27 January 2014

Dreadlocks don't make you stupid (or a lowlife)

I am not a sports fan, so I don't know much about Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, aside from the recent controversy in the media about Sherman's recent adrenaline-fueled post-game rant. (As if we haven't all had our overly excited moments.)

And, given my general lack of interest in the world of sports, I haven't said anything about that controversy. Until tonight.

Tonight, I ran into my ultra-conservative neighbor, who was complaining about the fact that this "stupid lowlife" cornerback would be glamorized via his participation in the Super Bowl despite his recent "thuggery".

I asked this neighbor why he called Sherman a stupid lowlife.

The response: Just look at him!

Um, OK. I've seen photos. Sherman is black and he wears his hair in dreadlocks. Bingo!

Despite my sports apathy, I had read enough about Richard Sherman to know that he is a Stanford graduate. I pointed out this fact to my neighbor, and noted that it seemed rather incongruous to refer to a graduate of such a prestigious university as either stupid or a lowlife.

In response, my neighbor angrily muttered something about Affirmative Action, and stomped away. Typical.

This was a prime example of prejudice, which literally means "prejudgment" or "preconceived opinion" - in this case, that someone with dark skin and dreads doesn't fit the profile of a properly entitled Stanford grad.

And it seemed so desperate and pathetic.

26 January 2014

Help stop human trafficking

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

According to the organization Free the Slaves, 21-30 million people are enslaved in the world today. They're used as child soldiers, sweatshop workers, sex slaves, and more. They are given no rights, no dignity, and no compensation for their labors or their pain and suffering. They are powerless, even here in 2014.

According to an article by J.J. Gould in The Atlantic, "[t]here are now twice as many people enslaved in the world as there were in the 350 years of the transatlantic slave trade."

And this isn't just happening in third-world countries. According to Covenant House, which helps homeless kids in North America, human trafficking is "a $9.8 billion industry that forces over 100,000 American children into prostitution each year."

What you can do:

Urge your members of Congress to cosponsor the bipartisan House and Senate versions of the Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Trafficking Act.

Explore these online resources from UNICEF's End Trafficking Project.

• Donate to Free the Slaves, Covenant House, and/or UNICEF's child protection programs.

Thank you.

23 January 2014

Texas executes Mexican citizen, violates international law

On Wednesday, January 22, the state of Texas executed Edgar Arias Tamayo, who had been convicted of a 1994 murder.

But this was no ordinary execution - even for the death penalty capital of the U.S.

Tamayo was a Mexican citizen, and his attorneys argued that he was denied his right to seek help from the Mexican consulate, which may have assisted in his defense.

Psychological testing was also allegedly inadequate. As a result, said Andrea Hall, Mid Atlantic Regional Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator for Amnesty International USA, "the jury did not hear significant evidence of Tamayo’s intellectual disabilities, information that could well have tipped the scales towards life imprisonment."

Nevertheless, regardless of pressure from the International Criminal Court, the U.S. State Department, and elsewhere, the courts declined to stay the execution.

Hall characterized the execution as "a blatant affront to the United States' obligations under international law."

"The price [of this execution] may be much higher," she said. "We may very well have put our relationships with foreign countries, as well as the safety of Americans living and traveling overseas, at risk."

But, apparently, Texas is too bloodthirsty to care about such things.

19 January 2014

Uganda president vetoes anti-gay law, but still hates gays

I recently posted a link to an online action urging Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to veto a draconian anti-gay law under which homosexual behavior would carry a penalty of life in prison.

It appears that the international pressure has made a difference - sort of.

First, the good news: President Museveni has refused to sign the bill into law.

Now, the not-so-good news: Museveni still believes that gays are "abnormal" and unacceptable, and he still wants to eradicate them. But he says he wants to employ other methods, specifically economic ones, to address the perceived problem.

I'm not entirely sure what economics has to do with sexual orientation, but a friend pointed out to me that the U.S. and other countries threatened to stop aid to Uganda if the anti-gay bill were to pass.

I guess that shows that money is more powerful than even deeply entrenched bigotry - at least to some extent.

17 January 2014

Amnesty says NSA revisions fall short

After months of revelations and controversy, President Obama has called for some changes to the NSA's surveillance program.

However, Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) believes that the revised policy still falls far short on safeguards.

Steven W. Hawkins, AIUSA's executive director, explained:

"The big picture takeaway from [the president's] speech is that the right to privacy remains under grave threat both here at home and around the world. President Obama's recognition of the need to safeguard the privacy of people around the world is significant, but insufficient to end serious global concern over mass surveillance, which by its very nature constitutes abuse.

"President Obama took welcome steps to increase transparency, institute additional safeguards for citizens and non-citizens alike, and restrain his administration's bulk collection of some types of information. However, he failed to acknowledge the abusive nature of mass surveillance or put international human rights standards at the center of U.S. policy.

"President Obama's surveillance adjustments will be remembered as music on the Titanic unless his administration adopts deeper reforms.

"The President's recognition of the need to restrain surveillance of people around the world, while welcome, falls short of what's needed to protect the right to privacy and prevent targeting of people based on their beliefs or background. Furthermore, executive Order 12333 [enacted by Ronald Reagan to extend powers and responsibilities of US intelligence agencies] remains a potential blank check for abuse.

"Shifting the storage of information does not address the fundamental problem: the collection of mass personal data in the first place. Even if additional checks are put in place, ordinary people remain at risk of secret rulings by a secret court, and national security letters still evade judicial review.

"Regardless of citizenship or location, all people have the right to privacy under international law, and government surveillance must comport with human rights principles, including necessity, proportionality, and due process. Furthermore, people have the right to blow the whistle on evidence of abuse.

"To protect privacy and ensure security, the Obama administration and Congress should put human rights principles at the center of surveillance reform. Human rights safeguards allow for lawful, effective surveillance while protecting against unchecked executive power."


This brings to mind the words of one of this nation’s great Founding Fathers:

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
-- Benjamin Franklin
President Obama would do well to remember this.

16 January 2014

Vatican faces UN committee on child sexual abuse (and disappoints)

This morning in Geneva, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child formally questioned Vatican officials on its record of child sexual abuse.

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which represents the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) in the case, was less than satisfied with the Vatican's performance today, pointing out that "the committee had requested concrete data and facts, which the Vatican refused to provide."

Pam Spees, CCR's Senior Staff Attorney, had this to say about the proceedings:

"The Vatican has consistently refused to accept responsibility for its role in perpetuating rape and sexual violence against children in the Church and further enabling it by protecting offending priests. So its performance at the United Nations this morning was not surprising. The Vatican attempted to relegate the issue to the past and claim it is a new era, that they now 'get it', but they continue to refuse to turn over records for prosecution, punish higher-ups that covered up the crimes, or provide any real evidence that they are now putting the safety of children above the reputation of the Church. Nonetheless, today's hearing is a milestone in calling for an end to these days of impunity. The international community is demanding answers, and that is the first step toward true accountability and, we hope, an end to the widespread violence against children.”
Fingers crossed for continuing progress on this heartbreaking - and infuriating - issue.

>> Read more about the case.

15 January 2014

Nigeria adopts strict new anti-gay law; help stop Uganda from doing the same

A strict anti-gay bill became law in Nigeria earlier this week.

Per Reuters (my former employer):

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed a bill on Monday that criminalizes same-sex relationships, defying Western pressure over gay rights and provoking criticism from the United States.

The bill, which contains penalties of up to 14 years in prison and bans gay marriage, same-sex 'amorous relationships' and membership of gay rights groups, was passed by the national assembly last May but Jonathan had delayed signing it into law.

Meantime, homophobes in Uganda are trying to adopt their own draconian anti-gay law. The Ugandan Parliament has already passed a bill that would carry a punishment of life in prison for "aggravated homosexuality".

In fact, the Ugandan bill goes beyond outlawing homosexual behavior.

Amnesty International summarizes the bill's other provisions and implications as follows:

• A person who provides HIV counseling could be convicted of "promoting" homosexuality.
• A person who officiates a same-sex marriage could be put in prison for life.
• A person suspected of being gay could face forced HIV testing.

If enacted into law, this bill would send a clear message that people who violently attack others because of their perceived or actual sexual orientation will not be held accountable for such attacks.

This law will go into effect as soon as Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signs it.

What you can do:

>> Click here to urge President Museveni to veto the bill.

Thursday: UN committee to question the Vatican on child sexual abuse

On Thursday, January 16, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child will formally question the Vatican on its record of child sexual abuse. The session will take place in Geneva.

According to Pam Spees, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), "[t]his is the first time the Vatican has been called by an international body to account for its handling of the crisis of sexual violence throughout the Catholic Church."

CCR represents the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) in the case.

"Throughout the world, children and vulnerable adults have been and continue to be subjected to widespread and systemic rape and sexual violence by priests and others associated with the Roman Catholic Church," said Spees. "The Vatican’s policies and practices enable this violence."

>> Learn more about the case.

>> Watch the livestream of the UN session and/or CCR's follow-up review.

14 January 2014

Judge rules Oklahoma same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional - BUT...

Today, a federal judge ruled that Oklahoma's ban on same-sex marriage is in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Unfortunately, this decision will not take effect immediately, as the same judge then immediately stayed his ruling, pending appeals.

As with the similar recent case in Utah, stay tuned, with fingers crossed for equality. The general momentum seems to be growing in favor of fairness and love.

08 January 2014

Utah same-sex marriages on hold

Marriage equality was short-lived in Utah. Same-sex marriage is now on hold in that state pending an appeal of the recent ruling that legalized it.

Stay tuned, with fingers crossed for equality.

06 January 2014

Protest Gitmo on Saturday, January 11

Saturday, January 11, 2014, will mark the 12th anniversary of the arrival of the first prisoners at the U .S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, "155 men remain detained at Guantánamo; most should never have been detained in the first place and are entering their 13th year of being deprived of their liberty without any charge or trial."

This is a national embarrassment, at best.

What you can do:

If you are in the Washington, DC, area, or can get there this weekend: Join a rally and procession organized by a coalition of human rights organizations to mark the anniversary of Gitmo and to demand its closure. More info here.

Whether or not you will be in DC: Sign this letter to President Obama urging him to free Yemeni prisoners who have been cleared for release, and to take further action to close Guantanamo.