Tag: Human rights

Walmart Workers Tell the Real Stories of Working at Walmart

Walmart employees have embarked on an effort to bring more respect, better pay and improved working conditions to all Walmart workers. Their group,  Organization United for Respect at Walmart, or OURWalmart, has a website,  ForRespect.org, lists exactly what employees want from Walmart. They want every employee to get a company policy manual and assurance that the company will enforce its policies  equally without discrimination. They want full time work and wages and benefits high enough so they won’t have to depend on government assistance to survive. They seek dependable, predictable work schedules, and affordable health insurance.  Walmart workers report that Walmart has been retaliating against workers who speak out about their low wages, unsafe working conditions and other issues they have with the company, and workers want the freedom to speak their mind without retaliation. OURWalmart also started a second website, WalmartAt50.org, to get a jump on the one-sided spin they expect the company to churn out about their anniversary. The site commemorates Walmart’s 50th anniversary by allowing Walmart “associates” to share stories of how they are treated at work, the difficulties they have in trying to advance within the company and what it’s like to try to live on Walmart’s super-low wages. The site also allows community members and owners of small businesses to post stories about how Walmart has impacted their living standards. Walmart workers and customers alike can share their stories on the site, and can upload photos. The site maintains that Walmart’s business model has dragged down the middle class and been bad for America. Their slogan is “Change Walmart to Rebuild America.” The site says that the “America Walmart helped to create isn’t working for most of us.”

Cigarette Makers Thwart Improved Health Warning Labels

Thai cigarette packs, with graphic health warning labels. Cigarette makers have blocked use of such labels in the U.S. through a lawsuit.

A newly-released study of previously secret, internal tobacco industry documents shows the multinational cigarette companies have been working consistently behind the scenes since 1966 to 2012 to block stronger health warning labels on cigarette packs. On-pack health warning labels are an effective and inexpensive way of educating the public about the health hazards of smoking. For decades, countries around the world have been trying to make these labels more effective, for example by using more strongly-worded warnings, or graphic photos of tobacco-related diseases like cancerous lungs, people with tracheotomies or rotting teeth. But cigarette companies view these improved labels as a “global threat” and formed international task forces to block their use.

PBS Documentary Explores the Growing Need for Easy, Painless Death

As America’s population ages, tens of millions of people find they can’t afford health insurance, medical care is getting more expensive and is difficult for many people to get. Our culture focuses on prolonging life at virtually any cost. At the same time, as fewer people want to take the option of prolonging their life at any cost, the reality that death as a natural part of life is little acknowledged or discussed. This difficult situation is leaving more people seeking gentle, accessible and painless ways to die. A new PBS Frontline documentary, “The Suicide Plan,” dares to explore the difficult subject of the growing need for people to find easy and painless ways to die. Filmmakers Miri Navasky and Karen O’Connor explore the realities of people who are actively seeking ways to die without violence or suffering. While researching and filming the program, the filmmakers say they were astounded by the number of people yearning for information on how to control the timing and manner of their own death. The filmmakers were also “completely surprised,” they say, to discover the extent of the underground organizations growing up around meeting this growing, unmet need. Navaski says, “Here — in the underground world — doctors are reluctant to prescribe lethal doses of medication, so people who want help dying are relying of imperfect, cobbled-together methods.” The documentary explores organizations like the Final Exit Network and Compassion and Choices, whose missions are to help people find ways to achieve a peaceful death. The Suicide Plan aired on Tuesday, November 13. The documentary can be viewed here.

Source: PBS.org, November 13, 2012

The Air Force Academy’s “Religious Respect” PR Stunt

Crystal Cathedral on the grounds of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs

The United States Air Force Academy (AFA) is fighting its reputation as an aggressive promoter of fundamentalist Christianity by holding a conference on religious respect this week, but organizers conspicuously excluded representatives of secular belief systems like atheists, agnostics and humanists.  Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), who is Jewish and a 1977 graduate of the academy, believes the  conference is a public relations stunt to try and improve the AFA’s image. An AFA press release promoting the Conference said “attendees will comprise a widely diverse mix of religious affiliations …” and “Attendees will review and discuss the new Religious Respect Training Program for cadets that includes training in both the Establishment and Free Exercise of Religions clauses of the First Amendment of the US Constitution.” But in an October 29, 2012 press release, Weinstein pointed out that “secularists are the most disrespected and proselytized-to group, yet they are not even represented at this so-called ‘Religious Respect’ conference.”  Weinstein says the AFA hosting a religious respect conference is “akin to the KKK hosting an ‘African American Appreciation Conference.'”

Missouri U.S. House Rep. Akin Shocks Nation with Comments about Women

In a Sunday, August 19 interview on the “Jaco Report” on St. Louis’ Fox Channel, House Rep. Todd Akin, the tea party Republican running against incumbent Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, was asked whether he would support a woman’s right to have an abortion in the case of rape. Referring to pregnancy resulting from rape, Akin responded, “From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape,” he continued, “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.” Akin’s outrageous statement revealed not only his extreme lack of knowledge about basic human biology, but also an incredibly callous attitude towards women. His comments immediately drew outrage from a national audience.  Akin tried to take back his comments shortly after the interview by issuing a statement that said, in part, “In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year.” Akin’s biosketch on his campaign website says he has an engineering degree and a Master of Divinity Degree from a theological seminary, and his children are home-schooled. His campaign website credits solely God for helping him win his primary election. Akin did not explain in the interview what he believes constitutes a “legitimate rape.” Rep. Akin teamed up with House Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) last year to try to redefine the term “rape” in a federal bill. The bill sought to change the term “rape” to “forcible rape” in a bill regarding Medicaid funding, to try to further restrict women’s access to abortions in the event they are raped.

This article was updated at 6:56 p.m. MDT, August 20, 2012

First Annual Colorado Secular Conference Kicks Off in Grand Junction

Attendees listen to a talk about the Patriot Act at the first annual Colorado Secular Conference held at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction.

Colorado’s first annual Secular Conference kicked off today in one of the most conservative and deeply religious areas of the state: Grand Junction. Mesa County, where the conference was held, is the second most conservative county in the state, after El Paso County (Colorado Springs), home of Focus on the Family and the Air Force Academy, with its iconic Cadet Chapel. About 120 people from around Colorado and many other states spent the day in the second floor ballroom of Colorado Mesa University’s Student Center discussing the future of the secular movement in Colorado and the U.S. The conference opened with a discussion involving the entire group about the goals secular citizens hope to accomplish by organizing and becoming a political force in Colorado. Attendees shared stories about the discrimination and stigma they have suffered as a result of their lack of religiosity. Several speakers pointed out that non-religious citizens now comprise fully 19 percent of the U.S. population, yet have little to no representation in government or policy matters. Kelly Damerow, Research and Advocacy Manager for the Secular Coalition for America, who traveled to the conference from Washington, D.C., discussed the threats that ongoing religious extremism pose, like attempts to restrict the types of health care that can legally be delivered, loopholes exempting religious people from having to comply with laws and regulations that govern the rest of society, and efforts to enact “personhood” amendments that elevate the rights of fetuses over the rights of the women carrying them. A new statewide secular lobbying group, the Colorado Secular Coalition, was officially created at the meeting, bringing a resounding round of applause from attendees. A speaker from the American Civil Liberties Union enlightened the crowd about how the 12 year-old Patriot Act has eroded citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. Afternoon speakers gave attendees tips for creating new secular groups in their schools and hometowns. The conference will conclude tomorrow, on Sunday, after more talks, a tour of the Colorado National Monument and western Colorado’s wine country. The conference was organized by Humanists Doing Good, a secular group in Fruita, Colorado, a town of about 13,000 people located ten miles west of Grand Junction. The conference was free to all attendees, and will be an annual event.

Talk Back! ThoughtOnBoard Launches New E-Commerce Website

A product for people who have something to say

Now anyone can spread his or her own ideas or point of view around town for cheap. ThoughtOnBoard, a simple product that puts free speech back in the hands of real people, launched a new e-commerce website just in time for the run-up to the 2012 general election. “Average working people  can now take back their right to free speech with ThoughtOnBoard,” said Anne Landman, author of AnneLandmanBlog.com and inventor of ThoughtOnBoard. ThoughtOnBoard, a dry-erase sign that sticks to glass facing outward, lets you say whatever you want, whenever you want, and change it fast. Write or draw anything you want on it and post it in a car, home, shop, restaurant, garage or store window. Change it fast. It’s no censorship, no holds-barred free speech — the perfect way to weigh in on today’s quick-moving political campaigns. ThoughtOnBoard has a zillion uses. Use it to promote events, daily specials, say “Wipe your feet,” “Shh…baby sleeping.” The only limit is your imagination. ThoughtOnBoard has been sold locally for 22 years, and just recently launched into the world of e-commerce, making it more widely available. Check out the new ThoughtOnBoard.com website to see some of the fun and innovative ways people are using it.

Family of Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr. Files $21 Million Civil Rights Lawsuit Against White Plains Police

Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr.’s family (Screen capture from Democracy Now! video)

The family of Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr. has filed a $21 million civil rights lawsuit against the City White Plains, New York and the White Plains Police Department. Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr., 68, was shot dead inside his own home in the early morning on November 19, 2011 by White Plains police after he accidentally set off his life aid medical alert pendant while sleeping. Police arrived at his apartment, but responded as though a crime was in progress instead of as if responding to potential medical emergency. The police knocked in Chamberlain’s door and demanded he open it. Chamberlain told the police he was okay, and didn’t need their help, but the police continued to pound on Chamberlain’s door, yelling racial slurs and demanding Chamberlain open the door.  Afraid, Chamberlain refused. Police then broke down Chamberlain’s door, shot him with a taser, then fired beanbags at him. Finally, White Plains Police Officer Anthony Carelli shot Chamberlain dead. Police claimed Chamberlain tried to attack them with a knife. Video from a camera on the taser gun surfaced in May, showing police breaking down Chamberlain’s door and shooting him with the taser. Chamberlain is seen standing inside his apartment, shirtless and wearing boxer shorts. The family filed the lawsuit just under two months after a Westchester County grand jury refused to indict Police Officer Anthony Carelli for the shooting.

Source: Democracy Now! July 2, 2012

Christian Groups Using U.S. Soldiers as Government-Paid Missionaries

The wall of separation between church and state in the military has completely disappeared. A network of hard-line Christian chaplains and fundamentalist parachurch ministries that operate inside the military are using it as a fertile recruiting ground for coercing soldiers to become Christians. A video posted June 15, 2012 by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation contains actual footage of military chaplains saying young people who enter the military become “government-paid missionaries when they leave here.” The missionaries’ strategy? Pounce on soldiers with the gospel at the most difficult points in their training, when they are most vulnerable. Army Ranger School Chaplain Major Jeff Struecker explains,

“Army Ranger School puts the Ranger student in the absolute worst possible conditions. Most of them will go a couple of days with no food. Some of them have gone as long as three days without any sleep whatsoever. My goal has been to meet them when they are at their absolute worst, when they’re coldest and they’re most tired and the most hungry that they’re going to be, because the more difficult the circumstances [a person is in], the more receptive the average person becomes to issues of faith. Many of them are … confronted with the gospel for the first time with no distractions, and I think that’s part of the reason why a number of them will respond.”

U.S. Military Revokes Approval of Military Emblems on Bibles

Cover of Holman Military Bible

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) announced it has won a major battle to halt the publication of Bibles bearing official U.S. armed forces emblems on the covers. The bibles were published by Holman Bible Publishers, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. The Bibles also contained a fake quote from George Washington that was created by excerpting a paragraph of Washington’s 1783 letter to the governors of the states at the end of the Revolutionary War and altering it to make it into a prayer in the name of Jesus Christ. Almost 2,000 servicemembers contacted MRFF to complain that the bibles were being featured on the shelves of military exchanges and in stores around the world. The bibles made it look like the Bible was endorsed by the U.S. military and was the official religious text of the U.S. military services. MRFF says that over the past few years, it has received more complaints from servicemembers about these bibles than any other single separation of church and state issue it has dealt with. MRFF says the bibles were a “clear violation of the U.S. Constitution” because they used U.S. armed forces logos to promote a specific religious text. Responding to pressure by MRFF over the inappropriateness of the bibles, all four branches of the U.S. Military revoked their approval of the Military series of Holman Christian Standard Bibles, blocking further use of their emblems on the texts.

Source: Military Religious Freedom Foundation, June 12, 2012

Freedom from Religion Foundation Urges Protests Against Religious Domination

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) based in Madison, Wisconsin is pushing back against a new coalition, “Stand up for Religious Freedom,” led by the Pro-Life Action League and Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, that is leading a nationwide rally June 8 to “stop the HHS mandate.” The religious groups oppose a provision in the Obama administration’s new health insurance law that requires most private health insurers cover FDA-approved prescription contraceptive drugs and devices, including the “morning after pill.” The Department of Health and Human Services’ so-called mandate includes an exemption for religious employers who object to contraception, and the rule does not apply to any churches, but that doesn’t go far enough for these organizations, which are trying to block all financial assistance with contraceptives. Moreover, the Catholic Bishops have introduced into Congress the so-called “Respect for Rights of Conscience Act,” which goes even further than banning financial help with contraceptives. The Bishops’ bill would allow any private employer with a “religious or moral objection” to veto coverage for specific treatments for employees. For example, an employer who is a Jehovah’s Witnesses could bar coverage of emergency blood transfusions for its employees, and a Southern Baptist or Mormon employer could deny prescription birth control to its single, female employees.

Skip TV Ads, Go to Jail?

The major television networks ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC are arguing that skipping commercials while watching TV shows recorded on a digital video recorder (DVR) is illegal. In a lawsuit against Dish Network, the TV networks are charging that a new feature called “AutoHop” on Dish’s new DVR that allows people to skip TV ads “induces” copyright infringement. The networks claim that skipping ads in effect robs the advertisers who pay good money to the networks with the expectation that viewers will be forced to see them. The problem is that the manufacturer of a technology can’t be held liable for inducing copyright infringement unless customers are actually proven to infringe, so the networks must prove to a court that people who simply record a TV show, watch it at a later time and skip the ads are violating federal copyright law. The networks’ suit mimics a previous lawsuit they filed in 2002 against a company called ReplayTV that made a recording device with an automatic commercial-skip feature. The sheer expense of the lawsuit drove ReplayTV out of business before a court could rule on their theory of copyright infringement. Now the networks are leveling same charges against Dish, but Dish is fighting back. It’s filed its own lawsuit against the networks charging them with attempting to stifle its latest innovation. In its counter-suit, Dish points out that its “Hopper” recorder does not erase or delete any commercials, and they “remain on the recording and can be readily viewed at each customer’s individual option.”

Main source: Electronic Frontier Foundation, May 25, 2012

Syrian Activist Video Documents Results of May 25 Massacre in Homs

Activists opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad posted a startling YouTube video of the aftermath of the Syrian government’s May 25, 2012 massacre of 51 children and nearly as many adults. In the video, a man picks up the bodies of the dead and mangled children one at a time. As he shows them to the camera, a voice says “These are children, for God’s sake! Hey, World, look at Assad’s crimes! God is greater than you, you arrogant murderer!” English subtitles translate voices in the video that urge the international community to intervene to save the Syrian people. United Nations officials report Syrian government artillery and tank fire killed more than 90 people total in the district of Houla in the central province of Homs, which has been under almost constant attack by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad for months. Syria’s state-run news agency blamed the massacre on non-specific “armed terrorists.” The Syrian government restricts journalists from entering the country, and since several journalists attempting to cover what has been happening in Syria have lost their lives, amateur videos like this one posted on YouTube are the outside world’s main source of information about what is happening inside Syria. WARNING: The video is graphic.

Source: Los Angeles Times, May 26, 2012 and YouTube, May 25, 2012

Justice for Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr.


By now millions of people know about of the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida. Far fewer, though, know about the equally, if not more tragic killing of Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr. an elderly veteran with a heart condition who lived in White Plains, New York, who was killed by police in his own home last November. Around 5:30 a.m. on the morning of November 19, 2011, Chamberlain, 68, unknowingly triggered the medical-alert pendant he wore around his neck while he was sleeping. The medical alert company contacted Chamberlain’s apartment through a speaker box in the dining room to ask if he was all right. When Chamberlain didn’t respond, the company called 911 and told police they were responding to a medical emergency, not a crime. The police arrived at Chamberlain’s house and knocked on the door. Chamberlain woke up, went to the door and told the police that he was fine and that he didn’t call them. The police insisted on gaining entry to Chamberlain’s home, though, insisting that they wanted to see that he was all right. Chamberlain kept refusing to open the door and asking them to leave. Finally, after about an hour of this standoff, the officers, uttering racial slurs and expletives, broke down Mr. Chamberlain’s front door. Once inside, they fired a taser at Mr. Chamberlain. The taser prongs apparently missed Mr. Chamberlain and one of the officers shot Mr. Chamberlain in the chest, killing him.