31 December 2006

U.S. military casualties in Iraq reach 3,000

Today, the number of U.S. troops killed in the current Iraq war has reached 3,000.

What a terrible milestone.

Happy f---ing New Year.

Enough is enough. Let's hope that 2007 will bring about some positive change as quickly as possible.

The flag-draped coffin double standard

The cable TV news stations have been working around the clock to show us footage of former President Gerald Ford's flag-draped coffin as it made its way from California to Washington, DC, for an official state funeral.

While he wasn't perfect (as no one is), President Ford gave this country many years of service, some during very trying times, and he deserves the pomp and circumstance.

But what about our troops who have died in Iraq? These brave men and women paid the ultimate price for George W. Bush's war of aggression against a country that posed no threat to us. Despite the senselessness of the war, they did their duty, standing far more brave and far more honorable than the chickenhawks in Washington who saw fit to trade their blood for oil. Are they not worth some degree of public reverence? Of course they are.

But, early on in the war, the Bush administraton put a ban on photos of the flag-draped coffins returning from Iraq. And Bush has yet to attend a single funeral for one our war dead. No, those things would generate the wrong kind of press. Hide the uglier aspects of reality and the American people are more likely to believe the propaganda.

Properly honoring the late President Ford is a necessary inconvenience for Bush. Properly honoring our dead troops is apparently just not worth his attention, or ours. They just don't matter.

30 December 2006

Saddam: Another dead tyrant, another excuse?

So Saddam Hussein has been executed.

Some are speculating that this may lead to a spike in violence in Iraq. But do the Sunni and the Shia really need this excuse to continue bombing each other to bits (along with our troops)?

Will George W. Bush use the execution to attempt to further justify the war in Iraq?

Does he even need to?

This morning, one of the local TV stations interviewed some people-on-the-street about Saddam's execution. More than one remarked that Saddam deserved to be executed because of 9/11. The reporter didn't bother to set the record straight.


29 December 2006

Shooting the messenger: Abu Ghraib whistleblower's life is ruined

Long before the torture photos from Abu Ghraib were made public, the Red Cross, Amnesty International, and other organizations suspected that this sort of thing was going on. But nobody wanted to believe that Americans would torture people. When the photos hit our computer screens, the horrible truth was right there for all the world to see. It could no longer be denied.

Joseph Darby, who had turned the photos over to the authorities, should be considered a hero. Instead, his home town turned against him. This hero -- this person of conscience -- remains a pariah. [Read story.]

In the meantime, Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales, and the other high-ranking folks who defined the U.S. torture policy in the "war on terror" continue to be showered with praise by George W. Bush.

The good guy is bad, the bad guys are good, up is down, down is up.

God bless America.

28 December 2006

Amnesty International's reaction to Saddam Hussein's imminent hanging

Iraq's highest court upheld Saddam Hussein's death sentence on Tuesday, opening the way for the former Iraqi president to be hanged within 30 days. [Read story.]

In response, yesterday I released the following statement to the Philadelphia area press on behalf of Amnesty International:
The decision by Iraq's highest court to uphold Saddam Hussein's death sentence is a step backwards for human rights in Iraq.

While Saddam Hussein is clearly implicated in gross human rights violations that occurred during his reign, Amnesty International believes that his trial was deeply flawed. This flawed system has called into question the capacity of the tribunal, as currently established, to administer justice fairly and in conformity with international standards.

Every person accused of a crime has the right to a fair trial, whatever the magnitude of the charges against them. This right was routinely ignored under Saddam's regime. Now Iraq has a chance to restore this basic right and to ensure fairly established accountability for the crimes of the past. Sadly, this opportunity has been missed in this case, and the situation is made worse by imposition of the death penalty.

Amnesty International strongly urges the Iraqi government to seriously consider other options.

27 December 2006

Global warming: Islands are starting to disappear

There are still some global warming naysayers who believe that it's not real. But tell that to the former residents of Lohachara island.

According to an article in the British newspaper The Independent, "Rising seas, caused by global warming, have for the first time washed an inhabited island off the face of the Earth. The obliteration of Lohachara island, in India's part of the Sundarbans where the Ganges and the Brahmaputra rivers empty into the Bay of Bengal, marks the moment when one of the most apocalyptic predictions of environmentalists and climate scientists has started coming true."

The article goes on to share the following dire prediction: "As the seas continue to swell, they will swallow whole island nations, from the Maldives to the Marshall Islands, inundate vast areas of countries from Bangladesh to Egypt, and submerge parts of scores of coastal cities."

If this doesn't make you trade in your big, fat SUV for a hybrid, what will?

26 December 2006

U.S. military deaths in Iraq now exceed the 9/11 body count

As of this writing, the number of U.S. troops killed in the current Iraq war has reached 2,975.

That body count now surpasses the number of people killed in the 9/11 attacks. (The 9/11 death toll was 2,973.)

Of course, despite what some people still believe, Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.

But even for those people, is this really worth it?

U.S. is holding Iranians

According to an article in yesterday's New York Times, "The American military is holding at least four Iranians in Iraq, including men the Bush administration called senior military officials, who were seized in a pair of raids late last week aimed at people suspected of conducting attacks on Iraqi security forces, according to senior Iraqi and American officials in Baghdad and Washington."

Might George W. Bush think that this would be enough to justify further aggression against Iran?

25 December 2006

Would Jesus approve of Christmas?

"And so this is Christmas, and what have we done?" We've done the usual. We've prepared to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ by engaging in extreme consumerism.

We've run up huge credit card debts to purchase the best gifts with which to impress our loved ones. And we've decorated our homes with gaudy lights and plastic reindeer. You know, just the way to honor the man who tried to teach us that the meek shall inherit the earth.

Ironically, isn't this kind of blatant materialism (in the name of religion) the very thing that Jesus was railing against when he lost his temper with the money changers in the temple?

24 December 2006

Must-see documentary: "The Ground Truth"

This weekend I saw the film The Ground Truth, which highlights the effects of the Iraq war on our troops, and the difficulties they face when they return home.

The Bushies wave their flags and talk about supporting the troops. But talk is cheap, and this powerful documentary shows us just how cheap their talk really is, as our troops come home to find that it's not so easy get the VA services they desperately need for post-combat adjustment.

Everyone should see this film, whether you support the war (and the Bush administration) or not. To make it easy, the film is now available on DVD, and special screenings are being held in cities all across the country.

To read more about the film, find a screening near you, or buy the DVD, go to the film's official website: TheGroundTruth.net

23 December 2006

Bush again circumvents Congress -- this time with nukes

The results of the mid-term elections obviously had no effect on George W. Bush. In Bush's mind, he's still "the decider", and he will do what he wants, regardless of what Congress or the American people want. The leader of the "free" world remains stubborn and arrogant. And this time he's playing with nukes.

Bush's latest signing statement was attached to a new U.S.-India nuclear cooperation law. In the statement, according to a Reuters article, Bush said his signature "does not constitute my adoption of the statements of policy (in the law) as U.S. foreign policy." Also in responding to reports mandated by Congress, he would consider how releasing data requested by lawmakers might "impair foreign relations."

There you go. Bush is the decider. Congress be damned.

Sen. Tom Harkin said it well: "With his recent signing statement, once again the president has shown he views Congress as a nuisance rather than an equal branch of government under the Constitution."

The article goes on to quote from a Harkin press release that it was "outrageous that the president has repeatedly stated the greatest threat to U.S. national security is a nuclear Iran, yet explicitly rejects Congress' declaration that it shall be the official policy of the United States that India will not use its nuclear technology to help develop Iran's nuclear weapons arsenal."

No kidding.

Do Bush's actions make any sense at all to anyone?

22 December 2006

Justice for the people of Haditha?

Yesterday, charges were brought against eight marines in connection with the killing of 24 civilians the Iraqi city of Haditha.

The killing of innocent civilians is indeed a war crime, and a crime against humanity, and those responsible need to be held accountable and punished accordingly.

But the Haditha massacre is just a small piece of a much bigger puzzle. The deaths of so many innocent Iraqi men, women, and children are not just the fault of the troops who shot the lethal bullets, or their commanding officers. It's the fault of everyone in the Bush administration who chose to wage this war of aggression on a nation that posed no threat to us. And it's the fault of every member of Congress who authorized the use of military force against Iraq.

21 December 2006

Pentagon loses track of military contractors (and blows millions more of our tax dollars)

It's not bad enough that the U.S. government has already wasted some $352 billion of our tax dollars so far (and growing) on an unnecessary war of aggression against a country that posed no threat to us. So they've taken it a step further.

According to an investigation by the Government Accountability Office, the Pentagon "is still struggling to get a handle on the unprecedented number of contractors now helping run the nation's wars," and that we are losing millions of dollars through mismanagement of the contractors. [Read story.]

But don't worry. Dick Cheney and Halliburton are making a fortune from this.

20 December 2006

More troops: Where will they come from?

So now Bush the Decider has decided to expand the overall size of our military.

Our existing troops have already served multiple tours in the meat grinder that is Iraq, so we need some fresh meat.

Where will they find new recruits?

Will they reinstate the draft?

And wouldn't it be a good symbolic gesture if the Bush twins were the first to volunteer for this "noble cause"?

19 December 2006

Threatened by Obama

The right-wing pundits seem awfully preoccupied lately with the possibility that Illinois Senator Barack Obama might run for President in 2008. They obviously feel very threatened. They've already started with the smear tactics.

But they don't criticize him on the issues. They don't even play the race card. Instead, they use elementary-school playground methods. They're focusing on his name and his ears.

Obama's middle name just happens to be "Hussein". Never mind the fact that Hussein happens to be a very common name (like "Smith") in some parts of the world. To the right wing, this is useful for stirring up the rednecks.

And then there's the Obama-Osama thing. In their predictable infantile manner, they're playing this up as well.

(Funny, I used to work with someone named "McVeigh". Nobody ever stirred things up by commenting on that person's name. Perhaps it's the fact that all the McVeighs I know are white.)

As the icing on the cake, there's the size of Obama's ears, and all the twisting they can do with that.

What's next?

18 December 2006

Lethal injection suspended in two states

Execution by lethal injection has been under fire recently due to allegations that it can be excruciatingly painful, thereby violating the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Now it appears that a botched execution in Florida has brought the issue to a tipping point, and last week executions were put on hold in both Florida and California.

I never thought I'd ever agree with Jeb Bush on an issue, but I'm very pleased to see that he was willing to take this step.

Something tells me that his brother George W. (who, as governor of Texas, presided over more executions than any other governor in the U.S. since capital punishment was reinstated) would not have done the same.

15 December 2006

New Hamdan ruling: Another step backwards for human rights

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge James Robertson ruled that foreign prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay do not have the right of habeas corpus. So, if you're not a legal resident of citizen of the U.S., a bounty hunter (or George Bush) could point a finger at you and arbitrarily label you a threat to national security, toss you into a cage at Gitmo, and throw away the key. And there's nothing you can do about it. Even if you're actually innocent.

How is this fair or just?

In response, Larry Cox, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, issued the following statement:
"Amnesty International is deeply concerned by the recent federal court ruling dismissing the habeas corpus case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan based on a provision from the recently passed Military Commissions Act. The right to challenge one's detention before an independent court is one of the most fundamental protections against human rights abuses, including torture and arbitrary and indefinite detention. Judge Robertson has joined Congress and the administration in putting the United States squarely on the wrong side of international law.

"Although the administration may view this decision as a vindication of its ill-advised policies, human rights cannot simply be abrogated by a questionable land-leasing deal. This ruling in no way validates the detention regime in Guantanamo, which is in direct contravention of U.S. obligations under international law."

14 December 2006

Marty Kaplan on Bush's "listening tour"

Marty Kaplan has a great new piece in the Huffington Post regarding Bush's new PR project whereby he's supposedly collecting advice on Iraq war strategy.

An excerpt:

As everyone knows, for the past five years, Bush could have had anyone from State or Defense come over to the White House in a heartbeat. He could have had options up the wazoo to contemplate. He could have filled his days from morning to night with experts, analysts, historians and anyone else he wanted advice from. No member of Congress would have turned down the chance to bend his ear.

But instead, as everyone knows, he and his buddy Cheney have chosen to operate from a position of supreme confidence, impregnable isolation, and contempt for the pussy concept of agonizing reappraisal. Today's "listening tour" President is the same one who couldn't spare half an hour to listen to Cindy Sheehan. The same one who screened anyone but hard-core supporters from his public events. The same one who said he'd be happy to sit down and talk to Democrats -- as long as they said upfront that they already agree with him. This is the same President who won't talk with Syria or Iran because, he says, they already know our position, the same President who sent John Bolton on a shut-up tour of the United Nations. And this is the man we're now supposed to believe is the Listener-in-Chief?

Why hasn't the press called it instead a "so-called listening tour"?

[Read the whole article.]

More fun with war profiteering

Outsourcing Victory, the latest animation from political cartoonist Mark Fiore, addresses the important (but under-criticized) issue of war profiteering by U.S. corporations in Iraq. [Check it out.]

Then, if you think Fiore is exaggerating, run out and get a copy of the real-life, non-animated film Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers. This documentary includes interviews with war-profiteering insiders.

Corporations should not be allowed to profit from the blood of our troops.

13 December 2006

Don't let Bush deny protection to refugees from Darfur

In case you haven't heard, there is a major genocide currently under way in the Darfur region in western Sudan, along with the corresponding humanitarian catastrophe.

This week in Darfur, Janjaweed militiamen attacked a convoy of refugees and aid workers, and executed 30 people. Some of the victims were shot, and some were actually burned to death. As attacks continue in Darfur and the security situation continues to deteriorate, more and more Darfuris will need to seek safety by leaving the country. Some of them will make it to the United States to seek asylum from the U.S. government.

Unfortunately, the United States will say that many of the persecuted who manage to flee cannot be protected in our country. Why? Because they may have given "material support" to a violent group in Darfur. Women who were raped by rebels and then forced to labor for their rapists, and children who were forcibly recruited by rebel groups from the refugee camps, could be denied protection in the United States due to the sweeping definitions of terrorism that are currently in use in our refugee and asylum law.

Take action right now to protect refugees and asylum seekers who desperately need the protection the United States can offer.

12 December 2006

Annan's farewell speech

Yesterday, outgoing U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan gave his farewell speech. Some of the media accused Annan of scolding the Bush administration in that speech. And selected bits and pieces of the speech do make it appear that way.

But, in reading the entire speech in context, it's clear that Annan addressed the issues in a much more diplomatic manner than the press would suggest. He does criticize the status quo, but he does so with tact. Annan has class.

[Read the text of the speech.]

11 December 2006

Amnesty International responds to Pinochet's death

Poetic irony: Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet died yesterday, December 10, which is International Human Rights Day.

Below is a statement from Amnesty International regarding Pinochet's death.

Augusto Pinochet's death must not close the darkest chapter in Chile's history.

Amnesty International urges the Chilean authorities to declare the amnesty law void and permit investigation and protection of all those others who were involved in the thousands of cases of disappearances, torture and extrajudicial executions.

Families and survivors need to know what happened, they need justice and need their day in court.

Pinochet's death should be a wake-up call for the authorities in Chile and for governments everywhere, reminding them of the importance of speedy justice for human rights crimes, something Pinochet himself has now escaped.

Further information: Key events involving Augusto Pinochet from July 1996 to December 2006

10 December 2006

December 10 is Human Rights Day

Today is International Human Rights Day. It marks the anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948.

This year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, issued a special Human Rights Day message focusing on poverty as a human rights concern.

Below is the text of her message:

The awareness of the stranglehold of poverty on billions of men, women and children around the world, and of how this state of deprivation and misery compromises our common future, has never been higher. Yet, despite an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the complex makeup of poverty, ranging from exclusion and discrimination to a skewed international trade system, approaches to poverty reduction are still often tinged with appeals to charity or altruism.

On this Human Rights Day, we reaffirm that freedom from want is a right, not merely a matter of compassion. Fighting poverty is a duty that binds those who govern as surely as their obligation to ensure that all people are able to speak freely, choose their leaders and worship as their conscience guides them.

All countries, independent of national wealth, can take immediate measures to fight poverty based on human rights. Ending discrimination, for example, will in many cases remove barriers to decent work and give women and minorities access to essential services. Better distribution of collective resources and good governance, exemplified by tackling corruption and ensuring the rule of law, are within the reach of every state.

But as much as States bear the primary responsibility for their own development, the international community must also meet the commitments it has made to support the efforts of developing countries. Many rich countries have yet to meet development assistance targets they have accepted, yet they continue to spend ten times more on military budgets. They also spend nearly four times their development assistance budget – an amount almost equal to the total gross national product of African countries –to subsidize their own domestic agricultural producers. Indifference and a narrow calculus of national interests by wealthy countries hamper human rights and development just as damagingly as discrimination at the local level.

At the 2005 World Summit, global leaders recognized that development, peace and security and human rights are mutually reinforcing. In a world where one in every seven people continues to live in chronic hunger, and where inequalities between and within countries are growing, our ability to reach the goals the Summit reaffirmed in order to 'make poverty history' will remain in serious doubt if we do not tackle poverty as a matter of justice and human rights.

Take action for human rights:

On this Human Rights Day, please take a few minutes to take action for human rights. You can do this with just a few clicks at the Amnesty International USA Online Action Center: takeaction.amnestyusa.org

09 December 2006

Human rights and the Mumia case

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the murder of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.

African-American journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal was sentenced to death for the murder, and remains in prison to this day as the appeals process drags on.

This case is one of the most divisive that I've ever seen. On one side, Faulkner's friends and family continue to call for "justice". On the other side, Mumia's supporters continue to loudly proclaim his innocence and call for his release.

I don't know whether Mumia is guilty or innocent. Nobody really can, because the system that tried him was so flawed.

Amnesty International continues to question the fairness of Mumia's original trial. In reviewing the case, Amnesty found that, as in so many of the trials of the men and women condemned to death across the U.S., Mumia's trial was "in violation of international law and standards governing the imposition of capital punishment."

According to Amnesty, "Mumia Abu-Jamal was denied effective and adequate legal representation and was denied the right to legally represent himself. African-Americans appear to have been systematically removed form the jury, thereby denying him the right to be judged by a panel that represented the racial makeup for the area. His lawyer was denied sufficient funds to hire experts that challenged the state's version of events. Throughout his trial, the judge appeared to be overtly hostile to Mumia Abu-Jamal and have a bias in favour of the prosecution."

Amnesty continues to call for a new trial without the possibility of a death sentence.

[Read Amnesty's full report on this case.]

My heart goes out to Mrs. Faulkner. But could she really ever find true closure as long as there remain so many questions about the system that convicted Mumia?

Isn't a new and just trial really the only way to achieve true closure?

08 December 2006

Stealing Christmas?

It's that time of the year again. The holiday shopping season is in full swing. The stores and city streets are decked out in all their holiday splendor - tinseled trees, angels, reindeer, Santa.

And, despite these abundant public Christmas displays, the right-wing pundits have begun their annual campaign to convince the faithful that "the liberals", led by the ACLU, have waged a "war on Christmas".

Maybe I'm missing something, but, if there really is a war on Christmas, a quick trip to the local shopping mall should convince any skeptic that Christmas has surely won that battle. And I have yet to see throngs of ACLU members picketing the decorated stores. It looks to me as though the Christmas spirit is alive and thriving, as gaudily obvious as ever.

Furthermore, those who think that the evil, godless liberals are out to steal Christmas from them might find it interesting to look at the history of our Christmas traditions. Like many Christian holidays, numerous Christmas customs and symbols have their roots in pagan traditions. Most historians do not believe that Jesus was born on December 25, and there were no pine trees in the desert around Bethlehem. These elements were borrowed from the pagan winter holidays of Saturnalia and Yule. So, ironically enough, the early Christians were the ones who originally stole the holiday. But that's fine, in my opinion. There should be enough holiday spirit for everyone to share.

I admit there are some people who do make a fuss over public displays of religion. They are generally the humorless, militant atheist types who could use a lesson in tolerance (and a big, strong cup of eggnog). Here in the United States of America, we have freedom of religion. While that also includes the right for nonbelievers to practice no religion, they are doing themselves a disservice by trying to interfere with other people's right to observe Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan, or any other holiday of their choice, religious or otherwise. But the right-wing zealots need to realize that these types are a very small minority. The ACLU will go to bat when there are complaints about blatant sectarian displays on tax-funded property. But these are very specific incidents. They pose no threat to Santa at the mall.

That said, I have to question the motives of those pundits who, year after year, whine about this imaginary war on Christmas. Are they really so insecure in their piety that they need to blatantly splash their iconry in every public square?

And didn't Jesus himself preach that we should practice our religion in private and secretly, and not in public? According to Matthew 6:5-6, "when thou pray, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut the door, pray to thy father which is in secret, and thy father which seeth in secret shall reward thee." I could find nothing in the gospels advocating giant displays of reindeer and mistletoe.

But I will enjoy those displays, even though I am not a Christian. After all, we live in a free country, and it is the multi-cultural nature of our melting-pot society that makes this nation so special.

Happy holidays to all.

07 December 2006

Go see "Blood Diamond" this weekend

Amnesty International USA is proud to announce its support of the Warner Bros film Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly, and Djimon Hounsou. Set during the civil war in Sierra Leone in the 1990's, the story addresses the issues of conflict diamonds and child soldiers.

Please show your support this opening weekend by going to see the movie. Take your friends and family with you, and help support our work on these critical human rights issues.

Read more about the film and our work with the filmmakers.

You can also:

Take action to stop blood diamonds.

Buy and wear the Blood Diamond bracelet.

Check out the buyer's guide (PDF) before buying diamonds this holiday season.

Read our survey of diamond retailers, conducted by Amnesty members.

• Educators: Download our educational curriculum (PDF) that accompanies the movie.

Thanks, and enjoy the show!

06 December 2006

No more taxation without representation! Support the DC Voting Rights Act.

I think a lot of Americans do not realize that residents of the District of Columbia do not have voting representation in Congress. According to a recent alert from Common Cause, DC is "the only national capital among the world's democracies that lacks a vote. Even citizens in Baghdad have the right to representation in Iraq's legislature."

The DC Voting Rights Act, which can change all that, is heading for a vote in the next few days. According to Common Cause, the DC Voting Rights Act "recognizes that partisan political considerations have always entered into issues that are fundamentally about fairness and justice. This proposal puts those considerations aside by adding two new seats to the House, one for the District and another that will go to Utah, which barely missed gaining another seat after the last census. It's a practical, fair solution to a problem that has been a stain on our democracy for over 200 years."

You can help. Tell your Representative to vote for the DC Voting Rights Act.

Former CIA folks weigh in on Bob Gates

Yesterday, Robert Gates, Bush's nominee to replace Rumsfeld as Defense Secretary, breezed through his Senate panel hearings. In all likelihood he will be confirmed by the full Senate later this week.

In yesterday's hearings, it seems that nobody bothered to ask the tough questions.

Meantime, however, two people who worked with Gates at the CIA went on Democracy Now yesterday to discuss their former colleague's questionable record, in Iran Contra and beyond. And host Amy Goodman, as always, did ask the tough questions. [Read the transcripts or download the program.] It's well worth checking out.

05 December 2006

Annan on Bolton

Commenting on John Bolton's tenure as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in light of Bolton's resignation, outgoing U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said the following:
"I think Ambassador Bolton did the job he was expected to do. He came at a time when we had lots of tough issues from reform to issues on Iran and North Korea. I think as a representative of the U.S. government, he pressed ahead with the instructions he had been given and tried to work as effectively as he could."
Now that is diplomacy!

04 December 2006

Bolton's holiday gift to the world: His resignation


NBC news is now reporting that bully John Bolton has resigned as UN ambassador, and that President Bush has accepted his resignation.

This is good news for the United States and for the world. Hopefully now Bush will appoint a real diplomat to the job, so we can start to undo all the damage that's been done to our international relationships over the past five years.

Would Americans elect a non-white or non-male president?

TV cable news was all abuzz this past weekend about the fact that Senator Hillary Clinton may be considering a run for the Democratic nomination for President in 2008. These reports often also comment on the possibility of a run by Senator Barack Obama.

Here in my blue-state world, it never occurs to me to consider someone's race or gender when I decide how to vote. But I recently talked about this with a friend, who happens to be an African-American woman, and she seemed quite certain that race or gender could trump the issues for an alarming percentage of the population. She believes there is no way that a woman or a black person could be elected President of the U.S. in 2008.

Is my friend correct? Are so many Americans people really that prejudiced?

If so, isn't it rather ridiculous, considering how much has been screwed up by the white men who have been running the government over the past few decades?

(Disclaimer: I'm not sure that I would vote for either Clinton or Obama, but not because of their gender or color. This article is only meant to address the issue of gender, race, and electability.)

03 December 2006

Dow Chemical must be held responsible for Bhopal disaster

Today, December 3, marks the 22nd anniversary of a catastrophic explosion from a gas leak at a Union Carbine pesticide plant in Bhopal, India. More than 7,000 Bhopalis were killed in the explosion, and 15,000 more died later from their injuries.

The incident left behind a derelict plant site full of toxic chemicals that have never been effectively cleaned up.

Union Carbide is now a fully owned subsidiary of Dow Chemical. The company is still denying its responsibility, and refuses to reveal the toxicological information of the gas, thwarting medical efforts to deliver appropriate treatment to the more than 100,000 surviving victims.

You can help:

Send an e-mail to Dow Chemical’s President and CEO, Andrew Liveris, demanding that Dow/Union Carbide face justice.

Demand Dow Chemical clean up the Bhopal site.

02 December 2006

Another reason to take the train

Ever since flying got way more difficult after 9/11, I've been making every attempt to avoid it whenever possible.

And now there's yet another reason to take the train instead.

According to an article at CNN.com, "millions of Americans and foreigners crossing U.S. borders in the past four years have been assigned scores generated by U.S. government computers rating the risk that the travelers are terrorists or criminals."

In other words, if you travel in and out of the United States, they subjectively assign you a "terror rating".

According to the CNN article, "scores are based on [the Automated Targeting System's] analysis of their travel records and other data, including items such as where they are from, how they paid for tickets, their motor vehicle records, past one-way travel, seating preference and what kind of meal they ordered."

What kind of meal they ordered???!!!! Surely I would be viewed with suspicion for ordering my usual vegetarian meal.

And what do our motor vehicle records have to do with terrorism?

Can this Big Brother stuff get any more absurd? (Rhetorical question, of course.)

01 December 2006

Take action on World AIDS Day

Today, December 1, is World AIDS Day.

This year, Amnesty International USA is focusing on the HIV/AIDS problem in the Caribbean.

Caribbean countries are suffering from poverty and widespread human rights violations that are fueling the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

You can help by urging your Senators to increase current funding levels for global HIV/AIDS initiatives in the Caribbean.

To take this action online, click here.

30 November 2006

Ahmadinejad stirs the pot

Unless you've spent the past 24 hours under a rock with no access to the outside world, you probably know by now that We The American People received a personal letter yesterday from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Apparently he decided to bypass the White House and write to us directly, since George W. Bush never responded to an 18-page letter that Ahmadinejad sent to him back in May.

I want to say upfront that I'm no fan of Ahmadinejad. He seems to be a serious nutcase, and we need to keep an eye on him.

That said, however, contrary to Bush's black-and-white worldview, no one is all good or all evil. Human beings are much too complex for that.

Therefore, I shouldn't have been so surprised to find that Ahmadinejad's latest letter actually made some very rational and practical points (once you get past the invocations to Allah). Some examples:
"Let's take a look at Iraq. Since the commencement of the US military presence in Iraq, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed, maimed or displaced. Terrorism in Iraq has grown exponentially. With the presence of the US military in Iraq, nothing has been done to rebuild the ruins, to restore the infrastructure or to alleviate poverty. The US Government used the pretext of the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but later it became clear that that was just a lie and a deception.

"Although Saddam was overthrown and people are happy about his departure, the pain and suffering of the Iraqi people has persisted and has even been aggravated."

"You have heard that the US administration is kidnapping its presumed opponents from across the globe and arbitrarily holding them without trial or any international supervision in horrendous prisons that it has established in various parts of the world. God knows who these detainees actually are, and what terrible fate awaits them.

"You have certainly heard the sad stories of the Guantanamo and Abu-Ghraib prisons. The US administration attempts to justify them through its proclaimed "war on terror." But every one knows that such behavior, in fact, offends global public opinion, exacerbates resentment and thereby spreads terrorism, and tarnishes the US image and its credibility among nations.

"The US administration's illegal and immoral behavior is not even confined to outside its borders. You are witnessing daily that under the pretext of "the war on terror," civil liberties in the United States are being increasingly curtailed. Even the privacy of individuals is fast losing its meaning. Judicial due process and fundamental rights are trampled upon. Private phones are tapped, suspects are arbitrarily arrested, sometimes beaten in the streets, or even shot to death."

"The US administration does not accept accountability before any organization, institution or council. The US administration has undermined the credibility of international organizations, particularly the United Nations and its Security Council. But, I do not intend to address all the challenges and calamities in this message.

"The legitimacy, power and influence of a government do not emanate from its arsenals of tanks, fighter aircrafts, missiles or nuclear weapons. Legitimacy and influence reside in sound logic, quest for justice and compassion and empathy for all humanity. The global position of the United States is in all probability weakened because the administration has continued to resort to force, to conceal the truth, and to mislead the American people about its policies and practices."

"Is there not a better approach to governance?

"Is it not possible to put wealth and power in the service of peace, stability, prosperity and the happiness of all peoples through a commitment to justice and respect for the rights of all nations, instead of aggression and war?

"We all condemn terrorism, because its victims are the innocent.

"But, can terrorism be contained and eradicated through war, destruction and the killing of hundreds of thousands of innocents?

"If that were possible, then why has the problem not been resolved?"

"Now that Iraq has a Constitution and an independent Assembly and Government, would it not be more beneficial to bring the US officers and soldiers home, and to spend the astronomical US military expenditures in Iraq for the welfare and prosperity of the American people? As you know very well, many victims of Katrina continue to suffer, and countless Americans continue to live in poverty and homelessness."
[Read the full text of the letter.]

Sounds like a lot of the stuff I've written over the past few years.

Nevertheless, we have to take Ahmadinejad's words about human rights and human dignity with a grain of salt. After all, Iran's human rights record is even worse than our own.

If every world leader who talks about human rights were also to actually protect human rights, imagine how much nicer the world would be today.

29 November 2006

Woman fined for peace sign wreath

Here's a new one from the absurdity files:

A Colorado woman is facing some stiff fines from her homeowners association for displaying a Christmas wreath in the shape of a peace sign.

According to a story by the Associated Press, the homeowners association has threatened to fine her "$25 a day until she removes a Christmas wreath with a peace sign that some say is an anti-Iraq war protest or a symbol of Satan."

A symbol of Satan???!!!

The story goes on to say that "Lisa Jensen said she wasn't thinking of the war when she hung the wreath. She said, 'Peace is way bigger than not being at war. This is a spiritual thing.'"

Well, yeah. And isn't the Christmas season supposed to be all about "peace on earth, and good will to men"?

For the full story, including a picture of the wreath (which is actually quite beautiful), click here.


UPDATE: Good news! An hour after I originally posted this, I learned that the homeowners association has approved the wreath and withdrawn all related fines. [Read more.]

28 November 2006

Will this man die because of a police set-up?

Need another reason to oppose the death penalty? Here's one from Texas.

The true story starts like this:
Two police officers are sharing a beer in a grassy ditch off a highway in rural Texas. At their feet lies the body of a young woman killed elsewhere - strangled with something like a belt. The police officers discuss how they can shift blame for the woman¹s death away from a fellow officer, who had been heard to threaten to strangle her with a belt if she cheated on him. The men work to incriminate the woman's lover, a black man who will end up on Texas' death row.
[Read more.]

27 November 2006

"Bobby" -- A timely tribute to RFK

The film Bobby is now playing in theaters everywhere. The film is set in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles during the hours leading up to Bobby Kennedy's assassination there in June 1968.

The film features several subplots that tell the stories of various people connected to the hotel. In the end, these very different groups of people gather together at the hotel to hear Kennedy's very moving speech. They then find themselves caught up in the bloody aftermath of the shooting.

Written and directed by Emilio Estevez (who also plays a part in the film), Bobby features an impressive all-star cast, including Harry Belafonte, Laurence Fishburne, Heather Graham, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Hunt, Lindsay Lohan, William H. Macy, Demi Moore, Martin Sheen, Christian Slater, Sharon Stone, and Elijah Wood, among others.

The acting was good, and the stories of the various characters were interesting and engaging. And many of the issues addressed in the film, such as racial discrimination and U.S. involvement in an unpopular war, are very real concerns today.

But what struck me most about the film was what a great man Bobby Kenney was. He stood for peace, racial equality, and helping the poor. Pictures and audio from the '60s were interspersed throughout the movie. The line that most caught my attention was from a speech that Kennedy gave in April of 1968, just after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:
"Too often we honor swagger and bluster and wielders of force; too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others."
I was sobbing as I left the theater -- not just because the film was so moving, but because I realized how much better the world would be today if Bobby Kennedy were still alive.

[Visit the film's official website.]

26 November 2006

eHarmony is eBigoted

From time to time in the 10 years since my divorce, I have used online dating services like Match.com to meet new people. These sites provide a convenient way to meet people you wouldn't otherwise encounter.

But I will never use eHarmoney.com. You shouldn't either, if you care about equality and tolerance.

eHarmony seems to get much more publicity than the other dating sites, through its sappy radio and television ads about how they've matched so many attractive couples via "29 key dimensions of compatibility". But their cutesy, lovey-dovey rhetoric belies its real attitude that gays, lesbians, and bisexuals are second-class citizens and unworthy of finding true love.

On their sign-up form, eHarmony offers only two gender-related options: "Man seeking a woman" or "Woman seeking a man".

So if you're a man seeking a man, or a woman seeking a woman, you're out of luck. You don't deserve to find a match based on "29 key dimensions of compatibility". You don't deserve to find true love.

So eHarmoney doesn't deserve my money. Please don't give them yours either.

24 November 2006

More fun with the fast food industry

A few days ago, I wrote about the new film Fast Food Nation. It's still in theaters everywhere, so please see it if you haven't already done so.

Meantime, I found a very interesting interview in Grist with Eric Schlosser, who wrote the book on which the movie was based. In the interview, Schlosser discusses the movie, the fast food industry, and how all the various issues illustrated in the film ultimately tie together, and need to be addressed.

Says Schlosser:
The agro-industrial complex that we have right now -- that is treating animals this way, that is treating the land this way, that is treating human beings this way -- has only really been around for 30 to 35 years, and we're already seeing huge costs in health, in terms of the environment, in terms of just cruelty. So this system isn't sustainable.

Each one of us who eats is part of that. If you eat, you're connected to this, and you've got to think about it and do something about it.
[Read the complete interview.]

[Visit the film's official website.]

23 November 2006

The obligatory but heartfelt annual thanks-giving piece

Today is the annual Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S., and this is the obligatory annual commentary about what I am thankful for.

First of all, I am thankful that we still have freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press, so that I can share with you this obligatory annual commentary about what I am thankful for.

This year in particular, I am thankful to the American voters, who woke themselves out of their 5-year coma and took action earlier this month to reinstate some checks and balances in a government that was running amuck.

I am thankful for Nancy Pelosi, who in January will become this country's first female Speaker of the House. Rep. Pelosi will serve as a much better role model for girls than Paris Hilton. Hopefully they will realize that the constant personal attacks on Pelosi from the right are simply because Pelosi's critics are unable to present strong arguments about the real issues.

I am thankful that, when I write to my Senators from now on, a copy will not go to Rick Santorum. I am thankful that Senator-elect Casey might actually read and consider what I have to say.

I am thankful for all the individuals and organizations who have been working around the clock to save this country as it was skidding rapidly towards fascism: Air America Radio; the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); Sen. Barbara Boxer; Rep. John Conyers; the Center for Constitutional Rights; Sen. Russ Feingold; MoveOn.org; the National Organization for Women (NOW); the National Women's Law Center; Keith Olbermann; People for the American Way; Jon Stewart; the Union of Concerned Scientists; Rep. Henry Waxman; my own group, Amnesty International; and thousands of other people and groups too numerous to mention.

I am thankful for my spectacular team of Philadelphia-area Amnesty International volunteers. While it's my job to serve as their first line of support, they are the ones who do the really hard grass-roots work. They are the ones whose ongoing efforts ease the suffering of so many people around the world.

I am thankful for my loved ones, who care about me despite the fact that I am usually too obsessed with politics and current events, and too busy trying to save the world.

And I am thankful for those who read my endless rantings on a regular basis, and especially those of you who challenge my ideas. You keep me on my toes, and help me grow as a writer and a thinker.

Happy Thanksgiving to all. And may we all have many more things to be thankful for this time next year.

22 November 2006

PA legislature passes tougher child sex abuse bill

I'm proud to say that my home state of Pennsylvania is taking big steps to crack down on priestly perverts and pedophiles in general. Yesterday, they voted for sweeping changes to the state's child sex abuse laws, "including some that were recommended by a Philadelphia grand jury that investigated abuse by Roman Catholic priests."

According to a story from ABC affilliate WPVI-TV, "[if] Gov. Ed Rendell signs the bill, victims of child-sex crimes will have until their 50th birthday - 20 years longer than current law allows - to file criminal complaints. Employers and supervisors could be held criminally liable if they know of alleged abuse by employees who care for children but fail to stop it, and caregivers would have to report suspected abuse regardless of whether the victim reports it."

This is a great victory for the victims.

Those who advocate for shorter statutes of limitations say that memories fade over time, and so testimony after 20 or 30 years is not reliable. And, of course, there are numerous documented cases of false memories being instilled in a "victim" by parents or therapists.

However, it seems to me that child abuse is a heinous enough crime that people shouldn't be prevented from bringing charges just because it took more than 20 years to muster the courage. I would think that sexual abuse, especially by a trusted priest or other authority figure, is not something that blurs with time.

I'd love to hear other people's views on this.

21 November 2006

22,000 show up to protest U.S. torture school

Every November, activists gather outside Fort Benning in Georgia to protest the U.S. military-run torture school formerly known as the School of the Americas (SOA).

This year, the vigil took place over the weekend of November 17-19, and the size of the crowd was estimated at 22,000!

Good for them! Each year the number of protesters increases. Hopefully someday their voices will be heard.

Changing its name doesn't change the fact that the school (now known as the "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation", or WHINSEC) is still using our tax dollars to train Latin American death squads in the fine art of torture. At a recent Amnesty International conference, I actually got to meet a Salvadoran victim of torture by the U.S.-trained death squads of the 1980s. Believe me, this is not how our tax dollars should be spent.

Amnesty International estimates that the WHINSEC-SOA has trained hundreds of Latin American officers who were later implicated in human rights violations.

In 1996, the U.S. Department of Defense disclosed evidence that the school had used manuals from 1982 to 1991 that advocated torture, blackmail, beatings, and executions. While some curriculum changes have since been implemented at this training institute, no one has ever been held accountable for the unlawful training manuals or for the behavior of SOA graduates.

We're waiting.

In a 2002 report, Amnesty International called for an independent commission of inquiry to investigate past activities of SOA and its graduates, and for the school to be suspended pending publication of its findings.

We're still waiting.

Meantime, in order to ensure that reforms at the school are not just cosmetic, Amnesty's same report called for continued monitoring of the school, including review of its courses and training manuals by the Secretary of Defense. It also asked Congress to require the Department of Defense to assess and report annually on the school’s progress in integrating human rights and rule of law education into military training.

We're still waiting.

WHINSEC-SOA is only one small part of a vast and complex network of U.S. programs for training foreign military and police forces that is often shrouded in secrecy. Currently, approximately 275 known U.S. military schools and installations in the U.S. provide such training.

But by closing the WHINSEC-SOA, we can take an important step towards becoming a nation for which human rights is not just a sound bite.

For more info about the vigil, check out the SOA Watch website at www.soaw.org.

20 November 2006

"Fast Food Nation" - I dare you to eat a burger after seeing this

Over the weekend, I saw the new film Fast Food Nation, which is based on Eric Schlosser's book of the same name. Like the book, the movie presents a stomach-turning expose' of the fast food and meat packing industries.

Amnesty International is supporting this film, which brings important human rights issues to the big screen. According to Amnesty, "This powerful film sheds light on the hidden human rights violations that are an everyday reality for many undocumented immigrants in this country. As the film navigates through dangerous border crossings, to appalling worker conditions in slaughterhouses, it unveils a side of the U.S. that many people don't know or believe exists."

The film also made me very glad to be a vegetarian.

Fast Food Nation's star-studded cast includes Greg Kinnear, Bruce Willis, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Kris Kristofferson, and Avril Lavigne.

Please see this movie before you eat your next hamburger.

19 November 2006

Amnesty speaks out against new war crimes compound at Gitmo

An Associated Press report on Friday indicated that the U.S. military "plans to build a $125 million compound at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base where it hopes to hold war-crimes trials for terror suspects by the middle of next year."

Human rights groups are furious.

Larry Cox, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, calls it a "white elephant". Below is his official statement on the issue:

"Once again, the Defense Department seems to be operating in -- even constructing -- its own universe. The new rules for the proposed military commissions under the Military Commissions Act (MCA) have not been made public, and not a single charge has been filed under the new system. And yet the Pentagon wants to build a permanent homage to its failed experiment in second class justice.

"It is absolutely nonsensical that the U.S. government is proposing to spend 125 million American taxpayers' dollars to build commission rooms and supporting structures, when there's a chance that the U.S. courts may strike down the new commissions. Rather than wasting tons of money creating edifices that may prove to be a white elephant, the U.S. government should use the sophisticated and fully adequate facilities already available to it to try terrorism suspects -- federal courts."


18 November 2006

Iranian stones are more deadly than their uranium

Amnesty International has reported that "up to nine women and two men in Iran are under sentence of execution by stoning, including one woman who was convicted of adultery and who claimed she was forced into prostitution." Imagine!

Amnesty is calling on the Iranian government for an immediate end to stoning, and has provided an online form through which you can send an e-mail message to the Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Now, you might be sitting there thinking that Ahmadinejad and the Ayatollah are just a couple of psychos, and that you'd be wasting your time e-mailing them. Well, they might indeed be psychos, but putting pressure on deranged government officials has worked in the past, as evidenced by the 40,000+ prisoners of conscience who have been freed in the 45 years since Amnesty was founded.

So please speak out. The Iranian government needs to know that the world is watching and that the world is outraged. Help us put an end to stoning.

17 November 2006

Former Gitmo prisoner describes his torture

The German press ran a story this week about a former Guantanomo prisoner. This guy was just released in August "because of lack of evidence that he was involved in terrorist activities." But the interrogators didn't bother with the innocent-until-proven-guilty stuff. They just assumed he was guilty, and tried for four years to torture a confession out of him.

If you have a strong stomach, click here to read his story.

16 November 2006

Beware the Butterball

I normally focus on human rights, not animal rights. But the way we treat the other creatures on this planet says a lot about our society's values, and who we are as human beings.

I suspect that most people don't realize, for example, how turkeys are abused (and actually tortured) at slaughterhouses. If they did, I don't see how they could enjoy their Thanksgiving meal.

Click here to watch a video documentary of an undercover investigation at a Butterball slaughterhouse in Arkansas. If you are human, it will make your stomach turn.

Then, click here to hear rocker Joan Jett's Butterball hotline message.

Now, I'm not the kind of hard-core evangelical vegetarian who wants to force everyone to stop eating meat. That's just not practical. I'd rather just fight for an end to animal abuse.

If animals are going to be raised and killed for their meat or hides, they should be treated with respect and killed in a human way.

People who abuse animals are no better than those who abuse weaker human beings. They should be forced to stop, and they should be held accountable. And Butterball and other meat-processing corporations need to set, and enforce, humane standards.

Meantime, if you must eat turkey on Thanksgiving, please don't buy Butterball.

15 November 2006

CIA acknowledges 2 interrogation memos (but keeps lots of other stuff secret)

Here's another new item from my "sunshine is the best disinfectant" file:

Kudos to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). And thank goodness that we still have the Freedom of Information Act. (Knock on wood.)

As a result of an ACLU lawsuit, according to an article in yesterday's Washington Post, more than 100,000 pages of classified documentation have been released "including some that revealed internal debates over the policies governing prisoners held at the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba."

Other documentation continues to be withheld, because it's "so sensitive", or whatever. (Too incriminating, perhaps?)

So now that we're starting to gain access to this kind of documentation, hopefully the new Congress will use it as a starting point for some serious official investigation into the Bush administration's gross violations of the human rights of detainees. And hopefully this will result in the new Congress holding all guilty parties accountable -- as far up the chain of command as necessary.

14 November 2006

What was Specter thinking?

Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania really has been quite moderate much of the time. At the request of Amnesty International members, he has co-sponsored some good human-rights-related legislation over the years. For that, we are grateful.

Therefore, I am especially disappointed by his support for the Military Commissions Act of 2006. Not only did he vote for it, but he's defending it as well (with doublespeak).

Here is the text of an e-mail I received from Senator Spector in response to my concerns:

Dear Ms. Shaw :

     Thank you for contacting my office regarding the treatment of prisoners detained by the United States in connection with the global war on terrorism. I appreciate hearing from you.

     The United States has no higher priority than the war against terrorism. In the course of this struggle, we must make every effort to detain those who engage in acts of terrorism and to obtain information from detainees that will enable us to prevent future attacks. At the same time, it is imperative we wage the war in a way that upholds the values the United States has always advanced, making clear by our actions and our example that we stand for freedom and fairness.

     In the June 2006 Supreme Court decision Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Court held that military commissions used in prosecuting enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay must be authorized by Congress and must obey the legal obligations of the Geneva Conventions' Common Article III and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The decision explicitly urged Congress to legislate a solution by properly establishing military commissions to try alien unlawful enemy combatants.

     Following the Hamdan decision, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee worked with President Bush to craft legislation to establish military tribunals. I generally supported the legislation dra fted by these Senators and the a dministration, however, I had serious reservations about a provision in the bill which eliminated detainees' right to habeas corpus. Habeas corpus is the right of those in custody to challenge their detainment in court. As Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I held a hearing on September 25, 2006 to specifically address habeas corpus for Guantanamo detainees. During the Senate's consideration of the legislation, I offered an amendment which would have guaranteed habeas corpus for detainees. Unfortunately, the amendment failed on a narrow 48-51 vote.

     On September 28, 2006 the Senate passed the Military Commissions Act by a vote of 65-34. Although my amendment was rejected, I voted in favor of the bill because I believe without this legislation, the ability of our government to effectively fight the g lobal war on terrorism would be hindered. I am confident the courts will address the legislation's constitutionality by ruling on the provision limiting habeas corpus.

     The Military Commission Act is consistent with previous legislation prohibiting torture. The bill stipulates the military commissions must be established in accordance with the Uniform Code of Military Justice and Common Article III of the Geneva Conventions. Finally, it establishes specific guidelines for the use of hearsay evidence and coerced testimony and the handling of classified information.

     As a member of the United States Senate, I have a consistent record of voting to ensure we adhere to the same values we fight to protect. On October 5, 2005, I voted in favor of an amendment introduced by Senator John McCain to the Fiscal Year 2006 Department of Defense Appropriations Act prohibiting "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment" of detainees. This amendment passed on a 90-9 vote in the Senate and was signed into law by President Bush on December 30, 2005. During consideration of the Fiscal Year 2005 Defense Authorization Act, I supported an amendment offered by Senator Leahy that stated it is policy of the United States to treat prisoners in its control humanely. Furthermore, I cosponsored an amendment offered by Senator Durbin reaffirming prisoners of war and enemy combatants must not be tortured or treated inhumanely. In light of the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq , I cosponsored the Senate resolution that condemned the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib and called for a full and complete investigation to ensure justice is served.

     On June 25, 2003, I wrote to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice expressing my concern over the mistreatment of enemy combatants in the custody of the United States . Our reputation has been significantly marred by the abuse of some detainees. The images and stories appearing in both the American, and perhaps more significantly, the Arab and international media have the potential to damage America 's standing as the unquestioned champion of human rights and the rule of law.

     I believe the United States should make it clear that all interrogations of enemy combatants are conducted in a manner consistent with our obligations under the "Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment." This treaty, ratified by the United States, provides the most widely accepted definition of torture and other forms of unlawful mistreatment.

     Thank you again for contacting me. The concerns of my constituents are of great importance to me, and I rely on you and other Pennsylvanians to inform me of your views. Should you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact my office or visit my website at http://specter.senate.gov.


Arlen Specter

13 November 2006

Will your passport soon be worthless?

If reports are true, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security gets its way, you, I, and every other person, U.S. citizen or not, will need to obtain clearance to leave -- or re-enter -- the United States.

Given all the mix-ups with the current no-fly list, this new development makes me afraid to leave the country for fear that they might not let me back in.

And this is very disturbing, because this is not what America stands for.

12 November 2006

Accountability at last in Washington?

Now that the Democrats will be in control of Congress, I'm hoping the reports are true that they will waste no time in launching investigations into the misuse of power by the Bush administration.

They say that sunshine is the best disinfectant. So let's shine some light on the lies leading up to the Iraq war, the warrantless wiretapping, and who was ultimately responsible for the widespread torture of detainees.

We need to hold the Bush administration accountable. And we need to return this country to one that respects human rights and the rule of law.

11 November 2006

Philadelphia readers: Join me for InterAct Theatre's Nov. 12th "Kiss of the Spider Woman" matinee performance and discussion

If you're in the Philadelphia area, please join me on Sunday, Nov. 12, when I'll be speaking after the InterAct Theatre Company's matinee performance of Kiss of the Spider Woman.

Adapted from Manuel Puig's acclaimed novel prior to its incarnations as a powerful film and Broadway hit musical, the original stage play remains a searing drama about two Argentinean men -- a gay window dresser and a socialist rebel -- forced to share a claustrophobic jail cell. Imprisoned by an oppressive government for their beliefs and their lifestyle, each man comes to find solace in the other's company, as the line between the erotic and the political begins to blur. Intimate, intense, tender and startling, Kiss of the Spider Woman reveals an unlikely love story in the most inhuman and grueling of circumstances.

After the show, as part of InterAct's "Speaker Sunday" series, I will talk about Amnesty International's work on behalf of people who (like the two characters in the play) are imprisoned for their beliefs or their lifestyle.

I was a guest at the show's opening night performance, and it was superb. I can't wait to see it again on Sunday.

Location: Mainstage at The Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA

For more information, or to purchase tickets: InterAct Theatre, 215-568-8079 or www.interacttheatre.org

*Special Ticket Discount: InterAct is offering a special discount offer to Amnesty members and supporters through the run of Kiss of the Spider Woman, which will be onstage through November 19. Get a weekday ticket for only $13 (normally $22) or a weekend ticket for only $15 (normally $25). Mention discount code AMN when ordering by phone at 215-568-8079, or type the code AMN in the Promotional Code area when ordering online at www.interacttheatre.org.

A Veterans Day call for better VA funding

On this Veterans Day, our government officials will give Patriotic speeches praising our troops and our veterans. But, for all the lip service, veterans with physical and mental illnesses and injuries are being turned away at the doors of the VA hospitals due to a lack of resources.

It's bad enough that we send our troops to war without the armor they need. But our government's failure to take care of them after they come home is literally adding insult to injury. And it's inexcusable.

Our newly elected 110th Congress must make VA funding a priority. It's time we truly supported our troops, instead of just talking about it.

10 November 2006

Amnesty International working to restore human rights in the U.S.

Larry Cox, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, has released the following comments (and call to action) in response to the shift of power on Capitol Hill:


The air in America is full of talk about "a new political landscape" and "new priorities for our nation."

Let’s be clear right from the start. There is no new direction for America that has moral meaning if it doesn’t begin with a determined effort to reverse America’s deteriorating course on human rights. In the most basic of ways, the current policies and practices of our government betray The America We Believe In.


Before leaving Washington, the last Congress passed the "Military Commissions Act of 2006", which disregards America's deep human rights tradition and gives the administration the power to detain people indefinitely without charge or trial and even allows the use of evidence obtained by cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

The next Congress must begin by reversing the dangerous provisions of that Act and actively reaffirming America’s commitment to human rights.

Why sign the pledge now? Because we want to collect 500,000 signatures on the America I Believe In pledge to show the new Congress that it’s time to change the course on human rights. When the new Congress convenes in January to receive the President’s State of the Union address, we will present the new leaders of Congress with our human rights agenda. Your signature will help leverage the human rights agenda to reclaim The America We Believe In.

Because the violations of human rights by our government have been so profound, the steps needed to reclaim The American We Believe In must be equally far-reaching.

Make no mistake about it, America still leads the world on human rights. But, right now, it’s leading the world in precisely the wrong direction. Dictators are now using our behavior as cover for their own long-standing abuses. Torturers can now point to our President’s endorsement of "alternative interrogation techniques." And the global consensus on human rights is being frayed by our government’s intentional efforts to tear at its very fabric.

That has to end or we will lose the soul of our nation – and victims of human rights abuses the world over will pay the price.


There’s much that needs to be done. But, there is one, simple, powerful, and immediate step that we will ask Congress to take:

We will urge the new Congress to adopt our human rights agenda to reclaim The America We Believe In by acting urgently to:

• stop torture and ill-treatment

• end extraordinary renditions

• expose secret prisons

• restore the centuries-old writ of habeas corpus for anyone in U.S. detention.

Once the new Congress convenes in January, we will mobilize to help make this a reality. Act to restore The America We Believe In and help us gather the 500,000 signatures. Start by signing the petition yourself and by asking your friends, neighbors and community leaders to sign as well.

I thank you for speaking out in defense of human rights and in standing up for The America We Believe In.

09 November 2006

Rumsfeld is gone, but don't let him off the hook

Yesterday, we learned that Donald Rumsfeld would be stepping down as Defense Secretary.

But, even though he will be out of the picture, we must not let him off the hook. He must be held accountable for any role he played in authorizing the abuse and torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, etc.

A handful of low-level soldiers are in jail for carrying out the abuse, as they should be. But the official approval of the interrogation techniques came from much higher up the chain of command.

The buck doesn't stop at Lynndie England.

08 November 2006

Congratulations, America! (Now let's get busy.)

Most of the results are in.

The people have woken up and have spoken up.

We've put some checks and balances back into the government.

We've got our first woman Speaker of the House.

And, here in my own state of Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum got a pink slip. (Bye-bye, Ricky.)

Now let's get to work:

Health care, not torture.

Education, not warrentless wiretapping.

Diplomacy, not bullying.

Peace, not wars of aggression based on lies.

Real measures to secure our homeland.

And no more rubber stamps on Bush's heinous policies.

Fingers crossed that the Dems win the still-undecided Senate races in Montana and Virginia. In the meantime, we're off to a good start.

07 November 2006

Stop reading and vote!

If you are reading this, you need to get your priorities straight.

This is Election Day. You shouldn't be reading, you should be voting.

If you have already voted, good for you, but that's still no excuse. Stop reading and get out there and make sure that all your friends, neighbors, and family members are voting.

For purposes of this blog, that's all that matters today.

Let's change the course.

06 November 2006

Freedom video: Watch it, share it, and then vote

Click here to watch an excellent video that summarizes the legacy of the Bush administration and this rubber-stamp Congress.

Share it with everyone you know.

And then keep it in mind when you vote tomorrow.

It's your patriotic duty.

Bush tries to bar detainees from talking about interrogations

Here they go again, trying to shoot the messenger.

In an article Saturday from the Washington Post, "[t]he Bush administration has told a federal judge that terrorism suspects held in secret CIA prisons should not be allowed to reveal details of the 'alternative interrogation methods' that their captors used to get them to talk."

In other words, the Bush administration doesn't want the detainees to reveal how they may have been tortured.

If we don't hear about it, it didn't happen.

This is obscene.

05 November 2006

Saddam sentenced to hang. Now beware the post-sentencing propaganda.

Today, as expected, Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death for crimes against humanity. [Read story.]

I expect that it will be just a matter of hours until George W. Bush gets in front of a camera to take credit yet again for "liberating" the Iraqi people.

Bush will tell us how justice is now being served, and how we are heroes to the Iraqi people. But he will not mention the tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi men, women, and babies who have died under Bush's occupation.

We will likely see staged pictures of Iraqis celebrating Saddam's death sentence. But these scenes will ignore the raging civil war in progress there.

Now let me repeat (yet again) that Saddam was a very bad man, and he should indeed be held accountable for his crimes. But there are a lot of brutal dictators in the world. The fact that Saddam was one of them is no excuse to violate international law, thumb your nose at the United Nations Security Council, wage an unprovoked war of aggression against a nation that posed not threat to the U.S., and kill more than 2,800 of our troops.

But Bush will make it seem as though the ends justify the means.

With the mid-term elections only two days away, I hope the voters don't fall for this nonsense again.

04 November 2006

Amnesty's new video on the Military Commissions Act

Amnesty International has released a short (minute-and-a-half) man-on-the-street video outlining some of the problems with the Military Commissions Act. Check it out.

This is part of Amnesty's campaign to restore "The America I Believe In" -- the America that doesn't torture people or use cruel, inhumane treatment. . . doesn't hold people without charge, without fair trials, without hope, and without end. . . doesn't kidnap people off the street and ship them to nations known for their brutality. . . doesn't condone prisoner abuse and excuse high-ranking government officials from responsibility for that abuse. . . doesn't justify the use of secret prisons. . . and does not rob people of their basic dignity.

We must not give up the fight for the America we believe in.

03 November 2006

The truth comes out: Female U.S. soldier in Iraq commits suicide after objecting to torture

Army Specialist Alyssa Peterson is another kind of martyr in Bush's illegal, misguided, deception-based war in Iraq.

She was trained in interrogation techniques, and she spoke Arabic. And so she was shipped off to Iraq.

But the young intelligence expert quickly recognized that the interrogation practices going on in Iraq weren't right. She refused to participate. So they reassigned her to the base gate, where she monitored Iraqi guards. But the moral dilemma was still too much for her. And she shot herself.

That was three years ago. And we've just now learned the truth surrounding the circumstances of her death. [Read story.]

What a shame that we lose this kind of person -- someone with a conscience, someone willing to take a stand against torture.

And we are left with those who go out of their way to justify the atrocious crimes against humanity that the wise and compassionate Specialist Peterson could no longer bear.

02 November 2006

Kerry's real mistake

John Kerry should have kept his mouth shut. There's still too much stigma left over from 2004.

Don't get me wrong, I admire Kerry. But, in this campaign season, he should have kept quiet. At the very least, he shouldn't have tried to tell a joke in public that puts anyone down for their intellectual shortcomings, be it the president, the troops, or anyone. That's not how you win the hearts and minds of everyday people. And doing so just propagates the Republicans' contention that Kerry, and Democratic leaders in general, are a bunch of pompous intellectual elitists. That image (however exaggerated and distorted) turned a lot of people off in 2004, and it will likely turn some people off this year. The Dems face enough other challenges this year. They don't need a replay of this one.

But it's done, and now we can only hope that it dies a quick death.

On a very different note, last evening the great Keith Olbermann delivered a masterful rant about the situation. Check it out.

01 November 2006

Bush scares the voters with deja vu

Earlier this week, Bush did some campaigning for Republican candidates, and got everyone into a Halloween mood by resorting to tired old cliches to try to scare the votes out of the American people.

According to an article in the Washington Post, Bush told a Texas audience that "However they put it, the Democrat approach in Iraq comes down to this: The terrorists win and America loses."

Cute, especially in light of the fact that intelligence experts agree that Bush's approach in Iraq has fueled the terrorism threat.

So will the red-state sheep fall for it again this time? Will logic and reason again take a back seat to fear and gullibility?

31 October 2006

United States now ranks 53rd in world press freedom

So you think that the United States of America has freedom of the press?

Maybe you even believe those allegations of a liberal media bias?

Well, guess again.

Sure, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution dictates that "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press..."

And they haven't.

But that doesn't keep journalists from being persecuted for challenging the White House's talking points.

The U.S. now ranks an embarrassing 53rd in the fifth annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders.

According to this evaluation, Panama has more press freedom than the U.S. So do Trinidad and Tobago. So do Bosnia and Herzegovina. So does Estonia.

30 October 2006

Death of a President: Fiction that needs to stay that way

The controversial new movie Death of a President has received very mixed reviews. But I believe that every American should see it.

It's a work of fiction that needs to stay that way. It depicts the course of events that could very well happen if George W. Bush were to be assassinated before the end of his term.

In the movie, Bush's death provides an excuse for the further erosion of our Constitutional rights. Patriot Act 3 is passed, which would probably make me eligible for a one-way ticket to Guantanamo just for writing this. (What a shame that orange is not my best color.)

A Syrian Muslim is wrongly convicted of the assassination (an African-American suicide victim, who has just lost a son in Iraq, appears to be the real culprit), but Jamal is deprived of any opportunity to appeal his wrongful conviction. Under the circumstances, exonerating a Muslim would be unpatriotic.

And we can only guess at the other atrocities that might result from a Cheney administration (presumably with Rice as Vice President, although this wasn't clearly laid out in the movie).

Judging from recent history, these scenarios could well happen under the given circumstances. Or, there could be an even worse scenario. I hope we never have to find out.

We need a change in Washington. If we can restore the system of checks and balances with next week's mid-term elections, and keep the momentum going, we can save this country.

If not, I fear that this new movie -- or something very much like it -- could someday end up on the History Channel.

29 October 2006

Pope flip-flops on clergy sex abuse?

An article yesterday by the Associated Press tells us that "Pope Benedict XVI said Saturday that the church must urgently rebuild confidence and trust damaged by clerical sex abuse scandals, which have created deep wounds."

The Pope is quoted as saying that "it is important to establish the truth of what happened in the past, to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent it from occurring again, to ensure that the principles of justice are fully respected and, above all, to bring healing to the victims and to all those affected by these egregious crimes."

Principles of justice???!!!! Since when?

Has he forgotten how, in 2002, when we still knew him as Cardinal Ratzinger, he discounted the issue, referring to the media coverage of clergy sex abuse as a plot to discredit the Church?

And has he forgotten how, just last year, he asked George W. Bush to grant him immunity for prosecution for covering up these kinds of crimes?

And, by the way, Bush complied. So Bush clearly doesn't care about the welfare of the young victims any more than the Pope does.

Everyone, especially Catholics, should see the new documentary film Deliver Us From Evil. It tells the true story of a priest who molested and/or raped countless children (including a nine-month-old baby) over the course of three decades. The Church, instead of taking the priest out of public service (and away from kids) and getting him some treatment, chooses instead to move him around from diocese to diocese. And, in each place, Father O'Grady treats himself to a fresh new crop of victims.

At the film's climax, two of O'Grady's victims, now grown, travel to the Vatican to hand-deliver a letter of protest to the Pope. The Pope refuses to see them.

Everyone, especially Catholics should be very, very angry.

And how would Jesus feel about this kind of behavior by those who supposedly represent Him on earth?

27 October 2006

Cheney confirms that detainees were tortured

He just doesn't call it that.

According to an article by McClatchy Newspapers and published on the Common Dreams site,

Vice President Dick Cheney has confirmed that U.S. interrogators subjected captured senior al-Qaida suspects to a controversial interrogation technique called "water-boarding," which creates a sensation of drowning.

Cheney indicated that the Bush administration doesn't regard water-boarding as torture and allows the CIA to use it. "It's a no-brainer for me," Cheney said at one point in an interview.

Cheney's comments, in a White House interview on Tuesday with a conservative radio talk show host, appeared to reflect the Bush administration's view that the president has the constitutional power to do whatever he deems necessary to fight terrorism.

In other words, it's not torture if the Bush administration redefines what constitutes torture.

Never mind the fact that everyone else in the world considers it torture, and a grave abuse of human rights, and prohibited under a long list of U.S. and international laws and treaties.

Fortunately, as the article demonstrates, people realize this:

The U.S. Army, senior Republican lawmakers, human rights experts and many experts on the laws of war, however, consider water-boarding cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment that's banned by U.S. law and by international treaties that prohibit torture. Some intelligence professionals argue that it often provides false or misleading information because many subjects will tell their interrogators what they think they want to hear to make the water-boarding stop.

Republican Sens. John Warner of Virginia, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have said that a law Bush signed last month prohibits water-boarding. The three are the sponsors of the Military Commissions Act, which authorized the administration to continue its interrogations of enemy combatants.

Graham, a military lawyer who serves in the Air Force Reserve, reaffirmed that view in an interview last week with McClatchy Newspapers.

"Water-boarding, in my opinion, would cause extreme physical and psychological pain and suffering, and it very much could run afoul of the War Crimes Act," he said, referring to a 1996 law. "It could very much open people up to prosecution under the War Crimes Act, as well as be a violation of the Detainees Treatment Act."

A revised U.S. Army Field Manual published last month bans water-boarding as "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment."

But the torture continues, and the Bushies make no apologies. Because Bush and Cheney believe that they are above the law. They think they can do whatever they please, as long as they tell us that they're doing it to protect the American people.

The truth, however, is that the Bush administration has made us less safe.

We cannot win the "war on terror" if we're regarded as aggressors and torturers.