31 May 2005

Bush calls Amnesty report "absurd"

In a previous post, I talked about Amnesty International's 2005 annual human rights report, which criticized the Bush administration's handling of the torture issue.

Today, when asked for his reaction to Amnesty's report, Bush described the report as "absurd". [Read story.]

This falls right into Bush's pattern of shooting the messenger instead of admitting to any mistakes.

The Downing Street Memo: Demand answers!

Congressman John Conyers of Michigan, along with 88 of his colleagues, has drafted a letter to George W. Bush demanding answers concerning the Downing Street Memo, which represents proof that Bush lied to the American people to involve us in the Iraqi disaster.

Concerned citizens are urged to sign on to the letter. To do so, click here.

For more information about the Downing Street Memo, click here.

30 May 2005

Memorial Day thoughts

Today is Memorial Day in the U.S. This is a day on which we remember the soldiers who gave their lives for our country and thank those soldiers and veterans who are still with us.

On this day we should also reflect on how each of us supports our troops in Iraq. Unlike those soldiers who fought and died for a good cause, as in World War II, today's U.S. soldiers are forced to fight in an unjust and poorly planned war based on lies.

Accordingly, those of us who oppose the war ultimately support the troops, because we don't agree with how the Bush administration put these brave young men and women in harm's way for a bunch of lies and oil.

Sadly, the Bush administration obviously does not support our troops. Actions speak louder than words.

29 May 2005

MTV censors Nine Inch Nails in dispute over Bush image

I've been a fan of industrial rocker Trent Reznor and his band Nine Inch Nails for several years now, but here's even more reason to like them:

Nine Inch Nails has decided to cancel a scheduled performance at next week's 2005 MTV Movie Awards show because MTV execs were uncomfortable with the band's plans to use an image of George W. Bush as the backdrop.

[Read story.]

It's always good to see artists sticking to their principles instead of rolling over and selling out.

Note to MTV: Aren't freedom of speech and freedom of expression - hallmarks of the art world - still protected by our Constitution?

27 May 2005

Bolton vote delayed

The Democrats have successfully delayed the confirmation vote on George Bush's nomination of John Bolton for UN Ambassador. [Read story.]

While this might just serve to delay the inevitable, the optimist in me would like to believe that perhaps some senators who may have been tempted to vote in favor of Bolton might come to their senses over the weekend.

The UN is a diplomatic organization. Our ambassador should be a diplomat, not a bully. John Bolton has repeatedly berated the UN and discounted its role in the world. [Read story.] Appointing John Bolton to be our UN ambassador is like appointing David Duke to the Board of the NAACP, or appointing Pastor Fred Phelps to be ambassador to the gay community. Hasn't our national reputation suffered enough over the past four years?

I want my country back.

26 May 2005

Amnesty International 2005 annual report: USA gets bad grades

Yesterday, Amnesty International released its 2005 annual report outlining the state of human rights around the world, country by country.

The U.S. didn't score very high because of the Bush administration's failure to fully investigate the facts surrounding the torture of detainees on the "war on terror" and its failure to prosecute anyone at the higher levels in the chain of command. They continue to blame it on "a few bad apples", as if Lynndie England could have thought the whole thing up on her own.

For an Amnesty press release about the report and a link to the full report, click here.

25 May 2005

More fun with stem cells

The good news: The U.S. House of Representatives voted yesterday to ease restrictions on stem cell research funding. [Read story.]

The bad news: Bush still stubbornly threatens to veto it.

Bush's attitude brings to mind a certain Monty Python song.

24 May 2005

Government buys Viagra for sex offenders

New York state audits have shown that 198 sex offenders in that state have received Medicaid-reimbursed Viagra. Now the government is scrambling to close the loophole that allowed this to happen. [Read story.]

Here is a brilliant quote, right on target, from Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) about the issue: "The bottom line is, giving convicted sex offenders government-funded Viagra is like giving convicted murderers an assault rifle when they get out of jail."

Schumer said he'd sponsor a bill to close the loophole, and Hillary Clinton has offered to help. Thank you, Senators Schumer and Clinton, for demonstrating that it's the Democrats who will take the lead regarding real moral values (as opposed to the rhetorical ones of the "religious right").

23 May 2005

Breaking news: Nuclear option averted

Good news: The Senate has reached a bipartisan compromise on the filibuster issue. [Read story.]

It's not an ideal solution, but it's better than the "nuclear option".

Many thanks to those of you who contacted your senators and asked them to protect the filibuster.

Finally, a fallen soldier's family gets some press time

Former NFL player Pat Tillman died in Afghanistan last year via "friendly fire". Now Tillman's parents are lashing out at the military for how the situation was handled. I applaud their bravery in standing up to the powers that be. [Read story.]

Other parents whose children have died in Bush's "war on terror" have also tried to draw attention to some serious issues, but most seem to be too easily dismissed by the Pentagon, the Bush administration, and the subservient media. (Think Lila Lipscomb from "Fahrenheit 9/11".)

If Tillman's celebrity status helps to get his story out, I suppose that's ultimately a good thing. But the lives of all our other fallen soldiers shouldn't count any less - especially those who are dying in Iraq, which, as the Downing Street Memo proves, was a premeditated war based on lies.

Where is the outrage?

22 May 2005

Connecticut supports state-sponsored suicide

On May 13, the state of Connecticut engaged in state-sponsored suicide. On that fateful day, convicted serial killer Michael Ross died by lethal injection upon his request. Ross vehemently fought off attempts by public defenders and his own family members to appeal his case and block his execution. Ross got his death wish.

Some may regard this as an efficient way to deal with Ross. After all, he had confessed to the crimes of which he was accused, and he spared the state the expense of a potentially lengthy appeals process. However, aside from the usual arguments by death penalty opponents, in this case the state may have failed to adequately consider Ross's mental state.

Psychiatric evaluations gave mixed results. Ultimately, a superior court judge pronounced him competent despite compelling evidence to the contrary, and Ross was hastily put to death.

Do we really want to be so quick to risk erring on the side of death?

The execution of a person with a mental illness is clearly prohibited by international law. In April 2000, the UN Commission on Human Rights urged all states that maintain the death penalty "not to impose it on a person suffering from any form of mental disorder."

Despite this international convention, however, in recent years Texas, Florida, Alabama, and Missouri have executed convicts who had been diagnosed with mental illness. Now, by rushing to execute Michael Ross, Connecticut may have joined this dark league.

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to execute the mentally retarded. Then, on March 1, 2005, it banned the execution of juvenile offenders who were under 18 when they committed their crimes. I hope that someday it will also ban the execution of the mentally ill.

If we are to consider ourselves to be a culture of life, a culture of decency, and a culture of morality, we must progress beyond this culture of revenge and this culture of executing the ill whom we somehow judge to be disposable. If we get there, perhaps the U.S. can regain some respect amongst our European counterparts, most of whom have long since abolished the death penalty in their countries and view our rentionist policies as backward and barbaric.

Human Rights Watch has estimated that as many as 10 percent of death row inmates suffer from a serious mental illness. The organization stated in a 2003 report that "mental illnesses are very different disorders than mental retardation, but they still may cause lapses in judgment, inappropriate or dangerous behavior, and interfere with a person's ability to think clearly and make sound decisions. It is as cruel and senseless to execute those who are mentally ill as it is to execute those with mental retardation."

Most of the world's democracies, and even some dictatorships, agree.

A civilized society should be committed to treating its mentally ill, not executing them.

21 May 2005

Bush's legacy

A new article by Stephen Pizzo provides a nice, concise overview of George W. Bush's biggest failures.

Read it here: Bush: Worst President Ever?

Pizzo concludes by asking, "are there still enough of us out here who give a damn?"

For the sake of every working and middle-class American, and for the sake of the world, I hope there are.

19 May 2005

Hotel Rwanda and the American conscience

The movie "Hotel Rwanda" is now available on DVD. I strongly recommend it to everyone.

This powerful film is set in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, which claimed the lives of over 800,000 people, and is based on a true story. Actor Don Cheadle was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of a Hutu man who saved the lives of over 1,000 Tutsis by giving them refuge in the four-star hotel that he managed.

I think it is impossible to watch the movie and not be moved. Sadly, however, when the Rwandan genocide was taking place 11 years ago, it seemed that most Americans were too preoccupied with the OJ Simpson trial to pay much attention to the news from Africa. The OJ trial featured a sports hero villain, a beautiful blonde victim, and the victim's male friend. Sex sells, and the OJ trial had a lot more entertainment value going for it than did the slaughter of a bunch of nameless black people in some third-world country that most Americans would probably have trouble finding on a map.

Even our leaders looked away. The U.S. government's failure to take action during the Rwandan genocide may have been the biggest failure of the Clinton administration, in terms of the loss of human life. But we were not alone. The rest of the world closed its eyes to the horror as well.

Today, a similar crisis is taking place in the Darfur region, in western Sudan. Over 200,000 people are believed to have lost their lives at the hands of the government-supported Janjawid militia since the conflict erupted in February 2003. In addition, over 1.6 million civilians have been displaced.

The Sudanese government is restricting access for humanitarian aid agencies, and so numerous people are in danger of starvation and illness. The authorities are demolishing homes in settlements for displaced people and calling it "urban renewal".

The Janjawid are using rape as a weapon of war. Countless Sudanese women and girls have been abducted, branded, and forced to service the Janjawid and government officials as sex slaves. As a result, many of these women and girls have contracted HIV from their rapists, along with emotional scars that will never heal.

Weapons continue to flow into Sudan from Russia, China, France, and Saudi Arabia, contributing to the ongoing violence. And thousands of innocent civilians continue to die each month.

The world community must not drop the ball this time as it did 11 years ago with Rwanda.

Today, there is a single peacekeeping force - the UN-supported African Union (AU) Mission in Darfur - on the ground. However, the AU mission, in its current form, cannot adequately address the crisis.

On a hopeful note, the U.S. Congress is considering action to support the AU mission.

In the Senate, the Darfur Accountability Act (S.495), which was introduced by Senators Jon Corzine (D-NJ) and Sam Brownback (R-KS), would provide increased resources to Sudan to help ensure that the perpetrators of the abuses in Darfur be brought to justice, support efforts to protect the Sudanese people from this violence, and help to stop the flow of weapons to Sudan.

At the same time, in the House of Representatives, Congressman Donald Payne (D-NJ) recently introduced the Darfur Genocide Accountability Act (H.R. 1424), with goals similar to the Senate version.

I urge all of our Senators and Representatives to support this legislation. By doing so, they will be sending a message to the world that we will no longer turn our backs on the gross human rights violations taking place in Darfur.

As the world's only superpower and as a champion of freedom, the U.S. owes that much to the citizens of Darfur.

18 May 2005

Darth Bush

The last film in the Star Wars series opens tomorrow in theaters nationwide. People who have seen it are saying that the plot has a lot of parallels with the concept of a failing democracy (e.g., the current state of the USA). Some also see parallels between Darth Vader and George W. Bush.

Now I'm even more eager to see it, although I'll be watching it from a slightly different perspective now, given the above revelations.

[Get movie info.]

17 May 2005

Newsweek throws out the baby with the bathwater

Newsweek has dutifully retracted its recent story alleging that U.S. interrogators harrassed detainees at Guantanamo by flushing the Koran down the toilet. They did so amidst much pressure from the powers that be. [Read story.]

Now the conservative pundits and red-state sheep can use this to further criticize the so-called "liberal media" for making up incriminating stories to cast Saint George in a bad light.

I suspect that it will never occur to these people to do some research and thereby find that reports of desecration of the Koran by Guantanamo personnel are nothing new. As with Rathergate, they will overlook the forest for the trees, and ignore the very serious underlying issue that really matters.

[Read about the earlier allegations.]

16 May 2005

Urgent: Protect the filibuster!

The Senate is preparing to address the so-called "nuclear option", which would eliminate one of the checks and balances that our founding fathers put in place to protect us from a "tyranny of the majority". The consequences would be profound, and we must not let this happen.

To learn more about this issue, and to send an e-mail message to your senators asking them to protect the filibuster, click here.

14 May 2005

We're under attack, so let's reduce our military!

Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network attacked us on 9/11. So what did we do? After a brief raid on Afghanistan (enough to temporarily take out the Taliban, but not enough to leave Afghan women with any new sense of security), we attacked Iraq - a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 and which posed no threat to the U.S.! Osama got away and pops up on our television sets from time to time to remind us that he's still out there plotting new attacks against us.

So now what do we do? We close dozens of military bases, of course! [Read story.]

You see, American towns aren't economically challenged enough in George W. Bush's economy. Some of us are still employed. But by closing all those bases, and by reducing operations at several other bases (which is also in the plan), the Bush administration will achieve a net loss of 10,782 military positions and 18,223 civilian positions, while only 2,818 contractor posts will be added.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld defended the base closings by explaining that "our current arrangements, designed for the cold war, must give way to the new demands of the war against extremism and other evolving 21st-century challenges." 21st-century challenges like lining the pockets of Bush's war profiteer pals with the $48.8 billion that the base closings will reportedly save over the next 20 years?

What do we need bases for, anyway? All our troops are in Iraq getting slaughtered. Only the few survivors will need bases to come home to. Even our wounded troops are being patched up in German hospitals and then sent back to the front lines where the "insurgents" can finish the job.

Of course, with fewer bases in the homeland, we'll be less able to quickly mobilize forces to some parts of the country in the event of an emergency, such as another al-Qaeda attack on our soil. But why lose sleep over that prospect? After all, our government is busy keeping us safe by killing thousands of Iraqi babies and other civilians. As Mr. Bush explained in March of 2002, "I don't know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority."

So what is our priority?

Our priority appears to be the protection of corporate interests - and fortunes - while undermining those of working and middle-class Americans.

Our priority appears to be the legislation of morality while ignoring and dismissing the transgressions of our own Congressional leaders.

And our priority appears to be the killing and maiming of Iraqi babies because they happen to be sitting on so much oil.

Bush justifies these misguided priorities by invoking his "God" and "family values". The red-state sheep applaud.

It feels like we're living in a Lewis Carroll fairy tale. How many more pages until we reach "The End"?

13 May 2005

Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose

On March 30, 2005, First Lady Laura Bush visited Afghanistan and spoke at the new Women's Teacher in Training Institute in Kabul. In her address, Mrs. Bush stated that Afghanistan is "only a few years removed from the rule of terrorists, when women were denied education and every basic human right." She went on to note that "the power of freedom is on display across Afghanistan."

Mrs. Bush's definition of freedom obviously differs from mine.

Just a few weeks after the First Lady's visit to Kabul, a 29-year-old woman accused of adultery was dragged from her parents' home in Afghanistan's Badakhan province and publicly stoned to death, by order of a local court.

Meanwhile, three Afghan women were found raped and strangled to death in the Baghlan province. According to Reuters, the women's bodies were found with a note stating that "this is retribution for those women who are working in NGO's and those who are involved in whoredom."

While this sort of thing is going on in "liberated" Afghanistan, George W. Bush keeps reminding us also that "the Iraqi people are now free and are learning the habits of freedom and the responsibilities that come with freedom."

Habits and responsibilities of freedom like those experienced by Baghdad businesswoman Huda Hafez Ahmad al-'Azawi, whose home was recently invaded by the Iraqi National Guard, and who was being beaten, handcuffed, and blindfolded, along with her two daughters, and then detained incommunicado by U.S. forces without charge or explanation?

Habits and responsibilities of freedom like the torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib and other facilities, which our current Attorney General has attempted to justify and which the U.S. government has thus far taken no meaningful action to remedy?

Habits and responsibilities of freedom like the indiscriminate attacks on civilian homes, businesses, mosques, and hospitals in Falluja, Karbala, Najaf, and other parts of Iraq, leaving countless innocent civilian men, women, and children dead or maimed?

Habits and responsibilities of freedom like the mocking and desecration of dead civilians, including children, by coalition troops?

Some Iraqis have claimed that their lives are even worse under the U.S. occupation than they were under Saddam Hussein's regime. I cannot fault them for feeling this way. Two years ago, we set out to "liberate" them. Today, many of these "liberated" people still have no clean water, no electricity, no access to proper healthcare, no jobs, and no security. Many women try to avoid leaving their homes as much as possible for fear of abduction, rape, or other atrocities.

To our nation's leaders, this is "freedom". Heaven help us all.

12 May 2005

Bolton update: Bad news, good news

The bad news: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee today decided to send the John Bolton nomination to the full Senate for a vote.

The "good" news: The committee took the rare step of withholding any recommendation.

[Read story.]

This is considered to be a slap in the face for George W.

I, however, can't help but be reminded of Pontius Pilate washing his hands of a hairy political dilemma.

11 May 2005

Last chance to stop Bolton

Tomorrow (Thursday), the US Senate is expected to vote on John Bolton's nomination for UN Ambassador. Bolton has spent his life criticizing and discounting the UN. Yes, the UN might need a bit of fine-tuning; but, to do it right, we need a real diplomat representing the US, not someone who detests the organization and sees international law as a roadblock.

To send an e-mail message to your Senators asking them to vote against the Bolton nomination, click here.

To read some good arguments against the Bolton nomination, click here.

10 May 2005

The war hits home

I recently set out to write an article about how the war in Iraq is affecting the families of American servicemen and women. My first step in researching this issue was to contact a dear friend whose nephew would soon ship out to Iraq.

After seeing her nephew during the Christmas holiday season, my friend shared her thoughts with me regarding his impending deployment. Her powerful words speak for themselves. Therefore, with her permission, I am sharing her sentiments below, in her own words. Her name is withheld to protect her nephew's identity.

It is high time that America's chickenhawks wake up and see the tears in the eyes of America's families. If this war is really as necessary and as righteous as our president would have us believe, why do we not see Jenna or Barbara Bush signing up for combat duty? Will George W. never have to feel the pain of sending a loved one off to battle?

Now here is how war affects the millions of Americans who are not as well connected as the folks in Washington:


Mary, I am writing this to you as it is helping me to deal with this situation.

My feelings on the Iraq war are as clear as water. I'm clear on the fact that the nephew I have loved for 22 years is doing his duty and faces the reality of his mortality by going to Iraq. He is my brother's only son, and he has two sisters - one older and one younger. He is an uncle of two little girls. He is my mother's second grandson. I ask - why must he go to war?

I worry about his safety. I worry about how the war will affect him later. I have a brother who went to Vietnam, and I have witnessed the devastating effects that war can have on the life of a young person.

My nephew came to visit over the holidays, and I pray it wasn't to say his last goodbye. He is young, intelligent, handsome, and funny. He has not experienced much in life yet, and I can only hope that he has a full life ahead of him in spite of going to war.

As I hugged him, crying, all I could see was that cute little boy with big eyes and a warm heart. He was the record holder in wins for his high school wrestling team. He was nicknamed "The Rock" because of his athletic ability, striking good looks, and charismatic personality. I watched him grow into a man, and I can't love him more. He is an incredible person, too young and too loved to go off to war.

He joined the Army after he completed his third year in college. He joined to help pay for the remainder of his college education and for the promised sign-up bonus to pay off the $6,000 in tuition bills he still had from his first three years in college. I don't think he or my brother ever thought he would be shipped off to a war, especially one that is wrong!

He doesn't believe in the war. He is going out of obligation. He is afraid, but he doesn't want to abandon the image of being "a man". His ability to follow through impresses me, even though no one in my family believes in this war or in his going to serve in it. I admire his desire to do what he is obligated to do.

He doesn't want to go. I offered to take him to Canada, or hide him in my basement. I told him that I wanted to kidnap him. I told him that I have good friends in low places, and that I would take him to Canada myself. I told him that whatever he wants - I will move heaven and earth to keep him here. Unfortunately, he didn't take me up on any of my offers. Then I made one final offer: If he needs armor or ANYTHING while over there, I will get it for him.

I made him promise to e-mail me and take pictures to send to us. I want to know that he is safe every day; but I know he won't have the time to contact us that often. I think that my family is going to have many long nights ahead of us, and lots of worry. Missing him for six months to a year is just not acceptable to me.

During our visit, he made us all laugh with tales of family and friends. I hugged him as much as I could without being annoying. I asked him if he could call home, and he joked that he would find Osama bin Laden and ask him to borrow his cellular phone because he has to call home. We laughed, but in my heart I thought, "Oh my god! He is going off to the 'world without regard for life', and I may not see him for, well, you know. I gave him money for Christmas, and cried in silence.

He watched CNN with us, and we heard the reports of 15 more marines being killed. His cousin is a marine, and is there - in Falluja - now, and my nephew said he hoped that his cousin is not one of the latest casualties. I am proud of them both. I only wish I had been able to sway my nephew into allowing me to change the course of his life by trying to keep him safe and alive.

I'm sure my nephew is to us like every other soldier is to his or her family. The way we went into this war was wrong, unprepared, unplanned. The way we continue to fight the war is wrong, with no plan for success. How can you win the war against terrorism if the real, true enemy and chief terrorist is a country away? You end up losing too many young men who have not even started to live.

My nephew better NOT become one of the over 1,500 and counting.

09 May 2005

Rumsfeld meets with Saddam?

There are rumors circulating the Internet claiming that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld met with Saddam Hussein on his most recent visit to Iraq, to try to make a deal that might end the insurgency.

An Egyptian magazine published a transcript of the alleged encounter. [Read summary and transcript.]

I have no idea whether this is authentic or not, but it's interesting.

08 May 2005

Baptist Church says Democrats not welcome

A Baptist church in North Carolina has kicked out nine of its members for refusing to support President Bush. [Read story.]

Somehow I don't think that their Jesus would approve of this kind of treatment.

07 May 2005

In memory of Nick Berg (and in praise of his dad)

This weekend marks the anniversary of the death of Nicholas Berg, the first U.S. civilian contractor to be abducted and beheaded in Iraq last year, in retaliation for the prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib. Later this morning, I will represent Amnesty International at a memorial vigil in Nick's hometown of West Chester, Pennsylvania.

I am honored to call Michael Berg, Nick's father, a friend of mine. After Nick's brutal death, Mike refused to respond with bitterness, hatred, and vengeance, as many of us might have done. Instead, he went out on the road to spread a message of peace, love, and forgiveness.

Yesterday's edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer featured an inspirational story about Mike Berg. [Read story.]

This man is my hero. He deserves some kind of major award.

05 May 2005

Bush to China: Do as I say, not as I do.

Chinese pro-democracy activist Yang Jianli has been incarcerated in a Chinese prison since April of 2002. Jianli, a permanent U.S. resident, is the founder of the Foundation for China in the 21st Century. While on a return visit to China in 2002, he was arrested on charges of using a false passport. He was then placed in solitary confinement, held incommunicado, and tortured.

The Chinese government violated their own law when they failed to release Jianli after 37 days, which is required if no warrant is filed. They eventually convicted him of illegal entry and espionage and sentenced him to five years in prison. He suffered a stroke last summer while in custody.

The U.S. Congress has unanimously passed several resolutions condemning Jianli's prolonged imprisonment and demanding his release. In addition, Condoleezza Rice, while National Security Advisor, told Jianli's wife that American officials had pressed high-level Chinese authorities on the matter.

Jianli is now up for parole. As a human rights activist, I pray that the Chinese government will finally see fit to release him. At the same time, I can't help but note the irony in the Bush administration's support for the release of this Chinese dissident.

Let's look at the situation: The Chinese have essentially labeled a dissident as an enemy combatant, put him in jail, incommunicado, with stalled due process, and tortured him. The trial was conducted secretly. His family was not informed of his whereabouts. It sounds very much like how the Bush administration has been dealing with those suspected of terrorist ties in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and even right here on the mainland.

I originally hoped to present a point-by-point comparison of Jianli's situation with those of Bush's "enemy combatants"; however, it seems that the Chinese have released much more information about Jianli than the Bush administration has given us about any of the people it is holding in their own legal limbo. But we do know that the U.S. is holding thousands of suspects in detention, incommunicado, under cruel and inhumane conditions, and not even offering the minimal level of legal recourse that the Chinese afforded to Jianli. Just earlier this month, a federal judge in Washington threw out challenges to their detentions by inmates at Guantanamo Bay. Ironically, some information does leak out from Guantanamo and elsewhere as detainees in Bush's "war on terror" are occasionally released, one by one, when evidence leaks to the press and the public that their arrests were groundless.

The Bush administration has the nerve to complain about how awful the Chinese are. Somebody needs to send them a mirror. But, of course, we're the great and powerful United States of America, and Bush keeps reminding us that he's doing God's work and spreading "democracy", so it must be OK. Apparently, it's God's will that you can violate your own laws if Bush says so. If anyone else does, though, it's evil.

The Bush administration has lost the moral high ground for taking others to task for human rights violations. But I hope that the citizens of the U.S., despite their misguided leadership, will continue to stand up for what is right - in China, at Guantanamo, and right here in the U.S. We cannot let the Bush administration get away with its gross human rights violations, just as we cannot let the Chinese government do the same.

We must not forget the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller, who wrote the following from Berlin in 1939:

"First they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade-unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade-unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I did not speak out because I was not a Catholic. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me."

04 May 2005

'Abstinence only' undermines the war on HIV/AIDS

Conservative Republican Senator Rick Santorum, from my home state of Pennsylvania, recently reiterated his longstanding support for the global war against HIV/AIDS by touting the passage of the new omnibus appropriations bill, which includes $2.9 billion in HIV/AIDS funding.

While I rarely agree with Senator Santorum on most issues, I applaud his commitment to fighting the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, and I commend Congress for funding this effort. However, along with the funding, Congress needs to address some spending policies that are having a negative impact on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. Perhaps foremost among these concerns is the promotion of "abstinence-only" sex education.

Although George W. Bush made HIV/AIDS a centerpiece of his 2003 State of the Union address, his global HIV/AIDS legislative initiative (PL-108-25) included a congressional earmark requiring one-third of U.S. AIDS prevention funds to be utilized for "abstinence-until-marriage" programs which do not include instruction on safe sex. The result is less money for other proven methods of preventing HIV transmission, such as education about condom use and the provision of condoms.

The law also allows faith-based groups that receive federal funds to refuse to provide information about condoms and other proven methods of protection, and to refuse to make referrals to clinics and other providers that do dispense such information and services.

While abstinence is certainly an effective method of preventing HIV/AIDS as well as other sexually-transmitted diseases or unwanted pregnancy, abstinence-only education is impractical and downright dangerous when implemented to the exclusion of a broader and more inclusive approach to sex education.

While most people who choose to abstain from sex until marriage surely have the best of intentions, history and statistics have shown that, all too often, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Peer pressure, a couple of beers, or just plain old raging hormones can cloud the judgment of even the most strong-willed proponents of abstinence.

Indeed, a report released in September 2004 by Advocates for Youth, a program that fosters decision-making responsibility in young people, showed that these abstinence-only programs have had no long-term success in delaying sexual initiation or reducing sexual risk-taking behaviors. An independent analysis of recent federal data also shows little reduction in teens' sexual risk behavior nationwide since the federal abstinence-only initiative began.

When abstinence is broken, people need to be prepared to protect themselves against infection or unwanted pregnancy. Instead, the Bush administration's abstinence-only approach leaves them ignorant and ill-prepared to deal with the physical and emotional consequences of sexual activity.

And it's not only our teens who are at risk from this reckless legislation. Adults, in particular the poor and undereducated, often rely on federally funded programs for their sex education and family planning information, counseling, and supplies. Some of these adults include married couples seeking advice on responsible birth control and disease prevention. How can the Bush administration possibly justify its message to these people that essentially instructs them to abstain or die?

By pandering to the religious right with this kind of legislation, the Bush administration is, in effect, forcibly imposing its own moral beliefs onto the rest of us who may or may not agree. And evidence suggests that the majority of Americans do not agree.

A 1999 study by Advocates for Youth and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) on how Americans feel about sex education for young people reveals "an unprecedented level of support for sexuality education that includes both abstinence and information about contraception and condoms." The report goes on to state that "seven out of 10 Americans oppose the provision of federal funds for education promoting abstinence-only-until-marriage that prohibits teaching about the use of condoms and contraception for the prevention of unintended pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, and STDs."

Responsible sex education leads to responsible sexual behavior. The converse is also true. In life-and-death matters like HIV/AIDS prevention, we have a moral obligation to provide realistic programs for disease prevention and sex education, not one-sided government-censored information rooted in sanctimony and denial.

The money that Congress has allocated towards fighting HIV/AIDS could make for a good start. Now they need to reform the policies that prevent us from getting the most for our money.

In the war on HIV/AIDS, we must leave no stone unturned.

02 May 2005

Presumed Guilty: The Bush administration takes unlawful detentions to the next level

Recent news reports indicate that the U.S. government is preparing to hold terror suspects indefinitely without trial, replacing the Guantanamo Bay prison camp with a permanent facility currently referred to as Camp 6.

These reports suggest that the Bush administration is seeking to extend indefinitely its misguided policies regarding the illegal detention and ill-treatment of terror suspects. This must not be tolerated. The U.S. government must immediately end its practice of denying basic human rights to detainees.

The "war on terror" can only be won through full respect for human dignity and the rule of law. However, over the past three years, Guantanamo has become an icon of lawlessness. As it stands now, most of the 550 people detained at Guantanamo remain held without charge or trial, and without access to any court or legal counsel. These detainees are being denied their rights under international law and held in conditions which reports indicate may amount to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

Interrogation techniques authorized for use at Guantanamo have included stress positions, isolation, hooding, sensory deprivation, and the use of dogs. Among the abuses reported by FBI agents are the cruel and prolonged use of shackling, and the use of loud music and strobe lights. They have also reported witnessing the use of dogs to intimidate detainees; yet military officials, including those involved in earlier investigations, have previously given assurances that no dogs have been used in this way at the naval base.

None of the detainees have been granted prisoner of war status nor brought before a "competent tribunal" to determine their status, as required by Article 5 of the Third Geneva Convention. The U.S. government refuses to clarify their legal status, despite calls from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to do so. Instead, the Bush administration labels them "enemy combatants" or "terrorists", flouting their right to be presumed innocent and illegally presuming justification for the denial of many of their most basic human rights.

Despite these blanket allegations, several detainees have been released from the base without charge. No compensation has been offered for the many months they were illegally detained at Guantanamo.

President Bush has made it a mantra of his time in office that the U.S. is committed to the rule of law and the "non-negotiable demands of human dignity." The U.S. government's own National Security Strategy and National Strategy for Combating Terrorism stress that respect for such standards must be central to the pursuit of security. The administration's policy in Guantanamo, like the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, is now a notorious symbol of its failure to live up to its promises.

These practices must not be made permanent. The U.S. government must take immediate measures to establish policies and procedures that will end the legal limbo of all detainees, ensure that all those held are charged and given fair trials or released, and guarantee that they are treated humanely, in accordance with international law.

After all, surely we would want nothing less for any of our own U.S. citizens who might be detained by enemy forces.

01 May 2005

Politics and the new racism

Upon Condoleezza Rice's nomination for US Secretary of State, I wrote a number of articles questioning her fitness for the job, given Dr. Rice's history of being less than forthcoming with the truth regarding Iraq and other international affairs.

As expected, a deluge of e-mail promptly flooded my inbox, accusing me of racism.

The very same thing had happened when I criticized the nomination of torture czar Alberto Gonzales to the position of Attorney General. Then I was anti-Hispanic. Now I'm in cahoots with the Ku Klux Klan.

I am not the only one. Greater writers than I have been similarly accused in the so-called "liberal media."

The ironic thing is that these same hardcore conservatives who attack me for questioning the right-wing policies and practices of a black woman or an Hispanic man are the same ones who have opposed hate crimes legislation or supported racial profiling.

These are the same ones who tell me that blacks vote Democrat because the Democrats provide them with easy welfare.

These are the same ones who support the death penalty, even though studies have shown that the death penalty is applied in a discriminatory and uneven manner, and is used disproportionately against racial minorities.

And these are the same ones who suddenly realized that Donovan McNabb is not a great quarterback after all, once Rush Limbaugh explained to them that the media overrated the athlete because he was black.

For some reason, they don't hesitate to play the race card in their own defense.

These people are not stupid. Surely they must know that their accusations of racism are unfounded.

Surely they must know that Condi Rice's lies are lies no matter whether she is black, white, brown, yellow, or purple.

And surely they must know that Gonzales's torture memo was repugnant regardless of his ethnic origins.

They are playing the race card because they cannot address the criticisms of Rice and Gonzales on their own merits.

They cannot turn Condi's lies into truths.

They cannot rename the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US."

They cannot make weapons of mass destruction magically appear in Iraq.

And they cannot justify torture.

So they call me a racist. They make it personal. Ad hominem attacks are the last refuge of those defending an untenable position.

When will the public see the light and start calling for some real answers?

When will others follow Senator Barbara Boxer's lead and insist that Dr. Rice explain her numerous self-contradictions, once and for all?

When will they call for the Bush administration to oppose all forms of torture and mistreatment of prisoners, not only in words but in practice?

And when will my critics admit that it is possible to judge people not by the color of their skin but the content of their character?