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.