Couples Can Celebrate The End Of DOMA On Australia’s Hamilton Island

Celebrate the end of DOMA at qualia resort
qualia Resort

When the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision that ruled against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) a few days back it was met with jubilation across the country. The ruling is seen as a dramatic advancement of gay rights while also providing for the equal treatment of same-sex marriages moving forward. The 5-4 decision has such far-reaching consequences in fact that even our friends Down Under have joined the celebration. The qualia Resort on Australia’s Hamilton Island have announced a couple’s retreat package that is open to any couple regardless of genders.

Australia’s qualia, which was voted the Best Resort in the World by “Conde Nast Traveler” readers in November of 2012, features 60 spectacular one-bedroom pavilions and a single luxurious beach house. The resort is located at the north-end of Hamilton Island, which is itself part of the spectacular Whitsunday Islands. Surrounded on all sides by the Great Barrier Reef, soft white sand beaches and some of the clearest ocean waters you could ever hope to see, it is an idyllic escape into paradise.The Couple’s Retreat package starts at $3000 per person and includes accommodations for seven nights in a private pavilion, daily breakfasts and full use of non-motorized water sports such as catamarans, sailboats, snorkeling gear and so on. The romantic escape will also include a sunset cruise through the tranquil waters off the coast of Hamilton Island, a poolside dinner at the Pebble Beach restaurant, chauffeured car service around the island and beach drop-offs on other nearby islands, amongst numerous other amenities. Couples can even choose to upgrade to other pavilions that include their own private plunge pools.

I haven’t been to qualia but I have visited the Whitsunday Islands in the past. It is one of the most beautiful places that I’ve ever been lucky enough to experience and I can only imagine how romantic of an escape it would be for any couple. The beaches and ocean are simply breathtaking and it is the perfect place for a relaxed escape from the world.

Tiger Tourism Ban In India Lifted

Tiger tourism resumes in IndiaIn July of this year, India’s Supreme Court took the bold, and controversial, step of banning “tiger tourism” throughout the country. The move was made to protect the increasingly rare big cats and to force state governments to come up with conservation plans for habitats in which the creatures live. Now the court has reversed its decision, opening the outer 20 percent of 41 national and local parks to visitors, while also giving the states just six months to comply with government mandates for protecting the nation’s tiger population.

When first announced, the original ban was met with widespread disapproval amongst conservationists and members of India’s travel industry. The country is one of the few places on the planet where visitors have the opportunity to see a tiger in the wild and as a result, many people will pay for that experience. According to the Washington Post, bookings had been down prior to the lifting of the ban, which meant less revenue generated from tourism. Quoting government sources, the Post also says that about 15% of India’s tourism is wildlife related.

Perhaps the biggest argument in favor of lifting the ban came from conservationists who reminded the Supreme Court that tourists aren’t a threat to tigers. They also noted that poachers were more likely to prey on the big cats when there were fewer people around and by banning tourism, the government had in fact made it easier for those hunters. With an estimated 1700 tigers still in the wild in India, their numbers are now a fraction of what they once were.

I’m a big proponent of using tourism dollars to support animal conservation, so I was happy to hear that India had lifted this ban. When done properly, tourism cannot just fund conservation efforts, but can also help revitalize endangered species. This has been used to great effect in Africa, where travelers pay a high fee to visit gorilla sanctuaries. But those fees go directly to helping fund protection efforts and as a result, we’ve begun to see a rise in gorilla populations. India could do something similar and help bring their tigers back from the edge of extinction too.

[Photo credit: B_cool via WikiMedia]

Argentina court ruling may legalize personal use of marijuana

On Tuesday, the Argentina Supreme Court ruled that punishing an adult for personal use of marijuana, so long as that use doesn’t harm anyone else, is unconstitutional. It’s a major step towards decriminalizing the possession and use of pot in the country, and comes on the heels of Mexico’s passage of a similar law that made it legal for adults to carry small amounts of pot, cocaine, heroin, LSD, and methamphetamine. Earlier this year, a Brazilian appeals court also ruled that possession of small amounts of pot was not illegal in that country.

It’s a new approach to the war on drugs – one that focuses more on reducing harm to drug users and society than on prosecuting recreational users – and one that seems to be forming a trend in Latin and South America. Only time will tell if that trend extends to the United States, but many members of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy hope so. Back in May, Mexico’s former President Vicente Fox was quoted by CNN as saying, “I believe it’s time to open the debate over legalizing drugs. It must be done in conjunction with the United States, but it is time to open the debate.”

I stick to the booze, but I won’t begrudge someone the right of recreational use of a naturally-growing plant. And while I won’t jump on the bandwagon for legalizing all drugs, I would support the passage of a law that allows adults to possess small amounts of pot. I just don’t believe it’ll happen in the United States any time soon. Until then, tokers can use this guide to get their smoke on in several other countries around the world where pot is legal or more publicly tolerated.

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A peek inside the North Korean courts

There’s something chilling about journalists being detained and tried in a foreign country … a prospect made all the more uncomfortable when you throw the “Dear Leader” into the mix. But, do we really know what’s about to happen? Well, aside from the fact that they’re going to be tried “according to the indictment of the competent organ“?

Frankly, there’s little information about what Laura Ling and Euna Lee are about to experience, unsurprising considering the state of information flow to and from the reclusive Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK – also known as North Korea). Based on the nuggets available, the DPRK has never held an official trial for a foreigner. Evan Hunziker, a missionary who swam from China to North Korea in 1996 – now that’s determination! – was detained for a few months and then released only to commit suicide a little later. Hunziker did not have the benefit of legal proceedings.

Here’s what is known:

Ling and Lee will be tried in the Central Court, the top court in the DPRK. Typically, this is an appellate court, but for cases considered to be extreme – and against the country itself – it has initial jurisdiction. In a sense, this would be like to alleged criminals being tried by the Supreme Court in the United States. So, it looks like the DPRK is trying to make a point.

The judges are elected by the Supreme People’s Assembly – the North Korea’s legislative body. The trial itself will have one judge and two “people’s assessors.” The latter are essentially “lay judges.” Appeals usually warrant a panel with three actual judges.

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Now, this next point is interesting. You do not have to have any legal education or experience to become a judge. Before going on a tirade about the injustice of it all, consider the requirements for becoming a Supreme Court justice. There is no education or experience requirement in the U.S. Constitution. And, the justice has to be confirmed by the legislative body – which sounds strangely like a legislative body’s voting to select judges. In some states, such as New York, the electorate votes for judges, many of whom not only have no legal education or experience but routinely screw up trials because their rulings are contrary to law.

On paper, at least, the two systems aren’t all that different.

The Central Court’s rulings can’t be appealed. If I remember correctly (and it’s been a while since high school civics class), you can’t appeal a Supreme Court ruling. To whom would you appeal it?

Here’s where it get’s a little creepy.

In North Korea, the accused does not have the right to defend herself (or, of course, himself) and does not have the right to be represented by a lawyer. A defense attorney can be selected, according to DPRK law, by the defendant, the defendant’s family or her “organizational representatives” – probably Current TV, in this case. Neither Ling nor Lee has had any legal access, so it seems unlikely that they’ll get to pick a lawyer. I doubt Current TV or the families will have much of a say.

Even if they could choose lawyers, pickings are slim. The U.S. State Department states that there is “no indication that independent, nongovernmental defense lawyers [are available].”

The trial will be conducted in Korean, but the defendants will be able to use their own languages during the trial – a trial that is open to the public, unless there is concern that state secrets may be exposed. Defector testimony suggests that trials are usually closed.

Depending on the exact nature of the charges, the two journalists could spend more than a decade each in a labor camp. Death is not on the table, as this punishment has been reserved for four crimes since 2004: trying to overthrow the government, terrorism (though I don’t think it counts if it’s terrorism against a capitalist devil), treason and “suppressing the people’s movement for national liberation [huh?].” Yep, nice and broad … and you don’t even need to go to court to be executed.