Human Rights

The Army's Religious Test

praying soldiersThe U.S. Army is administering a mental health and fitness test to soldiers that civil rights groups say unconstitutionally requires active-duty soldiers to believe in "God" or a "higher power" in order to rank as "spiritually fit" enough to serve in the military. The Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) initiative, first used in 2009, is a "holistic fitness program" used to help reduce the number of suicides and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) cases among military enlistees. Suicides and PTSD cases among troops have reached epidemic proportions in the last year as a result of multiple deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, and the poor quality of care soldiers get when they come home. The CSF test utilizes a "Soldier Fitness Tracker and Global Assessment Tool" that measures soldiers' emotional, physical, family, social and spiritual "resilience." Soldiers fill out a 100-plus question survey, and if poor results put them in the red zone in any area, they must take remedial courses in the discipline in which they received the low score. Over 800,000 soldiers have taken the test so far, and more than 100,000 of them have gotten remedial training. Non-religious soldiers say the test's spiritual component asks questions written predominantly for soldiers who believe in God, leading atheists and other non-believers to score poorly and be forced to take remedial courses which employ religious imagery to "train" troops up to a satisfactory level of spirituality.

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A Banana Republic Once Again?

(Part two of a two-part series)

bananasIn the first part of this series, the Center for Media and Democracy reported how the 2009 coup d'etat that toppled Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was successfully maintained not through the use of force, but through the power of lobbying and spin. That tale, whose details were revealed through Wikileaks' publication of diplomatic cables and research into lobbying activities, had some echoes of the role PR played in an earlier "regime change" in the region. Here is the story of how the Chiquita banana company successfully used PR spin to help topple Guatemala's left-leaning government in 1954, and how they may have done it again in Honduras, 2009.

America's Inefficient and Ineffective Approach to Border Security

Border fence

Last week, the Senate refused to approve the DREAM Act, a bill that would have offered a path to citizenship for children brought into the country illegally if they attend college or serve in the military. Opponents stated that no immigration reform will happen without first "securing" the 1,951 mile U.S. border with Mexico. America's current approach to border security is wasteful and ineffective, and "securing the border" will never be achieved until we redefine our approach to, and definition of, border security. With many in Washington expressing concern about fiscal responsibility, reining in the billions wasted annually on current border security policies should really be a priority. But America's xenophobic preoccupation with an "invasion" by brown-skinned "illegals" may keep us pursuing an expensive and unreasonable approach to border security.

Honduras' PR Coup

Part one of a two-part article. (Go to part two).

Wikileaks recently published documents suggesting that PR spin helped determine the final outcome of the June 2009 Honduran coup. At the same time that a July 2009 diplomatic cable from the U.S. Ambassador in Honduras to top government officials confirmed that the Honduran president's removal was illegal, professional lobbyists and political communicators were beginning a PR blitz, eventually managing to manipulate America into believing the coup was a constitutional act.

Colorado Billboard Combines Racism, Homophobia and Xenophobia

BPlogoPeople driving through Grand Junction, Colorado for the next month will have to look at a racist, xenophobic and homophobic billboard that depicts President Obama as a turban-and-bomb-wearing terrorist, an illegal immigrant wearing a Mexican sombrero, a member of the Mob and a homosexual.

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Department of Homeland Security Keeps on Creepin' On...

Recently, we expressed concern about the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) testing iris-scanning technology on immigrants detained at the border. Since posting that entry, the Center for Media and Democracy has obtained a copy of the DHS “Privacy Impact Assessment” for the technology’s test run, and we are now even more concerned that DHS has not adequately considered this technology's serious implications for privacy and civil liberties.

Is the National Organization for Marriage a Front Group?

National Organization for Marriage logoIs the National Organization for Marriage a front group for anonymous, deep-pocketed donors from conservative churches who are pouring money into fighting efforts by gays to attain marriage equality?

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Minority Report Becomes a Reality For Immigrants

Last week, USA Today reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was to begin testing new iris-scanning technology that stores digital images of people's eyes in a database. The two-week test of the new technology is to be conducted on immigrants that officers from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency encounter at the border. Iris-scanning technology conjures fears of Big Brother totalitarianism, brings to mind science-fiction films like Minority Report, and has drawn the ire of civil liberties groups. American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Christopher Calabrese tells USA Today that many fear that the iris-scanning cameras could be used covertly. "If you can identify any individual at a distance and without their knowledge, you literally allow the physical tracking of a person anywhere there's a camera and access to the Internet."

New Health Care Provisions Begin to Pay Off for All Ages

Originally published on September 22, 2010 in Health Care and Tennessee Voices.

health care for allAs I sit beside my 92-year-old father in his hospital bed in Kingsport, Tennessee, there are reminders all around me of why I left my job in the insurance industry to become an advocate for health-care reform — and why all Americans have reasons to be grateful that many provisions of the reform bill that became law six months ago are taking effect now.

To begin with, there is my dad himself. He must take costly medications every day. This year he and millions of other older Americans fell into the Medicare Part D "doughnut hole." They have to spend thousands of dollars for medicines they need before their drug benefit will kick back in. The new law has already begun to reduce their pharmacy expenses.

Forbes.com Reviews Wendell Potter's New Book, "Deadly Spin"

CMD's Wendell PotterDavid Whelan blogs about the health care business for Forbes.com, and he's published a review of Wendell Potter's forthcoming new tell-all book about the health insurance industry, Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans. After twenty years as head of corporate public relations for two of the country's biggest for-profit health insurers, Wendell gave up his six-figure salary and cushy life as an insurance executive and decided he had to start telling people how the for-profit insurance industry manipulates the government and sticks it to Americans.

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