Archive for the ‘human rights’ Category

Helping Haiti

January 15, 2010

The world is abuzz with the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti. It’s hard for someone like me to really comprehend the scope of the tragedy of many of the stories coming from devastation. Most of us are not in a position to ourselves go and help out, but there are a number of worthy organizations participating in the rescue and recovery to which you can donate. They include:

(this list is hardly comprehensive; there are plenty of other legitimate options. You can find others, and research their reputation and integrity through CharityNavigator or NetworkForGood.)

But as important as this disaster relief work is, hopefully we will do more. I hope we can take this opportunity to consider what allows this sort of catastrophe to occur—not the earthquake, of course, but the social conditions which allow the natural disaster to wreak such devastation. We as individuals can engage long term with the non-profit organizations which are working to foster long-term and sustainable changes to those conditions. And we can participate as citizens to encourage our government to adopt a foreign policy agenda more conducive to such change. Bill Quigley, Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans, has suggested ten suggestions.

One. Allow all Haitians in the US to work. The number one source of money for poor people in Haiti is the money sent from family and workers in the US back home. Haitians will continue to help themselves if given a chance. Haitians in the US will continue to help when the world community moves on to other problems.

Two. Do not allow US military in Haiti to point their guns at Haitians. Hungry Haitians are not the enemy. Decisions have already been made which will militarize the humanitarian relief – but do not allow the victims to be cast as criminals. Do not demonize the people.

Three. Give Haiti grants as help, not loans. Haiti does not need any more debt. Make sure that the relief given helps Haiti rebuild its public sector so the country can provide its own citizens with basic public services.

Four. Prioritize humanitarian aid to help women, children and the elderly. They are always moved to the back of the line. If they are moved to the back of the line, start at the back.

Five. President Obama can enact Temporary Protected Status for Haitians with the stroke of a pen. Do it. The US has already done it for El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Sudan and Somalia. President Obama should do it on Martin Luther King Day.

Six. Respect Human Rights from Day One. The UN has enacted Guiding Principles for Internally Displaced People. Make them required reading for every official and non-governmental person and organization. Non governmental organizations like charities and international aid groups are extremely powerful in Haiti – they too must respect the human dignity and human rights of all people.

Seven. Apologize to the Haitian people everywhere for Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh.

Eight. Release all Haitians in US jails who are not accused of any crimes. Thirty thousand people are facing deportations. No one will be deported to Haiti for years to come. Release them on Martin Luther King day.

Nine. Require that all the non-governmental organizations which raise money in the US be transparent about what they raise, where the money goes, and insist that they be legally accountable to the people of Haiti.

Ten. Treat all Haitians as we ourselves would want to be treated (Bill Quigley, “Ten Things the US Can and Should Do for Haiti,” CommonDreams.org, 01-14-2010).

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Homosexual Marriage and Social Engineering

May 28, 2009

The California Supreme Court has sustained the violation of freedom of conscience by upholding Proposition 8. Not terribly surprising, really. It seemed to me that the grounds on which Prop 8 was being challenged (that the proposition had not been properly pursued) was a dubious one; I wonder if the more promising route would be to challenge it as a violation of Constitutionally protected freedom of religion. Then again, I’m no lawyer, nor can I claim to know the minutia of the case.

A number of my conservative associates have proclaimed this a triumph of traditional values over “social engineering.” The term “social engineering” has long been a boogieman in the lexicon of conservatives. Ironically, while social engineering is indeed at the root of Proposition 8 and other marriage-restriction laws, these conservatives are holding the wrong end of the stick this time.

Any use of government incentive or favor to influence social norms and behavior qualifies as social engineering (any law could technically be considered an attempt to influence social behavior, but I think all sides would agree that laws specifically designed to protect property rights or to restrict violence do not qualify as social engineering). Conservatives are absolutely right that legislation to encourage liberal social change, such as legislation to promote racial integration or provide more opportunities for racial and gender equality, are examples of social engineering. What they pointedly ignore is that legislation to encourage and strengthen traditional social patterns are no less examples of social engineering. Thus homosexual marriage bans—laws designed to use government incentive and controls to restrain a change in social norms which is occurring in some segments of society—are also social engineering. Likewise, government policies implemented to use government incentives to restrain the rising tide of divorce are also social engineering.

In other words, conservatives who endorse homosexual marriage bans do not in truth oppose social engineering, but rather only liberal ends to which social engineering might be employed. They are perfectly willing to pursue social engineering when it suits their ends. If they don’t approve of social engineering on principle, they should stop trying to engineer homosexuals and freedom of conscience out of existence.

The Life I am Choosing: The Greatest Threat

February 19, 2009

Allie of The Life I am Choosing has a very elegant response to the most recent bile from Chris Buttars.

Governor Huntsman Supports Civil Unions

February 11, 2009

With Utah having decided via constitutional amendment to restrict freedom of conscience among individuals and religions regarding homosexual marriage, Equality Utah has introduced the Common Ground initiative to ensure the protection of some basic rights for homosexual families.

The initiative has met vehement opposition from Utah’s formidable conservative political bloc, and it faces a very steep uphill battle in the legislature. One glimmer of hope has been the somewhat surprising support of Governor Huntsman. As popular as he is, he may enable some headway on the issue.

Huntsman deserves credit for taking this stand. I would encourage everyone who supports justice and civil rights to let him know you support him. And while you’re at it, email your legislators to encourage them to support the Common Ground Initiative, and sign Equality Utah’s petition.

Then if we don’t ban them, they’ll infiltrate our schools…

October 29, 2008

My wife and I like to have nieces and nephews over for over-nighters whenever we have the chance. On one such occasion a year or so back, we took a batch of them to Liberty Park to play around on the Saturday evening. They splashed gleefully in the Seven Canyon’s fountain among the dozens of other kids. Suddenly the oldest neice, a rather impetuous girl perhaps seven years old at the time, suddenly froze. She pointed accusingly.

“Hey! They’re smoking!” She called out in her best tattling tone. “We’re not supposed to do that!”

I glanced over at the two women conversing about twenty yards away, holding their cigarettes. We smiled wryly at my niece’s lack of discretion. Reflecting upon the situation later, I should hardly have been surprised. This is the same niece who on an earlier trip to the park had seen a family celebrating a birthday, and had immediately gone and asked for a piece of cake. Nobody has ever accused her of timidity nor restraint.

While these offenders meandered along their way, I explained to my niece that while we don’t smoke, we also believe in free agency. People can choose to smoke. We need to respect their right to make those choices in public places.

Recently, my wife received one of those political email chain-letters which are often passed around in LDS circles. This one encouraged everyone to be active in promoting California Proposition 8. It contained a video created by the Family Research Council, talking about the insidious effects of normalizing homosexual marriage. The case was centered on a situation in Massachusetts. As part of diversity education, the video points out that elementary school children were presented stories revolving around married homosexuals or those courting to marry. The parents interviewed were aghast that elementary school children would be exposed to such ideas, and that this forced them to have conversations for which they did not feel the adolescents were prepared. The only thing missing was Helen Lovejoy wailing “Won’t somebody please think of the children!”

I don’t think it is necessary nor inevitable for schools to teach about homosexual families. But so what if they do? As I experienced with my niece, children are frequently exposed to ideas which run counter to the moral beliefs of their family. Many LDS familys uphold moral prohibitions on drinking coffee, tea, or alcohol, using tobacco, engaging in commercial or other everyday pursuits on the Sabbath, watching r-rated movies, Monday night activities, clothing styles, tattoos, etc; all of which are presented as acceptable by significant elements within society. At some point, we will be required explain to our children why we choose to believe or act differently than others in society. To expect everything about our communities and our schools to conform to our particular beliefs would be unreasonable. Do we have so little faith in the moral compass of our children? Despite several teachers in jr. high and high school (not to mention a grandfather) who treated coffee as perfectly acceptable, I’ve never touched the stuff. If I am doing my job as a parent, teaching my children to reason, to make righteous judgments, and to listen to the spirit, it doesn’t matter what the schools teach on important moral issues. And if I am not being an effective parent, no amount of prohibition, indoctrination, or censorship in the schools will keep them pure.

Our children will be exposed to the concept of homosexuality at some point in their childhood. Ultimately a family member will come out of the closet, or there will be homosexual couples in the community, or a peer will have homosexual parents. To use the fact that they might learn of it in school through a book as a reason to ban homosexual marriage is absurd.

Bush, China, and Free Speech

August 8, 2008

So President Bush has chosen to take the opportunity afforded by publicity of the Olympics and his trip to China to advocate greater freedom of expression in that nation.

It is certainly a worthy goal. Freedom of speech is one of the most essential freedoms we can hold.

However, given the lengths to which this administration has gone to insulate itself from dissenting expression ( “free speech zones,” extensive audience screening at speeches and events), President Bush may not be the most persuasive credible advocate around.

Jeffery Nielsen Courageously Takes Another Public Stand

July 3, 2008

Jeffrey Nielsen, professor at Westminster College and UVSC who fired from BYU after writing an editorial questioning the LDS Church’s support of the federal marriage amendment, has again been taking a very public stand as the issue resurfaces. He recently released “An Open Letter to California Mormons.”

I am a member of the Mormon Church, a married heterosexual, and a supporter of marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples. I am asking you to pause and give sincere thought to the letter from our religious leaders you have heard read, or will soon hear read, over our church pulpits asking you to get involved and oppose marriage equality in California. Please think deeply about this, not only as a member of a particular church, but also as a citizen of a democracy.

To press for an amendment to a civil constitution that would legalize discrimination against an entire class of people is no small matter, but of the greatest significance. When the argument, no matter how well intentioned, is based solely upon a religious proclamation; then, I believe, it is a serious contradiction of the wisdom of our founding fathers. It also does tremendous damage to the great progress in civil rights we’ve made in our country respecting the equal dignity of each person and towards a more certain legal equality for all citizens.

You should also know, not all faithful Mormons agree with our religious leaders’ encroachment into political matters. In fact, a growing number of active Mormons, who have gay friends and family members, are coming to the conclusion that our current leaders are as mistaken in promoting discrimination against gays and lesbians as was the Mormon hierarchy in the 60’s when they opposed equal rights for people of color, and our Mormon leaders in the 70’s when they opposed full legal equality for women.

Of course, religious authorities of any denomination possess the right, and may claim the legitimacy, to set the theology and policy for their religious community. When they; however, attempt to interject religious doctrine into the public spaces of a diverse democracy without reasonable justification, then members, especially faithful members, of that religious organization have the civic responsibility to express public disapproval of such dangerous and undemocratic behavior.

No one is asking that you condone a behavior that might violate your religious faith, but we need to allow everyone the freedom to live their life as they see fit, so long as it does not physically harm another person. After all, religious values must be something an individual freely chooses, not something forced upon him or her by the state. We should never allow our constitutions, whether state or federal, to become weapons in a crusade to impose a particular religious value system upon a pluralistic democracy. Today it might be a particular religious value that we affirm, but tomorrow it might be a religious system, which would seek to legislate against our own sincere beliefs. So now is the time to take a stand and keep separate civil and religious authority.

I do not believe that people choose their sexual orientation any more than they choose their skin color or gender. So to discriminate and deny them equal protection and equal opportunity under civil law because of these natural traits; especially in this case, sexual orientation, is grossly unfair and should be rejected outright in a compassionate and just democracy. If anyone could give me a single reasonable argument against marriage equality in our civil society, which doesn’t make fallacious appeals to tradition, misplaced appeals to religious authority, or make some ridiculous claim about nonhuman animals, then I would like to hear it. So far, no one has been able to present me with even a single justifiable reason.

You should know that like you, family and marriage are very important to me. As I have become acquainted with gay and lesbian couples, I have been touched by their goodness, sincerity, and commitment. I am persuaded that allowing marriage equality would, in fact, strengthen the institutions of family and marriage in our country. Perhaps it might even make all of us a little more considerate and responsible as both marriage partners and parents. I can only hope that the citizens of California, and my fellow Mormons, will possess the wisdom and moral decency to reject the call to discriminate against our gay and lesbian coworkers, friends, neighbors, church members, and family.

Bravo.


Listen to his very thought-provoking interview on KCPW
.

Feminist Mormon Housewifes: Traditional Marriage is Dead (and it’s a good thing too)

June 26, 2008

With the recent legal brouhaha over homosexual marrige in California and the LDS Church’s response, the homosexual marriage issue is again a hot topic in religious circle and around the blogosphere. One of the big arguments of those advocating for homosexual marriage bans is that we must protect “traditional marriage.” Of course, I’m always curious what form of traditional marriage they want to protect; after all, marriage has had many different forms around the world, and has experienced quite a bit of evolution over the past couple hundred years.

“Not Ophelia,” contributor to Feminist Mormon Housewives, has written a profound post, “Traditional Marriage is Dead (and it’s a good thing too),” addressing just that point.

What we call marriage in this country is a very recent invention. Throughout the millennia marriage has been, not about two people who love each other and want to share a life together, but rather about power, property and paternity. About male control of women’s work, women’s lives and women’s fertility. The importance of virginity, the stigma of bastardy, the ‘head of the household’ status, coverture, and in some cultures arranged marriages, bride price, dowries, honor killings, and the right of husbands but not wives to divorce at will — all of this was (or shamefully still is) part of the effects of traditional marriage.

I’m glad she was willing to barbecue that sacred cow. Whether or not we believe homosexual marriage is sinful, it is certainly worth considering just what traditional marriage means as a theory and in our lives.

The Iraq Status of Forces Negotiations: Exposing the Republican Lie

June 19, 2008

For five years now, Republicans high and low have scoffed at the Iraq War skeptics. They’ve routinely protested any suggestion that the conquest had anything to do with oil or empire. This is a war of liberation, an act of benevolence to free an oppressed people, a noble act to spread Democracy. The regrettable use of military force was necessary, but was merely temporary. Our forces will be removed as soon as the legitimate government of Iraq no longer needed or wanted our services.

Variously naive and duplicitous, these assurances have been proven wrong. We now know that the Bush administration has been in negotiations for a new Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, one which would permit U.S. forces to maintain dozens of indefinite-term military bases, control of Iraqi airspace, carte blanche to pursue military operations, and immunity from Iraqi law for not only members of the U.S. military, but U.S. contractors.

That is not a mutual aid agreement between sovereign nations. That is a pact turning Iraq into a client state of the U.S.

Yes, the conservatives insist that the bases are intended to be temporary. The bases in Saudi Arabia established during Gulf War I were supposedly temporary as well. So was Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, but the idea that this sprawling, expensive base will be dismantled anytime soon is rather absurd. As Chalmers Johnson pointed out in his book The Sorrows of Empire, its network of military bases is a primary means by which the U.S. stretches its influence and exerts political pressure on nations throughout the world. This is nothing more than the neo-imperialism practiced by the U.S. for the better part of a century.

You don’t think the war had anything to do with petroleum? I have a hard time believing that the administration didn’t see potential of leveraging the influence of long-term military bases to help assure the pipeline to the U.S.

And what of the desires of the legitimate government in Iraq? They find the U.S. demands to be unacceptable.

We have reached an impasse, because when we opened these negotiations we did not realise that the US demands would so deeply affect Iraqi sovereignty and this is something we can never accept (Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki, from “Impasse in US-Iraqi forces talks,” BBC)

It reminds me a great deal of the agreement between the U.S. and Cuba after the Spanish-American War. Cuba, now “liberated” from Spain, was required to grant the U.S. military bases (of which Guantanamo is a remnant), exempt U.S. entities from Cuban law, and even permit the U.S. government a veto over the Cuban legislature. Some liberation.

It is worth considering that the hubris of the U.S. and their insistence that Cuba become a vassal played a very key role in the resentment which ultimately enabled a meglomaniacal dictator to lead an uprising and defy the U.S. for almost half a century now.

Time for the conservatives to face facts and or own up to the lies. There are clearly ulterior motives at play—motives which must be terminated. The Middle-East is explosive enough right now without pouring more gasoline on the fire.

The Crandall Canyon Disaster and Market “self-correction”

April 1, 2008

In responding to my last post “The Triangle Waistshirt Fire,” one commentor assured me that the market is self-correcting and capable of protecting workers and the public. He raised the example of the Crandall Canyon mine disaster, suggesting that the the owner (Robert Murray) will somehow get his just desserts in the end. Perhaps he will. No mention was made of how the market will play a role in this, but no matter.

Ironically, today The Salt Lake Tribune reported on the status of the disaster fallout.

Crandall Canyon widow Wendy Black minced no words last September when she told a Senate committee: “It would have taken just one MSHA man doing his job to have saved my husband’s life.”

Her bitterness over the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration’s perceived failure to enforce laws protecting miners was reinforced Monday by an internal Labor Department audit that found local, regional and national deficiencies in MSHA’s handling of Crandall Canyon’s roof control plan (“Crandall: Labor audit confirms families’ fears”).

Sounds like any penalty or market “self correction” consequences Murray pays will be rather cold comfort to widows and fatherless children—not to mention the dead themselves.

It is worth noting that the Triangle Shirtwaist Company owners suffered no consequences for their disregard for the lives of their workers. With few prior regulations fully spelling out their responsibilities, they got off scott free. In fact, with the fire insurance payments, they made a tidy profit from the deaths of almost 150 people. Justice is supposed to be blind, but the illustrious market was apparently also deaf to the cries of the victims.

Also inspired by the Tribune’s article, Oldenburg of 3rd Avenue has written a fine post about the essential need not only for regulation, but for government to be committed to enforcing the regulation—something we’ve lacked for quite some time.