Thursday, April 30, 2009

Condi Rice Impersonating Nixon?

Ms. Condi Rice was at Stanford University when a student asked her about waterboarding and whether or not it's torture. Her answer sounds awfully similar to Nixon's.

"The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligations, legal obligations under the Convention Against Torture."

So, in essence, just because the President says it's ok, we must believe it? As an intelligent human being, aren't we suppose to hold opinions and question statements regardless of what authority said it?

"The United States was told, we were told, nothing that violates our obligations under the Convention Against Torture, and so by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture."

Here are a few reasons to why Condi Rice said that:

A.) She doesn't understand the role of the President.
B.) She mistook our Democracy for a dictatorship.
C.) She thought it would be a good time to impersonate Mr. Nixon ("When the President does it, that means it is not illegal").

Let's hope it's C and she just has a really poor sense of comedic timing.

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Afghan Women Rise in Protest to Recent Taliban-like Law

(Source: The New York Times, April 16, 2009, Front Page and A13 for information and image)

Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, April 15, 2009:

While Americans rushed to hand in their tax returns, several hundred Afghan women walked two miles to Parliament to submit a petition to repeal a law that oppresses Shi'ite women's rights.

The law, signed by both houses of Parliament and President Hamid Karzai, is under attack for three specific provisions:

1. Married Shi'ite women cannot refuse her husband's sexual advances;
2. A husband's permission is required before a woman is allowed to work or go to school;
3. A woman cannot refuse to "dress up" or "make herself up" if her husband desires it.

President Karzai has been attacked by many Western groups for his part in the passage of the law, though he attempted to mitigate the impact of the bill by giving it to the justice minister to "look over" and declared that since the law has not technically been published in the government's official register, all women's rights (which are supposedly protected in the Afghan Consitution) will be upheld.

The law is reminiscent of the Taliban and was drafted by Ayatollah Asif Mohseni, the country's most powerful Shi'ite cleric, among other scholars (all of whom are men). Some speculate that President Karzai signed the law because he is up for re-election this year and is trying to garner the support of the Shi'ite clerics.

The women's protest started at the madrasa, School of the Last Prophet, run by Ayatollah Asif Mohseni where they declared that they wished to protect their rights. The women were immediately met by a slew of angry (mostly male) students from the madrasa, who yelled obscenities and attempted to drive the women away. The women had police escorts as they delivered their petition to Parliament.

Meanwhile, some women in Kabul chanted in support of the law.

This event is a good reminder to me to be vigilant of global human rights issues and seek to support those who are not favored by their governments, despite apparent constitutional safeguards.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Would Europe Look Good with An Eye Patch?

Somalian Pirates
(Courtesy of Gallo/Getty)

Pirates aren't just in Disney films anymore- they are taking over our news and rightfully so. However, there's a side of these eye-patch wearing folks that isn't quite being covered- Europe degrading Somalia's resources. European countries have been dumping nuclear waste and stripping its seas of inhabitants for years and now, these hostages are paying the price. In essence, these countries have stole Somalia of the following: its seas' and people's healths, as well as, its fishermen's livelihoods. Wouldn't it then be proper to call these countries "pirates" too?

In 1991, when Somalia's government fell to pieces due to civil war, European countries were just waiting for the regulation of its waters to fall as well. With millions of its denizens at or near starvation, these well-to-do countries made it even harder for Somalia's people to survive. The nuclear waste that was dumped in Somalia's seas diminished the health of the coastal population. But the ill-health of its people meant little in dollar terms to European firms. Nick Nuttall, the UN Environmental Program spokesperson, expressed that "European companies found it to be very cheap to get rid of the waste, costing as little as $2.50 a tonne, where waste disposal costs in Europe are something like $1000 a tonne."

The Red Jolly (really?)- A ship that dumped toxic waste.
(Image from

However, after the tsunami hit in 2004, the polluted waters were able to reach greater land and people. More people got sick due to radiation and more than 300 people died. Nuttall discussed the different types of waste found on shore after the tsunami hit: "There is uranium radioactive waste. There is lead, and heavy metals like cadmium and mercury. There is also industrial waste, and there are hospital wastes, chemical wastes – you name it." The UN envoy to Somalia, Ould-Abdallah, said that these toxins that were ravaging the health of the Somalians could be traced back to European factories. Unfortunately, he also said that these institutions were doing nothing to prevent or compensate Somalia for their actions. To top it off, other European ships were stealing $3 million worth of seafood every year from Somalia.

These pirates have taken on the unofficial role as regulators of Somalia's seas and a recent study in Somalia shows that 70% of its citizen's support them. Granted, the violence that these Somalian pirates are committing cannot be condoned but there has been 18 years (more or less) of provocation on Europe's part.

It has often been a trend to identify countries that are devastating the wellbeing of other countries as business-as-usual or capitalism. But, when such actions are done on a smaller scale, when individuals and not countries are the ones at fault, names such as "pirates", "terrorists", and "evil-doers" are used. This logic does not make any sense whatsoever. Something such as a government or a company that has the power and uses that power to wreak greater havoc on a larger population (relative to an individual) should be held wholly accountable. The poverty, ill-health and death of individuals shouldn't be thought of as business-as-usual.
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Monday, April 13, 2009

Mississippi: Lawsuit Against Police Assault & Arrest of Black Schoolchildren

(Image thanks to mikeely.wordpress)

The ACLU filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the DeSoto County school officials and the South Haven Mississippi Police for assaulting, arresting and racially targeting school children that were riding on a school bus. The police had gotten involved after three middle school children, 2 black and 1 white student, got into an argument. When the 2 police officers arrived, they arrested 6 students and physically harassed 1 girl, all of whom were black. They also went way above the call of duty by threatening the 30 schoolchildren on the bus by saying: "Wait until you get a bullet between the eye." All of this was caught on tape. Want more specifics? Click on Read More.

This event took place August 12th, 2008, when the bus monitor, Mary Robbins, and driver, Belinda Heyman, thought it necessary to call the police over a verbal argument between 3 students. When the two police officers, Tomas Aguilar (Police Sergeant) and Lee Holiday, arrived they began their physical and verbal assault against the students. Holiday arrested two of the three students responsible for the argument, both of whom were black and said to one of the girls arrested that he was going to take her "little ass down to juvenile hall." The other student, who was white, was not arrested or even reprimanded by the school.

Police Sergeant Aguilar boarded the bus after Holiday had left and started saying statements such as, "You think this is funny?" and "Who wants to try me?" These remarks made some of the students smile and laugh, probably out of nervousness or because such an event was foreign to them, but that apparently was unacceptable to Aguilar who then arrested 3 more students, again who were black. Soonafter, I assume just for shits and giggles, he decided to arrest another girl, black as well, who had done absolutely nothing against the law. When she said she was going to call her mom, he turned up the crazy. He grabbed her neck, pushed her in an empty seat and used his weight to keep her down. He then proceeded to scream in her face saying, "You don't talk to me like that. You don't talk to me like that. Do you understand?"

Aguilar wasn't done though. After arresting the girl, he put his hand on his gun and told the remaining students that "Y'all think this is funny? Y'all think this is funny? Wait until you get a bullet between the eyes."

All of what happened was completely unnecessary and nonsensical. These were middle school students who got into an argument; police force wasn't needed in the first place. These protect-and-serve officers verbally and physically harassed schoolchildren and wholly discriminated against black students. I'm glad that the ACLU has filed a lawsuit; however, I have little faith that these police officers are going to get a little more than a slap on the wrist.

(Courtesy of

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Vermont on the Rainbow Express!

The Vermont legislature legalized gay marriage today! I really cannot comprehend the wonderfulness that is this month! It is now the fourth state to have same-sex marriage be legal AND it is the FIRST to do so through legislative means rather than through the court. But there's a cherry to put on this rainbow-sprinkled cake: the city of Washington, D.C. is now going to recognize gay marriage from different states. This is a historic week for gay rights and more broadly, civil rights.

Vermont really could have gone either way on this issue. The bill had passed in the Vermont House but the governor, Jim Douglas (R), vetoed it. It could have died but it was brought back to life with the bare minimum needed to override his (unjust) veto: 100 to 49. And because of this, same-sex couples can get legally married in September!

Of course, the opponents of gay marriage are livid and have expressed their plans to go on a public relations frenzy. Iowa and much of the Northeast, including New Hampshire, which will be dealing with the issue of gay marriage soon, are on their list. They have bought $1.5 million of TV airtime already.

Cue emotional music and overly dramatic moms.

But today isn't the day to talk about these narrow-minded folks, it's a day for people to see the humanity in our government. Surprise Surprise!
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Saturday, April 4, 2009

Iowa: Gay Marriage Legalized!


Iowa's Supreme court unanimously voted to legalize gay marriage, striking down the decade long state ban against it! It's the third state in the country to legalize it (Massachusetts and Connecticut being the other two) and the first that is a rural state. This law will come into affect April 24th, which is when same-sex couples can get their marriage licenses. This decision, however, will not affect churches' decisions to perform religious marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples.

Justice Mark S. Cady expressed the reasons behind the ruling: "We are firmly convinced the exclusion of gay and lesbian people from the institution of civil marriage does not substantially further any important governmental objective. The legislature has excluded a historically disfavored class of persons from a supremely important civil institution without a constitutionally sufficient justification."

In 1998, one of Iowa's lower courts ruled that the state law defining marriage as being only between a man and women violates Iowa's constitutional right of equal protection. However, later in 2005, the Polk County Recorder, Timothy J. Brien, denied six same-sex couples the right to marry. These couples then filed a lawsuit that year against the Polk Country recorder. Again, in 2007, the Iowa District Court ruled that denying same-sex couples the right to marry was unconstitutional. Soon after, the county appealed its ruling. The county's argument was that because gay couples cannot procreate, they can be treated differently.

Really? That's the best they could come up with? Some women cannot reproduce and some men do not have enough sperm to impregnate women, would that then mean that they wouldn't be afforded the same rights as those who can? Of course not. All people who cannot reproduce don't have a choice- their bodies just can't perform that function. And because homosexuality is not a choice, gays and lesbians too do not have a choice on their abilities to reproduce. Their argument obviously was ridiculous and thankfully, the Iowa Supreme Court agreed.

Polk County is not going to seek a review and so anti gay marriage folks only have one other option: constitutional amendment. Liberty Counsel (ironic name) has already stated that it will advance a referendum to amend Iowa's constitution so that it will prohibit gay marriage. However, this action will take two years to take place.

Due to this victory, Lambda Legal, which is the law firm that filed the law suit against Iowa's gay marriage ban in 2005, stated "Justices look at opinions from other states. There's a significant likelihood that [the decision] will influence other states, like California. This is WONDERFUL news because there are a few states that are weighing gay marriage bills now: Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Maine. Furthermore, the California Supreme Court has to rule for or against gay marriage by June. Hopefully, Iowa's decision should act as another reminder to all those states that are dealing with the issue of gay marriage of how discriminatory and unjust the ban is.
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