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.


06 March 2014

Pussy Riot members attacked in Russian McDonald's; Amnesty calls for investigation

This morning, Pussy Riot's two most famous members, Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina, were the targets of "an apparently unprovoked and premeditated attack" in Russia, according to Amnesty International. Both women were recently released from a Russian prison after serving time for protesting the Putin regime.

According to Amnesty, video evidence "appears to show a group of men barging in and violently interrupting the activists' breakfast in a McDonald's restaurant near the Nizhny Novgorod train station. The activists, who were joined by other members of the new prisoners' rights NGO 'Zone of the Rights', say they were in the city to inspect a local prison colony."

Both Pussy Riot members were injured during the attack. In other words, this wasn't just some harmless prank.

Sergei Nikitin, Director of Amnesty's Moscow office, issued the following statement in response to the incident:

"By all accounts, this violent attack appears to have been premeditated by an organized group. The unidentified assailants chanted slogans, held aloft a banner and filmed the entire incident.

"The Russian authorities must not tolerate such attacks on peaceful activists. They must launch a prompt, impartial and independent investigation into this and all such incidents, and bring those responsible to justice."


However, given the current political climate in Russia, I shall not hold my breath.

05 March 2014

Poem: The End of Violence

I'm no poet, but I awoke with the following words in my head, which I felt compelled to share:


The End of Violence

Violence begets violence
which begets more violence
until only one is left standing
trying to make it all alone.