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.