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!