19 November 2014

Today would have been Brittany Maynard's 30th birthday

Brittany Maynard chose not to live to see her 30th birthday. Instead, on November 1, she used Oregon's death-with-dignity law to end her life on her own terms with prescribed medication before her suffering from terminal cancer could get worse. As Maynard's mother recently wrote, Brittany made a choice "to die gently rather than suffer physical and mental degradation and intense pain."

I respect that choice.

As I wrote in a recent column, when a pet becomes ill to the point where it is near death or suffering uncontrollably, a veterinarian will not think twice before recommending that the pet be euthanized, to put the animal out of its misery. So why do we treat our dying pets with more mercy than we treat our dying people?

If there is a heaven, I hope Brittany is having her best birthday ever.

10 November 2014

This week, the U.S. must answer to the world on torture

Today, the United Nations Committee Against Torture kicked off a session to review steps by countries to prevent torture and punish those who use it.

According to Human Rights First, "[t]he United States is one of eight nations that will appear before the committee in Geneva to describe its efforts to fulfill [its] obligation to comply with the U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Obama Administration is now making its final decision on how it interprets the treaty. The George W. Bush Administration interpreted the treaty as not applying to CIA and military prisons overseas. That position drew bipartisan ire and was opposed by then-Senator Barack Obama." But that was a while ago, and I'm feeling cynical.

According to Prensa Latina, review of the U.S. record will occur on November 12-13, and will look at CIA secret detentions, Guantanamo, immigration issues, and police misconduct, among other issues.

Human Rights First also noted that "[f]ormer Nobel Peace Prize laureates and retired military officers are among those urging President Obama to make a clean break from the Bush Administration’s interpretation."

Will he listen?

I don't dare guess. But my fingers are crossed.

03 November 2014

Election Day resources

Tuesday, November 4, is Election Day in the U.S.

If you are registered to vote, please do so, if you haven't already voted early. Voting is not just a right and a privilege, I think it is also a responsibility in a true democracy. Even for the mid-terms.

And Vote411.org is making it easy. Go to their website here and enter your address. Then you'll be able to verify your registration status, preview your ballot, and find out where to vote.

See you at the polls!

And please bring some friends or family members with you.

26 October 2014

Amnesty International reports on human rights abuses in Ferguson

Amnesty International (AI) recently released a report on human rights abuses in Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of the August 9th shooting of black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer.

The report, titled On the Streets of America: Human Rights Abuses in Ferguson, outlines the findings by AI observers who were in Ferguson from August 14-22 to monitor the post-shooting protests and police response, along with recommendations to local, state and federal authorities regarding both the use of lethal force and the policing of protests.

The report addresses the following issues:

• Use of lethal force

• Racial discrimination and excessive use of police force

• Law enforcement response to protests

• Imposition of restrictions on the rights to protest - curfews, designated protest areas, and other restrictions

• Intimidation of protesters

• Use of tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protests

• Use of Long Range Acoustic Devices

• Restrictions on the media as well as legal and human rights observers at protests

• Failures of accountability for law enforcement in policing protests

"What Amnesty International witnessed in Missouri on the ground this summer underscored that human rights abuses do not just happen across borders and oceans," said Steven W. Hawkins, executive director of AI USA. "No matter where you live in the world, everyone is entitled to the same basic rights as a human being – and one of those rights is the freedom to peacefully protest. Standing on W. Florissant Avenue with my colleagues, I saw a police force, armed to the teeth, with military-grade weapons. I saw a crowd that included the elderly and young children fighting the effects of tear gas. There must be accountability and systemic change that follows this excessive force."

"The events in Ferguson sparked a much-needed and long-overdue conversation on race and policing in America," added Hawkins. "That conversation cannot stop. In order to restore justice to Ferguson, and every community afflicted by police brutality, we must both document the injustices committed and fight to prevent them from happening again. There is a path forward, but it requires substantive actions on the local, state, and federal levels."

>> Read the full report.

25 October 2014

F___ human rights?!

While visiting the Facebook page of the USA section of Amnesty International, specifically a post regarding this morning's execution in Iran of a woman who killed her rapist in self-defense, I noticed that a Scott Davies shared the following comment: "F___ human rights." (Emphasis mine.)

But he spelled it all out.

I wonder: Why would someone be so opposed to human rights?

And, perhaps even more disturbing: As of this writing, his comment has 3 "Likes".

What drives these people?!

22 October 2014

Malala receives Liberty Medal

Last night, Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai received the 2014 Liberty Medal here in Philadelphia "for her continued demonstration of courage and resilience in the face of adversity and for serving as a powerful voice for those who have been denied their basic human rights and liberties." She is the youngest-ever recipient of the Medal.

This came after Malala had already spent a busy day speaking at the Forbes Under 30 summit, which is being held in Philly this week. There, she was also a hit.

Congratulations to Malala for this well-deserved recognition.

21 October 2014

New PA law threatens prisoners' freedom of speech

Earlier this month, on invitation, controversial convicted Philadelphia cop killer and former death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal (now serving a life sentence) spoke remotely to Goddard College's graduation class. And some people didn't like it. So the Pennsylvania state legislature fast-tracked a bill called the "Revictimization Relief Act", which allows crime victims to sue to stop offenders from speaking if it might cause the victims mental anguish.

Today, Governor Tom Corbett signed that bill into law.

That slope seems pretty slippery to me.

And civil rights advocates are accusing the new law of violating the First Amendment, so I'm guessing that there's probably another kind of lawsuit brewing here. I certainly hope so.

Let me say right now that this is not a blog post about Mumia. I've written all I have to say (for now) about him here. This is about Pennsylvania's new law in general and First Amendment rights in particular.

"This bill [is] terrible public policy," said PA State Senator Daylin Leach (D, District 17), who voted against it. "You can punish certain, limited types of speech after the fact (libel, lying in advertising, etc.)," he continued. "But you can never (except for revealing state military secrets) be restrained from speaking before you speak. This is the most extreme violation of the First Amendment imaginable."

"Keep in mind, the First Amendment was designed specifically to protect unpopular speakers, like Mumia," said Leach. "Popular speakers with popular messages don't need First Amendment protection. Nobody is trying to silence them. When I taught First Amendment law, I would tell my students: 'To see if you really believe in free speech, think of the speech you hate the most, and defend that.'"



"The First Amendment is often inconvenient. But that is beside the point. Inconvenience does not absolve the government of its obligation to tolerate speech."
-- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy

Monica's life was ruined, but Bill's got better

Yesterday, Monica Lewinsky spoke here in Philly at a Forbes "30 Under 30" summit. She gave an emotional speech that set the Twittersphere on fire, in a very positive sense.

So I decided to research what Lewinsky's been up to in the more than 15 years since the scandal arose when it was discovered that she, a White House Intern at the time, was getting it on with then-President Bill Clinton.

As it turns out, she's been very busy. She earned a graduate degree from the London School of Economics - impressive! And she's done some public appearances. But, according to Wikipedia, this poised, smart, and well educated young woman can't find a steady job - or a steady guy.

While I do not condone Lewinsky's affair with Bill Clinton, I think she's been treated quite unfairly. While Bill Clinton was impeached by the House because of the affair (a partisan overreaction, in my opinion), the Senate overturned it, and he has gone on to become one of the most popular former presidents this nation has ever seen.

But we shouldn't be surprised. Here in the USA, in matters of illicit sex, the man is usually seen as a stud, while the woman is usually seen as a slut.

And it's so unfair when this double standard serves to waste the potential of someone as impressive (affair aside) as Monica Lewinsky.

After all, who hasn't done something stupid at age 22?

18 October 2014

Mexico releases prisoner of conscience

Good news: According to Amnesty International (AI), "[p]risoner of conscience and torture victim Ángel Amílcar Colón Quevedo has been released from [a Mexican] prison after five years in pre-trial detention, in a move that is welcome but long overdue."

Huge thanks to the more than 20,000 AI activists who have taken action demanding his release.

The following is AI's summary of the case:

Ángel Colón was arrested by police in Tijuana, northern Mexico, while traveling from his home in Honduras to the United States in March 2009. He was then tortured by police and soldiers: beaten, asphyxiated and racially abused. He was forced to sign a false statement which was used to implicate him in criminal activity. He retracted the statement when brought before a judge and reported his torture to the authorities who failed to take any action.

The Mexican Federal Attorney General has now agreed to drop charges against Ángel Colón and he has been released unconditionally.

"Ángel Colón suffered torture at the hands of the Mexican authorities and has had years of his life wasted in pre-trial detention. This is an outrage," said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at AI. "The Mexican authorities can and do more to ensure torture is never used by police or military officials, and that any reports of torture are swiftly and thoroughly investigated. They cannot allow the injustices inflicted on Ángel Colón to ever be repeated."

But, sadly, Ángel Colón's case is not unusual.

Last month, AI published a report, Out of control: Torture and other ill-treatment in Mexico, which noted that reports of torture and other ill-treatment at the hands of police and soldiers had risen by 600 percent over a decade.

According to a survey conducted by AI, 64 percent of Mexicans said they were afraid of being tortured if detained by the police or other authorities.

But we'll be watching.

See a moving video message from Ángel Colón here.

14 October 2014

On Thursday, Oct. 16, wear purple to fight bullying!

Thursday, October 16, is Spirit Day 2014.

Spirit Day, named for the purple stripe of the rainblow flag representing "spirit", was established as an opportunity for people to speak out against the plague of bullying aimed at LGBT youth.

On Thursday, please wear purple to show your support. I certainly will, as I do every year. (The photo is of me wearing purple for the first Spirit Day in 2010.)

Do more:

>> Find more Spirit Day actions at www.glaad.org/spiritday.

12 October 2014

A youthful spin on the right-to-die movement

Terminally ill 29-year-old newlywed Brittany Maynard is the new face of the right-to-die movement - a movement previously associated primarily with much older people.

Maynard suffers from a glioblastoma brain tumor - the deadliest form of brain cancer - and her doctors have predicted that she has only a few months to live, at most. So on November 1, Maynard plans to take her own life using medications prescribed by her doctor in accordance with Oregon's Death with Dignity law. Maynard moved from her native California to Oregon in order to take advantage of the law.

To date, only 4 U.S. states - Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington - have legalized physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients, allowing them to die on their own terms. It allows them to choose a quick and dignified death over a painful, lingering one.

Furthermore, Maynard has teamed up with the nonprofit organization Compassion & Choices (formerly known as the Hemlock Society) to launch an online campaign to draw attention to the issue. (Full disclosure: I am a lifetime member of Compassion & Choices.) Hopefully this campaign, and the extensive press coverage it's been receiving, will trigger a new national dialog that will prompt more states to adopt their own Death with Dignity laws.

So-called "pro-life" groups typically oppose physician-assisted suicide. I guess they would prefer that the terminally ill be forced to tolerate the sometimes excruciating pain and suffering that accompany so many terminal conditions. What kind of "life" is that?

And I guess they want the families to suffer, too, as they watch their loved ones die slowly, sometimes over several months or even years, perhaps kept alive artificially with respirators and feeding tubes.

What it boils down to is this: While life is precious and should not be thrown away lightly, modern medical science cannot yet provide adequate pain control in all dying patients, even in the best hospices.

While physicians do take an oath to "do no harm", is it not harmful to force a dying patient to suffer a slow, lingering death against his or her will, perhaps kept alive artificially with respirators and feeding tubes?

When a pet becomes ill to the point where it is near death or suffering uncontrollably, a veterinarian will not think twice before recommending that the pet be euthanized, to put the animal out of its misery.

So why do we treat our dying pets with more mercy than we treat our dying people?


"I didn't launch this campaign because I wanted attention; in fact, it's hard for me to process it all. I did this because I want to see a world where everyone has access to death with dignity, as I have had. My journey is easier because of this choice."
-- Brittany Maynard

11 October 2014

Eleanor Roosevelt was much more than a wife

Today is October 11, and I just learned that Eleanor Roosevelt was born on this date in 1884. The website FamousBirthdays.com describes her as a "Political Wife". But Eleanor Roosevelt was so much more than that, and I want the world to know. She is one of our historical figures whom I admire the most.

After her time as First Lady of New York and then First Lady of the United States (during which time she was a very vocal civil rights activist), Eleanor Roosevelt served as a U.S. delegate to the United Nations General Assembly, as well as the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which she chaired from 1946 to 1951. While at the UN, Roosevelt played an instrumental role in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

She later became the first chair of the newly created Presidential Commission on the Status of Women under President John F. Kennedy.

Eleanor Roosevelt received no less than 35 honorary degrees.

These are not the accomplishments of a mere "Political Wife". She was a political powerhouse in her own right. And she did it all with great compassion.

The world is a better place because of her contributions.

10 October 2014

Much meaning and symbolism in this year's Nobel Peace Prize

Today, the Nobel Committee announced that Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi of India will share this year's Nobel Peace Prize "for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education."

Malala was shot by the Pakistani Taliban in 2012 for advocating for girls' right to education. The tragedy only inspired her to work even harder, and on an international scale.

Satyarthi has worked for more than three decades as a children's rights activist, focusing on issues such as child labor and slavery.

This year's award is remarkable for a number of reasons.

First, 17-year-old Malala becomes the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Second, the Nobel Committee "regards it as an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism."

"Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai are both incredible examples of each individual's power to improve our world," said Kerry Kennedy, President of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. "Though they are decades apart in age, and though they hail from two countries historically hostile to one another, they share a common commitment to peace, justice, and human dignity. They are richly deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize."

Huge congratulations to both of these great human rights defenders, with thanks for their hard work, their courage, and their strength. I am inspired.

07 October 2014

Same-sex marriage is on a roll - Idaho and Nevada today!

Another good step towards equality for all: Today, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco struck down Idaho's and Nevada's bans on same-sex marriage on grounds that they violated equal protection rights.

This comes on the heels of yesterday's U.S. Supreme Court decision not to review five same-sex marriage cases, thus upholding lower court rulings allowing same-sex couples to marry in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The momentum is great. I have a feeling that it will continue. Fingers crossed.

06 October 2014

SCOTUS paves the way for legalized same-sex marriage in majority of states

Today, in another great step forward towards equal rights for all, the US Supreme Court decided not to review five same-sex marriage cases, thus upholding lower court rulings allowing same-sex couples to marry Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

According to the Washington Post, "the decision will likely expand same-sex marriages to other states covered by the federal appeals courts that already have ruled that the bans are unconstitutional, including Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, West Virginia, North Carolina[,] and South Carolina. That would bring to 30 the number of states where gays can marry."

This demonstrates that the Supremes can still do some things right.

Fingers crossed in hopes that similar cases yield similar results in the remaining 20 states in my lifetime.

30 September 2014

US signs endless-war treaty in Afghanistan, appears insane

Today, according to the Washington Post, the US and Afghanistan signed a security agreement that "allows for 9,800 U.S. troops to stay in the country past 2014 to help train, equip[,] and advise Afghan military and police forces."

We've been in Afghanistan since 2001. We've spent the past 13 years "help[ing] train, equip, and advise Afghan military and police forces." If it hasn't worked by now, there's got to be an underlying reason that requires a different approach.

It brings to mind Albert Einstein's definition of insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

23 September 2014

China is exporting torture

Research by Amnesty International (AI) and the Omega Research Foundation has uncovered a "flourishing trade" in the "export of tools of torture by Chinese companies" which is fueling human rights violations worldwide.

A new report, titled China's Trade in Tools of Torture and Repression, alleges that more than 130 Chinese companies are currently involved in the "production and trade of potentially dangerous law enforcement equipment."

According to AI, "Some of the devices openly marketed by these companies - including electric shock stun batons, metal spiked batons, and weighted leg cuffs - are intrinsically cruel and inhumane and therefore should immediately be banned. Other equipment - that can have legitimate use in policing - such as tear gas and plastic projectiles or riot control vehicles - is being exported from China even when there is a substantial risk of serious human rights violations by the receiving law enforcement agencies."

"Increasing numbers of Chinese companies are profiting from the trade in tools of torture and repression," said Patrick Wilcken, an AI security trade and human rights researcher. "This trade - which causes immense suffering - is flourishing because the Chinese authorities have done nothing to stop companies supplying these sickening devices for export or to prevent policing equipment falling into the hands of known human rights abusers."

"There is no excuse whatsoever for allowing the manufacture and trade in equipment for which the primary purpose is to torture or inflict cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment on people," said Wilcken. "These heinous acts are totally banned under international law and Chinese authorities should immediately place a ban on the production and trade in such cruel and inhumane devices."

Most of the Chinese companies are state-owned.

AI and Omega are urging the Chinese authorities and those of all other countries to:

- impose an immediate ban on the production and trade of inherently abusive equipment;

- immediately suspend or deny trade licenses for the supply of other equipment to law enforcement agencies and forces where there is a substantial risk the equipment will be used to commit or facilitate serious human rights violations;

- establish export control regulations and practices for the control of security and police equipment that can have a legitimate use but is easy to abuse; and

- end all torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and punishment, as well as the use of arbitrary force, and investigate all allegations of such acts to bring the perpetrators to justice.

>> Download the report (PDF).

22 September 2014

US State Dept announces aid to Gaza; too little too late?

Today, the State Department announced that the US will provide more than $71 million in "additional life-saving humanitarian assistance to help meet emergency needs in Gaza," noting that "[m]ore than 58,000 people are still sheltering in United Nations facilities and basic necessities like food, clean water, and fuel remain in short supply throughout the territory."

Good. That aid is much needed.

However, we must not lose sight of the fact that the US appears to be playing both sides of this conflict.

Israel, which US officials repeatedly refer to as our "ally", remains the largest recipient of military assistance, having received some $3.1 billion in military aid last year alone.

Our $71 million in humanitarian aid to Gaza pales in comparison.

And it seems ironic, given that our aid to Israel has contributed to the need for our aid to Gaza.

14 September 2014

Get a flu shot, give a free vaccine to a child who needs it

It's time for my annual flu shot, and I'm going to get mine at Walgreens this year. That's because Walgreens is partnering with the United Nations Foundation's Shot@Life campaign.

When you get a flu shot at Walgeens now through October 13, the program will provide a vaccine against polio or measles to a child in a developing country.

To learn more about the Shot@Life program, click here.

Note: Walgreens is not paying me to promote their flu shots (or for anything else). I just think this program is worth sharing.

13 September 2014

Student POC released from prison in Tajikistan

More proof that worldwide activism can save lives: According to Amnesty International, Alexander Sodiqov has been released from prison in Tajikistan and is now back home in Canada!

Amnesty considered Sodiqov a prisoner of conscience "who was detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression, as he had been undertaking legitimate academic research intended for publication." He was the subject of Amnesty's Urgent Action 157/14.

Thanks to all who took action on his behalf.

08 September 2014

Busted: See satellite images of Russian military build-up in Ukraine

Amnesty International has released satellite images that appear to illustrate "a build-up of Russian armour and artillery in eastern Ukraine." This is despite the Kremlin's denial of any involvement in the fighting in Ukraine.

You can view the images here.

Click on an image to view a detailed analysis of what you're seeing.

Thanks to technology like this, it's harder now for the bad guys to hide their actions.

Read more about Amnesty's findings in Ukraine here.

02 September 2014

Amnesty condemns Israel's latest illegal land grab

We recently learned that Israel is planning to illegally "settle" 988 acres of Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank - the largest such land grab in 30 years. Even the generally pro-Israel U.S. government is pushing back this time.

And now Amnesty International (AI) - which researches, reports on, and condemns human rights abuses on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - has issued a statement about this latest move by Israel, saying that "[t]he Israeli authorities' outrageous plan to expropriate nearly 1,000 acres of land in the West Bank is illegal and must be rescinded immediately."

"Israel's strategy of illegally confiscating land for settlements in the West Bank must stop once and for all," said Philip Luther, AI's Director for the Middle East and North Africa. "Not only it is illegal under international law but it is leading to a wide range of violations of Palestinians' human rights on a mass scale."

"Reports that that the Israeli cabinet justified this land grab as a reaction to the deplorable murder in June of three Israeli teenagers suggests this is an act of collective punishment and that Israel is moving further and further away from its obligations under international law," Luther continued.

According to AI, "Israel is appropriating the land based on its interpretation of a law dating back to the Ottoman era which declares an area 'state land' if it has not been cultivated or farmed for several consecutive years." But the Ottoman era was hundreds of years ago. Things have changed, including international human rights laws and treaties.

It's time for Israel to get with the 21st century and start respecting Palestinian human rights and other obligations under international law. Failure to do so will only continue to exacerbate tensions throughout the Middle East region. And we certainly don't need that.

28 August 2014

A mayor's immigration irony

In his column today in the Washington Post, Dana Milbank writes about the anti-immigration rantings of Judith Flanagan Kennedy, mayor of Lynn, Massachusetts.

I couldn't help but notice the mayor's name, which clearly suggests that she is of Irish descent. And I couldn't help but recall the stories of how badly Irish immigrants were treated a century ago. They got no respect - kind of like the Guatemalan immigrants of today whom the mayor disparages.

Sadly, I'm sure the mayor doesn't see the irony here.

24 August 2014

Rights groups react to the murder of journalist James Foley

James Foley was a much stronger journalist than I could ever hope to be. Foley went missing in Syria in 2012, and it appears that he remained stoic right through the last words he spoke on video just before his brutal beheading by an Islamic State terrorist thug.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), "Islamic State kidnaps, kills, and threatens journalists wherever it holds sway. Syria is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists, with at least 70 killed covering the conflict."

Amnesty International (AI) has called Foley's murder a war crime. "Those who carried out the killing and those who ordered it must face justice," said Margaret Huang, AIUSA's Deputy Executive Director of Campaigns and Programs.

"It is imperative that all warring countries and others with interests in the region use all diplomatic means possible to ensure that no more journalists - or others carrying out their legitimate work in the area – are killed for doing their job," declared Said Boumedouha, AI's Deputy Director of Middle East and North Africa Program. "The militants also claim to be holding another U.S. journalist, Steven Sotloff, and state that his life depends on U.S. President Barack Obama's next move."

"The implication made in the video that journalists are being targeted in revenge for the U.S. government's involvement in Iraq is deeply alarming and increases fears that other hostages may be at heightened risk," Boumedouha continued. "Journalists, like all civilians, are bystanders in armed conflict and must be protected from harm rather than singled out for brutal killings."

Human Rights Watch (HRW) agrees, stating that "[g]roups detaining journalists should immediately and unconditionally release them."

"James went to Syria because of his commitment to exposing the horrors civilians faced since the uprising against the government there," said Peter Bouckaert, HRW's Emergencies Director and a personal friend of Foley's. "He, like the other journalists who are now held prisoner in Syria, courageously risked his life so that the world might know the truth and act to ease the suffering of the Syrian people."

Bouckaert continued: "I wish there was no video showing his brutal execution to haunt his family and friends forever. It is unbearable to think of Jim's final terror-filled moments, designed by the Islamic State to horrify us all. It is unbearable to think that there are still other hostages in the hands of the Islamic State, hostages kept for the same purpose. It is unbearable to think of the hundreds of mostly nameless Iraqis and Syrians who have suffered the same fate as Jim at the hands of the Islamic State, but Jim would want us to think of them."

"Goodbye, dear Jim," said Bouckaert. "We will remember you for the beauty of your life well lived and not its brutal end."

21 August 2014

9/21: Join me in NYC for the People's Climate March (or get active where you live)

Hundreds - literally hundreds - of organizations have joined together to plan what we hope will be the largest climate march in history.

The People's Climate March is scheduled for September 21, starting at 11:30 am, in New York City. Please join me there, if you can.

Get the details at www.peoplesclimate.org/march. There you'll find info on the march route, a schedule of events, transportation and housing information, and everything else you need to know to participate.

If you can't get to NYC:

Other events are being planned around the world throughout that weekend.

To find an event near you, or to organize an event, go to www.peoplesclimate.org/global.

18 August 2014

New report on U.S. hunger brings alarming news

Today, the organization Feeding America released the results of a new study on hunger in America. The group calls the study "the nation’s largest and most comprehensive insight into charitable food distribution in the United States."

While the report seems partially self-promotional for the Feeding America program, its data is nonetheless alarming.

Some highlights (or, I should say, lowlights):

The Feeding America program serves 46.5 million food-insecure people each year. That's 1 in 7 Americans. Yes, 1 in 7!

That number includes 12 million American children and 7 million seniors.

20% of households served by Feeding America have a member who has served in the U.S. military. In other words, we support our troops by making them resort to food pantries and other services so they won't starve.

41% of supported households have a member with a post-high-school education.

And one has to wonder how much worse the problem would seem if the report were to factor in those who do not seek or accept food donations from Feeding America or other relief agencies. I know they're out there.

>> Read more and download the report.

14 August 2014

Ferguson and Gaza

In Ferguson, Missouri, just outside of St. Louis, citizens continue to protest the recent shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown at the hands of a local (and as yet unnamed) cop.

And the police are overreacting, to put it mildly. Provoked by a very few unruly protestors, they have been using tear gas, and military equipment and tactics, against even peaceful demonstrators. They've even arrested some reporters who were covering the protests.

These cops are engaging in collective punishment, which is a clear-cut human rights violation. You can take action against your aggressors; they are fair game. But innocent bystanders are supposed to be off-limits.

It reminds me of the current situation in Gaza, where the Israeli military is overreacting to a handful of rockets and a handful of casualties - mostly military - perpetrated by a few bad apples.

Israel has responded by bombing civilian structures, including multiple United Nations bomb shelters. As a result, the Palestinian death count - mostly civilian - has risen to at least 1,959.

Violence is never a viable solution to a political/diplomatic problem - be it in Ferguson or in Gaza. And hope is lost whenever a Gazan baby is injured or killed, and also whenever an innocent Ferguson protestor has his or her human rights violated by those whom we pay to protect us from such things.

11 August 2014

Amnesty releases new report on civilian casualties in Afghanistan

Today, Amnesty International released a new report on "failures of accountability for civilian casualties caused by international military operations in Afghanistan."

Says Amnesty: "Thousands of Afghan civilians have been killed since 2001 by international forces, and thousands more have been injured. This report examines the record of accountability for civilian deaths caused by international military operations in the five-year period from 2009 to 2013. In particular, it focuses on the performance of the US government in investigating possible war crimes and in prosecuting those suspected of criminal responsibility for such crimes. Its overall finding is that the record is poor."

According to the Geneva Conventions, civilians are supposed to be off-limits in armed combat. Unfortunately, that standard is too often ignored. And, too often, the violators get away with their war crimes.

Please help me spread the word. The more people know, the more they will fight back. Hopefully.

>> Download the report. (PDF)

04 August 2014

More evidence that Texas executed an innocent man

I've written before about the likelihood that Cameron Todd Willingham, executed by Texas in 2004 for an alleged arson that claimed the lives of his three daughters, was actually not guilty. A posthumous forensic review of the case led to the conclusion that "a finding of arson could not be sustained." In other words, the fire for which Willingham was executed was probably just an accident.

Now there is even more reason to believe that Willingham's conviction was based on faulty "evidence". According to the Washington Post, a former witness in the Willingham trial, who had claimed that Willingham had confessed to him in prison, now says that he lied in order to get a lighter sentence for himself.

The arson issue was reason enough to give Willingham the benefit of the doubt. This new revelation sheds an even harsher light on the injustices in our so-called justice system.

And Texas likely killed an innocent man. An irreversible punishment. Oops!

I can think of no better reason to oppose the death penalty.

24 July 2014

'An eye for an eye' is a problem

Last night, there was another botched execution - this one in Arizona. It took Joseph Wood almost two hours to die, during which time he was reportedly gasping and snorting while strapped to the gurney with the fatal drugs flowing into his veins.

This comes just three months after another botched execution. In Texas in April, Clayton Lockett died after reportedly writhing and groaning for 43 minutes.

The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishments, including torture. I am not a doctor, but it sure seems as though Wood and Lockett may have been slowly tortured to death. In any case, we don't know for certain how much pain they experienced. And that unknown seems like reason enough to immediately abolish lethal injection.

But some people seem to think that torturing the torturer is the fair thing to do.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said in an official statement regarding last night's Joseph Wood execution that "[t]his is in stark comparison to the gruesome, vicious suffering that he inflicted on his two victims - and the lifetime of suffering he has caused their family."

That's the old "eye for an eye" attitude. Wood made people suffer, so he deserves to suffer at least equally. But we as a society should be above the level of the criminal.

And, surprisingly, I got a similar pro-death reaction from a Facebook friend who (unlike Gov. Brewer) is otherwise fairly progressive. She saw it as possible karmic payback. But it's not up to us human beings to dole out karmic justice. It is, by definition, best left to some higher force in the universe. Because we humans are so fallible.

As Mohandas Gandhi said, "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind."

23 July 2014

Tomorrow, 7/24: Day of Action for Gaza!

The Israeli military continues its attacks on Gaza, and innocent Palestinian men, women, and children continue to die.

NPR reported today that the Palestinian death toll had risen to 649 in the 16 days since the assault began, most of them civilians. By comparison, only 29 Israelis have died in the conflict, most of them soldiers. In other words, it's a very lopsided massacre. And civilians are supposed to be off-limits in armed conflict, per international law.

We must raise our voices and do something about this.

So, on Thursday, July 24, activists and concerned Americans across the nation will participate in an urgent National Day of Action for Gaza.

Please join us.

What you can do:

Sign on and tell Congress to push for a ceasefire now!

• Use social media to spread the word and share the petition to Congress.

Find a protest near you.

• Get more ideas at Code Pink's Pink Tank.

21 July 2014

Obama signs order to protect LGBT federal employees and contractors

Today, in another step forward towards equality for all, President Obama signed an executive order that guarantees workplace protections for LGBT employees of the federal government and federal contractors.

Then he urged Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit discrimination by any employer with at least 15 employees. Of course, that bill has gotten nowhere in the House, even after passing the Senate last November by a bipartisan vote of 64-32.

It shouldn't be an issue at all. This is 21st century America. Non-discrimination should be a no-brainer.

But let's be grateful for each small piece of progress. Kudos to President Obama for taking this step today.

20 July 2014

Israel uses shrapnel bombs in Gaza, violates international law

According to the European Institute for International Law and International Relations (EIILIR), a Norwegian surgeon told the French newspaper l'Humanité that "Israel is using Dense Inert Metal Explosive bombs in Gaza, violating the Protocol 1 of the Geneva Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, to which Israel is party."

Dr. Erik Fosse, on a humanitarian mission, said these bombs "have a shrapnel effect on civilians," and their use may amount to a war crime.

According to the EIILIR, "Dense Inert Metal Explosive are a mix of explosive material and small particles of chemically inert material, for instance tungsten. The metal is mixed in very small particles (1 – 2 mm) or in powder, and thus the micro-shrapnel can slice through soft tissue and bone. The mix, in a carbon fibre casing, has a very potent shrapnel effect in a small radius : the probability of killing people within a small radius is increased, and survivors may have to be amputated (esp. of the lower limbs), because the shrapnel cannot be detected through x-ray in the bodies of the victims and the injury cannot be cured. The tungsten powder « dissolves » in the body, and any minor injury interferes with the clotting process, leading to profuse bleeding."

And, to add insult to injury (literally), Israel dismisses these casualties as mere "collateral damage".

19 July 2014

Why I won't use eHarmony

When people think of online dating sites, eHarmony is probably one of the first ones that come to mind, because of their ubiquitous TV and radio ads. But, while I do some online dating myself from time to time, I will not use eHarmony.

I almost signed up for an eHarmony account several years ago, until I noticed something that rubbed me the wrong way: While I am a woman seeking a man, I couldn't help but notice that eHarmony didn't seem to accommodate women seeking women, or men seeking men.

This got me curious, and so I sifted through the site's FAQs until I found a statement that said something to the effect that their matching methodologies are based on their understanding of heterosexual relationships, and that they don't know enough about gay and lesbian relationships to do same-sex matching.

That implies that they think that gays and lesbians want something other than "normal" loving relationships. And this proves eHarmony's ignorance and prejudice.

Today, after losing some lawsuits alleging discrimination, eHarmony offers same-sex matching through its sister site Compatible Partners. Perhaps they think of it as "separate but equal". But separate is never equal.

So I'll have no part of any of it.

17 July 2014

Israel and Gaza ignore the rules of war

Today, after more than a week of trading missile fire, Israel launched a ground offensive on Gaza.

No good can come of this.

The history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is legendary for its huge numbers of civilian casualties. Calling them "collateral damage" doesn't make these deaths any easier to dismiss. We're talking about dead babies here. And, under international law, civilians are supposed to be off-limits in armed conflict.

According to the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions, relating to the protection of victims of armed conflicts:

"The civilian population and individual civilians shall enjoy general protection against dangers arising from military operations."


"The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited."

and, especially applicable to this particular conflict:

"Attacks against the civilian population or civilians by way of reprisals are prohibited."

But neither party in this conflict seems to care much about all that. Does no one have a conscience here? Does no one have compassion?

Each side continues to point fingers at the other side and pass blame accordingly. As long as that continues, there will be no peace.

And, until each side can recognize the humanity on the other side, there will be no peace.

Today, I posted on Facebook a condemnation of this latest Israeli move. A reader pushed back by pointing out that Gaza has been bombing Israel, as if it justifies this escalation of violence.

As I then pointed out to her, two wrongs don't make a right.

And, as I pointed out to her:

"An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind."
-- Mohandas Gandhi

16 July 2014

July 16 - A bad day in history

This morning, with help from History.com, I am exploring events that have happened on July 16 through the decades. And I don't like what I see:

• On this date in 1945, the first atomic bomb was successfully tested in New Mexico. I wish it had never been invented.

• On this date in 2002, President George W. Bush unveiled his homeland security strategy, including preemptive military action abroad. The "war on terror" soon became a war on human rights.

• And on this date in 1958, Julia Lennon, mother of Beatle John, died in an auto accident. I'm sorry that she didn't live to see his great success, but grateful to her for giving him life (although his, too, ended much too early).

13 July 2014

Amnesty calls for UN investigation into civilian deaths in Israel/Gaza

As the Israelis and the Palestinians once again indiscriminately launch missiles at each other, the human rights group Amnesty International is calling for "a UN-mandated international investigation into violations committed on all sides."

According to Amnesty, "[u]nder international humanitarian law, parties to an armed conflict must distinguish between military targets and civilians and civilian objects, and direct attacks only at the former. Indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks are prohibited. The parties must take necessary precautions during attacks to minimize harm to civilians and civilian objects."

Regardless, since the current hostilities began to escalate last week, "more than 100 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip, most of them civilians who were not directly participating in hostilities. This includes at least 24 children and 16 women as of Friday morning. More than 600 people have been wounded, many of them seriously. More than 340 homes in Gaza have been completely destroyed or left uninhabitable and at least five health facilities and three ambulances have been damaged. In Israel, at least 20 people have been wounded by rocket attacks and property has been damaged."

"As the violence intensifies there is an urgent need for the UN to mandate an international independent fact-finding mission to Gaza and Israel to investigate violations of international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict. This is the first crucial step towards ensuring that those who have committed war crimes or other serious violations can be held accountable," said Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Amnesty International.

"The international community must not repeat previous mistakes, standing by and watching the devastating consequences for civilians of both sides failing to abide by and enforce the laws of war. Swift UN action is needed as lives hang in the balance," Luther continued.

I agree. But I shall not hold my breath. :-/

04 July 2014

Eating contests and starving babies

The news media are covering today's annual Nathan's hot dog eating contest at Coney Island as if it's an athletic event.

But it's not. It's quite the opposite, actually. It's gluttony. Unhealthy gluttony. And gluttony is as disgusting today as it was in the days of the ancient Romans.

But the American media are celebrating this gluttony - even as some 16 million children in this country currently experience food insecurity. These children don't know where their next meal will come from - or when - while food is being wasted on those Coney Island gluttons.

Enjoy your holiday picnics on this U.S. Independence Day. But please don't waste food. And, if you do, please atone by making a donation to Feeding America or your local food bank.

01 July 2014

With Rand Paul, will Guatemalans get good eye care?

What will Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) do on his summer vacation? According to the Washington Post, Paul, an eye doctor, will be going to Guatemala on a medical mission to help the blind.

While those plans are admirable, I am concerned about the fact that Paul is not certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology (ABO). Instead, Paul lapsed his certification, and then he and others created their own certification group. According to Fox News, whom I would have expected to defend the senator, "[Paul] is listed as the group's president; his wife, Kelley, is listed as vice president; and his father-in-law is listed as secretary." In other words, he certified himself.

I would be very reluctant to trust my eyes to someone like that. The Guatemalans should be, too.

30 June 2014

Huge Supreme Court salaries

In the wake of today's unfortunate Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, I did some research to find out how much we're paying the Justices. According to an article on the Houston Chronicle's website, the Chief Justice earned an annual salary of $223,500 as of May 2010, while the eight Associate Justices averaged $213,900. And that doesn't include the fringe benefits.

That's what we're paying the conservative five to sell out our individual religious freedoms in favor of the conservative beliefs of business owners.

That's what we're paying Justice Clarence Thomas to sit quietly and unengaged during most hearings.

And that's what we're paying Justice Antonin Scalia to spew racist remarks from the bench.

At least Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg consistently earns her keep through her wise dissents.

Your tax dollars at work.

29 June 2014

Benghazi suspect belongs in federal court

Libyan national Ahmed Abu Khatallah, a suspect in the Benghazi bombing, is in U.S. custody and has been arraigned in federal court.

Some in the GOP think he should be sent to Gitmo and tried in the kangaroo-court-style military commission system there, which has done little to achieve justice and has done much to erode America's image in the world with regard to human rights and the rule of law.

If our federal courts were good enough for Timothy McVeigh, and good enough to effectively lock away the perpetrators of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, then they're certainly good enough for Abu Khatallah.

In fact, they're more effective than the military tribunals, as the Center for American Progress pointed out a few years ago:

"The facts are clear: Criminal courts are a far tougher and more reliable forum for prosecuting terrorists than military commissions.


"The extensive record of criminal courts in successfully prosecuting terrorists stands in stark contrast with the shockingly poor military commissions system. Since 2001 - the same period in which military commissions have convicted just three terrorists - criminal courts have convicted more than 200 individuals on terrorism charges, or 65 times more than military commissions. Criminal courts racked up these convictions with none of the uncertainty that still plagues the military commissions system."

So those of us who oppose Guantanamo are not soft on terrorism. Quite the opposite, in fact. And we can sleep at night because, unlike Gitmo's sytem, our way complies with U.S. and international law.

Effective and legal vs. ineffective and extralegal: Shouldn't it be a no-brainer?

28 June 2014

Remembering my encounter with Fred Phelps

As LGBT Pride Month winds down, I am thinking about my encounter a while back with the now-deceased "Reverend" Fred Phelps, then head of the homophobic Kansas-based Westboro Baptist "Church", whose website can be found at GodHatesFags.com. Yes, that is their actual web address.

For decades, the Westboro folks have been traveling the country and picketing any public or private event that they think represents gay culture or its effects. They sometimes even picket soldiers' funerals, because they believe that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were punishments from God for America's tolerance of homosexuality - as if that makes any sense at all.

And those are some things that I cannot let go unchallenged. So I took advantage of an opportunity to confront Phelps in person - in public.

About 10 years ago, I was in downtown Philly during an LGBT pride festival and decided to check it out. While I am straight, these things tend to be a lot of fun, and a good way to network in my advocacy for LGBT rights.

The place was rockin'! People filled the street celebrating the progress we've made in LGBT civil rights. But, most of all, they were celebrating the fact that they could be themselves, that they could act naturally - at least within those six or eight city blocks.

By contrast, Phelps and his team of bigots set up shop on a street corner in the midst of the festivities, and Phelps used a bullhorn to spew his biblical misinterpretations and condemn all gays to eternal hellfire.

I recognized him instantly. He was tall, very thin, and sported a cowboy hat. Unable to resist, I walked up to Phelps and asked, "Sir, doesn't your Bible say, 'Judge not, lest ye be judged'?"

He paused for a moment and looked at me as if I were some repulsive insect.

Then he turned his back to me and continued spewing more pseudo-religious nonsense.

I guess it's easiest to change the subject if you have no real answer.

Fred Phelps died on March 19 of this year. There are rumors that he was excommunicated from Westboro prior to his death, but I haven't been able to sort that out yet.

What matters is that his legacy lives on through the leadership of his daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper (a lawyer and a very influential and controlling influence at Westboro) and Westboro spokesperson Steve Drain (whose daughter Lauren Drain wrote a fascinating book after her escape from Westboro).

Hopefully, more young people who have been brainwashed by these nuts will also wake up as Lauren Drain has done. Westboro will cease to exist if they run out of kids to hold their ugly signs.

27 June 2014

If you want to shoot, go to war

There was a story on the local Philly area news this morning about a fatal shooting overnight.

A TV reporter interviewed a relative of the victim, whose reaction was priceless: "If you want to shoot, go to war."

26 June 2014

SCOTUS rules that harassment and intimidation are constitutional

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts law establishing a 35-foot buffer zone protecting abortion clinics. The buffer zone was established to prevent protestors from too aggressively interfering with the clinics' day-to-day operations.

The Court said that the protestors have a First Amendment right to occupy the sidewalks surrounding the clinics. And, in doing so, they essentially ruled that the protesters have a constitutional right to harass and intimidate the clinic's patients and staff.

The Court's opinion suggests that Massachusetts should have instead addressed the issue using "less intrusive tools readily available to it," like having the police ask the protestors to move if they are blocking access to a clinic.

The First Amendment is important, but I don't think our Founding Fathers intended it to be an excuse for harassment and intimidation.

What about the right of clinic workers to freely enter their workplace without having to call for a police escort? And what about the right of their patients to freely access the constitutionally legal services that the clinics provide?

Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, today pointed out what may be the worst likely result of this ruling: "This decision will just embolden more outrageous violence against women and health care providers."

Alarmingly, the Court's decision was unanimous.

24 June 2014

"Commie" hypocrisy from the right

Among the many derogatory labels that the right tries to pin on President Obama is "Communist". They fear that Obama's alleged "Communist" goals are a threat to capitalism.

However, it is amusing to note that these are some of the same people who support corporations that send American jobs to Communist China, where they can exploit the cheap Communist sweatshop labor.

And I'm guessing that they can't even see the irony.

17 June 2014

New book out today by Damien Echols of the West Memphis Three

Over the years, I've written a number of columns and blog posts about the West Memphis Three - a trio of men who were convicted as teenagers for the 1993 murders of three eight-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. Presumed ringleader Damien Echols, who was 18 years old at the time of the murders, was sentenced to death. His codefendants, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Miskelley, Jr., who were still minors at the time, were both sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. There was no physical evidence connecting them to the murders. The conviction was based on a coerced confession by the intellectually disabled Miskelley and the testimonies of two witnesses who later recanted.

In 2011, the three were released on a controversial plea deal, after DNA evidence was discovered that would likely have proven their innocence.

In 2010, I met Echols at a book-signing event when he was promoting his first memoir, Life After Life, which was very good reading.

Today, Echols' new book, which he co-authored with his wife, Lorri Davis, will hit the bookstores. Echols and Davis met, fell and love, and got married all while he was on death row. All the while, Davis fought tirelessly for her husband's freedom, and led a full-time campaign to prove his innocence. Their new book, Yours for Eternity: A Love Story on Death Row", tells their love story through the letters they exchanged.

I just downloaded it to my Kindle, and I can't wait to dig in.

15 June 2014

The anti-gay crowd should watch this 2007 film - and rethink

Last night I watched the 2007 documentary For the Bible Tells Me So, about how conservative groups twist and exploit and cherrypick from the Bible to justify their their ignorant fear and hatred of gays and lesbians and the denial of human rights to the LGBT community.

The movie also presents some rational and very insightful analysis of the problem by some more enlightened conservatives whose family lives have been affected by discrimination (and harassment and threats of violence) against the LGBT community.

I wish everyone who opposes LGBT rights would watch this movie with an open mind and rethink their views.

In fact, I dare you.

14 June 2014

Philly transit workers strike for their rights

At midnight last night, workers from Philly's regional commuter rail system, run by SEPTA, went on strike after negotiations failed.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the two striking unions "offered to submit their labor dispute to binding arbitration [but] SEPTA declined arbitration." Apparently, the rich boss doesn't want to make himself beholden to the opinions of a third party. Is it a control thing?

At any rate, tens of thousands of daily commuters will now have to find a new way to get to and from work. That's more easily said then done, especially for lower-income workers. Even for the better off, driving into Philly each day won't be easy, especially with the increased demand for public parking.

This is a huge inconvenience. However, unlike many, I won't condemn the striking workers. SEPTA refused arbitration, and so the unions' only other options were to strike or roll over and allow the man to continue to walk all over them.

Article 23(4) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests." And so the SEPTA workers are simply fighting for their rights.

It's one way in which the people can wield a little bit of power.

So inconvenienced commuters would be better off blaming SEPTA. It didn't have to get to this point, but SEPTA let it happen.

01 June 2014

I'm straight, and now I could remarry

As a straight woman, my right to marry was never an issue. And so I took advantage of that right. Twice.

Neither marriage worked out, but I always knew that I could marry yet again if I found another Mr. Right. It's a privilege reserved in most U.S. states only for heterosexuals. And the third time's a charm, I'm told.

But I've always felt it unfair that I could marry any man I chose while my gay and lesbian friends did not have the freedom to marry their same-sex partners - even though many of my gay and lesbian friends have been in loving, committed relationships that have lasted much longer than either of my own marriages.

So, a number of times over the past several years, I took a public oath to not remarry until my gay and lesbian neighbors could also marry here in the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Recently, same-sex marriage became legal in Pennsylvania. So I can now marry again. But, unfortunately, all the good men my age seem to be either married or gay - or now, both.

So I will take this as a sign that I need to broaden the scope of my oath and not remarry until gay and lesbian couples can marry in every state of the union.

After all, why should I enjoy benefits that they can't simply because of whom we happen to love - no matter which state we live in?

26 May 2014

Thoughts on Memorial Day 2014: War, veterans' care, and partisan politics

Today is Memorial Day in the USA, a patriotic holiday set aside each year to honor the military men and women who have died in service to this country. I can think of no worthier reason for a holiday.

As much as I detest the concept and reality of war, and violence in general, human nature is such that nations must have a defense system in place to protect their citizens. And I can think of no more noble career than that of defending one's countrymen.

Problems arise when the military is used for offense rather than defense. But, in most cases, that is not the fault of our troops. They are just following orders. And so they deserve our support.

Sadly, too often, our surviving troops come home from deployments overseas only to find themselves homeless and/or affected by mental and physical scars of war. Then, to add insult to injury, the VA makes it as difficult as possible for our veterans to obtain the care they need. No wonder some 22 veterans per day are committing suicide.

We can - and must - do better. Instead, people in Washington just point fingers.

As we honor our fallen troops, we should also take time to consider that caring for our surviving veterans should not be a partisan issue. And anyone who tries to make it so does not really support our troops. Anyone who tries to make it so should be voted out of office at the next opportunity.

21 May 2014

PA governor lets same-sex marriage stand

Yesterday, in a big step forward towards equality for all, a federal judge ruled that Pennsylvania's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

Then, today, more good news: In a move that surprised me, ultra-conservative PA Governor Tom Corbett decided not to appeal the decision.

So it's done: Same-sex marriage is now legal in Pennsylvania. And gay and lesbian couples here no longer have to live like second-class citizens - at least where the legality of their marriages is concerned.

20 May 2014

Good news: Federal judge rules PA's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional

In another step forward towards equality for all, today U.S. District Judge John E. Jones II ruled that Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.

As of this writing, it is not known whether or not ultra-conservative Governor Tom Corbett's administration will appeal the ruling, but some church groups are urging him to do so.

With Corbett up for reelection in November, whatever he decides here - either way - could have some effect on his chances of staying in office.

In the meantime, marriage licenses for same-sex couples are being issued around the state. Congratulations to the happy couples whose unions will now no longer be seen as second-class.

18 May 2014

May 23: International day of action to close Gitmo

The group Witness Against Torture, in collaboration with Amnesty International and several other human rights organizations, have named Friday, May 23, an international day of action to close the prison at Guantanamo and end indefinite detention.

Actions are planned in dozens of cities in the U.S. and worldwide.

Click here for a list of events, or for resources to plan your own event.


"When first they established Guantanamo Bay, it incensed me so much, as it does so many people, that in the war to preserve democracy and the rule of law, the first victim should be the rule of law.
-- Clive Stafford Smith, legal director of the U.K. charity Reprieve, which represents several Gitmo detainees

17 May 2014

May 17 - an historic day for equality

60 years ago, on May 17, 1954, in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional.

Then, 10 years ago, on May 17, 2004, same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts - the first U.S. state to take this step. Since then, 16 other states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage.

Progress takes time, but it always seems to win out in the long run. Especially on May 17, which also happens to be the birthday of one of my closest friends, and one of the most tolerant people I know.

Happy 10th anniversary to all the Massachusetts couples who rushed to get married as soon as it became legal in their state.

And happy birthday to my dear friend Patty.

14 May 2014

Israeli Supreme Court will hear Rachel Corrie appeal this month

Good news (hopefully):

On May 21, the Israeli Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case of Rachel Corrie's wrongful death in Gaza.

The background:

On March 16, 2003, Rachel Corrie, a remarkably brave and compassionate American student and peace activist, died at the age of 23 when she was crushed by a US-made Caterpillar D9 military bulldozer while acting as a human shield, trying to stop the unlawful demolition of a Palestinian home in Gaza.

Rachel's family 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.

In August of 2012, a district court in Haifa ruled that the Israeli army was not at fault for Rachel's death. The court decided that her death was instead an accident. And, to further add insult to injury, Judge Oded Gershon blamed Rachel for "[putting] herself in a dangerous situation." In his mind, apparently, bravery and resolve = recklessness.


According to the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace & Justice, "[t]he Corrie family appeal focuses on serious flaws in the lower court verdict which erred by ignoring and misinterpreting essential facts and misapplying legal norms. The appeal also challenges the lower court's total disregard of international law obligations as well as procedural advantages that were regularly granted to the state during the proceedings."

I am not a lawyer, but it looks as though the Corrie family has a good case here. However, I am not optimistic, given how the Israeli authorities are famous for skirting international law. That's why Rachel was there, after all!

Stay tuned, with fingers crosssed for justice.

11 May 2014

What you can do for the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls

By now you probably know that more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls were abducted last month by Boko Haram terrorists and remain missing. Some of the girls have reportedly been forced to marry their captors while others have been sold into slavery for $12 each.

And you may have heard that the U.S. and other nations are getting involved to help in the search to find the kidnapped girls and their abductors. In fact, it's been reported that U.S. Marines in Nigeria have already arrested two suspects.

It's good that outsiders are getting involved, in light of Amnesty International's recent discovery that Nigerian officials had received advance warnings that Boko Haram was planning to raid the girls' boarding school but did nothing to prevent it. Those poor girls clearly need outside help.

And you can help, too, with just a few clicks:

From Amnesty International: Click here to urge the Nigerian authorities to do more to secure the safe release of the girls and to ensure that the perpetrators of this attack are brought to justice.

This action will also urge them to "ensure that all children are able to access their right to education in safety, and to respect, protect, and fulfill the human rights of all Nigerians without discrimination."

From Equality Now: Click here to contact key officials in Nigeria who should have the resources to find and return the girls to their families. (While this action may seem redundant to the one above, it is important to cover all bases.)

This action will also call on the governments of Cameroon and Chad, where some of the girls were allegedly transported and sold, to find the girls and send them home.

From Human Rights First: Click here to urge U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to address the root causes of violence and extremism in Nigeria, as "economic desperation and human rights abuses committed by Nigerian security forces have fueled the rise of Boko Haram."

Human Rights First appreciates that the U.S. government is sending military, intelligence, and law enforcement advisors to Nigeria to support the effort to rescue the girls. But the organization believes that the Pentagon should also "partner with State and USAID to support anti-corruption, rule of law, and police reforms. It should also ensure that the United States is not allying with people in the Nigerian security services who are complicit in the victimization of the kidnapped girls or other civilians."

Petitions really do work, if enough people sign on. I've seen it happen time and time again.

So please help!

22 April 2014

Things you can do on this Earth Day 2014 (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 easy 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!

14 April 2014

Our tax dollars and Washington's priorities

Tomorrow is April 15 - tax day in the US. It is the deadline for filing our income tax returns.

And where do our federal tax dollars go?

According to the National Priorities Project, 27 cents of each US tax dollar goes to national defense (which in recent years has been playing offense instead).

Only 2 cents goes to education.

And only 1.1 cents towards science.

08 April 2014

Take action for Equal Pay Day!

Today, April 8, 2014, is Equal Pay Day. This date symbolizes how far into the year a woman must work, on average, to catch up with what the average man earned in 2013 here in the U.S.

This pay gap not only unfair, it implies that women are of lesser value than men. And that is shameful.

What you can do:

The Senate is expected to vote on The Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 84) as soon as this week. According to the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, "[t]his important bill would update and strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which made it illegal for employers to pay unequal wages to men and women who perform substantially the same work."

Call your senators (202-224-3121) and urge them to vote "yes" on the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 84) and support equal pay for women!

05 April 2014

More on the "pro-abortion" myth

There's an email in my inbox from an anti-choice group. The subject line: "We Need Your Help Against Pro-Abortion Groups"

What they obviously don't understand is that virtually nobody is pro-abortion, and there are no "pro-abortion groups". But many of us - individuals and groups - are pro-choice.

Because a woman's medical decisions are none of my business. That makes me pro-privacy, not pro-abortion.

And because I don't want to see desperate women having to resort to the coat hangers and the back-alley butchers of the pre-Roe days. That makes me pro-health and pro-safety, not pro-abortion.

But such nuances lack the dramatic impact of that subject line in my inbox. And, sadly, such emotional appeals tend to work on some types of people who are quick to label and judge rather than think and consider.

27 March 2014

This Saturday, 8:30 pm: Be a part of Earth Hour!

On Saturday, March 29, 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 several years, and it always felt good. I plan to participate again this year, and I hope you will join me.

It's simple: Just unplug for those 60 minutes. Enjoy a dinner by candlelight, read a real book, or just spend the hour connecting (in real space, not cyberspace) with someone you care about. The powered-down possibilities are endless!

>> Learn more about Earth Hour.

21 March 2014

Judge rules Michigan's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional; appeal pending

It's happening in one state after another.

In the latest step forward towards equality for all, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman today ruled that Michigan's ban on same-sex is unconstitutional.

But, as in some other states with similar recent rulings, Michigan's homophobic Attorney General is pursuing a stay pending an appeal of the decision.

Stay tuned for updates, with fingers crossed for equality.

18 March 2014

Animals prove that homosexuality is natural

Today I got a newsletter from Tony Perkins, president of the homophobic Family Research Council.

In the newsletter, he talks about "natural" marriage, referring to heterosexual marriage between a man and a woman.

This, of course, implies that same-sex marriage is unnatural.

He conveniently ignores the fact that numerous species of animals have been known to engage in homosexual activity - in nature. That makes it natural, Mr. Perkins - by definition.

16 March 2014

Remembering Rachel Corrie on this sad anniversary

Today, March 16, 2014, marks the 11th 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. The Caterpillar's driver, working for the Israeli occupation, refused to stop.

And now, 11 years later, Israeli forces, still funded by our tax dollars, continue their human rights abuses against innocent Palestinian families and international sympathizers.

Learn more:

In 2004, Amnesty International published a comprehensive report on the Palestinian home demolitions from a human rights perspective.

Download it now: Israel and the Occupied Territories: Under the rubble: House demolition and destruction of land and property

10 March 2014

Oscar-nominated documentary studies boastful assassins

Over the weekend, I watched the movie "The Act of Killing", which received an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary. It had been recommended by a human rights colleague, and I can see why it was nominated - and recommended.

This fast-moving two-hour documentary centers around a genocide in Indonesia in the 1960s, in which a million or more artists, intellectuals, and ethnic Chinese were assassinated by government-sanctioned death squads in an effort to "exterminate" all "communists". It's worth noting that the ruling military regime at the time - along with its anti-communist effort - was proactively supported by the U.S. government.

Director Joshua Oppenheimer spent several years in Indonesia researching the genocide. In the process, he met Anwar Congo, a death squad leader who had personally killed as many as 1,000 alleged communists. Congo and his fellow assassins were proud, even boastful, of their actions. And so Oppenheimer ingeniously decided to allow the killers to tell their own stories on film. The result is this movie.

It's disturbing in that the killers who star in the movie are proud of their actions, and eager to share the gruesome details. While making "their" movie, they boastfully reenact various killings in order to show us just how clever and brutal they were.

One assassin, Anwar Congo's old friend, explains - or, rather, justifies - why he feels no guilt:

"'War crimes' are defined by the winners. I'm a winner. So I can make my own definition."
The concept of human rights is held in disdain in this culture, and is ridiculed. And the killers are regarded as heroes in their country.

Will this filmmaking exercise cause any of the killers to finally recognize and confront the wrongness of their actions? Watch the movie and then let me know if you think so.

Meanwhile, check out this great interview with director Joshua Oppenheimer on Democracy Now - here.

09 March 2014

CNN to launch new series on death penalty tonight

Tonight, CNN will premiere a new series of one-hour documentaries focusing on the death penalty in the U.S. The series, titled "Death Row Stories", is produced by Alex Gibney and Robert Redford, and is narrated by longtime anti-death-penalty activist Susan Sarandon, who won an Oscar for her role in "Dead Man Walking".

According to CNN, "[e]ach episode attempts to unravel the truth behind a different capital murder case," and will "call into question various beliefs surrounding America's justice system and the death penalty."

Tune in at 9:00 PM ET/PT.

I blame you for the snowstorms

This winter has been harsh and merciless, with record-breaking snowstorms, floods, droughts, and other weather disasters all across the U.S. And I believe the climate scientists who say that these extreme weather conditions are an expected consequence of global climate change.

Accordingly, I blame you - yes, you, dear reader - for all the snow I've had to shovel, because of all the carbon you've pumped into the atmosphere through your own actions.

Indeed, the United States consistently ranks in last place year after year in National Geographic's Greendex survey, which measures the environmental impact of consumer habits and lifestyles in more than a dozen countries.

People in India, China, Brazil, Hungary, South Korea, Mexico, Argentina, Russia, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Great Britain, Australia, France, Japan, and Canada were judged to be more environmentally responsible than Americans. Yes, you read that right. India. China. South Korea. Mexico. Et cetera. All more proactively concerned than we Americans are about saving this planet for our children and our grandchildren.

But this should come as no surprise. Whether we can blame it on ignorance, apathy, arrogance, or just laziness depends on the person, but I see it every day. You, my fellow Americans, talk about global warming, and sometimes you sound genuinely concerned. But that's as far as it goes. Talk is cheap. And so you continue to be part of the problem.

For example:

You, my fellow Americans, grumble about high gasoline prices even as you continue to drive your big, gas-guzzling SUVs.

You, my fellow Americans, see yourselves as heroes for recycling case after case of empty Aquafina bottles each week, despite the fact that the production and transportation of your bottled water more than cancels the environmental benefit of your recycling. And despite the fact that many brands of bottled water actually come from the same sources as public tap water - and are less regulated. So you're wasting your money as you waste the environment.

You, my fellow Americans, congratulate yourselves for turning down the thermostat when the weather gets chilly, but then you use a wood-burning fireplace to compensate, despite the fact that fireplaces contribute to pollution - and human respiratory problems.

And you, my fellow Americans, eat lots of meat. You love your steaks, chops, and burgers, despite the fact that eating less meat is even better for the environment than driving a hybrid car. Scientists at the University of Chicago have discovered that a typical American meat eater is responsible for nearly 1.5 tons more greenhouse gases per year than a vegan, due to the environmental impacts of animal agriculture.

So here we are. In last place. Below India. Below China. Below Mexico.

Because of you, my fellow Americans, and your spoiled American way of life.

And yes, I blame myself as well. After all, I drive a gasoline-powered car. And, while I've been a vegetarian for more than a decade, I am not a vegan. I recognize the effects that my consumption of dairy and eggs have on the planet.

And I'm sorry.

Please be sorry too.

And let's all work harder to save this planet before it's too late.

Let's get serious and do everything we can to personally reduce our carbon footprints.

And let's do everything we can to put the polluters out of business and shift our society towards clean, renewable energy sources.

Let's move America out from the bottom of that list.

Or else shoveling lots of snow will soon be the least of our problems.

08 March 2014

John Kerry's remarks for International Women's Day

Today, March 8, is the annual observation of International Women's Day.

To mark this occasion, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued the following statement, which I thought was worth sharing:

International Women’s Day is a moment to pause and reflect on the contributions of women to the world and to reaffirm our commitment to continued progress on gender equality. It’s also a powerful reminder that women are advancing peace and prosperity around the world in really remarkable ways.

I see it every day as Secretary of State.

I see it in Ukraine, where women are working on the frontlines as volunteers for the Maidan Medical Service. They are raising their voices for freedom and dignity, and we must all step up and answer their call.

I see it in Afghanistan, where women are starting companies, serving as members of parliament, teaching in schools, and working as doctors and nurses. They are the foundation on which Afghanistan’s future is being built.

I see it in Syria, where women are getting restrictions on humanitarian access lifted by offering food to regime soldiers at the checkpoints.

I see it in Mali, where women are risking their lives as advocates for women’s and children’s rights.

Everywhere I travel, in every meeting, I can see firsthand the promise of a world where women are empowered as equal partners in peace and prosperity. But here’s what’s most important: all of the fights and all of the progress we’ve seen in recent years haven’t come easily or without struggle. And we still have work to do.

Our work is not done when one out of every three women is subjected to some form of violence in her lifetime.

We cannot rest knowing that girls younger than 15 are forced to marry and that they are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their twenties.

We cannot hope to break the cycle of poverty if we fail to harness the talent and productivity of half the world’s population. And we cannot hope to break the cycle of war if women are not enlisted as equal partners in the work of peace.

So here’s what I’m saying and what we all need to demand: Women must be involved in the decisions that affect us all. They must have a place at the peacekeeping tables and in the tough negotiations following deadly conflict. They must have a seat on the boards of corporations that impact our economies, and they must have a voice in the halls of justice that uphold the rule of law.

When we invest in our mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters, we invest in a brighter future for the world. The United States stands ready to protect and advance the health, education, and human rights of women and girls everywhere, because women’s progress is human progress.