27 December 2013

Federal judge says NSA phone surveillance is legal; ACLU responds

Today, a federal judge in New York ruled that the National Security Agency's phone surveillance program is lawful.

The suit had been brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) after the mass spying program was revealed via NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU's deputy legal director, issued the following statement in response to today's ruling:

"We are extremely disappointed with this decision, which misinterprets the relevant statutes, understates the privacy implications of the government's surveillance, and misapplies a narrow and outdated precedent to read away core constitutional protections. As another federal judge and the president's own review group concluded last week, the National Security Agency's bulk collection of telephony data constitutes a serious invasion of Americans' privacy."
The ACLU plans to appeal the decision. Stay tuned.

20 December 2013

Judge legalizes same-sex marriage in Utah - BUT...

The good news:

Today, a federal judge ruled that Utah's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. Same-sex couples in that state responded by racing to the altar. Love is in the air in Utah, and it's a beautiful thing.

This is particularly satisfying because the Mormon Church, which is headquartered in Utah, spent so much money and other resources towards passing Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California. Today, poetic justice, as more than one person tweeted.

Now, the bad news:

Homophobic Utah officials will appeal today's ruling.

Stay tuned for updates.

10 December 2013

What you can do for Human Rights Day

Today, December 10, is Human Rights Day. It is the 65th anniversary of the adoption in 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations General Assembly. This project was led by Eleanor Roosevelt in the wake of World War II, to define a worldwide, inter-cultural set of non-derogable human rights.

It wasn't an easy undertaking. There were lots of disagreements, lots of arguments. But, in the end, this inter-cultural group, representing virtually all regions and cultures of the world, agreed on the 30 articles set forth in the Declaration.

These rights were determined to be the fair universal standards required to ensure the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family, which is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world.

The cultural diversity involved in developing this Declaration is a testament to its universality and lack of bias.

Still, however, human rights continue to be violated - right here in the USA and all around the world.

What you can do:

Here are some things you can do today - or anytime - to help advance the cause of human rights worldwide:

Read the UDHR and share its message with your friends, family, and social networks.

Take action online to fight human rights violations. Individuals can make a difference!


• Make a year-end donation to a human rights organization. Here are some of my favorites:
     Amnesty International
     Human Rights First
     Human Rights Watch

07 December 2013

Just say no to the Salvation Army

The holiday shopping season is in full swing, and so is the Salvation Army's annual fundraising campaign, with SA troops ringing their bells and begging for donations in shopping centers across the country.

And shoppers, without thinking and without researching where their money is going, again naively throw their money away into the SA's little red kettles.

Please don't do that.

You see, the Salvation Army is not the kind and generous operation it purports to be. The organization - and its leaders at all levels - have a long and disturbing history of religious coercion, abuse, intolerance, and dishonesty.

I wrote a a piece in December of 2008 that addressed the organization's history of religious intolerance and coercion. You have to pray to their particular god to qualify for help, no matter how dire your needs.

That article generated a lot of other stories from readers who showed me that the Salvation Army was even worse than the racket I had exposed in 2008. So I wrote a follow-up piece the next year highlighting questionable activity including cases where donations didn't go where expected, but instead were taken by SA staff. Employees and volunteers who complained about these things were disciplined. There were enough reports to suggest a pattern.

Here are links to those two pieces:

• December 2008: The Salvation Army's red kettle of trouble

• December 2009: The Salvation Army: It gets worse

And similar stories continue to roll in.

So now, armed with the truth, please just say no to the Salvation Army - this holiday season and every year. And also warn everyone you know.

04 December 2013

Support striking fast food workers on Thursday, Dec. 5

On Black Friday, Nov. 29, people around the U.S. came out in support of low-paid and oppressed Walmart workers.

This week, on Thursday, Dec. 5, we need to stand with striking fast food workers, many of whom are also unable to make ends meet.

>> Read more and find a protest location near you.

01 December 2013

Remembering Martina Davis-Correia

Today is a sad anniversary: Martina Davis-Correia died on December 1, 2011, after a long battle with breast cancer.

Despite her illness, Martina fought tirelessly and selflessly to prove that her brother, Georgia death row inmate Troy Davis, was innocent.

Sadly, Georgia executed Troy anyway on September 21, 2011, despite compelling evidence that he may indeed have been innocent. Martina followed him to her own grave shortly thereafter.

I generally don't believe in an afterlife. However, at times like this, I wish there were one, so that Martina and Troy could be together forever, enjoying their strong and inspiring sibling bond through eternity. Maybe they are.

HIV/AIDS and Obamacare

Today, December 1, is World AIDS Day. And this year I'm thinking of how the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare) is so important in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Under Obamacare, HIV/AIDS patients can no longer be denied medical insurance coverage due to their preexisting condition.

Furthermore, many Americans who are currently unaware that they carry the HIV virus can now take advantage of their better insurance coverage and get tested and treated.

With those challenges out of the way, we can now put more resources towards finding a cure and conquering the stigma that HIV/AIDS patients still face.