human rights

I'm Gonna Start a Podcast

new news podcastI've been considering the idea of a podcast for some time now. I was originally inspired to start a human rights podcast after Amnesty International's national conference in Brooklyn in March. There was a lot of discussion about building human rights awareness and education and in efforts to encourage young people (like myself) to join and/or to stay with the organization after high school or college. I see all these older folks talking about these issues and I thought, "Why don't I start a podcast? That's a great way to educate people and to encourage them to join Amnesty International." Plus, podcasts span across generations and are only growing in popularity. I can do a podcast. So, why not?

At First It Was So Overwhelming!

Once I started planning for the human rights podcast, I was overwhelmed quickly. Which topics should I talk about? How much research do I need to do for each episode? How am I going to balance this with my full-time job? It became too much in about a week and I abandoned the idea. However, with the changes going on at work and the overall direction of the company, I see new possibility and opportunity with the podcast. I want to include human rights, yes, but I doesn't have to be such a big deal. I don't have to overthink it so much. I just need to start small, start easy and just get things going. So, I'm going to resurrect the idea and see where I can take it. Plus, I found this handy guide to starting a podcast that helped a great deal while also showing me to start one without having to spend a lot of money.

This Podcast is Going to Be News Show + Human Rights + Fun

Right now, I'm reaching out to some friends of mine to see if they would be interested in appearing on the podcast. I figure if I start with friends, then it'll be much easier (and much more fun) to get things going. If something goes wrong, or if I don't really like podcasting after all, or if the episode is just a total disaster, then it's not a huge problem because the guest was just a friend and we were just having a fun conversation. I also need to get a few episodes together anyway before I can think about promoting the app or submitting the feed to iTunes. No one's going to be interested if I only have one episode done. By reaching out to several people, I can get a few dates organized and then put together four or five podcasts. Afterward, I can officially announce the podcast, promote it on social media, encourage people to download and see where else I can take it from there.

My podcast is going to be a mix of news, human rights (which is news oftentimes) and fun. I really like the conversational style that Joe Rogan employs for his podcast, but I like the level of discussion and the topic focus that Cara Santa Maria has for her podcasts. I don't know if I can do a podcast as long as Rogan's but I think an hour or a 90-minute podcast would work just fine. Eventually, it would be super cool to have folks contributing to the podcast via Patreon and maybe even appearing on other people's podcasts because of the work that I do and the content that I put out.

But, One Step at a Time

Yep, as I still need to get a few more people lined up and then upgrade my Skype account so that I can record the interviews. I have an awesome headphone/microphone set up already, and I got a new computer about two months ago so I know my hardware can handle it. I'm not sure what I'm going to call the podcast yet, but I'll get to that once I start recording and getting folks lined up. After I record a few episodes, or perhaps right before I record the first episode, I'll figure out what the podcast is called and will start on a logo and other design aspects so that all the promotional material is lined up.

Overall, I'm excited and I definitely need to start making a few things happen for my personal brand. I don't know if I can juggle writing for other publications or freelancing on the side. With podcasting, I can spend one weekend on one episode and then find time throughout the week to write blog posts, tweet links, post things on Facebook, do research etc. I think podcasting will be easier with my schedule (and I get to own all the content) than freelancing and writing for publications and other online websites.

Al Jazeera's Journalists are Going to Trial

Ask Egypt to Release These Journalists Immediately

Al Jazeera journalists on trialThree Al Jazeera English journalists, Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy, and Baher Mohamed, have been detained without trial for about two months. They have been in police custody since December 29, as they've been accused of "spreading lies harmful to state security and joining a terrorist organization." Specifically, they are accused of having ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, which was designated as a terrorist organization in December. This prisoners, as well as Al Jazeera, deny the allegations and are disappointed about their continued detention.

Their case finally did go to trial on February 20, a case that actually involves 20 people (including the three journalists and five students). Twelve of those people are being tried in absence. All 20 are charged with broadcasting false news and of either belonging to or assisting the Muslim Brotherhood movement. The trial was adjourned in late March and is scheduled to resume tomorrow, April 10.

Amnesty International says in their issue brief that Fahmy has been denied medical attention for a shoulder injury he sustained a few days prior to his arrest. Months of proper medical care have made the injury worse, where Fahmy now has difficulty moving his arm.

If you think that using articles from Al Jazeera is too biased (I know people who would think that's biased and would therefore doubt the story), then here's an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour and an article from Poynter to corroborate the information.

Write a Letter to #FreeAJStaff

Writing a letter may not seem like much, but journalists write articles, take photos, and shoot video every day. The work seems inconsequential, but the work can also have a huge impact when the right people see it, when the information is presented in the right way, or when people speak out about the news they see (or the lack of news on other issues that they do see). The point is writing a letter can make a difference in freeing these journalists, and the others, if enough people write letters. Writing a letter will present our voices in a whole new way, augmenting the coverage of Al Jazeera, the current activism of others as well as the Twitter campaign with the hashtag #FreeAJStaff.

To help, Amnesty International has provided all the pertinent information in their issue brief for you to write a letter on behalf of Al Jazeera's journalists. The brief also includes information about the five students who are being tried with the journalists as well as background information about the trial and why Egypt has been targeting Al Jazeera staff and other journalists. The three Al Jazeera journalists are not the only journalists facing trial, but the others are part of the 12 being tried in absence.

Please send letters to:

Public Prosecutor Hesham Mohamed Zaki Barakat Office of the Public Prosecutor Supreme Court House, 1 “26 July” Road Cairo, Arab Republic of EGYPT

Sample Letter

Hesham Mohamed Zaki Barakat Office of the Public Prosecutor Supreme Court House, 1 “26 July” Road Cairo, Arab Republic of EGYPT

Dear Chancellor,

I am writing in concern for MOHAMED FAHMY, PETER GRESTE, and BAHER MOHAMED, three Al Jazeera journalists who have been detained since December. They are currently being tried for broadcasting false news and for involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood.

I ask that the authorities release them immediately and unconditionally, as they have been arrested and charged solely for peacefully exercising their freedom of expression.

I also call on you to order independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of ill-treatment and to ensure that MOHAMED FAHMY has access to any medical attention that he may require.

Please ensure that the journalists, and the five students: SOHAIB SAAD MOHAMED, KHALED MOHAMED ABDEL RAOUF, SHADY ABDELHAMID, AHMED ABDELAZIM, and ANAS MOHAMED EL BELTAGY, receive a fair trial under international standards and are protected from torture and other ill-treatment, and to drop any charges solely resulting from their peaceful exercise of the freedom of expression.



Your Name


photo credit: Mohammed Nairooz via photopin cc

Protect the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Expression

Stop Russia From Making Street Protests a Crime

freedom of assembly RussiaRussia already has restrictive rules governing public assemblies, where a violation of the legal requirements for demonstrations entails a fine of 20,000 rubles ($570) or up to 40 hours of community service. A new draft law in the State Duma increases these penalties and introduces jail time for multiple offenses.

Many of these unauthorized street protests are peaceful and insignificant in number i.e. not very large, but are routinely dispersed by police. Often times, they use excessive force and arrest protesters, detaining them for up tot 15 days for violating the police's "lawful orders". The proposed draft law would increase the maximum detention period to 30 days, while also introducing 15-day detentions for a variety of other violations, such as infringing the movement of pedestrians.

Video footage, and other relevant evidence isn't considered during the trial. Judges accept police statements unquestioningly, even if there is evidence to the contrary.

For more information about this issue, here's a brief outlining additional background information as well as further action. This is also the source of the information I provided above.

What Can Be Done About This?

The issue may seem beyond our control, but it's really not. Instead of throwing your hands up in despair, or simply complaining about the type of place Russia is, you can do something by writing a letter.

Will one letter stop the draft law? Probably not. But, choosing to not write a letter or doubting its power isn't going to stop the draft law either. At least writing a letter, with the hope that others will write letters as well (or perhaps share this post), has a chance of making a difference. Doing nothing accomplishes nothing. Criticizing the way others take action, without taking any action of your own, also accomplishes nothing.

To make action easier for people, I've written a sample letter that you can use to help write your own letter. Or, if you wish, you are welcome to copy this letter, print it out, and send it on your behalf.

Let's stop Russia from making street protests a crime. Below is the sample letter as well as the appropriate address for the sendee.

Sample Letter

Sergey Evgenyevich Naryskin

State Duma of the Russian Federation

1 Okhotny Ryad st

103256 Moscow



Dear Chairman,

I am writing in concern for draft law No. 485729-6 on "Amending Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation (in relation to improving the legislation on public gatherings)". This law was proposed March 31, 2014 in the State Duma.

I ask that you withdraw the draft immediately and ensure that no further restrictions to the right to freedom of assembly are considered in the Russian parliament.

I also ask that you help bring Russia's current legislation on public assemblies and the relevant practice in line with its obligations under international human rights law and in line with Russia's constitution.

Please also ensure that everyone in Russia can enjoy their right to freedom of assembly.


Your Name


photo credit: richardthomasesq via photopin cc

5 Books I Will Read This Fall

books to read this fallSo, summer is officially over (in the sense that school starts or has started. I understand it still feels like summer out there in some places.) As for my summer reading list, I read 4.5 out of the five books (I've read much more than 4.5, but not all of them were on the list). I'm in the middle of Harrington on Hold 'Em, and it's a great book that has augmented my poker game plenty so far. I've come to a point in the book that I need to read over a couple of times, as there are lots of good information there that I need to soak in so I can incorporate into my game. Since I will eventually finish that book (I've seriously committed to improving my poker skill and making some quality dough from it), I'm not going to put it on my fall reading list. The reading list is for myself, as it's supposed to be for fun and for personal development. Here are the five books I will read this fall, with fall ending on December 1st right after the Thanksgiving holiday (Thanksgiving is totally fall).

Ghosts of Jim Crow: Ending Racism in Post-Racial America

I've started this book, and it was something that piqued my interest since I read The New Jim Crow. Institutionalized racism, and the idea of race in general, is very intriguing to me since it's treated so differently in Hawaii and the state doesn't have the same racial history and experience as the rest of the United States. I like it so far, and I particularly like how the author covers racism since the early years of the United States. I'm curious to see if, and how, he tackles the drug war and how much he covers of the current climate.

Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex Is Destroying America

I'm really excited to read this once, since I work in media and am incredibly curious about money, politics, and how these things affect the media. I feel like I'm going to be blown away by what's in this book because I'm somewhat aware of the problem and what's going on, but I think that what I know is just the tip of the iceberg. I want to know what this book has to say.

Collision 2012: Obama Vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America

This book tells the story of the 2012 presidential election. I understand that I was there, and am very aware of what happened, but the 2012 election was an eventful 18, 24 months. There were lots of, noteworthy people saying lots of, well, noteworthy things. I don't mind reliving it again, especially since this book offers insight and perspective that I wouldn't have experienced when everything was taking place.

Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield

This one is our current book club reading for our Amnesty International chapter. I've started it, but it's a beast of a book (over 500 pages), and I would like to finish it before our October meeting. It's essentially about America's covert wars, drone strikes, and the U.S foreign policy of "the world is a battlefield." Once I'm able to borrow it again from the library, I'll make it a point to read it.

Act of Congress: How America's Essential Institution Works, and How It Doesn't

I started this one on a random day at the library. I need to kill some time before and event, and it was hot out, so sitting in the library and picking a book to read seemed like a good idea. This was the book I found. I read the introduction and I want to read the rest. It's about Congress' response to the financial crisis, particularly the whole story behind getting the Dodd-Frank Act passed. From what I understand, this bill was stripped of much of its teeth that even though it passed, it really doesn't do anything to regulate any industries or to change any of the things that led to the crash in 2008 in the first place.

Let's Face It: Maternal Health in this Country is Crap

The Business of Baby bookI'm currently reading "The Business of Baby", which is on my summer book list, and I think it's absolutely amazing so far.  Maternal health is abysmal in the United States, and someone has finally done the dirty work to figure out why and to make conclusions as to what should be done about this. Amnesty International called the status of maternal health in this country a human rights crisis, and it's about time this message will be heard by millions of people. However, I might be the only one.

The book hasn't received the most positive remarks from book reviewers and other readers, and their reasons for hating this book are nonsensical. These book reviewers (I'm not even going to start on the reviews on Amazon. At least not today) are wrong about this book because critiques are made that are not only unwarranted, but also simply distract from the main message of the book. Maternal health sucks in this country, but that premise doesn't matter to these people. Never mind that below is the status quo that author Jennifer Margulis tried to investigate:

  • The US is ranked 49th in the world for maternal health.
  • Of the 4.3 million babies born in America each year, more than 25,000 will die in their first year.
  • 1/3 of women in the US undergo a c-section.
  • Only 24 states require hospitals to report adverse maternal outcomes to the state government. Only three of these states require this information to be public.
  • Most states have no system in place to investigate maternal deaths.

Instead of being outraged and taking an honest look at these problems (you do agree that they are problems, right?), these reviewers scoffed at how she presented her arguments, the evidence she presents, the sources she used, as if none of this can possibly be true. For example, this review from the Oregonian said a few things that simply don't make a lot of sense. For example:

Margulis builds her argument mostly on individual parents' anecdotes, without providing context for whether they represent common experiences. Many of the anecdotes seem to have been selected purely for their shock value.

The reviewer write off these anecdotes as uncommon, unusually shocking, or uniquely tragic. For anecdotes that are supposed to be exceptions, there are a hell of a lot of them. In just the first chapter, she featured 10 different women who had issues with their prenatal care. This doesn't include the obstetricians, nurses, midwives, studies, and reports that she cited and quoted in that same chapter. The book is 10 chapters long, and it's not as if she only features those 10 women throughout the whole book. Context isn't needed here to show whether or not these are common experiences. The sheer number of anecdotes from all around the country, from women of all sorts of backgrounds and all walks of life, is enough to show that this is a common experience. The shock value is in that these women are representative of something larger, and aren't just case studies of one or two instances where someone was incompetent or where a perfect storm of events caused harm. The reviewer goes on to suggest:

Margulis' mission could have been much better served if, instead of collecting as many anecdotes as she could get, she had chosen three or four families from different parts of the U.S. and with varying healthcare setups to follow through pregnancy and baby's first year.

Really? How is this approach supposed to do a better job of providing context for common experiences? Wouldn't this approach make it easier for Margulis to choose anecdotes for shock value and to choose families whose stories would fit into the narrative the reviewer is arguing Margulis is trying to spin? Nothing says that with this follow four families approach, that Margulis could actually follow 10 or 20 families and then cherry pick the ones she wants. This reviewer actually had the nerve to say that Margulis cherry picked her anecdotes, but instead of finding as many as possible and to illustrate a common experience, the author should have cherry picked from the beginning by starting with three or four preselected families and told whatever story came from there. This criticism makes no sense.

These reviews also have horrible attitudes that prevent us from making meaningful progress on maternal health. The reviewer in the New York Times didn't like that the author suggested that we may trust doctors so much that we don't question or go against what is considered routine when it comes to pregnancy, childbirth and raising an infant. She goes so far as to say, "Has she not heard of Dr. Google? Today it’s easier than ever to educate ourselves about health and disease and to find communities of like-minded people online." Because, you know, we don't then take that information to our actual doctor and get his or her opinion, and do whatever our doctor orders. We make our own diagnosis with that information and treat our infants all by ourselves.

She also didn't like that comparisons were made to other industrialized nations who were doing better than us on this issue:

She also approves of anything used by Scandinavians; she spends many pages praising the health outcomes of women in Norway and Iceland, without delving deeply into the demographic and economic differences between America and such countries.

Demographics and economic differences shouldn't matter when it comes to maternal health! Every woman should be given the utmost care when it comes to giving birth, no matter their skin color, education levels, income levels, language, background, occupation etc.


Why should poorer women receive poorer care for their pregnancies and their babies? Why should Hispanic women or Asian women receive a different standard of care, or be pinpointed as the cause for the disparity (as if white and black women never ever die during childbirth)? Why should women with less education be subjected to substandard care or be given less information about their options? These are not valid reasons to excuse what is happening, or reasons to ignore these problems. These reasons are not valid to say this is why things are the way they are, so too bad for those who have a botched c-section or lose their child within the first year of life. No kid or healthy pregnancy for you. Essentially this reviewer is saying, "America has minorities and poor people, not as many as Norway or Iceland, so that's why our maternal healthcare sucks in this country."

Never mind that Margulis made the comparisons to industrialized nations because, well, we are an industrialized nation and we kind of suck at this maternal health thing. Singapore and Japan and Australia are doing better than us also, and they aren't Scandinavian. Qatar, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates are also not Scandinavian, and those three countries are also ranked higher than us. Does it really matter who's doing it right? The point is that all these other countries get it and we don't. If Norway and Iceland are getting it right, then we should be taking a page or two from their book and figure out what they are doing right, not shooing it away because those countries aren't as ethnically and socioeconomically diverse as ours. Obviously this is an issue that is beyond demographic and economy, because countries all around the world with all sorts of ethic backgrounds and demographics are getting this right.

This reviewer concludes her opinion by saying:

Just because something is for sale doesn’t necessarily mean it’s suspect. Caveat emptor has been good advice for a very long time; I advise you to apply it when considering whether to buy “The Business of Baby.”

True, not everything for sale is a bad thing. However, if we aren't taking any time at all to ask questions, to be suspicious, and to make sure that the products and information we are purchasing are safe and the best product/information possible, then we aren't being good consumers. If we don't do this, then we are letting marketing and corporate messaging dictate what we think about these things, letting the pushy used car salesman bully us into a sale because he's the only one speaking out (and everything he's saying is good, so the car must be amazing, right?). This book does an excellent job illustrating that there are a lot of "consumers" out there who weren't satisfied with the level of service they received from the hospital and from the obstetrician, who felt bullied by that salesperson, who bought the car because they were told walking wasn't a viable option, who trusted what they were told even though it wasn't the entire story. In any other industry, with any other product or service, all of those circumstances would be unacceptable. Those customers would have every right to complain, and those businesses would have to deal with the consequences.

For some reason, when similar concerns are address by men and women against for-profit hospitals and obstetricians (both of which are businesses, by the way. They do make money from this, whatever motives you want to establish to that revenue earning), it's all unfounded and plain ole demonizing. Let's not hold doctors, nurses, and these systems accountable and see if there are ways to deliver better service and to make more people happy. Let's not at all speak of alternatives, like natural birth, because when people receive horrible service from an establishment, they ought to stay there and not take their money elsewhere.

Why Worry about the Critics?

I am not only outraged by what I've learned so far in this book, but I am outraged that there isn't more outrage. I don't understand how the contents of this book can be written off as hogwash, as one-sided pseudoscience that has no possible sliver of truth to it. I don't understand how anyone could read this and just say, "Ah, whatever." These complaints and critiques are distractions from the real issue at hand: that it is safer to give birth in 48 other countries, and most states have no way knowing what's going on and what could be done to make thing safer. These reviews don't dispute that problem, or the fact that something must be done. Just that everything Margulis suggests or points out as a possible reason isn't the way to go. Things are bad, sure, but let's not try any of these ways or think about, well, the entire pregnancy or the first year of life. None of that could possibly be the source of the maternal health problem.

I fear that reviews like these, and the others out there, are discouraging people from learning about this issue and taking action. The last thing I want, and the last thing our country needs, is for the message to be that there is no problem. There's no need to do anything. There's no need to investigate maternal deaths. There's no need for any review process to hold people accountable and to know what doctors and hospitals are doing. Women should have c-sections always, whether or not it's a high-risk pregnancy. Pitcotin and epidurals and induced labors are the only way to do it. Vaginal births should be a thing of the past. There's no need to do anything to improve maternal health because 49 is fantastic. The U.S has always been happy about being 49th.

We all know that is not true.

Two women die every day giving birth in this country. According to the CDC, half of these deaths are preventable. Each year, 1.7 million women suffer a complication that has an adverse effect on their health.

Why aren't we complaining about that?

5 Books I Will Read This Summer

books I will read this summer I've been putting books on hold at my local library for a few weeks now. With some of them, I still have a to wait awhile because of the long waiting list. For others, I was first on the list, so I was surprised that I hadn't yet received any email or notifications that my books were ready to be picked up. I decided to go to the library today because I had the time and that I would easily find something to read as I waited for my books. Lo and behold, two of my books that I placed a hold on were ready for me. So much for that notification system.

Because I now have a few books for me to read (well, I already had a ton of books because I have lots on my Kindle and a lot on my bookshelf, but they aren't as much fun as library books), I'm going to continue building identity capital by reading good books. No, "Game of Thrones" or "Twilight" aren't on this list. I really don't see those books building the kind of identity capital that I want. Besides, I prefer non-fiction books anyway, so here are the five books that I will read this summer. This is a declaration, and I will totally read these books this summer.

As an FYI, summer is defined as "now until the day after Labor Day," as this is typically when school starts.

The Business of Baby: What Doctors Don't Tell You, What Corporations Try to Sell You, and How to Put Your Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby Before Their Bottom Line

I just started this book today, and I am so glad a book like this exists. Maternal health is a topic I'm particularly interested in, since its especially so abysmal in the U.S. Many people don't realize how horrible our maternal healthcare structure really is. I started it today and I'm already learning things. For example, I had no idea there was such a thing as prenatal vitamins, and that they aren't necessarily good for maternal health. This is a book that every mother, or potential mother, or expecting mother, should read. Get it here.

The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine

This is next on my list because I've read the book, and watched the documentary, "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide." Somaly Mam, whom this book is about, is absolutely amazing and she is featured in the documentary (if you haven't read or watched the documentary, then you need to do both right away. Both are phenomenal.) She rescues girls from sex slavery in Cambodia, and actually goes to the brothels to get them. She got out of sex slavery herself, too. In the documentary, she refers to her works as, "trying her best and doing what she can." Well, then I don't think any of us are trying hard enough if "rescuing girls from sex slavery is" Somaly trying her best.

Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights and the New War on the Poor

I want to read this one, but it looks really long and really academic. However, I've taken a look at it and it turns out that one-third of the book is actually footnotes and acknowledgements and what not, so it's not as long as it looks. I also hope that it's not boring because the concept of how health, human rights, and poverty work together is an intriguing one. Plus, Paul Farmer is the author, who has done amazing public health work in Haiti.

Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government

I don't know much about this book. I thought it looked interesting because I am curious to learn perspectives and ideas about how to bring government and democracy into the 21st century. The author, Gavin Newsom, is the current lieutenant governor of California. Seems like an easy enough read, and it also seems like the book isn't just Newsom's perspectives, but a collection of perspectives and anecdotes.

Harrington on Hold 'em Expert Strategy for No Limit Tournaments, Vol. 1: Strategic Play

I have to throw in a poker book here and improve my game! It's been a while since I actually invested time in studying poker and working on my game, and this book I actually have in PDF form right on my desktop. Besides playing more poker, I need to continue reading so that I can build my bankroll and eventually hit my bucket list goal of winning a bracelet and hitting certain milestones with my winnings. I have to learn from those who came before me and have already accomplished such awesome feats.