Here, There and Everywhere

Archive for November, 2011

Health Care In U.S. Is Best?

From Nation of Change
IWatch News
by Wendell Potter

Despite GOP Claims, U.S. Health Care Nowhere Near ‘Best’ in the World

A little more than a year ago, on the day after the GOP regained control of the House of Representatives, Speaker-to-be John Boehner said one of the first orders of business after he took charge would be the repeal of health care reform.

“I believe that the health care bill that was enacted by the current Congress will kill jobs in America, ruin the best health care system in the world, and bankrupt our country,” Boehner said at a press conference. “That means we have to do everything we can to try to repeal this bill and replace it with common sense reforms to bring down the cost of health care.”

Boehner is not the first nor the only Republican to try to make us believe that the U.S. has the world’s best health care system and that we’re bound to lose that distinction because of Obamacare. I’ve heard GOP candidates for president say the same thing in recent months, charging that we need to get rid of a President who clearly is trying to fix something that doesn’t need fixing, something that isn’t broken in the first place.

Well, those guys need to get out more. Out of the country, in fact. They need to travel to at least one of the many countries that are doing a much better job of delivering high quality care at much lower costs than the good old USA.

If they’re not interested in a fact-finding mission abroad, then perhaps they might take a look at two recent reports before they make any other statements about the quality of American health care.

Last week, the 34-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation (OECD) released the results of its most recent study of the health care systems in its member countries, including the U.S., plus six others, for a total of 40. And those results are illuminating.

If Boehner and his fellow Republicans had characterized the U.S. system as the most expensive in the world, they would have been right on target. But they would have been way off base by calling it the best.

Read entire story at Nation of Change.

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Religious Leaders Reject Violence

African Council of Religious Leaders
Religions of Peace
24th November 2011
Marrakech, Morocco

Mid-East and North Africa Religious Leaders Reject Violence And Call for “Contracts of Mutual Care” Among Abrahamic Faiths

Marrakech, Morocco — Senior religious leaders from the Middle East and North Africa rejected violence and called for deepened multi-religious collaboration as the region undergoes historic transformations.

The religious leaders and representatives, from Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Sudan, Iraq, Palestine, Turkey, Kenya were convened by the Religions for Peace Middle East and North Africa Council. They were joined by representatives from the United Nations (UN), the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Islamic Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO). Other participants came from US, Japan, Peru, France, Nigeria and Norway, and were joined by the representatives of the African Council of Religious Leaders, European Council of Religious Leaders, Latin American Council of religious Leaders and the Asian Council of Religious Leaders.

The participants reiterated the urgent and irreplaceable importance of enabling the historic faiths in the region—Islam, Christianity and Judaism—to work together for the common good of the people in the region.

Calling on the religious and faith communities to “unite on the basis of shared values,” the President of the United Nations General Assembly H.E. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser noted in his message that this was the only way to “build flourishing communities committed to just peace across the region”. He noted that the religions in MENA “continue to shape the hearts and minds of millions across the region.”

While condemning fanatics and extremists who call for, and cause violent confrontations in the region, the Secretary General of the OIC H.E. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu noted that these conflicts had nothing to do with religion, but rather its mis-use.

The Director General of ISESCO Dr. Abdulaziz Othman Altwaijri condemned the manipulation of religion for political ends. He cautioned those who interpreted the scriptures out of their historical context, stating that this was a dangerous trend that should be stopped. Terming the Religions for Peace North Africa and Middle East Council as „needed‟ in the region, Dr. Altwaijri asked everyone to support this regional body. He lauded Religions for Peace for helping the religious leaders in establishing the body.

Presenting during the meeting, Prof. Mohammed Sammak proposed for the introduction of a Muslim-Christian Contract as a first step in the establishment of „contracts of mutual care‟ among the Abrahamic faiths. Prof. Sammak, who is also the Co-President of Religions for Peace International stated that the destiny of the Middle East and North Africa peoples was inseparable. Prof. Sammak noted with disappointment the dwindling population of Christians in the region, and called on the Muslims in to reverse this trend by protecting the Christian minorities. Prof. Sammak described as total violation of the Shariah, Ahadith and the Constitution the burning of places of worship.

The High Representative of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations H.E. President Jorge Sampaio noted with satisfaction the initiatives taken by Religions for Peace International in strengthening inter-religious dialogue in the MENA region, calling it one of the most important ways to secure just peace and dignity for the people of the region. Introducing the MENA Council, Religions for Peace International Secretary General Dr. William Vendley, who also serves as its Interim Secretary General, thanked the religious leaders for taking bold steps to engage in dialogue and practical ways to strengthen multi-religious cooperation in the region. The Mufti of Jerusalem H.E. Imam Mohammed Hussein called for co-existence and dignified life for all people in the Holy Land.

The MENA Council meeting comes in the backdrop of political transformations, violence and instability in the Arab World. The religious leaders, through the MENA Council are taking steps to prevent mis-use of religion as the region undergoes these transformations by working together and strengthening the multi-religious platform.
The theme of the meeting was „Engaging Historic Faiths to Advance the Common Good in the Middle East and North Africa‟. Secretaries Generals of the African Council of Religious Leaders, Dr. Mustafa Y. Ali, European Council of Religious Leaders Mr. Stein Villumstad, Latin America Mr. Elias S. and Deputy Secretary General of the Asia Conference Religions and Peace Rev. Hatakeyama Yoshitaka were in attendance.

For further information Contact
Dr. Mustafa Y. Ali
Secretary General,
African Council of Religious Leaders
The African Council of Religious Leaders,
25 Othaya Road, off Gitanga Road:
P.O. Box 76398 – 00508, Nairobi, Kenya,
Tel: +254 20 3862233 / 3867879: Fax: +254 20 3867879
Cell Phones: +254 727531170 / +254 737531170:
Email: secretariat@acrl-rfp.org

Jobs and Justice

From Nation of Change
by Andrés Velasco, a former finance minister of Chile, is a visiting professor at Columbia University for 2011-2012.

Jobs for Justice

“Do you feel it trickle down?” ask the protesters occupying Wall Street and parts of financial districts from London to San Francisco. They are not alone in their anxiety. Income inequality is a top concern not only in tent cities across the United States, but also among street protesters in Taipei, Tel Aviv, Cairo, Athens, Madrid, Santiago, and elsewhere.

Inequality almost everywhere, including China, has become so extreme that it must be reduced. Protesters, experts, and center-left politicians agree on this – and on little else. The debate about inequality’s causes is complex and often messy; the debate about how to address it is messier still.

In the rich countries of the global north, the widening gap between rich and poor results from technological change, globalization, and the misdeeds of investment bankers. In the not-so-rich countries of the south, much inequality is the consequence of a more old-fashioned problem: lack of employment opportunities for the poor.

“Follow Project Syndicate on Facebook or Twitter. For more from Andrés Velasco, click here.”

In a forthcoming book, University of Chile economist Cristóbal Huneeus and I examine the roots of inequality in Chile and elsewhere in Latin America and come away with three policy prescriptions: jobs, jobs, jobs. In the last quarter-century, Chile managed to consolidate democracy, triple per capita income, and achieve the highest living standards in Latin America, with near-universal coverage in health care, education, and old-age pensions. Yet the gap in the labor incomes of rich and poor has barely budged.

In Chile and elsewhere, discussions of inequality tend to focus on how much people earn. According to national household surveys, a Chilean worker earning the minimum wage takes home $300 a month, while a professional in the top 10% of the income scale typically makes about $2,400 dollars a month. But that eight-fold gap is only the tip of the inequality iceberg.

It also turns out that the poor worker lives in a household where only 0.5 people on average have a job, so that two families are needed for one steady source of income. By contrast, in the upscale professional’s household, nearly two people on average hold down a job.

Add to this several other differences – above all, poorer families’ higher fertility rates – and the sums reveal that the top 10% of households actually make 78 times more (on a per capita basis) than those at the bottom. That is the kind of figure that keeps Chile ranked high globally in terms of inequality, despite the country’s other achievements.

Put differently: not only take-home pay, but also employment opportunities can be unequally distributed. Compound the two problems and you have world-class income disparities. Chile is hardly alone in this category. South Africa, another country that is proud of its exemplary transition to democracy, suffers from the same problem in an even more extreme version. And, within Latin America, Colombia and Brazil, among others, face a similar combination of low employment and high inequality.

The main victims of this state of affairs are women and the young, for whom employment ratios are much lower than for the population as a whole. A typical poor household in Chile and elsewhere in Latin America is headed by a woman with only primary-school education. She has small children, limited access to day care, and few job opportunities.

That is the bad news – and it is very bad news indeed. The good news is that reducing inequality by creating jobs for the poor may prove to be faster than altering the entire structure of wages. Over the medium term, wages depend on productivity, which in turn depends crucially on higher-quality education and training for the poor, which Latin American countries certainly need. Indeed, a heated national debate about how to improve education has seized Chile for much of the past year.

Read entire story at Nation of Change

Close Gitmo Stop Torture

Dear Gabriel,

I wish I had better news to give you about the human rights failure that is Guantanamo. But the bad news is coming at us from all sides:

– President Obama has failed to keep his promise to close Guantanamo.

Some presidential candidates think Guantanamo should be kept open indefinitely.

– Senators are poised to approve a new National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that includes provisions that would actually expand indefinite detention at Guantanamo.

– And perhaps worst of all, torture is still proudly advocated by members of Congress like Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire — and by some of the current candidates for the U.S. Presidency.

Sometimes it feels like we’re living in the Twilight Zone, with politicians trying to outdo themselves in insanity rather than actually solving the very real and pressing challenges facing the country.

But we can’t give in to the madness. We believe that human rights and the rule of law should be respected by the U.S. government. We just need to find a way to make a big statement to politicians, showing that people all throughout the U.S. and around the world are out there demanding an end to Guantanamo and torture.

That is why we are asking you to join us on January 11, 2012 in Washington, DC, where Amnesty activists will form a human chain in protest against injustices at Guantanamo.

Why January 11? January 11, 2012 will mark the 10th anniversary of “war on terror” detainees at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Let’s join together — literally — to make this year’s disgraceful anniversary the last.

To create a human chain that will reach from the White House to the Capitol building, we’ve calculated that we need at least 2,771 activists — the approximate number of people currently being detained at Guantanamo and Bagram Prison in Afghanistan. While the human chain action will be focused on Washington, DC, other activists will stand in solidarity with us at Jan. 11 events all around the world.

Guantanamo remains the global symbol of human rights violations and lawlessness by the U.S. It represents torture, indefinite detention, unfair trials, rendition, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, secret detention — the entire system of abuses and disregard for human rights and the rule of law put in place under former President Bush’s administration. A system that continues today.

This January 11, join us in rejecting this system by lending a hand to our human chain in Washington, DC. Human rights violations in Guantanamo have gone on ten years too long.

Sincerely,

Zeke Johnson
Director, Security with Human Rights Campaign
Amnesty International USA

Youth Foundation in Rwanda

Fair Children Youth Foundation (FCYF)

Our foundation was created in 2003 to restore human rights and to rebuild lives and community in Rwanda. FCYF is a nationally registered non-profit organization based in Musanze, a beautiful area in north Rwanda that suffered excessively from consequences of civil war, genocide and disease, because of its exposed border location with DRC and Uganda. Since 2008, FCYF has created:

– a school for deaf children and youth

– a vocational training center and cooperative for teenage orphans, who have missed out on formal education through taking care of their younger siblings after parents died

– a kindergarten

– a primary school which has come top in examination results in its district since its first year of opening

FCYF also provides infrastructure advice and training for hundreds of widows in agricultural cooperatives and trade associations. The foundation leads community workshops in child and women’s rights, nutrition and health, and HIV/AIDS prevention. It facilitates health insurance for the most marginalized households and it has created a highly successful volunteer mentoring program for orphaned households.

Through these community based and led programs and projects, FCYF has opened the door for many hundreds of children, women and marginalized people in Musanze to access formal education, vocational training and income-generating opportunities. The foundation also welcomes international volunteers each year from many countries, in a spirit of fraternity and mutual desire to learn and grow global community together.

Your generous donation will enable our foundation to widen its reach throughout and beyond Musanze district. Even a few dollars given to one of FCYF’s programs can make a life changing difference to an orphan or widow struggling to raise a family alone. If you would like to support a particular program, please note this on your donation comment.

Women In Prison Business

Dispatches from the Field: Women in Prison – An American Growth Industry.

From Nation of Change – Human Rights
Edited by Ellen Shahan via Trine-Day Publishing

Who says “American Exceptionalism” is dead? Not when it comes to incarceration. Nowhere on Earth — except the USA — does a country put more of its citizens in prison. And, increasingly, those citizens are female.

In 1980, before the War on Drugs became big business and prison corporations were allowed to regain a toehold, there were 12,300 women incarcerated in the United States. By 2008, that number had grown to 207,700. The rate of increase between 1995 and 2008 alone was a staggering 203%. The $9 million dollars it cost to incarcerate female offenders in 1980 has now ballooned to over $68.7 billion.

Who are these women, and how did they come to be caught in the web of the prison-growth industry?

By and large, these are young women who have less than a high-school education, have a history of being battered and/or sexually abused, and, with that, a resultant history of drug abuse. They are more likely to be HIV positive or infected with Hepatitis C, have either symptoms or a diagnosis of mental illness, and prior to incarceration were unemployed. While young African American women are the fastest growing incarcerated population, roughly 49% of women in prison are white, 28% are African American, and almost 17% are Latina. More than two-thirds are incarcerated for drug, property, or public order offenses. And the vast majority are mothers of minor children.

Here’s one such story.

Oklahoma, Not OK

On New Year’s Eve 2009, in rural Kingfisher County, Oklahoma, Patricia Spottedcrow, a 24-year-old Cheyenne mother of four, and her mother, Delita Starr, sold a “dime bag” of marijuana out of Starr’s house for eleven dollars. Two weeks later, the person who sought them out for the first buy came back for a twenty-dollar bag. The buyer turned out to be a police informant.

Spottedcrow and Starr were charged with distribution and possession of a dangerous controlled substance in the presence of a minor, and were offered a plea deal of two years in prison. Having no priors, meaning they’d never been in trouble with the law, and having been busted for such a small amount, they turned the deal down. Both women pled guilty, thinking they’d get “community service and a slap on the wrist.”

Unfortunately, as is too often the case, it didn’t play out that way. Though it was a piddling amount of money and a first offense, in the eyes of Kingfisher County Judge Susie Pritchett, because Spottedcrow’s mother made the actual sale of the “dime bag,” and Spottedcrow’s nine-year-old son made change, Spottedcrow had involved three generations in a “criminal enterprise.” Seeking to teach her a lesson for selling thirty-one dollars’ worth of marijuana (and showing up for sentencing with traces of marijuana in a coat pocket), Judge Pritchett gave the young mother twelve years in prison — ten years for distribution and two years for possession — to run concurrently, with no probation. In addition, she fined Spottedcrow $4,077.89.

Starr was given a thirty-year sentence, suspended so she could care for her grandchildren. She was also saddled with five years of drug and alcohol “assessments,” plus $8,591.91 in court fees and fines. At $50 a month, she’s now paid off $600 of it. Her monthly income is $800.

Believing she would be released on probation, Spottedcrow made no preparations for her incarceration. When her sentence was handed down, she was taken into custody without having a chance to say goodbye to her children, shackled, and transported three hours away to Dr. Eddie Warrior Correctional Center, where she became a minimum security prisoner at a cost to Oklahoma taxpayers of $40.43 a day — ten dollars more per day than the total cost of marijuana sold in two separate incidents combined, and $25 more per day than it would have cost the state to provide drug treatment, were that available in Kingfisher County.

Eddie Warrior, a state-run facility that opened its doors in 1989, was built to house fifty women to a dorm, one or two to a cubicle. Just six years later it was at capacity. In the four-part documentary, Women in Prison, Eddie Warrior case manager Teri Davis states that shortly thereafter, with the facility already full, “they started hauling people in.” Now there are a hundred-and-twenty inmates to a dorm, some with serious communicable diseases, living in rows of bunks four feet apart.

“The inmates don’t like it,” says Davis. “And who would? Crammed up with another inmate in your face, coughing because she’s sick, coughing all over you . . . packed in like sardines in a can, with no amenities.”

Perhaps most disturbing about conditions at Eddie Warrior is that they are not unusual. Lurking behind the injustice of Spottedcrow’s harsh sentence is a darker story of human rights violations in America’s female prisons. In Inside This Place, Not of It: Narratives from Women’s Prisons, compiled and edited by Robin Levi and Ayelet Waldman, female inmates speak of atrocities “ranging from forced sterilization and shackling during childbirth, to physical and sexual abuse by prison staff.” Describing their lives as harrowing and rife with misogyny, author Peggy Orenstein declares their treatment “utterly unacceptable in a country that values human rights.”

For the privilege of living in these deplorable conditions, Spottedcrow’s sentence means a burden to taxpayers of nearly $150,000 in incarceration costs alone. This is the price to an already strapped society for a person’s having sold 0.105821 ounces of an herb that is considered harmless on the one hand, and highly beneficial on the other. Multiply that by the thousands incarcerated in Oklahoma, and then multiply that by the other forty-nine states. In fact, Oklahoma attorney Josh Welch, who is working for Spottedcrow’s release, predicts that if Oklahoma continues its current practice of incarcerating “anybody who comes before a judge” for drug-related offenses, even for a first offense, “it will bankrupt the state.”

However high the cost of justice, the cost of injustice is greater still.

Read entire story at Nation of Change.

Champion’s For Humanity

Dear Gabriel,

If you want to know why letters are important, just ask Yusak Pakage.

Yusak was serving a 10-year prison sentence in Indonesia simply for taking part in a peaceful flag-raising ceremony. Amnesty International supporters campaigned for his release, and in 2010, authorities freed him. He knows from personal experience the impact Amnesty’s letters can have.

“Amnesty is … the strength for those drowning … the friend of the excluded … the protector of those in need … and the hope which keeps our hope alive,” Yusak Pakage told Amnesty International members after his release from prison.

Will you donate today to support Amnesty International’s life-saving human rights work?

This year’s Write for Rights starts in a few weeks. Letter-writers will send messages to demand release of imprisoned Azerbaijani youth activist Jabbar Savalan, Iranian student organizers Behareh Hedayat and Majid Tavakkoli, and Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, among others.

Donate today to support Amnesty International and our 2011 Write for Rights campaign.

For 50 years, Amnesty has given us the ability and the opportunity to expose and confront abuses in a way that is profound, fulfilling and effective.

When you Write for Rights, your words bolster a human rights defender whose life is in jeopardy. They ignite hope in a forgotten prisoner.

“Thank you to Amnesty International members across the world from someone who has suffered and who now smiles again thanks to Amnesty.” — Yusak Pakage

When you make a financial contribution to Amnesty, you empower a formidable human rights movement. A movement that is tackling crises around the world, and needs your help now.

Donate today.

Sincerely,

Michael O’Reilly
Senior Campaign Director, Individuals at Risk
Amnesty International USA

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