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Posts tagged ‘citizens’

“I Demand My Rights.”

“I Demand My Rights.”

Kaia* was eleven years old when she was assaulted and raped on the way to school. A teacher took her to the hospital, but the police demanded bribes for even taking down a statement.

So Kaia did something incredibly brave. She sued the police for failing to protect her. What’s even more incredible is what happened next.

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In Kenya where Kaia lives, a woman or girl is raped every 30 minutes. Police there routinely turn a blind eye, further isolating terrified young survivors and reinforcing the notion that rape is ok.

Kaia and ten other young survivors challenged that. On the day of the case, ignoring threats to their safety and a blockade from court security, they marched from their shelter to the courthouse, chanting “Haki yangu” — Kiswahili for “I demand my rights.” And then the judge issued his ruling: The girls had won!

The amazing advocates and human rights lawyers that worked with Kaia are ready to bring similar lawsuits against police forces across Africa and beyond, but they need funding to do it. We won’t process pledges until we reach our goal, but if just 30,000 of us pledge a small amount now, we can repeat this game-changing victory in other countries, remind police that rape is a crime, and take a powerful step forward against the global war on women:

Click to pledge what you can — we’ll process your contribution only if we hit our goal of 30,000 donors.

When Kaia’s story began, she looked set to become just another of the countless victims of child rape ignored by the police. But Kenyan child rights advocate Mercy Chidi and Canadian human rights lawyer Fiona Sampson joined forces to challenge this injustice in the courts.

The plan was hatched in Kenya by a group of colleagues from Canada, Kenya, Malawi and Ghana — it seemed like a long shot to sue the police force for failing to act, but they stuck with it and took risks… and made legal history. The work has just begun: like any win, it takes time, effort and money to make sure the ruling sticks, and to use it as a springboard to wipe out violence against women.

If we raise enough, here’s how we could turn a huge victory for Kenya into a win for countries across Africa and even the rest of the world:

* help fund more cases like this, across Africa and around the world
* use hard-hitting campaign strategies to make sure these groundbreaking judgments are enforced
* push for massive, effective public education campaigns that strike at the root of sexual violence and help erase it for good
respond to more campaign opportunities like this case — with super smart strategies that turn the tide in the war on women.

Click to pledge what you can to start this important work right away — we won’t process any contributions unless we hit our goal of 30,000 donors.

As citizens, we often appeal to political leaders and other officials to get serious about protecting women’s rights. It’s important to keep doing that, but when they fail to hear their consciences, we need to appeal to their interests, and take them to court. That sends a powerful message: not only that there are new consequences for their crimes, but that the era of unchallenged misogyny in the culture of our societies is coming to end.

With hope,

Ricken, Maria Paz, Emma, Oli, Nick, Allison, Luca and the rest of the Avaaz team

* Kaia is a pseudonym, but her story is real. She is not pictured here.

U.S. Healthcare Near the Bottom

U.S. Healthcare Worse Than Almost All Other Industrialized Countries
by Carey L. Brown
Inter Press Service/Nation of Change
11 January 2013

U.S. citizens suffer from poorer health than nearly all other industrialized countries, according to the first comprehensive government analysis on the subject, released Wednesday.

Of 17 high-income countries looked at by a committee of experts sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, the United States is at or near the bottom in at least nine indicators.

These include infant mortality, heart and lung disease, sexually transmitted infections, and adolescent pregnancies, as well as more systemic issues such as injuries, homicides, and rates of disability.

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Together, such issues place U.S. males at the very bottom of the list, among those countries, for life expectancy; on average, a U.S. male can be expected to live almost four fewer years than those in the top-ranked country, Switzerland. U.S. females fare little better, ranked 16th out of the 17 high-income countries under review.

“We were stunned by the propensity of findings all on the negative side – the scope of the disadvantage covers all ages, from babies to seniors, both sexes, all classes of society,” Steven H. Woolf, a professor of family medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University and chair of the panel that wrote the report, told IPS.

“It’s unclear whether some of these patterns will be experienced by other countries in the years to come, but developing countries will undoubtedly begin facing some of these issues as they take on more habits similar to the United States. Currently, however, even countries in the developing world are outpacing the U.S. in certain outcomes.”

Although the new findings offer a uniquely comprehensive view of the problem, the fact is that U.S. citizens have for decades been dying at younger ages than those in nearly all other industrialized countries. The committee looked at data going back to the 1970s to note that such a trend has been worsening at least since then, with women particularly affected.

“A particular concern with these findings was about adolescents, about whom we document very serious issues that, again, stand out starkly from other counties,” Woolf says.

Beyond insurance

The unusually high levels of population who lack health insurance in the U.S. would certainly seem to be one factor at work here. In 2010, some 50 million people, around 16 percent of the population, were uninsured – a massive proportion compared with the rest of the world’s high-income countries.

Of course, after a rancorous debate and more than a decade of political infighting, in 2010 President Barack Obama did succeed in putting in place broad legislation that will bring the number of uninsured in the United States down significantly.

Further, Obama’s winning of a second term in office, coupled with a recent decision by the Supreme Court, will now undercut most attempts by critics to roll back Obama’s new health-care provisions.

And yet, according to the new findings, the insurance issue has relatively little impact on the overall state of poor health in the United States. (In fact, those 75 years old or more can expect to live longer than those in other countries, a clear indication of the tremendous money and effort that has gone into end-of-life care.)

“Even advantaged Americans – those who are white, insured, college-educated, or upper income – are in worse health than similar individuals in other countries,” the report states. Likewise, “Americans who do not smoke or are not overweight also appear to have higher rates of disease than similar groups in peer countries.”

Indeed, some of the few categories in which U.S. citizens are found to do better than their peers in other countries include smoking less tobacco and drinking less alcohol. They also appear to have gained greater control over their cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

At the same time, people in the United States have begun to suffer inordinately from a host of other problems that can contribute to a spectrum of additional health concerns.

Sky-high obesity rates, for instance, are undergirded by findings that people in the U.S. on average consume more calories per person than in other countries, as well as analysis that suggest that the U.S. physical environment in recent decades has been built around the automobile rather than the pedestrian.

Health disadvantage

Confusingly, people in the United States not only record far lower health indicators on average when compared to other high-income countries, but also score far lower on seemingly unrelated issues related to environmental safety – for instance, experiencing inordinate numbers of homicide and car accidents.

The committee clearly had trouble putting together these seemingly disparate datasets.

“No single factor can fully explain the U.S. health disadvantage,” the report states. “More likely, the U.S. health disadvantage has multiple causes and involves some combination of inadequate health care, unhealthy behaviors, adverse economic and social conditions, and environmental factors, as well as public policies and social values that shape those conditions.”

According to Samuel Preston, a demographer and fellow committee member, “The bottom line is that we are not preventing damaging health behaviors. You can blame that on public health officials or on the health care system … but put it all together and it is creating a very negative portrait.”

Read entire article and other stories at Nation of Change.

Pussy Riot Is Free

Dear Gabriel,

Facing 2 years in jail for singing a song criticizing President Putin in a church, a member of Pussy Riot gestured to the court and said in her show-trial’s closing statements, “Despite the fact that we are physically here, we are freer than everyone sitting across from us … We can say anything we want…”

Russia is steadily slipping into the grip of a new autocracy — clamping down on public protest, allegedly rigging elections, intimidating media, banning gay rights parades for 100 years, and even beating critics like chess master Garry Kasparov. But many Russian citizens remain defiant, and Pussy Riot’s eloquent bravery has galvanized the world’s solidarity. Now, our best chance to prove to Putin there is a price to pay for this repression lies with Europe.

The European Parliament is calling for an assets freeze and travel ban on Putin’s powerful inner circle who are accused of multiple crimes. Our community is spread across every corner of the world — if we can push the Europeans to act, it will not only hit Putin’s circle hard, as many bank and have homes in Europe, but also counter his anti-Western propaganda, showing him that the whole world is willing to stand up for a free Russia. Click below to support the sanctions and tell everyone:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/free_pussy_riot_free_russia_a/?bMPbqab&v=17285

Last week’s trial is about far more than three women and their 40-second ‘punk prayer’. When tens of thousands flooded the streets to protest rigged elections, the government threw organisers into jail for weeks. And in June Parliament effectively outlawed dissent by raising the fine for unsanctioned protest an astounding 150-fold, roughly the average Russian’s salary for a whole year.

Pussy Riot may be the most famous Russian activists right now, but their sentence is not the grossest injustice of Putin’s war on dissent. In 2009, anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who uncovered a massive tax fraud at the heart of Russia’s power dealers, died in jail — without a trial, on shaky charges, and with medical attention repeatedly denied. 60 of Russia’s elite have been under scrutiny for the case and its cover-up, and the sanctions the European Parliament is proposing are on this inner circle.

International attention to Russia’s crackdown is cresting right now, and the ‘Magnitsky sanctions’ are the best way to put the heat on Putin and help create breathing room for the suffocating democracy movement. Let’s give Europe’s leaders a global public mandate to adopt the sanctions. Sign the petition now and share this with everyone:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/free_pussy_riot_free_russia_a/?bMPbqab&v=17285

What happens in Russia matters to us all. Russia has blocked international coordination on Syria and other urgent global issues, and a Russian autocracy threatens the world we all want, wherever we are. The Russian people face a serious challenge, but we know that people-powered movements are the best cure for corruption and iron-fisted governments — and that international solidarity can help keep the flame of these movements alive. Let’s join together now to show Putin that the world will hold him to account and push for change until Russia is set free.

With hope,

Luis, David, Alice, Ricken, Lisa, Vilde, and the Avaaz team

History of US Healthcare

Healthcare history: How the patchwork coverage came to be.
by Bob Rosenblatt
Los Angeles Times
February 27, 2012

Workers swarmed through Henry J. Kaiser’s Richmond, Calif., shipyard in World War II, building 747 ships for the Navy. The war “had siphoned off the most hardy specimens,” a newspaper reported, so Kaiser was left with many workers too young, old or infirm to be drafted.

The workers needed to be in good health to be effective on the job, and Kaiser offered them care from doctors in company clinics and at company hospitals. The workers paid 50 cents a week for the benefit.

It was something new in industrial America — a bonus offered to attract scarce labor while wages were frozen during the war.

The war ended, the workers quit the shipyards, leaving behind hospitals and doctors but no patients. So the company decided to open the system to the public — and that’s how generations of Californians who never heard of Kaiser shipyards have since gotten medical care.

It is just one example of the way America’s health insurance system has grown into the strange patchwork program it is today.

Most of us get health insurance through our jobs, a system puzzling to the rest of the industrial world, where the government levies taxes and offers health coverage to all as a basic right of modern society. But for many Americans, their way feels alien — the heavy hand of government reaching into our business as some bureaucrat tells doctors and patients what to do.

We always seem to fight over the role of government in our healthcare. In 1918, California voters defeated a proposed constitutional amendment that would have organized a state-run healthcare program. Doctors fought it with a publication declaring that “compulsory social health insurance” was “a dangerous device invented in Germany, announced by the German Emperor from the throne in the same year he started plotting and preparing to conquer the world.”

The amendment was defeated by a huge margin.

This year’s presidential and congressional election campaigns will feature intense argument over the Affordable Care Act signed by President Obama in 2010, the most ambitious effort yet to bring health insurance to all Americans. Everyone is required to have health insurance, and all but the poorest citizens face a tax penalty if they don’t comply.

For liberals, the act is a culmination of the dream to complete the work of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. For conservatives, many of whom scornfully refer to the law as Obamacare, it is big government run amok. The first battleground will be in the U.S. Supreme Court next month, when the justices hear arguments on whether it is constitutional for the federal government to make citizens buy health insurance.

The long-standing tension between public and private healthcare in America has produced a unique and confusing way to provide protection against the cost of ill health.

It was Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose party that first suggested, in the 1912 presidential campaign, that Americans would need help paying their medical bills.

Medicine was becoming safe and even effective. Doctors could treat typhoid and diphtheria. Hospitals were becoming places that could help you get better rather than serving as dumping grounds for the insane or warehouses for paupers.

Being able to treat sickness meant that healthcare started to cost more.

When FDR became president in 1933, the committees that developed the concept of Social Security for him also considered national health insurance. Roosevelt flirted with the idea but never threw political muscle behind it.

After Harry S. Truman became president in 1945, he called on Congress to provide national health insurance but could never bring it to a vote. Opponents included the American Medical Assn., which in 1948 asked each of its members to kick in $25 to fund a campaign warning that Truman’s “socialized medicine” plan could lead to socialism throughout American life.

Health insurance, when it did emerge on a mass basis, came from the business world, as exemplified by the Kaiser shipyard story. World War II-era employers faced government-mandated wage freezes to prevent them from competing with dollars for scarce workers, which would drive up prices and cause inflation. But the IRS allowed companies to offer benefits up to 5% of the value of wages without counting them as taxable income.

The ruling became permanent in 1954, creating the foundation for the insurance system we have today.

After the war ended, the powerful labor union movement focused on expanding health coverage as well as boosting wages. Health insurance became a standard feature in labor contracts. Elsewhere in the economy, nonunion employers too decided it was a good tool to attract workers.

And then, in 1965, after years of hearings and campaigns, the federal government dived into healthcare in a big way.

For years, there had been talk of the needs of the elderly, who couldn’t afford the hospital bills that came with the ravages of old age. Old people were a sympathetic and deserving group for politicians. President Lyndon B. Johnson, armed with the power and prestige of a landslide victory in 1964 and the support of big Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, pushed through a legislative three-layer cake.

For people ages 65 and older, there would be Medicare Part A. It would pay their hospital bills with taxes collected from workers, just as the government collects taxes from workers to pay for Social Security retirement checks.

The second layer on the cake was Medicare Part B, set up in a fashion to win over doctors: They would receive their usual and customary fees for each thing they did for patients.

The third layer on the cake was Medicaid, a federal-state program of care for the poor.

Even after Medicare became law, there were great fears it might be too controversial to work. Would doctors refuse to see Medicare patients? Would Southern hospitals agree to dismantle their segregated wards and have patients of different races sharing the same rooms?

The doctors didn’t strike. And the hospitals were immediately integrated without protest.

Today, Medicare seems like the birthright of every American who reaches age 65. John Breaux, a former U.S. senator from Louisiana, likes to tell the story of an elderly woman who accosted him at an airport, declaring, “Don’t let the government mess with my Medicare.”

Seniors had their national health insurance, and the Democrats thought they had a winning issue. Bill Clinton entered his presidency in 1993 with an ambitious plan to extend national health insurance to everyone.

Hundreds of experts spent hours behind closed doors drawing up intricate plans. But Congress felt excluded and insulted, and the plan never came to a floor vote in the House or Senate. Its fate was sealed when the GOP made big gains in 1994, giving Clinton a Republican House to deal with for the rest of his presidency.

The big plan had failed.

When President Obama approached the health insurance dilemma, he avoided the Clinton tactic of creating a detailed blueprint without input from Congress.

Instead, he relied on the congressional process. It was filled with deals.

Read entire article at Los Angeles Times.

End Indefinite Detention

Dear Gabriel,

Osama bid Laden may be dead, but the War on Terror is still being used as an excuse to sacrifice our values and our rights.

On New Year’s Eve, President Obama signed a bill into law that gives him and future presidents the power to use the U.S. military to pick up and indefinitely detain civilians accused of supporting terrorism — including American citizens — anywhere in the world without charges and without a trial.

This represents a further entrenchment of the Guantanamo mindset that jettisons our most cherished values and our constitutional rights all in the name of national security.

Tell President Obama and Congress: Close Guantanamo and end indefinite detention. Click here to automatically sign the petition.

The president and all members of Congress need to see that Americans are outraged by the support in all three branches of government for this outrageous attack on our constitutional rights.

Even if your representative or your senators voted against the bill that allows indefinite detention, they need to hear from you.1

What’s more, they need to see a groundswell of support behind a renewed effort to shut down the shameful American gulag at Guantanamo.

Guantanamo is a black mark on our national conscience that started under George W. Bush in the wake of 9-11. But it has only continued, despite promises to the contrary, under President Obama.

Tomorrow marks the tenth anniversary of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It’s long past time we shut it down.

Tell President Obama and Congress: Close Guantanamo and end indefinite detention. Click here to automatically sign the petition.

Indefinite detention without charges or trial is fundamentally contrary to the democratic values that our system of government rests upon.

For that reason alone, President Obama could have and should have vetoed legislation that prevented the closure of Guantanamo and allowed for the indefinite military detention of American citizens.

But Congress also must shoulder much of the blame.

There is a disturbing degree of elite consensus that the War on Terror justifies rolling back our civil liberties and our obligations under the Geneva Conventions.

While there are many elected officials who to their credit have spoken out against this, the recent defense bill that allows for the indefinite military detention of Americans passed with large, bi-partisan majorities in both chambers of Congress.

The worst thing we can do in the face of this is remain silent.

We need to speak up and make sure that our elected officials know we are watching, and we must demand that they live up to the best of our nation’s values.

Tell President Obama and Congress: Close Guantanamo and end indefinite detention. Click below to automatically sign the petition:

http://act.credoaction.com/r/?r=366370&id=33280-266627-ENbk89x&t=10

Thank you for speaking out.

Matt Lockshin, Campaign Manager
CREDO Action from Working Assets

Citizens Have A Say In NYC

From Nation of Change and Yes! Magazine
by Kate Malongowski

NYC Gives Citizens a Say in the Budget

For the first time in history, some New York City residents have been given the opportunity to be directly involved in allocating the city’s budget—more than $6 million of it. Council members in four districts are trying out participatory budgeting, a grassroots democratic system that allows anyone to present proposals for improvements in their communities. The process fosters transparency, equality, and inclusion, words not always associated with municipal governments.

Council member Brad Lander, whose council district is in Brooklyn, learned about participatory budgeting about a year ago; he’s been anxious to try the process ever since.

a“I instantly thought it would be a great way to get people involved in the process of governing our communities at a time when faith in government is at an all-time low,” Lander says, citing a September poll revealing that only 15 percent of Americans say they trust the federal government most of the time. Lander is committing at least $1 million of discretionary funds for participatory budgeting over the next year.

It has restored faith in government for some New Yorkers who have been involved. Participatory budgeting was first practiced in Brazil in 1989. Today, more than 1,000 places across the world implement participatory budgets, mostly at the municipal level.

“We don’t have many opportunities in New York to actually participate in how the money gets spent,” says Mario Pagano, a 63-year-old Brooklyn resident who’s been involved in the process in Council member Brad Lander’s district. “We don’t ever have a chance to get past the city, the bureaucracy.”

She says participatory budgeting allows for citizens to get past that bureaucracy barrier and feel empowered about ideas and about making a difference in the community. She hopes to see improvements in infrastructure, specifically on roads and at subway stations.

Read Entire Story at Nation of Change

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.

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