitchen, where Grandma held court each day.

But we couldn't feed them three meals each and every day. So much of the time I saw my less fortunate friends and their siblings munching on mayonnaise sandwiches, or, if they were lucky, SpaghettiOs with buttered bread.

The parents in that town were not lazy. In fact, many of them worked harder than any Congressman or CEO.

My father was an auto mechanic. In fact, he was a mechanical genius, having built his own tractor (for the aforementioned garden) from spare parts. But he had neither the education nor the opportunity to make it big. He wouldn't have wanted to. He was comfortable in his little garage, adjacent to our modest house, fixing the townspeople's cars and trucks. But he could charge only what the market would bear. And, in that town, people didn't have much money to spend.

Most of the other fathers worked either in the nearby coal mines or for the Pennsylvania Railroad, which ran through the town. Often, the workers would go on strike, and I would see my friends panic because of the hardships they would endure when the household income went away for a time. But collective bargaining is a human right, and labor strikes are a frequent part of that. Without the unions and strikes, things would have been even worse. Fortunately, many of these families received food stamps.

Today, two of the GOP's main goals are to cut social services like food stamps (now called SNAP) and to crack down on the unions - with the ultimate goal of eventually destroying both. And they are doing this at a time when our troubled economy has created more families that desperately need these support systems. These people are not lazy - there just aren't enough jobs to go around. And many of the employed are stuck in part-time jobs, or are struggling to make ends meet at minimum wage.

Still, the GOP just continues to feed us the myth of the lazy poor, as they have for decades.

They have the nerve to call themselves "Christian". But, as I recall from reading the Bible, Jesus fed people liberally without judging them. The loaves and fishes, if you believe the story, came with no strings attached; they were simply an act of Christian generosity.

Sadly, Christian generosity is something we rarely see these days in Washington or on Wall Street.