Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Noose: CNN does good

Hope you all had the opportunity to view the CNN special on "The Noose in America". It gave a history of the use of the noose, and its negative connotations. Lancaster, Pennsylvania was also featured in the special -- Penn Manor and Warwick schools. Hate is alive and well in America, and even in rural Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Hate Church Ordered to Pay $10.9 for Funeral Protest

The Westboro Baptist Church, a hate group located in Topeka, Kansas has been ordered to pay almost $11 million in damages to Albert Snyder of York, PA as the result of an ongoing lawsuit. The Westboro Baptist Church, known for its slogans "God Hates Fags" and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers", recieved much attention for its protests to the criminal trial of the men who killed Matthew Shepard in 1998. Recently, the Church has been picketting the funerals of fallen soldiers in Iraq. They feel that the death of America's soldiers is God's way of punishing us for our tolerance of homosexuality. The suit was filed by Snyder to compensate for a protest that was held at his son's funeral. Snyder's son was killed in Iraq while serving for our country.
According to the article, "the jury first awarded $2.9 million in compensatory damages. It returned later in the afternoon with its decision to award $6 million in punitive damages for invasion of privacy and $2 million for causing emotional distress."
The Westboro Baptist Church defines hate groups as we learned in class. They are clearly fanatic religous zealots with no tolerance for those who are not a part of their cause. While this group is a quintessensial hate group in the purest sense of the term, should they be allowed to practice free speech, or do they deserve to be sued for expressing their (quite laughable, I must add) opinion. Is protesting a funeral an abuse of free speech? Is there even such a thing as an abuse of free speech? In addition, should $10.9 million be awarded to Mr. Snyder in this case, or was the jury being as extreme in their condemnation of the Church as the Church is in their condemnation of America? These are very touchy questions that need to be addressed. On one hand, our right to the freedom of speech is called into question. On another hand, the issues of frivolous lawsuits and overcompensation are being addressed. Personally, I feel that picketting a funeral is emotionally damaging and should be awarded compensation in a civil court. However, I think that $10.9 million may be a bit excessive in this case. Should a civil jury be allowed to make a socio-political statement in their verdict? I will leave that up to you.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Spanish Politicians condemn Franco's rule

The Spanish parliament has approved a bill that will formally condemn the 40 year dictatorship of Francisco Franco and all the executions and imprisonments that occured under Franco's rule. This bill declares General Franco's military trials and the resulting executions and imprisonments as illegitamate and requires that all statues, plaques and symbols of Franco's rule should be removed from all public buildings. The conservative opposition has decried this bill for reopening old wounds and trying to divide Spaniards. This bill, which is being called the Law of Historical Memory, has yet to pass in the Spanish senate but it is believed that the bill most likely will be passed by the senate. This bill would also call for the government to fund efforts to try locate and dig up mass graves of victims from the Spanish Civil War. It seems ridiculous that the government wants legally condemn the Franco government when there are plenty of other human rights abuses that have occured in Spanish history, including the murder of countless thousands of political opponents and religious individuals by the previous democratic Spanish Republican government that Franco overthrew. Is it right to condemn one side in a war where both sides were clearly commiting war crimes? Was the Franco Government truely illegitmate? Its one thing to condemn human rights violations of the past but why should we try to supress our history and waste government money on trying to find mass graves that are well over 70 years old, if those graves even do exist to the extent which historians claim?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Killer Coke

The Coca Cola Company has been consistently committing human rights violations around the world. In Plachimada, a small agrarian town in India, Coke built a plant promising jobs for the people in the town. Although the factory held to this agreement in part, it extracted so much of the town's ground water that there was virtually no clean, drinkable water for the people in the town to use. The factory also produced a large amount of waste product, as all manufacturing companies do; and, rather than disposing of it responsibly, Coke decided to give it to the people in the town as fertilizer. The people in the town, who did not know any better, proceeded to use this toxic waste on their crops. After many people in the town had gotten sick and many babies were born with birth defects, they figured out the origin of the illnesses. The people in Plachimada then organized a dilligent, peaceful protest until the Coke factory shut down.

And it doesn't stop there. In Colombia, Coke has been charged with hiring paramilitaries to act violently against anyone who opposes their bottling companies. There are on-going investigations of the murders of many union workers and protestors. Coke has been using similar fear tactics in many other under-developed countries around the world.

In order to "Pay It Forward," we want to Kick Coke off of F&M's campus as the exclusive vendor, following the example of the protestors in Plachimada. We want to use our power as consumers to make a difference and hold Coke accountable for its human rights and environmental transgressions. We can do our part to send a message to Coke by joining the initiative to Kick Coke off College Campuses. Several colleges in the immediate area, including Swarthmore, have already done so, and many other schools are following suit. To get more information check out our blog (linked to the post) and our display in the Atrium which will be up all week. Also, look for emails about the documentary we will be showing in the upcoming weeks.

Global Warming vs. Global Hunger: Which is more important?

Last week, Jean Zigler, a U.N. expert on the right to food, declared the creation of biofuels as a "crime against humanity." Biofuels are made using such essential foodstuffs as corn and sugar. Because of the increased demand for these crops, food prices have gone up to record highs over the past few months. Zigler declared that this act is a "crime against humanity" because it is not only destroying food crops that are essential to those who are poor but also raising the prices of the crops that are left and thus making them harder to afford for poor people. His solution to the problem is to ban the creation of biofuels for five years so that scientists may develop a process where they could be created using food waste instead of actual food. However, seeing as the U.S. would like to end its dependence on foreign oil as soon as possible as well as stop burning fuel that would contribute to global warming, five years is a lot of time that the U.S. does not have if it wants to make a reasonable change in the amount of fossil fuels that it burns. This brings up a very interesting and controversial question: should the U.S. stop creating biofuels so that the poor have food to eat or is the starvation of the world's poor a reasonable sacrifice to be made for the wellbeing of our planet's environment?

Is the use of the death penalty ever appropriate?

This weekend, Russia's "Chessboard killer," a man who claimed to have been responsible for 60 murders (although he could only be indisputably convicted of 48 of them and 3 attempted ones) was sentenced to life in prison. Alexander Pichushkin murdered his victims in extremely gruesome ways. His usual method involved asking the victim to take a walk to a park with him, where they shared some alcohol, usually vodka. When the victim was at least partially intoxicated, Pichushkin bludgeoned them with a hammer and stuck the remains of the bottle of alcohol in their skull (at this point, the victim was usually still alive and then was left to die). Pichushkin earned his nickname by taking the cap to each bottle of vodka that he used to get his victims drunk and placing each on a separate square of a numbered chessboard.

Disgusting? Gruesome? Yes. Deserving of the death penalty? Russia says no. We've talked about how "civilized" countries have abolished the death penalty -- but when a serial killer who has killed at least 48 people (and probably more) clearly cannot EVER be rebahilitated or released back into society, wouldn't the use of the death penalty be appropriate? Opponents of the death penalty argue that prison is for rehabilitation, but I very much doubt the death penatly's opponents would feel safe and secure if this man was "rehabilitated" and then moved in next door. Furthermore, we keep hearing that "an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind," but there isn't there a point at which we should draw the line? How about "an eye for 48 pairs of eyes makes the world a safer place"?