The Amnesty Report 2008

May 28, 2008

Amnesty has recently published its yearly report on the state of human rights across the world and it makes very interesting, if not depressing, reading.

I will leave the deatils to the report itself but here are some of the details that struck me and were highlighted by Amnesty International themselves:

“The most powerful must lead by example,”

* China must live up to the human rights promises it made around the Olympic Games and allow free speech and freedom of the press and end “re-education through labour”.
* The USA must close Guantánamo detention camp and secret detention centres, prosecute the detainees under fair trial standards or release them, and unequivocally reject the use of torture and ill-treatment.
* Russia must show greater tolerance for political dissent, and none for impunity on human rights abuses in Chechnya.
* The EU must investigate the complicity of its member states in “renditions” of terrorist suspects and set the same bar on human rights for its own members as it does for other countries.

Ms Khan from Amnesty warned: “World leaders are in a state of denial but their failure to act has a high cost. As Iraq and Afghanistan show, human rights problems are not isolated tragedies, but are like viruses that can infect and spread rapidly, endangering all of us.”

“Governments today must show the same degree of vision, courage and commitment that led the United Nations to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights sixty years ago.”

“There is a growing demand from people for justice, freedom and equality.”

Some of the most striking images of 2007 were of monks in Myanmar, lawyers in Pakistan, and women activists in Iran.

“Restless and angry, people will not be silenced, and leaders ignore them at their own peril,” said Ms Khan.

Facts and Figures

ARTICLE 1

1948 Promise:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights
2008 Reality:
In the first half of 2007 nearly 250 women were killed by violent husbands or family members in Egypt and on average 2 women were raped there every hour.

ARTICLE 3

1948 Promise:
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person
2008 Reality:
1,252 people were known to have been executed by their state in 2007 in 24 countries; 104 countries however voted for a global moratorium on the death penalty.

ARTICLE 5

1948 Promise:
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
2008 Reality:
Amnesty International documented cases of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in more than 81 countries in 2007.

ARTICLE 7

1948 Promise:
All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law
2008 Reality:
Amnesty International’s report highlights at least 23 countries with laws discriminating against women, at least 15 with laws discriminating against migrants and at least 14 with laws discriminating against minorities.

ARTICLE 9

1948 Promise:
Noone shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile
2008 Reality:
At the end of 2007, there were more than 600 people detained without charge, trial or judicial review of their detentions at the US airbase in Bagram, Afghanistan, and 25,000 held by the Multinational Force in Iraq.

ARTICLE 10

1948 Promise:
Everyone charged with a crime is entitled equally to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal
2008 Reality:
54 countries were recorded in the Amnesty International Report 2008 as conducting unfair trials.

ARTICLE 11

1948 Promise:
Everyone has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law
2008 Reality:
Amnesty International figures show that around 800 people have been held at Guantánamo Bay since the detention facility opened in January 2002, some 270 are still being held there in 2008 without charge or due legal process.

ARTICLE 13

1948 Promise:
Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state
2008 Reality:
In 2007, there were more than 550 Israeli military checkpoints and blockades restricting or preventing the movement of Palestinians between towns and villages in the West Bank.

ARTICLE 18

1948 Promise:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion
2008 Reality:
Amnesty International has documented 45 countries as detaining Prisoners of Conscience.

ARTICLE 19

1948 Promise:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers
2008 Reality:
77 countries were restricting freedom of expression and the press according to the Amnesty International Report 2008.

ARTICLE 20

1948 Promise:
Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association
2008 Reality:
Thousands of people are believed to have been arrested during the crackdown on protests in Myanmar in 2007, Amnesty International estimates that around 700 remain in detention.

ARTICLE 23

1948 Promise:
Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to fair and equal pay, and to form and join trade unions
2008 Reality:
At least 39 trade unionists were killed in Colombia in 2007, 22 have died in the first 4 months of this year.

ARTICLE 25

1948 Promise:
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for their health and well-being, especially mothers and children
2008 Reality:
14% of Malawi’s population was living with HIV/AIDS in 2007, only 3% of them had access to free anti-retroviral drugs, 1 million children were orphaned there by HIV/AIDS related deaths.

(All figures from Amnesty International Report 2008)


Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

January 29, 2008

[spoiler]

Director:
Stanley Kubrick

Writers:
Peter George (novel)
Stanley Kubrick (screenplay) …

Release Date:
29 January 1964 (USA)

Genre:
Comedy

Plot Outline:
An insane general starts a process to nuclear holocaust that a war room of politicians and generals frantically try to stop. more

Cast
(Cast overview, first billed only)

Peter Sellers    …     Group Captain Lionel Mandrake / President Merkin Muffley / Dr. Strangelove

George C. Scott    …     Gen. ‘Buck’ Turgidson
Sterling Hayden    …     Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper
Keenan Wynn    …     Col. ‘Bat’ Guano
Slim Pickens    …     Maj. T.J. ‘King’ Kong
Peter Bull    …     Russian Ambassador Alexi de Sadesky

James Earl Jones    …     Lt. Lothar Zogg
Tracy Reed    …     Miss Scott
Jack Creley    …     Mr. Staines
Frank Berry    …     Lt. H.R. Dietrich
Robert O’Neil    …     Adm. Randolph

Glenn Beck    …     Lt. W.D. Kivel (as Glen Beck)
Roy Stephens    …     Frank
Shane Rimmer    …     Capt. G.A. ‘Ace’ Owens
Hal Galili    …     Burpelson AFB Defense Team member

[/spoiler]

This is a classic film that I’ve been wanting to see from many years of some reason I never got around to it.

And after seeing it I wish I’d seen it sooner.  Everything about this film smacks of class and Kubrick’s direction to the actors performances. This is tongue in cheek parody, with a sincere message delivered with panache. There are classic films out there that deservedly take the title of classic. And this one is no different, in fact I’d go as far as to say film is better than most of the other ageless Classics that are labeled so. I have no doubt this film won’t appeal to everyone because of the age and its black-and-white nature. What I would say though is if you are a fan of excellent film making, whatever age. It may be that this is definitely a film you have to see without doubt.


Has it been one month already?

January 27, 2008

I stopped drinking alcohol just before new year. I got bored with it and had had too much over Christmas.

I don’t miss it at all, too many negatives.

And on more of a downer:

Anti-war group says war crimes are “encouraged”

WATERTOWN, NY – “I was messed up in the head. It was okay for me. I laughed afterwards. We all did. It’s just the way things go.”

Iraq war veteran Jon Turner said it was almost expected of him to pull the trigger on people who didn’t need to die. So he did.

“It was my decision,” Turner said. “I made it. Now I have to live with the fact I see someone’s eyes screaming at me after I shot them.”

But Turner says it wasn’t his choice to be encouraged to do it from higher ranking officers. He and three other veterans speaking out Saturday at the Different Drummer Cafe in Watertown said committing war crimes is not only the way things go, but it’s unofficial policy. “The killing of innocent civilians is policy,” veteran Mike Blake said. “It’s unit policy and it’s Army policy. It’s not official policy, but it’s what’s happens on the ground everyday. It’s what unit commanders individually encourage.”

The group, part of the national organization called Iraq Veterans Against War are planning an event to be held in Washington, D.C. this coming March called “Winter Soldier” that will have veterans all speaking about war crimes they committed or witnessed during their tours of duty.

“These decisions are coming from the top down,” veteran Matt Howard said. “The tactics that we use. The policies that the military engages will create situations, create dynamics, create, ultimately, atrocity.”

IVAW hopes to have 100 veterans speak at the event. Once it ends, they’ll document the testimony and package it for Congress.

IVAW says it expects a number of veterans from Fort Drum to be at the event and it is hoping to get more veterans to attend and speak at the event and will help pay for any active duty soldier who wants to go and listen.

And Obesity in the U.S 


10 Reasons to Be A Vegetarian

January 26, 2008

Richard Dawkins on Vegetarianism
What I am doing is going along with the fact that I live in a society where meat eating is accepted as the norm, and it requires a level of social courage which I haven’t yet produced to break out of that. It’s a little bit like the position which many people would have held a couple of hundred years ago over slavery. Where lots of people felt morally uneasy about slavery but went along with it because the whole economy of the South depended upon slavery.

Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop has said bad eating habits are the main cause of 70 percent American deaths. Consuming more fresh fruits, vegetables, and grains are the best source for living a healthy, more enjoyable life.By being a vegetarian you are not only helping your body but you also help the environment by reducing pollution created from animal agriculture. Also, you may appreciate your healthy meals even more knowing that no animals suffered along the way.

There are literally hundreds of great reasons to green with your diet but here are our top 10.

1. Live Longer
A study from the Loma Linda University has found that vegetarians live about seven years longer, and vegans live about 15 years longer than meat eaters. These studies are further supported by the Chinese Health Project (the largest population study on diet and health to date). They found Chinese people who eat the least amount of fat and animal products have the lowest risk of cancer, heart attack and other diseases.

Further proof comes from a British research that tracked 6,000 and 5,000 meat eaters for 12 years to find that vegetarians were 40 percent less likely to die from cancer during that time and 20 percent less likely to die from other diseases.

2. You’ll be more “regular.”
Vegetables are the ultimate source for fiber, which pushes waste out of the body. Meat contains no fiber. Studies done at Harvard and Brigham Women’s Hospital found that people who ate a high-fiber diet had a 42 percent lower risk of diverticulitis. People who eat vegetable rich diets also tend to have fewer incidences of constipation, hemorrhoids and spastic colon.

3. Have a good heart

Fruits and vegetables are full of antioxidant nutrients that protect the heart and its arteries. Plus, produce contains no saturated fat or cholesterol.

Cholesterol levels for vegetarians are 14 percent lower than meat eaters. American diet that’s filled with saturated fats and cholestrol from meat and dairy has made cardiovascular disease the number one killer in the United States.

4. You’ll avoid toxic chemicals.
95 percent of pesticide residue in our diet comes from meat, fish and dairy products (according to EPA estimates). Fish, in particular, contain carcinogens (PCBs, DDT) and heavy metals (mercury, arsenic; lead, cadmium) that cannot be removed through cooking or freezing. Meat and dairy products are also laced with steroids and hormones.

5. You’ll give your body a spring cleaning.
Fruit and vegetable juices contain phytochemicals that help us detox naturally. Giving up meat helps rid the body of toxins (environmental pollutants, pesticides, preservatives) that overload our systems and cause illness.

6. You Will Look Better And Skinnier
On average, vegetarians are slimmer than meat eaters. Vegetarian diets are much lower in calories than the standard American diet. Vegetarians are also less likely to suffer from weight-related disorders like heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

7. Think of The Money You Will Save
Replacing meat, chicken and fish with vegetables and fruits is estimated to cut food bills by an average of $4,000 a year.

8. Help the environment
You’ll help reduce waste and air pollution. Circle 4 Farms in Milford, Utah, which raises 2.5 million pigs every year, creates more waste than the entire city of Los Angeles. And this is just one farm. Each year, the nation’s factory farms, collectively produce 2 billion tons of manure, a substance that’s rated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as one of the country’s top 10 pollutants. And that’s not even counting the methane gas released by cows, pigs and poultry (which contributes to the greenhouse effect); the ammonia gases from urine; poison gases that emanate from manure lagoons; toxic chemicals from pesticides; and exhaust from farm equipment used to raise feed for animals.

9. More Efficient
Right now, 72 percent of all grain produced in the United States is fed to animals raised for slaughter. It takes 15 pounds of feed to get one pound of meat. But if the grain were given directly to people, there’d be enough food to feed the entire planet. In addition, using land for animal agriculture is inefficient in terms of maximizing food production. According to the journal Soil and Water, one acre of land could produce 50,000 pounds of tomatoes, 40,000 pounds of potatoes, 30,000 pounds of carrots or just 250 pounds of beef.

10. Its The Right Thing To Do
“Our task must be to free ourselves… by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty. Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances of survival for life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”
Albert Einstein

Did you know 22 million animals are slaughtered to support the American appetite for meat? Its a great feeling to finish a health meal knowing that no beings have suffered.


Ethical storm as scientist becomes first man to clone himself

January 20, 2008

By FIONA MACRAE

A scientist has achieved a world first… by cloning himself.In a breakthrough certain to provoke an ethical furore, Samuel Wood created embryo copies of himself by placing his skin cells in a woman’s egg.

The embryos were the first to be made from cells taken from adult humans.

Although they survived for only five days and were smaller than a pinhead, they are seen as a milestone in the quest for treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

But critics fear the technology could be exploited by mavericks to clone babies and accused the scientists of reducing the miracle of human life to a factory of spare parts.

Researchers from the Californian stem cell research company Stemagen employed the same technique used to make Dolly the sheep, the world’s first cloned mammal, to create the embryos.

They took eggs donated by young women having IVF and replaced genetic material with DNA from the skin cells of two men.

The eggs were then zapped with an electric current to induce fertilisation and the creation of embryos.

Some of the skin cells came from Dr Wood, Stemagen’s chief executive officer and a leading fertility specialist, while the others came from another member of staff.

The result was a handful of embryos, at least three of them clones of Dr Wood and the other man.

Although all were destroyed in the process, the technique is seen as a vital step in the creation of cloned embryos rich in stem cells, which are “master cells” capable of becoming any type of body tissue.

Such stem cells could be invaluable in the study of diseases and the testing of drugs.

They could ultimately be used to replace the damaged tissues behind diseases from Alzheimer’s to diabetes.

Stem cells taken from cloned embryos would be a perfect match to the patient, whose body would not reject them.

Dr Wood, who has degrees in medicine, psychology, biochemistry and molecular biophysics, called the research “a critical milestone” in the development of treatments.

The unmarried father of two, who is in his forties, is working on extracting stem cells from such embryos – a process that inevitably leads to the death of the embryo.

John Smeaton, of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said: “We have got scientists wandering around in an ethical wilderness, forgetting about matters of justice relating to our fellow human beings.

“We have people creating human beings with the intention of destroying them. That’s appalling.”

And the Vatican condemned the cloning of human embryos, calling it the “worst type of exploitation of the human being”.

“This ranks among the most morally illicit acts, ethically speaking,” said Monsignor Elio Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, the Vatican department that helps oversee the Church’s position on bioethics issues.

Stem cell experts gave the U.S. breakthrough, published in the journal Stem Cells, a cautious welcome.

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, of the Medical Research Council’s National Institute for Medical Research, said: “This is another step along what has turned out to be a tortuous road.

“However, it is still a long way from the goal of achieving embryonic stem cells.”

U.S. researcher Professor Robert Lanza questioned the validity of the research and said the embryos looked “very unhealthy”.

Josephine Quintavalle, of the campaign group Comment On Reproductive Ethics, said: “Human cloning is unethical, unsafe, and completely unnecessary.

“It is time that scientists started to put some brakes on.”

Dr Calum MacKellar, of the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, said the creation and destruction of human embryos was “extremely offensive to millions in the UK”.

Although Dr Wood’s team is the first to create human embryos from adult cells, human embryos have been cloned before.

Scientists at Newcastle University created cloned human embryos in 2005 using cells from embryos rather than adults, seen as less useful in creating potential treatments.

British law says created embryos must be destroyed in 14 days and cannot be implanted in a woman.

The news came as it was revealed that animal-human hybrid embryos will be created in British laboratories within weeks after the research was allowed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

Two teams have been licensed to make cow-human hybrids for research into incurable diseases.

Scientists say they are needed because of a shortage of human eggs for research.

The embryos would be more than 99 per cent human and would have to be destroyed after two weeks.

But Mr Smeaton said: “It is creating a category of beings regarded as sub-human who can be used as raw material to benefit other members of the human family.

“How wrong can something be before a scientist understands you cannot just do it because of the perceived good for human beings.”

I’m not sure where I stand on this.  I think the fact that we have the ability to do this is amazing.  As for the ethical aspects, I’ll have to reserve judgment.


The first ever image of the far side of Mercury

January 16, 2008

UPDATED 1/15/2008 6:34:00 PM –Since our first close-up glimpses of Mercury in the 1970s, we’ve been left to wonder: “What does the rest of Mercury look like?” When it imaged the first planet from the Sun in 1974, NASA’s Mariner 10 space probe was only able to capture 45 per cent of Mercury’s surface as it flew by. Now, the US space agency’s latest craft – MESSENGER – has photographed the planet closer and in more detail than ever before, revealing what looks to be an extreme version of Earth’s Moon, with craters inside craters, inside craters.

As of 2:00 pm ET on Jan 14, Messenger passed within 200 km of Mercury’s surface – far closer than the 700 km above the surface that Mariner 10 passed 33 years ago. NASA’s latest ambassador into the solar system will have far more advanced instruments trained on Mercury this time around, than its distant cousin did back in the Apollo era.

Unlike Mariner 10, MESSENGER will stop and stay a while, eventually settling into orbit in 2011. Before that, it will make two more flybys: later in 2008 and 2009. During this series of flybys and orbits, MESSENGER will try to solve more than a few mysteries about the closest planet to the Sun…

Amazing


Guantanamo detainees are not human beings – US judges

January 12, 2008

Fri, 01/11/2008 – 19:51 – Wire Services

On the sixth anniversary of the imprisonment of detainees at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base, a United States judge threw out lawsuit brought by four former British detainees against Donald Rumsfeld and senior military officers for ordering torture and religious abuse, ruling that th the detainees are not “Persons” under U.S. Law, which according to another judge, means that they are less than “human beings”.
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit also ruled that torture is a “foreseeable consequence” of military detention in dismissing the action brought by Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, Rhuhel Ahmed and Jamal Al-Harith, who spent more than two years in Guantánamo and were repatriated to the U.K. in 2004.
In a 43-page opinion, Circuit Judge Karen Lecraft Henderson found that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a statute that applies by its terms to all “persons” did not apply to detainees at Guantánamo, effectively ruling that the detainees are not persons at all for purposes of U.S. law.
The Court also dismissed the detainees’ claims under the Alien Tort Statute and the Geneva Conventions, finding defendants immune on the basis that “torture is a foreseeable consequence of the military’s detention of suspected enemy combatants,” and ruled that even if torture and religious abuse were illegal, defendants were immune under the Constitution because they could not have reasonably known that detainees at Guantánamo had any constitutional rights.
Judge Janice Rogers Brown agreed with the result but attacked the majority for using a definition of person “at odds with its plain meaning.”
“There is little mystery that a ‘person’ is an individual human being…as distinguished from an animal or thing.” she added and concluded that majority’s decision “leaves us with the unfortunate and quite dubious distinction of being the only court to declare those held at Guantánamo are not ‘person[s].’ This is a most regrettable holding in a case where plaintiffs have alleged high-level U.S. government officials treated them as less than human.”
“We are disappointed that the D.C. Circuit has not held Secretary Rumsfeld and the chain of command accountable for torture at Guantánamo,” Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, co-counsel on the case, commented. “The entire world recognizes that torture and religious humiliation are never permissible tools for a government. We hope that the Supreme Court will make clear that this country does not tolerate torture or abuse by an unfettered executive.”

Someone commented that “The Nazis used the term “subhumans” to describe Jews in an effort to justify the horrific genocide which was acted out against the later.”

Now the United States courts are following that same pathway. I can hardly believe what I read that comes out of the USA sometimes these days.

I think I become more anti-USA with every new article that appears. I can’t help it, the country is not only dangerous in the global respect, it’s politics, economics and foreign policies would be laughable if they weren’t so damaging and frightening.