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Water Shutoffs Robbing Detroit Residents of ‘Dignified’ Life: UN Investigators October 21, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Detroit, Health, Human Rights, Poverty, Race, Racism, Water.
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Roger’s note: few things, if any, are more necessary for human survival than water.  The United States is the wealthiest nation in the world.  It is a nation replete with millionaires and billionaires, and it is a nation that spends trillions of dollars on warfare.  It is also a nation that operates within the dictates of capitalist economy where people who cannot “afford” to pay their water bill are cut off without this fundamental necessity.  There is something very wrong with this picture.

 

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Following two-day inquiry, UN experts release strongly worded warning condemning city’s human rights violations

 detroit_water_brigade_human_right

Detroit residents have organized direct actions, mass marches, and creative emergency responses to confront the water shut-off crisis. (Photo: Detroit Water Brigade)

Detroit’s “unprecedented” shutoff of water utilities to city homes condemns residents to “lives without dignity,” violates human rights on a large scale, and disproportionately impacts African-Americans, United Nations investigators declared Monday following a two-day inquiry.

“Denial of access to sufficient quantity of water threatens the rights to adequate housing, life, health, adequate food, integrity of the family,” wrote UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing Leilani Farha and UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque, in a joint statement. “It exacerbates inequalities, stigmatizes people and renders the most vulnerable even more helpless. Lack of access to water and hygiene is also a real threat to public health as certain diseases could widely spread.”

The officials visited the city following appeals in June from organizations concerned with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department’s (DWSD) escalation of water shut-offs to accounts that have fallen behind on their bills, amounting to up to 3,000 disconnections a week. The increase touched off organizing efforts by residents who charge they’re part of a larger plan, in keeping with Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr’s bankruptcy push, to displace African-Americans and privatize water and public services.

During their investigation, the UN experts held interviews and meetings with local residents, as well as with city officials. On Sunday, hundreds of people crowded into a town hall meeting with the officials. “Once again, the international spotlight was on Detroiters trying to carve out dignified lives while being denied basic necessities of life,” said Maureen Taylor, spokesperson for the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and the Detroit People’s Water Board, at the town hall meeting.

DeMeeko Williams, coordinator for the Detroit Water Brigade, told Common Dreams that it is absurd that people in the city have to appeal to the United Nations for support. “You can’t get help from the city government, the state government is the main culprit, and the U.S. government is not doing anything, so what else is there to do? Who do we turn to?” he asked.

Despite a grassroots push for the Water Affordability Plan, the city has increased water rates 8.7 percent at a time of massive unemployment and poverty. Detroit is effectively passing “the increased costs of leakages due to an aging infrastructure” onto residents who can’t afford it, the investigators charge.

The rapporteurs document the heavy toll the shut-offs have taken.

“We were deeply disturbed to observe the indignity people have faced and continue to live with in one of the wealthiest countries in the world and in a city that was a symbol of America’s prosperity,” they state. “Without water, people cannot live a life with dignity—they have no water for drinking, cooking, bathing, flushing toilets and keeping their clothes and houses clean. Despite the fact that water is essential for survival, the city has no data on how many people have been and are living without tap water, let alone information on age, disabilities, chronic illness, race or income level of the affected population.”

Despite the lack of data provided by the city, information obtained by the investigators suggests the city’s vulnerable and dispossessed are bearing the brunt of the crisis. “About 80 percent of the population of Detroit is African American. According to data from 2013, 40.7 percent of Detroit’s population lives below the poverty level, 99 percent of the poor are African American,” they write. “Twenty percent of the population is living on 800 USD or less per month, while the average monthly water bill is currently 70.67 USD.”

Furthermore, they note, “thousands of households are living in fear that their water may be shut off at any time without due notice, that they may have to leave their homes and that children may be taken by child protection services as houses without water are deemed uninhabitable for children. In many cases, unpaid water bills are being attached to property taxes increasing the risk of foreclosure.”

The investigators continue, “It was touching to witness mothers’ courage to strive to keep their children at home, and the support people were providing to each other to live in these unbearable circumstances. And it was heartbreaking to hear of the stigmatization associated with the shut-offs—in particular the public humiliation of having a blue mark imprinted on the sidewalk in front of homes when their water was shut off due to unpaid bills.”

Meanwhile, the shut-offs continue. “There is still a high number of people going without water,” said Williams. “The Detroit Water Brigade is on the front-lines trying to help people get back to self-sufficiency. We need more support. The situation is not just going to go away.”

Report: Senate Report on CIA Will Sidestep Look at Bush ‘Torture Team’ October 19, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in George W. Bush, Human Rights, Torture, Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, Democracy, War on Terror, Constitution.
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Roger’s note: The United States government and military violate international law on a daily basis; the Bush/Cheney torture regime, which Obama has outsourced to Bagram and god knows where else, is one of its most blatant manifestations.  Obama’s “we need to look forward not backward” excuse for violating his oath to defend the constitution does credit to Lewis Carroll and Franz Kafka.  The next time you are before a judge accused of a crime, please remind her that it is time to look forward and not backward.  Your charges are sure to be dropped.

 

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According to sources who spoke with McClatchy, five-year inquiry into agency’s torture regime ignores key role played by Bush administration officials who authorized the abuse

 rumsfeld_bush_cheneyFrom left: Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney. Thanks to an Obama adminstration that insisted on “looking forward, not backward” on torture, and a Senate investigation that has limited its scope to the mere “action or inactions” of the CIA, neither these men nor the others who helped authorize the torture program will likely ever face prosecution for what experts say were clear violations of domestic and international law. (Photo: Wikimedia/Public domain)

According to new reporting by McClatchy, the five-year investigation led by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee into the torture program conducted by the CIA in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 will largely ignore the role played by high-level Bush administration officials, including those on the White House legal team who penned memos that ultimately paved the way for the torture’s authorization.

Though President Obama has repeatedly been criticized for not conducting or allowing a full review of the torture that occured during his predecessor’s tenure, the Senate report—which has been completed, but not released—has repeatedly been cited by lawmakers and the White House as the definitive examination of those policies and practices. According to those with knowledge of the report who spoke with McClatchy, however, the review has quite definite limitations.

The report, one person who was not authorized to discuss it told McClatchy, “does not look at the Bush administration’s lawyers to see if they were trying to literally do an end run around justice and the law.” Instead, the focus is on the actions and inations of the CIA and whether or not they fully informed Congress about those activities. “It’s not about the president,” the person said. “It’s not about criminal liability.”

Responding to comment on the reporting, legal experts and critics of the Bush torture program expressed disappointment that high-level officials in the administration were not part of the review. In addition to the president himself, Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, others considered part of what it sometimes referred to as the “Torture Team,” include: Alberto Gonzales, a former White House counsel and attorney general; David Addington, former vice-president Dick Cheney’s chief of staff; Douglas Feith, who was under-secretary of defence; William Haynes, formerly the Pentagon’s general counsel; and John Yoo and Jay Bybee, who wrote many of the specific legal memos authorizing specific forms of abuse.

“If it’s the case that the report doesn’t really delve into the White House role, then that’s a pretty serious indictment of the report,” Elizabeth Goitein, the co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program at the New York University Law School, said to McClatchy. “Ideally it should come to some sort of conclusions on whether there were legal violations and if so, who was responsible.”

And Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, indicated that limiting the report to just the actions of the CIA doesn’t make much sense from a legal or investigative standpoint. “It doesn’t take much creativity to include senior Bush officials in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s jurisdiction. It’s not hard to link an investigation into the CIA’s torture to the senior officials who authorized it. That’s not a stretch at all.”

As Mclatchy‘s Jonathan S. Landay, Ali Watkins and Marisa Taylor report:

The narrow parameters of the inquiry apparently were structured to secure the support of the committee’s minority Republicans. But the Republicans withdrew only months into the inquiry, and several experts said that the parameters were sufficiently flexible to have allowed an examination of the roles Bush, Cheney and other top administration officials played in a top-secret program that could only have been ordered by the president.

“It doesn’t take much creativity to include senior Bush officials in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s jurisdiction,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “It’s not hard to link an investigation into the CIA’s torture to the senior officials who authorized it. That’s not a stretch at all.”

It’s not as if there wasn’t evidence that Bush and his top national security lieutenants were directly involved in the program’s creation and operation.

The Senate Armed Services Committee concluded in a 2008 report on detainee mistreatment by the Defense Department that Bush opened the way in February 2002 by denying al Qaida and Taliban detainees the protection of an international ban against torture.

White House officials also participated in discussions and reviewed specific CIA interrogation techniques in 2002 and 2003, the public version of the Senate Armed Services Committee report concluded.

Several unofficial accounts published as far back as 2008 offered greater detail.

Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld relentlessly pressured interrogators to subject detainees to harsh interrogation methods in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, McClatchy reported in April 2009. Such evidence, which was non-existent, would have substantiated one of Bush’s main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003.

Other accounts described how Cheney, Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and Secretary of State Colin Powell approved specific harsh interrogation techniques. George Tenet, then the CIA director, also reportedly updated them on the results.

“Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly,” Ashcroft said after one of dozens of meetings on the program, ABC News reported in April 2008 in a story about the White House’s direct oversight of interrogations.

News reports also chronicled the involvement of top White House and Justice Department officials in fashioning a legal rationale giving Bush the authority to override U.S. and international laws prohibiting torture. They also helped craft opinions that effectively legalized the CIA’s use of waterboarding, wall-slamming and sleep deprivation.

Though President Obama casually admitted earlier this, “We tortured some folks.” — what most critics and human rights experts have requested is an open and unbiased review of the full spectrum of the U.S. torture program under President Bush. And though increasingly unlikely, calls remain for those responsible for authorizing and conducting the abuse to be held accountable with indictments, trials, and if guilty, jail sentences. In addition, as a letter earlier this year signed by ten victims of the extrajudicial rendition under the Bush administration stated, the concept of full disclosure and accountability is key to restoring the credibility of the nation when it comes to human rights abuses:

Publishing the truth is not just important for the US’s standing in the world. It is a necessary part of correcting America’s own history. Today in America, the architects of the torture program declare on television they did the right thing. High-profile politicians tell assembled Americans that ‘waterboarding’ is a ‘baptism’ that American forces should still engage in.

These statements only breed hatred and intolerance. This is a moment when America can move away from all that, but only if her people are not sheltered from the truth.

As McClatchy notes, a redacted version of the report’s summary—the only part of it expected to be released to the public—continues to be under review. Its release date remains unclear.

Your Tax Dollars at Work … to Oppress and Kill Our Neighbors to the South September 16, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Human Rights, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: Here is a letter from SOA Watch, the courageous that works day and night to shut down the infamous and murderous School of the Americas (renamed WHINSEC) now at Fort Benning,  Georgia that for decades has indoctrinated and trained military personnel to do the dirty work of oppression and assassination for Latin American dictators and alleged democracies.  The focus of this letter are the atrocities that are taking place on a daily basis perpetrated by the U.S. supported puppet government in Honduras under the leadership of SOA graduates.  Honduras, since the US supported military coup against the elected Zelaya government, has become one of the most violent nations on the face of the earth; and this has created the exodus that is putting so much pressure on the U.S. border.

 

September 13, 2014

My name is Brigitte Gynther and I am the new SOAW Latin America Liaison.  I look forward to getting to know many of you and working together to close the SOA/WHINSEC and demand justice for the murders, repression, disappearances, and so many other crimes carried out by SOA/WHINSEC graduates — both in the past and today.  My first experience with the SOAW movement was traveling down to the gates of Ft. Benning as a student twelve years ago.  Later, I moved to the Florida farmworker town of Immokalee and spent 8 years organizing with religious communities and others to advance the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Campaign for Fair Food.  We frequently attended the SOAW Vigil, but little did I imagine that I would later end up spending two years as an SOAW activante in Honduras, documenting the tremendous human rights abuses unleashed upon the country as the result of the 2009 SOA-graduate led coup. 

In fact, I just came back from part of a delegation to Honduras in which SOA graduate Col. German Alfaro — notorious for criminalizing human rights defenders and social movement leaders — attacked the delegation in the media as part of a strategy aimed at silencing those who speak out.  The delegation had traveled to the Lower Aguan Valley to learn about the very real assassinations and human rights violations suffered by the campesino communities.  When the delegation visited the community of La Panama and took testimonies from victims about a violent eviction by the Honduran military involving tear gas, live bullets, one death, two serious injuries, and the beatings of several people, Col. Alfaro lashed out in the press, accusing the delegation of “encouraging campesinos to launch attacks” and said they were investigating the group for “being in a practically restricted area of the country.”  This follows similiar accusations made by Col. Alfaro against Annie Bird of Rights Action – who has extensively documented extrajudicial killings and abuses in the Aguan Valley – and accusations against local human rights defenders and small farmers.  It is part of a dangerous strategy aimed at hiding the reality in the Aguan by intimidating, discrediting, and defaming human rights workers who expose what is going on. Click here to call on the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa to condemn the attacks on national and international human rights observers and journalists who document murders and human rights violations in the Bajo Aguan.  

Just two weeks after the delegation visited the Aguan, the Human Rights Observatory there reported that military forces under the command of another SOA graduate, Col. Rene Jovel Martinez, purposefully destroyed 52 acres of corn that campesinos had cultivated, some of which was almost ready to harvest. This leaves those families without the corn harvest they need to eat for the coming year.  

The delegation finished in Honduras’ capital, where — after telling us about massacre after massacre and murder after murder —  one of the people we met with asked us simply, “Who would want to stay in this country?”  It is a telling question.  Indeed, day after day, people flee the violence in Honduras, heading north to the US.  This exodus is the direct result of the military coup and repression by the US-trained and funded military to impose policies that benefit the ultra-wealthy and multinational corporations at the expense of the majority of the population, corrupting the judicial system to ensure impunity for murders. Governed by the rule of the powerful instead of the rule of law, murders and violence have spiraled out of control.  The US continues funding and training the corrupt Honduran regime, creating more migration. This is why, on November 22nd, the Saturday of the SOAW Vigil Weekend, we will be gathering outside the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia.  Many of those fleeing the violence, repression, and economic devastation of Honduras are now incarcerated at the Stewart Detention Center by the largest private prison corporation in the US.

We will gather at the Stewart Detention Center to protest not only the mistreatment, jailing, and deportations, but also the US policies and military funding that cause so many people to have to leave their homes and migrate to the US in the first place.  We will call on the US to respond to increasing migration not by increasing military aid and funding to corrupt and repressive governments, but by changing US polices — such as free trade agreements — that cause migration.  We will demand the US to stop training so many Latin American military officers at WHINSEC to protect US corporate interests over human rights, resulting in military officers who go on to murder, threaten, and burn corn harvests of poor campesinos.

I hope to meet you at the gates of Ft. Benning and the Stewart Detention Center this November 21-23We will be joined at the Vigil this year by some of the amazing participants from SOAW’s Youth Encuentro this summer, where young leaders on the front lines of struggles across the hemisphere came together to build the SOAW movement.  Together we will remember those who have been massacred, murdered, and disappeared at the hands of SOA graduates and those who are suffering that reality right now.  We will also speak out for the thousands of innocent civilians, children and adults, who flee the reality imposed by SOA graduates and find themselves jailed in the U.S., with our taxpayer money, for extended periods of time for no other crime than doing what many of us would probably do if we found ourselves in their shoes.  

Canadian Group Delivering Water to Detroit to Protest Shutoffs July 25, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Capitalism, Detroit, Economic Crisis, Human Rights, Poverty, Water.
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Roger’s note: there are trillions of dollars to support thirteen years of warfare in Afghanistan and hundreds of military bases around the world and a stockpile of nuclear weapons capable of destroying the planet a hundred times over; there is money for record profits for banks and financial institutions and millions to bail them out when their crimes lead to economic disaster; there is money to pay CEOs hundreds of millions of dollars in salaries; there are gazillions for war profiteering corporations such as Lockheed and Boeing;  there are three billion dollars a year to arm Israel’s slaughter of Palestinian civilians (I could go on and on) … BUT THERE IS NO MONEY TO PROVIDE WATER TO POOR PEOPLE IN DETROIT.

Some naively and  mistakenly believe that in a democracy you get the government you deserve.  Yes, just as Palestinian children deserve to be murdered because their parents voted for Hamas.  It is a perverse world we live in.  In CAPITALIST democracy, you do not get the government you deserve; rather you get war and poverty.  But, don’t listen to me, I am an unrepentant commie.

 

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Council of Canadians joins movement against city-wide water war

As Detroit activists and human rights groups continue to protest against widespread water shutoffs, the Council of Canadians mobilized on Thursday to deliver a  convoy of water in a show of international support to beleaguered city residents.

The Windsor chapter of the council will bring hundreds of gallons of water into Detroit to help those faced with long-term service shutoffs.

“In a region that holds 20% of the world’s freshwater, the water cut-offs are a source of growing international outrage,” said Maude Barlow, national chairperson for the Council of Canadians. “Water is a human right, and it is unacceptable in a country of plenty, surrounded by the Great Lakes, the largest source of fresh water in the world, that people should go without.”

The council plans to deliver their convoy to a rally Thursday afternoon at the St. Peter’s Episcopal Church of Detroit. Several organizers will also send a petition to City Hall, asking for water to be restored to elderly people, disabled people and families with children.

“The human suffering is that of a major disaster, one that grows every day,” Barlow stated, adding that the council asks President Barack Obama to “intervene and to declare a state of emergency. It is appalling that this has been allowed to happen, even more so to go on this long.”

The city, which has been fighting its way out of bankruptcy in part by cutting public services such as pensions and welfare, ceased its water supply three months ago to households that were behind on payments in order to collect about $118 million in outstanding bills. Council members recently agreed to a 15-day moratorium on the shutoffs to allow residents time to catch up on what they owe, but emphasized that it was temporary. The policy began to receive international attention as residents held rallies and mass protests and the United Nations declared the shutoffs a violation of human rights.

More than 14,000 households were disconnected between April and June, while the Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DWSD) announced plans to increase the shutoffs to up to 3,000 households a month. But according to Catarina de Albuquerque, UN expert on the human right to water and sanitation, disconnections for delinquent bills are only “permissible” if residents are simply choosing not to pay, which is not the case for the majority of the city’s low-income households.

“Disconnections due to non-payment are only permissible if it can be shown that the resident is able to pay but is not paying,” de Albuquerque said. “In other words, when there is genuine inability to pay, human rights simply forbids disconnections.”

Detroit’s cost of living is too high for many of its low-income residents, particularly as they take the brunt of service cuts decided on by their bankruptcy manager, Kevyn Orr. “Our water rates rise continuously,” Priscilla Dziubek, a spokesperson for the Detroit People’s Water Board, told Common Dreams. “More and more people are struggling with their water bills. We have a loss of democracy. [The city] should make decisions with the citizens of Detroit in mind.”

Water bills in Detroit have gone up by 119 percent in the past 10 years. In June, the city council approved an 8.7 percent increase in rates. At the same time, unemployment rates reached a record high and the poverty rate hit 40 percent. Orr ordered the shutoffs for anyone who owes more than $150 on their bill, while the DWSD said that the procedure is standard and enforced every year.

But as the Michigan Citizen pointed out in June, there is a notable discrepancy in who gets their water services turned off and who doesn’t: Low-income residents do while elite establishments — like the Palmer Park Golf Club, which owes $200,000; Ford Field, which owes $55,000; and the Joe Louis Arena, which owes $80,000,  — don’t.

“Why are they going after citizens?” Dziubek said. “They could collect from one of these large accounts and get a lot more money.”

The Detroit People’s Water Board and several other organizations, including Food & Water Watch, called on the city’s managers to implement a water affordability plan that would ease the burden on low-income residents. In a report (PDF) submitted to the special rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, the Detroit People’s Water Board stated that “it would be more just and efficient for the DWSD to spend its resources collecting unpaid bills from commercial and industrial users than depriving households of basic services.”

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said in a press statement Monday that the DWSD should “fundamentally reconsider its use of draconian water shutoffs as a means of strong-arming residents who cannot afford to pay their water bills.”

It was unclear Thursday morning whether the council would be able to cross the border, as the U.S. government has to give approval on allowing in any amount of water that exceeds what is necessary for “personal use.”

Dziubek wasn’t worried. “I can’t see any reason why humanitarian water would be turned away,” she said.

 

 

Israel’s ‘Brutal Attack’ on Gaza Kills At Least 8 Children July 9, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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Roger note: unfortunately this is really nothing new.  The fratricidal war between Jews and Arabs has been going on for decades and no end is in sight.  The seeds for this conflict were planted with the imposition of the Israeli state on Palestinian soil and will continue to sprout violence and death until some unforeseen day when a single secular state replaces the existing unsustainable divide.  Of course, this can only happen if the ultra right racist Israeli government does not succeed in its attempt to conquer and annihilate the Palestinian peoples.  In the mean time a hundred Palestinians die for every Israeli in a  David and Goliath struggle.

 

‘The death and injury to children caused by Israel’s military offensive on Gaza demonstrates serious and extensive disregard of fundamental principles of international law.’

- Jon Queally, staff writer

Palestinians stand atop the rubble of a house which police said was destroyed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza City July 9, 2014. (Credit: Reuters/Mohammed Salem)

At least eight children are among those who have been killed in the Gaza Strip over the last twenty-four hours, according to various reports, as the Israeli military continued to bombard the Palestinian enclave using naval ships, fighter jets, and aerial drones.

Palestinian women grieve following the deaths of several people after an Israeli air strike on a home in the northern of Gaza Strip early Wednesday. (Credit: Mohammed Abed / AFP/Getty Images)

According to a report from the Defense of Children International (DCI-Palestine), six children were killed when a building was leveled by a missile that may have been fired from an Israeli drone on Tuesday afternoon in the city of Khan Younis.

According to the group:

The five families that reside in the building evacuated immediately after an Israeli aerial drone fired a warning missile. A number of neighbors, however, gathered on the roof in an effort to prevent the bombing. Shortly after 3 p.m., an Israeli airstrike leveled the building, and killed seven people, including five children, on the spot and injured 28 others.

Hussein Yousef Hussein Karawe, 13, Basem Salem Hussein Karawe, 10, Mohammad Ali Faraj Karawe, 12, Abdullah Hamed Karawe, 6, and Kasem Jaber Adwan Karawe, 12, died immediately, according to evidence collected by Defense for Children International-Palestine. Seraj Abed al-Aal, 8, succumbed to his injuries later that evening.

“The death and injury to children caused by Israel’s military offensive on Gaza demonstrates serious and extensive disregard of fundamental principles of international law,” said Rifat Kassis, executive director of DCI-Palestine. “Israeli forces must not carry out indiscriminate airstrikes in densely populated areas that fail to distinguish between military targets, civilians and civilian objects.”

RT.com posted dramatic and graphic footage that followed the bombing in Khan Younis:

“In Gaza, it is not a war or a military operation though it may look so. It is collective punishment and it is a brutal attack against all Palestinian people, and mainly civilians are paying the price.” —Dr. Mona El-Farra, from Gaza

In a post published by Common Dreams on Tuesday, Dr. Mona El-Farra, a Palestinian physician and human rights activist currently on the ground in Gaza, said the people there “do not have bomb shelters to escape to and hide” and rejected the idea that Israel’s assault could possibly be justified.

“These air raids fall on the majority of the population living in very crowded areas, so while they hit their targets, civilians pay a big price – we have many causalities and the numbers are rising every hour,” El-Farra said. “In Gaza, it is not a war or a military operation though it may look so. It is collective punishment and it is a brutal attack against all Palestinian people, and mainly civilians are paying the price.”

As Maureen Clare Murphy, managing editor of the Electronic Intifada website, notes:

The ongoing bombing campaign is the most severe violence inflicted by Israel on Gaza since its eight-day assault in November 2012, during which more than 150 Palestinians were killed, 33 of them children.

More than 1,400 Palestinians were killed in Gaza, including 350 children, during Israel’s three consecutive weeks of attacks from air, land and sea during winter 2008-09.

Twenty-five lives have been claimed by Israel in Gaza since Monday, including at least eight children, as warplanes bombed areas across Gaza, whose 1.7 million Palestinian residents live under a tightly-enforced siege and are unable to flee and have nowhere to seek shelter.

According to DCI-Palestine:

International humanitarian law prohibits indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks and requires that all parties to an armed conflict distinguish between military targets, civilians and civilian objects. Israel as the occupying power in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including the Gaza Strip, is required to protect the Palestinian civilian population from violence.

While Israel relies on the principle of self defense to justify military offensives on Gaza, Israeli forces are bound to customary international law rules of proportionality and necessity.

Hamas’ military wing claimed responsibility for firing around 120 rockets from Gaza into southern and central Israel, with some reaching Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, according to Haaretz. Israel’s “Iron Dome” anti-missile system has reportedly intercepted at least 23 rockets. While minimal property damage has been reported, there have been no serious casualties.

The Israeli military has mobilized thousands of reserve soldiers in preparation for any further escalation, according to news reports.

This tweeted image appears to show the child victims killed in the Khan Younis bombing:

According to Ma’an news agency, the a total of twelve Palestinians have been killed on Wednesday in Gaza, bringing the overall death toll since Monday to 35 people and more than 300 injuries.

 

______________________________

Fried Chicken with a Side of Homophobia June 8, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, LGBT, Right Wing, Uncategorized.
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Would you like your fried chicken with a side of homophobia? That’s what’s on offer at the Calgary International Airport, where notoriously anti-gay restaurant Chick-fil-A has just opened its first Canadian branch.

The fervently Christian American company donated nearly $2 million to anti-gay organizations in 2010, with a particular focus on lobbying against equal marriage. In 2012 its CEO Dan T. Cathy owned up to being ‘guilty as charged’. He openly condemned those who “have the audacity to define what marriage is about,” saying they were “inviting God’s judgment on our nation.”

Chick-fil-A has been beset with boycotts and protests ever since, but this hasn’t stopped it planning to expand into 108 new locations this year – including Canada.

Tell Chick-fil-A: we don’t want your bigoted views here. Please stay out of Canada.  http://action.sumofus.org/a/canada-chick-fil-a/?akid=5589.1024433.toTN4K&rd=1&sub=fwd&t=2

The fast-food giant is one of the largest privately-held restaurant chains in the US, but its public image took a nose-dive in 2012 with revelations about its anti-gay stance. Since then, some new US branches have been prevented from opening, and one was removed from the University of Atlanta campus after opposition from students.

We can do the same in Canada. The Calgary branch opened quietly with almost no publicity. Reporters who did cover the launch were told not to ask customers about the restaurant’s anti-gay reputation. Chick-fil-A is clearly worried about a backlash. So let’s give it one!

Sign the petition to show Chick-fil-A that homophobia is not welcome in Canada.

Thank you for standing up for equal rights for everyone,

Angus, Hanna, Jon, and the rest of the team at SumOfUs

 

SumOfUs is a worldwide movement of people like you, working together to hold corporations accountable for their actions and forge a new, sustainable path for our global economy.

**********
More information:

http://www.calgaryherald.com/news/calgary/fast+food+chain+Chick+opens+Canadian+franchise+talks+down+marriage+controversy/9886274/story.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/05/29/chick-fil-a-canada-calgary-airport_n_5411263.html

 

 

Using Jailed Migrants as a Pool of Cheap Labor May 25, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Immigration, Prison Industrial Complex.
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Roger’s note: the NY times never ceases to amaze me with its euphemisms.  For the Times torture is often “enhanced interrogation.”  Here, slave labor is “cheap labor.”  Slave labor is alive and well in the United States of America, from the tomato fields of Florida to the government’s own more and more privatized prison system.  Unless, of course, you believe that payment that ranges from zero to thirteen cents an hour is not slave labor. 

From the article:

“I went from making $15 an hour as a chef to $1 a day in the kitchen in lockup,” said Pedro Guzmán, 34, who had worked for restaurants in California, Minnesota and North Carolina before he was picked up and held for about 19 months, mostly at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga. “And I was in the country legally.”

Mr. Guzmán said that he had been required to work even when he was running a fever, that guards had threatened him with solitary confinement if he was late for his 2 a.m. shift, and that his family had incurred more than $75,000 in debt from legal fees and lost income during his detention.  A Guatemalan native, he was released in 2011 after the courts renewed his visa, which had mistakenly been revoked, in part because of a clerical error.

Well, since prisoner “cheap” labor is saving the tax payer and the private prison corporations so much money, it must be loved by the Democrats and the Republicans.  Clerical errors do happen, and Human Rights can be such a bore.

HOUSTON — The kitchen of the detention center here was bustling as a dozen immigrants boiled beans and grilled hot dogs, preparing lunch for about 900 other detainees. Elsewhere, guards stood sentry and managers took head counts, but the detainees were doing most of the work — mopping bathroom stalls, folding linens, stocking commissary shelves.

As the federal government cracks down on immigrants in the country illegally and forbids businesses to hire them, it is relying on tens of thousands of those immigrants each year to provide essential labor — usually for $1 a day or less — at the detention centers where they are held when caught by the authorities.

This work program is facing increasing resistance from detainees and criticism from immigrant advocates. In April, a lawsuit accused immigration authorities in Tacoma, Wash., of putting detainees in solitary confinement after they staged a work stoppage and hunger strike. In Houston, guards pressed other immigrants to cover shifts left vacant by detainees who refused to work in the kitchen, according to immigrants interviewed here.

 

Detained Immigrants, Working for the U.S.

Every day, about 5,500 detained immigrants work in the nation’s immigration detention centers. Some are paid a dollar a day; others earn nothing. The locations shown are facilities that the federal government reimburses for this work.

Buffalo Federal Detention Facility

BATAVIA, N.Y.

195 workers

Northwest Detention Center

TACOMA, WASH.

346 workers

Number of workers on April 1, 2014

Houston Contract Detention Facility

HOUSTON

288 workers

300

Privately run center

Public facility (like county jails)

10

The federal authorities say the program is voluntary, legal and a cost-saver for taxpayers. But immigrant advocates question whether it is truly voluntary or lawful, and argue that the government and the private prison companies that run many of the detention centers are bending the rules to convert a captive population into a self-contained labor force.

Last year, at least 60,000 immigrants worked in the federal government’s nationwide patchwork of detention centers — more than worked for any other single employer in the country, according to data from United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE. The cheap labor, 13 cents an hour, saves the government and the private companies $40 million or more a year by allowing them to avoid paying outside contractors the $7.25 federal minimum wage. Some immigrants held at county jails work for free, or are paid with sodas or candy bars, while also providing services like meal preparation for other government institutions.

Unlike inmates convicted of crimes, who often participate in prison work programs and forfeit their rights to many wage protections, these immigrants are civil detainees placed in holding centers, most of them awaiting hearings to determine their legal status. Roughly half of the people who appear before immigration courts are ultimately permitted to stay in the United States — often because they were here legally, because they made a compelling humanitarian argument to a judge or because federal authorities decided not to pursue the case.

“I went from making $15 an hour as a chef to $1 a day in the kitchen in lockup,” said Pedro Guzmán, 34, who had worked for restaurants in California, Minnesota and North Carolina before he was picked up and held for about 19 months, mostly at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga. “And I was in the country legally.”

Mr. Guzmán said that he had been required to work even when he was running a fever, that guards had threatened him with solitary confinement if he was late for his 2 a.m. shift, and that his family had incurred more than $75,000 in debt from legal fees and lost income during his detention. A Guatemalan native, he was released in 2011 after the courts renewed his visa, which had mistakenly been revoked, in part because of a clerical error. He has since been granted permanent residency.

Claims of Exploitation

Officials at private prison companies declined to speak about their use of immigrant detainees, except to say that it was legal. Federal officials said the work helped with morale and discipline and cut expenses in a detention system that costs more than $2 billion a year.

“The program allows detainees to feel productive and contribute to the orderly operation of detention facilities,” said Gillian M. Christensen, a spokeswoman for the immigration agency. Detainees in the program are not officially employees, she said, and their payments are stipends, not wages. No one is forced to participate, she added, and there are usually more volunteers than jobs.

Marian Martins, 49, who was picked up by ICE officers in 2009 for overstaying her visa and sent to Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Ala., said work had been her only ticket out of lockdown, where she was placed when she arrived without ever being told why.

Ms. Martins said she had worked most days cooking meals, scrubbing showers and buffing hallways. Her only compensation was extra free time outside or in a recreational room, where she could mingle with other detainees, watch television or read, she said.

“People fight for that work,” said Ms. Martins, who has no criminal history. “I was always nervous about being fired, because I needed the free time.”

Ms. Martins fled Liberia during the civil war there and entered the United States on a visitor visa in 1990. She stayed and raised three children, all of whom are American citizens, including two sons in the Air Force. Because of her deteriorating health, she was released from detention in August 2010 with an electronic ankle bracelet while awaiting a final determination of her legal status.

Natalie Barton, a spokeswoman for the Etowah detention center, declined to comment on Ms. Martins’s claims but said that all work done on site by detained immigrants was unpaid, and that the center complied with all local and federal rules.

The compensation rules at detention facilities are remnants of a bygone era. A 1950 law created the federal Voluntary Work Program and set the pay rate at a time when $1 went much further. (The equivalent would be about $9.80 today.) Congress last reviewed the rate in 1979 and opted not to raise it. It was later challenged in a lawsuit under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets workplace rules, but in 1990 an appellate court upheld the rate, saying that “alien detainees are not government ‘employees.’ ”

Immigrants in holding centers may be in the country illegally, but they may also be asylum seekers, permanent residents or American citizens whose documentation is questioned by the authorities. On any given day, about 5,500 detainees out of the 30,000-plus average daily population work for $1, in 55 of the roughly 250 detention facilities used by ICE. Local governments operate 21 of the programs, and private companies run the rest, agency officials said.

These detainees are typically compensated with credits toward food, toiletries and phone calls that they say are sold at inflated prices. (They can collect cash when they leave if they have not used all their credits.) “They’re making money on us while we work for them,” said Jose Moreno Olmedo, 25, a Mexican immigrant who participated in the hunger strike at the Tacoma holding center and was released on bond from the center in March. “Then they’re making even more money on us when we buy from them at the commissary.”

A Legal Gray Area

Some advocates for immigrants express doubts about the legality of the work program, saying the government and contractors are exploiting a legal gray area.

“This in essence makes the government, which forbids everyone else from hiring people without documents, the single largest employer of undocumented immigrants in the country,” said Carl Takei, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project.

Jacqueline Stevens, a professor of political science at Northwestern University, said she believed the program violated the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude except as punishment for crime. “By law, firms contracting with the federal government are supposed to match or increase local wages, not commit wage theft,” she said.

Immigration officials underestimate the number of immigrants involved and the hours they work, Professor Stevens added. Based on extrapolations from ICE contracts she has reviewed, she said, more than 135,000 immigrants a year may be involved, and private prison companies and the government may be avoiding paying more than $200 million in wages that outside employers would collect.

A 2012 report by the A.C.L.U. Foundation of Georgia described immigrants’ being threatened with solitary confinement if they refused certain work. Also, detainees said instructions about the program’s voluntary nature were sometimes given in English even though most of the immigrants do not speak the language.

Eduardo Zuñiga, 36, spent about six months in 2011 at the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia, awaiting deportation to Mexico. He had been detained after being stopped at a roadblock in the Atlanta area because he did not have a driver’s license and because his record showed a decade-old drug conviction for which he had received probation.

Gary Mead, who was a top ICE administrator until last year, said the agency scrutinized contract bids from private companies to ensure that they did not overestimate how much they could depend on detainees to run the centers.

Detainees cannot work more than 40 hours a week or eight hours a day, according to the agency. They are limited to work that directly contributes to the operation of their detention facility, said Ms. Christensen, the agency spokeswoman, and are not supposed to provide services or make goods for the outside market.

But that rule does not appear to be strictly enforced.

At the Joe Corley Detention Facility north of Houston, about 140 immigrant detainees prepare about 7,000 meals a day, half of which are shipped to the nearby Montgomery County jail. Pablo E. Paez, a spokesman for the GEO Group, which runs the center, said his company had taken it over from the county in 2013 and was working to end the outside meal program.

Near San Francisco, at the Contra Costa West County Detention Facility, immigrants work alongside criminal inmates to cook about 900 meals a day that are packaged and trucked to a county homeless shelter and nearby jails.

A Booming Business

While President Obama has called for an overhaul of immigration law, his administration has deported people — roughly two million in the last five years — at a faster pace than any of his predecessors. The administration says the sharp rise in the number of detainees has been partly driven by a requirement from Congress that ICE fill a daily quota of more than 30,000 beds in detention facilities. The typical stay is about a month, though some detainees are held much longer, sometimes for years.

Detention centers are low-margin businesses, where every cent counts, said Clayton J. Mosher, a professor of sociology at Washington State University, Vancouver, who specializes in the economics of prisons. Two private prison companies, the Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group, control most of the immigrant detention market. Many such companies struggled in the late 1990s amid a glut of private prison construction, with more facilities built than could be filled, but a spike in immigrant detention after Sept. 11 helped revitalize the industry.

The Corrections Corporation of America’s revenue, for example, rose more than 60 percent over the last decade, and its stock price climbed to more than $30 from less than $3. Last year, the company made $301 million in net income and the GEO Group made $115 million, according to earnings reports.

Prison companies are not the only beneficiaries of immigrant labor. About 5 percent of immigrants who work are unpaid, ICE data show. Sheriff Richard K. Jones of Butler County, Ohio, said his county saved at least $200,000 to $300,000 a year by relying on about 40 detainees each month for janitorial work. “All I know is it’s a lot of money saved,” he said.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, an advocacy group that promotes greater controls on immigration, said that with proper monitoring, the program had its advantages, and that the criticisms of it were part of a larger effort to delegitimize immigration detention.

Some immigrants said they appreciated the chance to work. Minsu Jeon, 23, a South Korean native who was freed in January after a monthlong stay at an immigration detention center in Ocilla, Ga., said that while he thought the pay was unfair, working as a cook helped pass the time.

“They don’t feed you that much,” he added, “but you could eat food if you worked in the kitchen.”

Inside the Brutality of Egypt’s New Regime: 2,500 Killed, 16,000 Political Prisoners, Torture Allegations Are Widespread April 23, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Egypt, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Torture, Women.
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Roger’s note: just to document one more time that the United States doesn’t give a shit about democracy as long as a government is in alliance with its geopolitical objectives.  Emperor Obama declared the Egyptian coup not to be a coup, and that is that.  Egypt’s military government, led by a US trained general, probably as much or more brutal than the overthrown Mubarak regime, continues to support Israel and the isolation of Gaza in accord with US wishes.  And “we wonder why they hate us.”

 

After a recent CODEPINK delegation to Egypt ended up in deportations and assault, we have become acutely aware of some of the horrors Egyptians are facing in the aftermath of the July 3 coup that toppled Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi. Over 2,500 civilians have been killed in protests and clashes. Over 16,000 are in prison for their political beliefs and allegations of torture are widespread. Millions of people who voted for Morsi in elections that foreign monitors declared free and fair are now living in terror, as are secular opponents of the military regime, and the level of violence is unprecedented in Egypt’s modern history. With former Defense Minister Abdel Fatah al-Sisi set to become the next president in sham elections scheduled for May 26-27, the Egyptian military is trampling on the last vestiges of the grassroots uprising that won the hearts of the world community during the Arab Spring.

The most publicized case is the trial of the three Al Jazeera journalists and their co-defendants, charged with falsifying news and working with the Muslim Brotherhood. On April 10, there was a ludicrous update in the trial, when the prosecution came to courtpresenting a video that was supposed to be the basis of their case but consisted of family photos, trotting horses, and Somali refugees in Kenya. The judge dismissed the “evidence” but not the charges.

The high-profile case is just a taste of wide-ranging assault on free expression. The government has closed down numerous TV and print media affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist currents. The Committee to Protect Journalists named Egypt the third deadliest countries for journalists in 2013, just behind Syria and Iraq.

An incident that shows how the judicial branch is now working hand-in-glove with the military is the horrific March 24 sentencing of 529 Morsi supporters to death in one mass trial. The entire group was charged with killing one police officer. The trial consisted of two sessions, each one lasting less than one hour. Secretary of State Kerry said that the sentence “defies logic” and Amnesty International called the ruling “grotesque.”

And if you think that a US passport entitles a prisoner to due process, look at the tragic case of 26-year-old Ohio State University graduate Mohamed Soltan. Soltan served as a citizen journalist, assisting English-speaking media in their coverage of the anti-coup sit-in at Rabaa Square that was violently raided by police and resulted in the death of over 1,000 people. In jail for over 7 months, Soltan has been on a hunger strike since January 26 and is now so weak he can’t walk. His situation in prison has been horrifying. When he was arrested, he had a wound from being shot that had not yet healed. Prison officials refused to treat him, so a fellow prisoner who was a doctor performed surgery with pliers on a dirty prison floor, with no anesthesia. His trial has been postponed several times, and there is no update on when it might actually take place. (Activists in the US are mobilizing on his behalf.)

Female activists also face dehumanizing experiences. In February, four women who were arrested for taking part in anti-military protests say they were subjected to virginity testswhile in custody–a practice that coup leader Abdel al-Sisi has supported. In addition to the horror of virginity tests, Amnesty International has also reported that women in prison in Egypt face harsh conditions, including being forced to sleep on the floor and not being allowed to use the bathroom for 10 hours from 10pm to 8am every day. Egyptian Women Against the Coup and the Arab Organisation for Human Rights has reported beatings and sexual harassment of female prisoners.

The internal crackdown may be getting worse, not better. New counter-terrorism legislationset to be approved by Egypt’s president would give the government increased powers to muzzle freedom of expression and imprison opponents. Two new draft laws violate the right to free expression, including penalties of up to three years’ imprisonment for verbally insulting a public employee or member of the security forces. They broaden the existing definition of terrorism to include actions aimed at damaging national unity, natural resources, monuments, communication systems, the national economy, or hindering the work of judicial bodies and diplomatic missions in Egypt. “The problem with these vaguely worded ‘terrorist offenses’ is that they potentially allow the authorities to bring a terrorism case against virtually any peaceful activist,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui of Amnesty International.

The draft legislation also widens the scope for use of the death penalty to include “managing or administering a terrorist group.” The Muslim Brotherhood was labelled a terrorist group by the Egyptian authorities in December (though no factual evidence was provided that it is engaged in terrorist attacks).

The US government refuses to call Morsi’s overthrow a coup, and has continued to give Egypt $250 million in economic support, as well as funds for narcotics controls, law enforcement and military training. But the bulk of the foreign military funding of $1.3 billion has been suspended.

On March 12, Secretary of State Kerry indicated that he wanted to resume the aid and would decide “in the days ahead.” Egypt has long been one of the top recipients of US aid because of its peace treaty with Israel, its control over the Suez Canal and the close ties between the US and Egyptian militaries. To renew the funding, Kerry must certify that Egypt is meeting its commitment to a democratic transition and taking steps to govern democratically. The constitutional referendum was held January 14-15, but opponents werearrested for campaigning for a “no” vote. The May presidential election, taking place under such repressive conditions with the main opposition group banned, will certainly not be free and fair. The same can be said for the parliamentary elections that are expected to occur before the end of July.

“The question is no longer whether Egypt is on the road to democratic transition, but how much of its brute repression the US will paper over,” said Human Rights Watch Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson. “An accurate appraisal of Egypt’s record since the military-backed overthrow of President Morsi would conclude that, far from developing basic freedoms, the Egyptian authorities are doing the opposite.”

The Obama Administration should insist that political dissidents be released, laws restricting public assembly be lifted, the Muslim Brotherhood be declassified as a terrorist organization and allowed to participate in all aspects of public life, and criminal investigations be launched into the unlawful use of lethal force and abuse of detainees by security officials. Only when the Egyptian junta lifts its iron curtain should the US consider resuming military aid.

Kate Chandley is an International Affairs and Political Science student at Northeastern University and intern at www.codepink.org.

Griner takes aim at fighting bullying April 5, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Sports, Sports, Women.
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Roger’s note: Confession: I love sports.  I am an unrepentant sports fan.   Blame the golden era of the Brooklyn Dodgers and my father who took me to witness history and Jackie Robinson at Ebbets Field in 1947.  Blame a Rose Bowl appearance in my freshman year at Berkeley (there has not been once since that day in January 1959).  I know this is not politically correct (note that I use the phrase as it was originally intended, to indicate a minor and relatively insignificant aberration of principle [an acknowledgement of human frailty], and not how the phase has been perverted by the radical right to denote someone who is zealous in the pursuit of the principles of social justice).  Every once in a while, rarely perhaps, a story comes out of the sports world that conflates the world of sport with socially positive principle.  Such is the case of Brittney Griner.  I also cannot help pointing out that Texas’s Baylor University, a self-proclaimed “Christian” school with overt and repressive anti-gay regulations for its students, was willing to “overlook” Griner’s lesbianism as long as she kept her mouth shut about it and continued to rake in big money for the school with her extraordinary basketball skills.

As you will see from reading this article, she is now a wealthy professional basketball player in the WNBA and still feels compelled to share her painful history and re-live that pain so that LGBT youth of today may not have to experience the same degradations that she did.  I consider her a heroic figure, both on and off the court.

 

By LZ Granderson | ESPN.com, April 4, 2014

 

Brittney GrinerJennifer Stewart/USA TODAY SportsBrittney Griner’s app will provide resources to school officials looking for ways to aid bullying victims.

 

It was hard watching Brittney Griner struggle to keep the smile on her face.

With each breath, it seemed a tiny portion of the joy she came onstage with slowly dissipated, like smoke fleeing the wick of a candle that has recently been blown out. Barely five minutes into the first session of this year’s SXSW’s sports plenary and one of the most accomplished players in NCAA history is broken.

When I asked her to begin the panel discussion by reading aloud a passage from her autobiography, “In My Skin: My Life on and off the Basketball Court,” I had assumed the 22-year-old was over it.

The bullying from middle school.

The teasing from high school.

The ridicule and isolation that can sometime come when who and what society says you are supposed to be are not reflective of who and what you actually are.

Because the Venn diagram our culture etches into the national narrative makes happiness a subset of wealth, from the outside looking in, and we naturally assume professional athletes have it all. Griner has a Nike deal and 77-foot banner of her likeness draped over a building in downtown Phoenix before she took a single WNBA dribble. And yet here we are, in a crowded banquet room of an Austin, Texas, hotel, and the only sounds that can be heard are the occasional creaks a chair makes when the occupant shifts his or her weight — and the gentle sobs of someone who is supposed to have it all.

 

They say it’s important for kids to express themselves, but from the moment kids start to make choices — what clothes they want to wear, what toys they want to play with, what activities they want to pursue — society tries to define them and put them into neat little boxes. Girls are supposed to act this way, boys that way. And any kid who doesn’t fit into one of those boxes gets labeled as weird or strange or different.

“I really don’t talk about the past that much because it just wasn’t good,” Griner told me later after she had read the above passage from her book at our panel. “Even when I was writing the book I was reliving that pain all over again.

“There were times when I didn’t want to do the book anymore because of all of the pain. But I felt that if I did it, maybe I could help someone else who was in school right now and having a very hard time.”

 

 

 

Brittney Griner, who scored 3,283 career points, dunked 18 times and set the NCAA record (man or woman) with 748 career blocks at Baylor, shares her coming-of-age story, revealing how she found the strength to overcome bullies and to embrace her authentic self.

 

Griner: Book signing, interview

• Brittney Griner will hold a book-signing session following an exclusive interview with espnW.com’s Kate Fagan, as part of the weekend’s festivities at NCAA Tourney Town. The event begins Sunday, April 6, at 3:30 p.m. local time at Music City Center in Nashville.

 

In addition to the book, Griner is launching a smartphone app to help bullied teens and provide resources to school officials who are at a loss as to how to help them.

“The one question I would ask my teachers is, ‘Why?'” Griner said, her voice starting to shake. “‘Why didn’t you do anything to try to stop what was happening to me? Why didn’t you do anything to help me or any of the other kids who were being bullied every day?’

“But then I wonder if they even knew how to help. Or even if they understood how important it is that they do help. They might think it’s just kids being kids, but really — it’s more. They could save somebody’s life.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24, with LGBT youth being four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. It’s a statistic that resonates more when familiar faces like Griner’s are attached to it. She spends time in the book discussing what she calls “the dark days” and the time in which she imagined what would happen “if I didn’t exist anymore.”

Only the most callous of hearts could hear such a statement and not be touched. And usually those hearts have Twitter accounts.

Despite rewriting the record books, the names directed at Griner, even still, are as demeaning as the ones that began circulating soon after the “High School Girl Dunks” video clip made her a YouTube curiosity while at Nimitz High School. The ridicule via social media remains as relentless as the insults schoolmates would direct her way in the halls of Teague Middle School. Griner said one of her tormentors walked right up to her in the hallway, rubbed on her chest and then yelled, “See, I told you she was a boy.”

The teachers nearby did nothing.

“I remember thinking once I got to college I would finally be free,” she said. “And then I get there and I had to stay hidden. My teammates didn’t have a problem with me being gay, but the school did. It was crazy.”

Whenever an athlete — be it Griner, the NBA’s Jason Collins or NFL draft prospect Michael Sam — publicly talk about their sexual orientation, inevitably the question “Who cares?” can be heard. And in many ways it is a legitimate response. If someone wants to be judged by their on-the-field performance, then why willingly choose to draw attention to one’s private life?

“In My Skin” is Griner’s way of answering that. In one passage, she writes: “Being true to myself has often been at odds with my desire to please others. I’ve spent years trying so hard to be the version of myself that would make the most people happy. Over time, though, I’ve come to realize that no matter how much I compromise, some people will never understand me. And accepting this truth has given me a new level of comfort and freedom.”

And by expressing that comfort and freedom, Griner said she hopes to empower young people who, like her younger self, spent many nights feeling hopeless and alone. This weekend she is the Grand Marshall in the Phoenix Pride parade, and, along with Blake Skjellerup — an openly gay Olympic speed skater — will be doing a meet-and-greet at the celebration’s youth zone.

 

[+] EnlargeBrittney Griner, Rebekkah Brunson, Maya Moore

AP Photo/Stacy BengsBrittney Griner hired longtime NBA assistant Dean Denomopolis to help her with her game this offseason.

 

“It was important to Phoenix Pride to showcase individuals whom are not only out, but actively using their celebrity to make the world a better place,” said Dani Logan, the celebration’s program manager.

“One of the hardest parts about growing up was not having any role models,” Griner said. “I mean I don’t know if that would have stopped kids from bullying me, but it would have given me some strength. … There were a lot of days when I was tired of being bullied, that I didn’t have strength.”

There used to be a time when the thought of someone who was routinely the biggest kid in class — someone who currently stands at 6 feet, 8 inches and 200 pounds — as not having the strength to fight off bullying was ridiculous. But that was before the environment that 6-5, 312-pound Jonathan Martin had to contend with in Miami came to light, and suddenly the size of victims and bullies was diminished.

“From the very first day, we clicked,” said Janell Roy, a high school teammate of Griner who remains close to her today. “We were like sisters, but she wouldn’t tell me everything that was going on. I guess because she knew I would try to protect her, but there’s only so much you can do, you know?

“But I saw some of it. Even in our locker room. They would say she was a guy and talk about her sexuality. Sometimes things would get real tense, and that would be hard for her. She didn’t tell me all that had happened to her in middle school until years later. My sister’s been through a lot.”

Nearly 82 percent of LGBT students are verbally harassed and close to 40 percent are physically harassed, according to the 2011 National School Climate Survey. And unfortunately, there’s no shortage of faces who fall into those categories.

Faces such as Jack Andraka, the high school whiz kid who in 2012 invented an early detection test for pancreatic cancer at age 15, talks about relentless bullying and thoughts of suicide. His story is not very different from Griner’s. Their stories are not very different from the ones featured in the 2011 documentary “Bully” or the stories regularly heard by volunteers at organizations such as The Human Rights Campaign, the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Alliance and The Trevor Project, which the San Francisco 49ers’ Chris Culliver visited as part of his mea culpa for anti-gay statements made during Super Bowl XLVII media week.

All of it continues to drive Griner.

“I can’t live my life and pretend as if everything is OK now that I’m a professional basketball player when I know it’s not OK for kids who were like me,” she said.Which is not to suggest her basketball development is taking a back seat to advocacy work.

Far from it.

Though fans made her a WNBA All-Star, a knee injury kept Griner from playing in the game. And besides dunking in her first game and hitting a series-clinching jumper over Candace Parker in the first round of the playoffs, Griner’s inaugural season was plagued by foul trouble and overshadowed by Chicago Sky’s Elena Delle Donne, who won rookie of the year honors. There’s work to be done, and she knows it. After signing to play in the Women’s Chinese Basketball Association last summer, Griner hired longtime NBA assistant coach Dean Demopoulos to travel with her to help her develop her game.

“I don’t know if I taught her anything new,” he said. “When we met, she could pretty much do everything. She had the footwork, she had the touch. She can shoot. And I mean really shoot. I spent two years with Ray Allen, so I know what a shooter looks like — she has a stroke. What we worked on was repetition. Taking the second-guessing out of her game and letting things come naturally.”

 

I can’t live my life and pretend as if everything is OK now that I’m a professional basketball player when I know it’s not OK for kids who were like me.

– Brittney Griner

 

The results? MVP honors in the league’s All-Star game and coming a game short of a finals appearance.

“She could probably play the 4, the 3 — she’s that agile,” Demopoulos said. “It’s going to be interesting to see just how much better she’s going to get, because she has a big glass and it’s not near full.

“She got it, by the way — that ‘it’ stuff — she’s got it. That charisma you want your franchise player to have. Only thing is she’s got to change that diet. That girl ate Pizza Hut, KFC and candy for four months.”

But if you let Griner tell it, that was the best thing on the menu.

“Let’s just say the food was really interesting,” she said with a smile.

And it is good to see her smile.

With high cheek bones, flawless cafe-au-lait-colored skin and shoulder-length locks with tips that appear to have been dipped in honey, the great irony about Griner being harassed for her appearance is that she is really beautiful. Sweet, too. The kind of woman who still smiles when referred to being her daddy’s little girl even as her daddy still wrestles with who his little girl is. Early on, Griner writes that her father never wanted her to play beyond the backyard of their home. And when he learned she was gay, he told her, “I ain’t raising no gay girl in my house! You can pack your s— and get the f— out!” And for two months she stayed at an assistant coach’s home before reconciliation.

An estimated 40 percent of all homeless youth are LGBT, with nearly half being kicked out of their homes for that reason. Again, statistics resonate more when familiar faces are attached to it.

“I think we’re getting better,” Griner said. “I still love my family very much. But it’s hard.

“I guess this is why I thought it was important that I did this book and shared my story. I don’t like thinking about the past and all of that pain. But if talking about it helps just one person — I’ll do it.”

 

It’s Not Just Uganda: Behind the Christian Right’s Onslaught in Africa April 3, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Human Rights, Kenya, LGBT, Nigeria, Religion, Right Wing, Zimbabwe.
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For years now, evangelical activists from the United States have been speaking out against homosexuality and cheering on antigay legislation all over Africa.

As their influence has waned at home, antigay evangelists from the United States have been flexing their sanctimonious muscles influencing policymakers in Africa. (Photo: Travis Lupick / Flickr)

In Uganda, being gay can now earn you a lifetime in prison.

Last month, the East African country was again thrust into the international spotlight after President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a draconian bill that criminalized homosexuality. The high profile, on-and-off battle over the so-called “kill the gays” bill has drawn headlines for years as the most extreme example in a wave of antigay legislation on the continent. But homophobia in Africa is not merely an African problem.

As the gay rights movement has gained traction in the United States, the more virulently homophobic ideologies of the religious right have been pushed further out of the mainstream and into fringe territory. But as their influence has waned at home, right-wing evangelists from the United States have been flexing their sanctimonious muscles influencing policymakers in Africa.

For years now, evangelical activists from the United States have been injecting themselves into African politics, speaking out against homosexuality and cheering on antigay legislation on the continent. The influence of these groups has been well documented in Uganda. The now-defunct Exodus International, for example, sent Don Schmierer, a board member, to Uganda in 2009 to speak at a conference alongside Scott Lively, a pastor who was later sued by a Ugandan gay rights group for his role in promoting human rights violations against LGBTQ people. The two participated in a disturbing anti-gay conference, where speakers blamed homosexuals for the rise of Nazism and the Rwandan genocide, among other abhorrent acts. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, a hard-right Christian group that is active in U.S. politics as well, similarly supported anti-gay laws in Uganda. At the peak of controversy over the “kill the gays” bill, Perkins praised the Ugandan president for “leading his nation to repentance.”

But such groups aren’t just active in Uganda. They have promoted antigay legislation in Kenya, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe, just to name a few other places. The support ranges from popular agitation and sideline cheerleading to outright intervention.

In 2010, for example, when Zimbabwe began the process of drafting a new constitution, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ)—a Christian law firm founded by evangelist Pat Robertson—launched a Zimbabwean counterpart called the African Centre for Law and Justice. The outpost trained lawyers for the express purpose of putting a Christian stamp on the draft of the new constitution.

The African Centre joined forces with the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ), an indigenous organization, to promote constitutional language affirming that Zimbabwe is a Christian nation and ensuring that homosexuality remained illegal. These and other hardline views are outlined in a pamphlet distributed by the EFZ and ACLJ. Jordan Sekulow, the executive director of ACLJ, announced that his organization would lobby for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in political and religious circles in the event of any controversy over the provisions, despite the fact that the Zimbabwean president has been sanctioned by the United States and the European Union for violating human rights. Last year, Zimbabwe’s new constitution, which includes a ban on gay marriage, was approved by an overwhelming popular vote.

ACLJ’s Kenyan-based offshoot, the East African Center for Law and Justice (EACLJ), made an effort to lobby against Kenya’s progressive new constitution as well. In April 2010, a report on the group’s website called homosexuality “unacceptable” and “foreign” and called for the Kenyan constitution to clearly define marriage as between a man and a woman, thus closing the door on future laws that could attempt to legalize same-sex marriage. In this case the ECLJ was unsuccessful, and the new constitution was approved without any language regarding same-sex marriage.

Pat Robertson’s entanglements in Africa go well beyond Zimbabwe and Kenya.

In 1960, Robertson created The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), which broadcasts through cable and satellite to over 200 countries. Robertson is a co-host on the 700 Club, arguably CBN’s most popular show. From his perch on the show, Roberts has made a seemingly endless variety of inflammatory remarks about LGBTQ people and just about everyone else that does not fall in line with his own religious thinking.

In the United States, Robertson’s vitriol can be brushed aside as the antiquated ravings of a fringe figure. Not so in much of Africa. A survey conducted in 2010 found that 74 million people in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, had watched at least one CBN show in the previous year. That’s a remarkable reach considering Nigeria is home to over 80 million Christians.

Robertson’s influence plays into an increasingly hostile political climate for gays in the country. Last January, Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan signed into law the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which provides punishments of up to 14 years imprisonment for a gay marriage and up to 10 years for membership in or encouragement of gay clubs and organizations. The enactment of the law was followed by a wave of arrests of gay men—and widespread denouncement from the international community.

The religious right, however, doesn’t see Nigerian laws regarding homosexuality as a gross violation of human rights, but rather as protection of “traditional marriage.” In 2011, on the heels of the Nigerian Senate passing an earlier version of the anti-gay law, President Barack Obama announced that the United States would officially promote LGBTQ rights abroad as part of its development framework. In response, the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute denounced the administration’s directive for putting “U.S. foreign policy on a collision course with religious freedom.”

MassResistance, a Massachusetts-based organization that bills itself as a “pro-family” activist group, praised Nigeria when the Nigerian House passed an earlier version of the bill that President Jonathan signed into law on January 7. In a statement, the group said that African nations are “feeling the brunt” of the gay rights movement, claiming that the “huge spread of AIDS” and the “breakdown in society caused by the homosexual movement seems to bring more general social destruction in African cultures than in the West.” Anti-gay laws in Nigeria have enjoyed unequivocal support from some hardline evangelical groups in the United States, with some going so far as to travel to Nigeria to spread anti-gay sentiment.

One such group is Family Watch International (FWI), another U.S.-based “pro-family” advocacy group. Formed in 1999 and headed by Sharon Slater, FWI boasts members and supporters from over 170 countries. In 2011, Slater was the keynote speaker at a meeting of the Nigerian Bar Association, where she touted her beliefs on homosexuality, telling delegates that they would no longer have religious freedom and homosexuals would prey on their children if they supported “fictitious sexual rights.” To Slater and her ilk, the rights of LGBTQ persons are imaginary.

FWI even wields influence within the United Nations. In early 2011, FWI co-hosted a “Global Family Policy Forum” in Phoenix, Arizona. Over the two-day event, FWI coached 26 UN staffers from 23 different countries in attendance on how to resist UN initiatives on gay rights. An FWI newsletter claimed that conference attendees were finally hearing scientific and clinical “evidence” that homosexuality was not genetically determined and could be cured by therapy.

To some, the belief that homosexuality is a disease that needs to be cured may seem too ridiculous to even entertain. But if the devout can’t win at home, they’ll take their message abroad. It’s up to the international community and African activists dedicated to human rights to put an end to this export of hate.

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