Category Archives: Human Rights

Perception is Something People Care About — Chafee Caves to Angus Davis

Angus Davis feels better, so I guess everything is right and good in the fiefdom of downtown Providence.  Lame duck Governor Chafee is not feeling like having a big fight, so Angus will get his way.  As the new corporate zoning Czar for the city, I wonder if Mr. Davis would consider helping to rehabilitate the poor and downtrodden, rather than just exiling them from his high tech encampment.

Read more from Natasha Lennard at Salon.  

The Insane World of Health Care Pricing

The money-shot quote from this article:

Francois de Brantes, executive director at the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute, said high-deductible plans are exerting a Trojan horse effect, “awakening the general public and individual plan members to the absolutely insane way in which health care prices are being set today and in which health care services are being paid for today.”

via The Pulse on Health Care Pricing | 2013-09-15 |

In the Valley of the Shadow of Death

In our internal arms race there is no end to fear. More weapons and more lethal weapons are an escalating response. It’s important to remember that there are other forms of power than killing power. The life and mission of a great Rhode Islander demonstrate another way.

Thirty years ago, Providence was home to a Nobel Peace Prize nominee. Called Cambodia’s Ghandhi, the Venerable Maha Ghosananda lived and taught in a triple-decker on Hanover Street, near the Cranston Street Armory.

Displaced by the Southeast Asian War, Maha Ghosananda lived for a year in the Sakeo refugee camp on the Thai border. He ministered to Cambodians fleeing the Khmer Rouge, and later to Khmer Rouge soldiers fleeing the Vietnamese. It was said that he was given an airplane ticket to safety, but he cashed it in and used it to print tracts on Lovingkindness, which he distributed to all in the camp, regardless of which side they were on. After leaving Sakeo, Maha Ghosananda traveled the world as one of the last surviving Cambodian Buddhist monks, arriving in Providence in 1980. Here he founded a temple that became the Khmer Buddhist Society, a center and heart of the community.

In 1992, Maha Ghosananda established the Dhammayietra Walk for Peace– an annual walk across Cambodia to minister to the suffering and bereaved survivors of the war. This was truly a walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Peace was not securely established. Gun violence, for politics or robbery was a threat. Maha Ghosananda was a politically challenging figure and his teacher had been murdered by the Khmer Rouge. He was a target for assassination. In addition, the countryside was strewn with land mines. War still smoldered– one year two of the marchers, a monk and a nun, were killed in crossfire between government and Khmer Rouge forces.

But the Dhammayietra brought healing to people who had suffered the dismantling of their society, and seen the near-eradication of their religion.

Nonviolence is not for the faint of heart. When he lived in Providence, Maha Ghosananda was a close friend of the minister of First Unitarian Church, Tom Ahlburn. It was just before the first, or maybe the second Dhammayietra that Tom held a gathering I can only describe as an Irish wake. Tom told Maha Ghosananda stories and we sent our thoughts and hope to those marchers traversing a mined disaster zone in an uneasy peace.

Maha Ghosananda, in fact, outlived Tom Ahlburn. Maha Ghosananda led several walks across Cambodia. He spent his last days in Lowell, Massachusetts, and passed from this world in 2007.

I was blessed to meet him. He was a saint.

He taught me three words, Truthfulness, Forbearance and Gratitude. His message was Metta–Lovingkindness.

Today our country is feeling the shadow of death in the senseless violation of a school and the murder of children. Nonviolence is not an absence, but a radical response to violence. Pacifism is not passivity. Maha Ghosananda lived a life of activism and great courage. It comforts me to think of him in these times.

[Santidhammo Bhikkhu's book, 'Maha Ghosananda the Buddha of the Battlefields' was used as a resource and aid to aging memory in writing this post.]

Which Box Did He Check?

It’s hard for me to look at the ubiquitous picture of Trayvon Martin without thinking of my nephews. I knew them as children and as teens, and now as men raising their own sons and daughters. They have stories to tell– near misses and random violence. It’s this lived experience that gives the lie to the claim that race had nothing to do with George Zimmerman’s pursuit and shooting of Trayvon Martin.

In today’s New York Times is a complicated graphic parsing the attitudes and affiliations of people who identify as Black or Hispanic or White. The media has been pounding on this ever since Zimmerman’s father described him as a “Spanish-speaking minority.”

Before we all get too far into the metaphysical dimension of this, let’s remember that George Zimmerman might already have answered the question of his racial identity. On job applications, on school applications, on the US Census of 2010, which box did he check?

At times I have needed to get demographics as part of my job. In a meeting I said that I was always a little embarrassed to ask the race question. A Black nurse said she was glad I asked, often nurses just guess. I told her that it’s tough– I mean, no one ever asks me what race I am. But I need to ask, and often I’m surprised by the answers people give. Race is a scientifically fuzzy concept, we are a mixed society, and ultimately the individual makes the call on how they identify. I’m sometimes surprised by the prejudices people express. Belonging to a group that experiences discrimination does not make everyone sing Kumbaya. Human nature is more complicated than that.

All of us, by adulthood, have a paper trail of checked boxes. Did George Zimmerman always check the same box? Did he check the one most advantageous to the circumstances? Would there be anything wrong if he did?

It seems strange that we are so caught up in intangibles and un-measurables when dealing with something so final as a murder. A law that allows such an act to be committed with no accountability is flawed and must be fixed. This trial by media is nasty, but the willingness of the police and local law enforcement to take the shooter at his word and bury the investigation has brought us to this place.

Be Fair to Those Who Care

Salon has a review of the third day of the Supreme Court hearings on the Affordable Care Act, titled ‘A Brutal Day for Health Care.’

What I hear on the radio and read in the news as I work in the industry has me heartsick. Science, common sense and common decency say we cannot be a healthy or just nation when some of our hardest workers are one health problem away from bankruptcy. I see the expensive and devastating consequences of having to postpone basic preventive care. With a demographic bulge of older Americans entering Medicare, it seems insane to set them up to enter with dire needs when basic primary care could keep most of us healthy.

On the front lines of health care are millions of low-wage workers, many of whom lack health insurance themselves. They will be some of the first people who will benefit from strong health care reform. If you don’t think of a family, a worker, or an elder when you hear the word, ‘Medicaid’, you should. These are the people I serve. Why should those whose labor makes a public good possible be denied the benefits?

The federal spending issue turns on the expansion of Medicaid. Under the ACA, millions of the working poor – people with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level – are eligible for Medicaid. From 2014 to 2016, the federal government will pay 100 percent of the costs. Then its share decreases, to 90 percent after 2020. Because the ACA also gives states assistance with their new administrative costs, overall state spending will actually be lowered.

Twenty-six states are claiming that this conditional spending unconstitutionally coerces them, because they cannot realistically forgo the money, and because if they refuse to expand their rolls, they might lose every cent of Medicaid money. But let’s be clear: This is not about the states wanting to conserve their own money. It is about the states refusing to spend federal money, to help people that they do not want to help. (Paul Clement, the attorney for the challenging states, declared that his argument would not change if the federal government permanently paid 100 percent of the costs.)

Last week at Brown I heard a legal expert, Sara Rosenbaum, say that this case is the most important since Brown v. Board of Education. Those times also were contentious and painful. This time I fear that we will land on the wrong side of history.

Salon Profiles the 99-ers

Letter to Treasurer Raimondo

A group of civil rights and advocacy organizations in Rhode Island is calling Treasurer Raimondo’s attention to some of the extreme political positions taken by The Manhattan Institute and demanding that she return the award she recently received:

January 11, 2011
Hon. Gina Raimondo, General Treasurer State House, Room 102 Providence, RI 02903

Dear Treasurer Raimondo,

On behalf of a broad range of civil rights and community organizations, we respectfully write to you regarding your recent affiliation with the Manhattan Institute – an extremist right wing group that promotes offensive, ignorant and hurtful positions towards the LGBTQI community, women, minorities and our environment.

Last week you traveled to New York to stand with and be publicly recognized by The Manhattan Institute, where you accepted their “Urban Innovator Award” for your work to alter Rhode Island’s pension system. Your work regarding the pension system has certainly been the subject of significant debate, and our purpose today is not to reexamine the merits of those legislative efforts. Rather, we seek to call your attention to a series of troubling articles and position papers that we sincerely hope do not reflect your own personal or political positions.
· In “Gay Marriage vs American Marriage”, the Manhattan Institute comes alarmingly close to some of the more common anti-equality rants espoused by the so-called National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and the Family Research Council, by claiming that marriage equality (same-gender marriage) is not the same as “American Marriage”. Furthermore, in “Redefining Marriage Away”, the Manhattan Institute claims that the reason to fear marriage equality is that gay and lesbian couples do not value fidelity, that their asserted lack of monogamy is immoral and dangerous. As if these articles aren’t offensive enough, they publish and reference anti-equality articles and books written by former NOM president Maggie Gallagher including “Why Marriage is Good For You”.
· Ms. Hymowitz writes about how “Women Prefer the Mommy Track,” widespread rape on college campuses is a myth, and claims that feminism as a whole is “not so much dead as obsolete.”
· The Manhattan Institute called claims of racial profiling by police “ACLU misinformation,” “promoting racial paranoia,” and “ivory-tower posturing” and compared being charged with racism to being charged as a witch: to be without any conceivable defense.
· The Manhattan Institute rails against President Obama’s green jobs initiative, stands in opposition to wind power, and sees fracking as an alternative energy solution.

Madame Treasurer, the aforementioned articles are just a sample of what is readily available on the Manhattan Institute’s website. We must ask if you or anyone in your office were aware that this organization published such venomous, racially-charged, anti-gay, anti-environment and anti-women positions before you agreed to be honored by them in New York. We are willing to accept that you were not, but that acceptance must accompany a proactive effort by you. Return the Manhattan Institute’s Urban Innovator Award and publicly condemn these harmful writings at your earliest convenience, preferably within the next 48 hours.

We recognize that the purpose of your visit to the Manhattan Institute was to receive an accolade for your pension work and not to discuss the important issues we have brought to your attention. It is simply unacceptable to us as a coalition, or your constituents as a whole, for you to stand with or accept an award from a narrow-minded and hurtful organization. To do so would be seen as nothing less than an implicit condoning of their bigotry.

Thank you for your time and thoughtful consideration, we look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible.

Sincerely, Clean Water Action Rhode Island
Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island
Hope United
Marriage Equality Rhode Island
National Association of Social Workers Rhode Island Chapter
Ocean State Action
Sierra Club Rhode Island Chapter

Joe Gordon–Wrath of the King

This story from the Toronto Star should alarm free speakers everywhere, especially those who publish books, blogs, tweets and various utterances that might displease the King. Joe Gordon, born Lerpong Wichaikhammat in Thailand, is doing time for offending His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej…

BANGKOK—An American who translated a banned biography of Thailand’s king and posted the content online while living in Colorado was sentenced to two and a half years in a Thai prison Thursday for defaming the country’s royal family.

Gordon posted links to the banned biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej several years ago while living in the U.S. state of Colorado, and his case has raised questions about the applicability of Thai law to acts committed by foreigners outside Thailand.

Speaking after the verdict, Gordon said, “I am an American citizen, and what happened was in America.”

The rise of the Internet in recent years has given Thai authorities many more targets to pursue. Last month, Information Minister Anudith Nakornthap said Facebook users who “share” or “like” content that insults the Thai monarchy are committing a crime. Anudith said Thai authorities asked Facebook to remove 86,000 pages between August and November because of alleged lese majeste content.

Gordon, a former car salesman, is accused of having translated excerpts from the unauthorized biography “The King Never Smiles,” published by Yale University Press, into the Thai language and publishing them in a blog. He also provided links to the translation to other two Web forums, prosecutors say.

In the banned book, author Paul M. Handley retraces the king’s life, alleging that he has been a major stumbling block to the progress of democracy in Thailand as he consolidated royal power over his long reign.

An American in prison in Thailand for publishing an internet translation of a Yale University Press book– you’d think that would get a rise out of the Free Internet people, but I had to go to the back pages of Google News to find more on this story– an indication that it’s not getting attention here. The following is from The Nation– not the venerable liberal magazine, but a Thai multimedia news site…

The Nation December 10, 2011 1:00 am
US Ambassador Kristie Kenney’s tweets are usually of a laid-back nature. But that wasn’t the case yesterday, when her special “chat” with tweeple landed her in the middle of Thailand’s hottest political topics.

She was asked about Thai-American lese majeste convict Joe Gordon, as well as about Article 112, Thaksin Shinawatra, and freedom of expression in Thailand in general. Credited with bringing a new approach to diplomacy, this time the ambassador had to rely on tried-and-trusted diplomatic answers to prevent the one-hour session from becoming too incendiary.

On Gordon, she said the US Embassy would continue to assist him in every possible way, including continually raising his case with Thai authorities. Asked for her opinions on Article 112, she replied that she had high respect for the Thai monarchy, but was “troubled by prosecutions inconsistent with international standards”. Thaksin’s future, she said, was up to Thailand to decide.

Well, that’s why they call them diplomats. Some among the Thai people are courageously taking a public stand for free speech. More from The Nation…

About 100 opponents of the lese-majeste law donned black clothes and held a vigil in front of the Criminal Court yesterday to demand the abolition of the law and freedom for prisoners of conscience, including 61-year-old Amphon Tangnoppakul, better known as Akong, the subject of a recent high-profile prosecution.

Protesters wore paper masks of Akong and many held torches, symbolising the death of justice in cases of freedom of expression regarding the institution of the monarchy.

Kwanravee Wangudom, coordinator of a campaign to raise awareness about Article 112 of the penal code, which concerns lese-majeste offences, said that from January to October this year, 122 lese-majeste cases came before the Court of First Instance, with eight pending in the Appeals Court and three with the Supreme Court.

Kwanravee was among the protesters who stood vigil for 112 minutes. She said the lese-majeste law blurred the line between defamation and honest criticism of the institution of the monarchy.

One striking difference in the political landscape of today is the presence of instant communication. Censors are fighting a losing battle when everyone with a cell phone may be the media, in color and in real time. Kings and Presidents take notice– the whole world is watching.

Remembering Blossom Kirschenbaum

At church today someone wrote in the book, ‘I’ll miss the sound of Blossom’s typewriter at the Amnesty International Write-a-Thon today.’

Amen to that.

Annual Write-a-Thon for Human Rights
Sunday, Dec 4, 1-5p, Open House
The guest speaker for our twenty-fourth annual Write-a-thon will be Mohammed Fallahiya, a former Iranian prisoner of conscience and torture victim, kept for many months in solitary confinement. In prison, he came to know the prisoner on whose behalf the Providence Chapter of Amnesty International has been appealing for over five years. Join the Global Write-a-thon, with events held in communities across the U.S. and around the world.

We will provide all materials for writing letters appealing for prisoners of conscience in many countries. Our actions work: many prisoners have been freed, and human rights abuses stopped, thanks to our volume of letters. Refreshments and prizes make this event festive and fun, as well as deeply meaningful. Suitable for young people and families.

Co-sponsored by the World Affairs Committee and the Providence Chapter of Amnesty International

Occupy Providence to Be Evicted Sunday Evening, October 30, 2011

A notice has been given to Occupy Providence members and has been posted around Burnside Park: they have 72 hours to vacate or they will be evicted. Given that so many other groups have expressed solidarity with the Occupy movement, it is unclear how this is going to play out. My hope is that it plays out non-violently, and also that the movement is not diminished in its importance. There is so little space for people to rally around an important cause at this point, and corporate pressure is increasingly squeezing out the voices of the 99%. We need to keep our ears and eyes open to what the opposition is saying or we will be increasingly dominated by corporations and their single-minded goal of increasing profits.


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