31 January 2007

RIP Molly Ivins

I learned a few days ago that columnist Molly Ivins was hospitalized in a battle with cancer. Unfortunately, the news tonight is that she has lost that battle.

As an op-ed columnist myself, I've been influenced by many: Maureen Dowd, Bob Herbert, Mark Morford. But most of all, I've been challenged and inspired by the work of Molly Ivins. I learned so much from each of her columns, always knowing that, no matter how much I grew as a writer, I could never come close to Molly's wit, insight, and style. No one could.

In a column last August, right-wing pundit Ann Coulter offered the following Q&A:
Q: How would your career be different if you looked like Molly Ivins?

A: I'd be a lot uglier.
No, Ann. Molly was a far more beautiful person in every way that matters.

Rest in peace, Molly. You will be missed.

I did not write that letter to The New York Times

I've written a lot of letters to the editors of a lot of newspapers through the years. But, to date, I have not submitted a letter to The New York Times since November of 2005. (I keep meticulous records of all submissions.)

But today, apparently, somebody submitted one for me.

Imagine my surprise when I received the standard form e-mail from The Times saying:
Thank you for your letter to The New York Times.

If your letter is selected for publication, we will contact you within a week. We regret that because of the volume of letters received, we are not able to respond to all submissions, other than by this automated reply.
Et cetera.

In some e-mail software, it's easy enough to change the "From" address so that the e-mail will appear to have originated from a different address. And someone apparently rigged a letter to look like it was coming from me.

I responded to The Times to let them know that it was a fraudulent submission, along with a request that they forward to me the letter that was submitted, with full headers, so that I can trace its real origin. But I suspect that their letters editor might be to busy to read every reply to their routine form letter.

So I hereby go on record to state that I did not write that letter to The Times, whatever it might say.

And hopefully the real sender didn't rig the contact information to allow him/her to verify authorship on my behalf, should The Times choose to print it. I really don't have time to take that person to court.

New torture stories from Abu Ghraib

There's a shocking new video out there in which an alleged former Abu Ghraib prison guard brags and laughs about how they tortured the prisoners. It includes the story of how they gang-raped a female teenage detainee until she hung herself.

[Read more, and watch the video.]

The proverbial jury is still out on whether this guy is for real or not; but, in any case, he's definitely sick.

Olbermann exposes SOTU terror lies

Last night on MSNBC's Countdown, Keith Olbermann exposed George W. Bush's terror-related lies in last week's State of the Union address.

[Check it out.]

Bush uses alarmist rhetoric, Olbermann uses facts.

Who would you believe?

30 January 2007

Only humans should suffer: The end-of-life double standard

On Monday, here in Philadelphia, Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro was euthanized after an eight-month battle with complications from a leg injury he had suffered at the Preakness.

Philadelphia mourns. And apparently the world mourns, too, as the news of this beloved horse's death has reached newspapers and TV sets around the nation and beyond.

With his Kentucky Derby win, Barbaro became no less a Philly sports hero than Eagle Donovan McNabb. But there's one big difference: If a football player (or your uncle Joe) were to suffer a terminal injury that left him dying a slow death in constant excruciating pain that even modern medicine could not control, he would just have to suffer.

As of this writing, Oregon is the only state in the U.S. that allows physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients in pain who want to die with dignity on their own terms. Efforts to pass similar legislation in other states have failed, due in no small part to challenges by those who confuse a "culture of life" with a culture of forced suffering.

In reality, despite concerns by opponents of the Oregon law who feared that it would lead to a widespread rush to die, only 246 terminally ill patients used the law to end their lives from the time the law was implemented in 1998 through the end of 2005. That's an average of about one in 1,000 deaths in that state during that timeframe. These patients found a quick, painless, and certain end to their intolerable suffering, and were spared weeks or months of agony. And their families were spared the anguish of watching their loved ones suffer a painful and prolonged death.

In addition to Oregon, physician-assisted suicide is currently legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Switzerland. Everywhere else, the terminally ill are forced to endure sometimes horrific pain at the end of life, or end their misery with a plastic bag, a noose, or some other undignified means. And those sad, desperate acts will continue as long as so-called "pro-life" factions keep fighting attempts to widen the acceptance of physician-assisted suicide and provide more people with the power to choose a comfortable death over a horrible, lingering, painful one.

What it boils down to is this: While life is precious and should not be thrown away lightly, modern medical science cannot yet provide adequate pain control in all dying patients, even in the best hospices.

While physicians do take an oath to "do no harm", is it not harmful to force a dying patient to suffer a slow, lingering death against his or her will, perhaps kept alive artificially with respirators and feeding tubes?

When a pet (or a racehorse) becomes ill to the point where it is near death or suffering uncontrollably, a veterinarian will not think twice before recommending that the animal be euthanized, to put it out of its misery. In our society, this is regarded as the kind thing to do.

So why do we treat our dying animals with more mercy than we give our dying people?

Ronald Reagan and the Salvadoran baby skulls

I've written before about the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, where our military teaches the art of torture to Latin American thugs.

And we all know about Iran-Contra.

But apparently Ronald Reagan's involvement in Latin American crimes against humanity didn't end there.

A new article at Consortiumnews.com goes into some horrific detail regarding how Reagan "justified and facilitated the barbarity that raged through Central America in the 1980s, claiming the lives of tens of thousands of peasants, clergy and students, men, women and children."

Read it: Reagan & the Salvadoran Baby Skulls

29 January 2007

My redeployment epiphany

I used to think that we had an obligation to stay in Iraq for a while, to rebuild the country that we have destroyed over the past four years. As a human rights advocate, my primary concern is for the wellbeing of the innocent Iraqi civilians. Don't we owe them a rebuilt infrastructure, rebuilt homes, rebuilt schools, and rebuilt lives? You break it, you fix it. It's only fair.

But, with each passing day, I find myself thinking more and more that it's time to cut our losses - and the losses of the Iraqi people - and bring our troops home, along with all those corporate contractors who are getting rich off the blood of the war dead.

On May 1, 2003, George W. Bush stood in his Halloween costume and codpiece on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln and declared, "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed."


If that were true, then May 2, 2003, was the time to start rebuilding. Instead, we kept on destroying more and more of Iraq, and killing and maiming more and more innocent Iraqis, until they finally got fed up and started fighting back in a so-called insurgency.

Then, on June 20, 2005, Dick Cheney proclaimed, "I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency."


If that were true, then June 21, 2005, was the time to start rebuilding. Instead, our troops kept fighting just to stay alive, and to maintain some degree of order in the green zone. The rest of Iraq was by then a powder keg. If anything, it was any semblance of a burgeoning unified Iraqi democracy that was in its last throes.

And now Bush wants to keep on killing, so much so that he is going to send another 21,500 troops into that situation where we're not wanted. That's 21,500 more targets. 21,500 more lives in the balance.

Four years ago, Bush told us that we were going to Iraq to liberate the Iraqi people from the repressive regime of Saddam Hussein. And now the "insurgents" are fighting to liberate the Iraqi people from the repressive regime of George W. Bush.

We've done enough damage. Rebuilding is not on the table. The American people want us out of Iraq. The Iraqi people want us out of Iraq. The Iraqi government wants us out of Iraq. And we have no legitimate reason to stay.

Furthermore, we can leave Iraq without leaving a hopeless mess behind, if only we can do it right, and that means diplomacy.

To that end, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) seems to have the solution, in the form of H.R. 508, which will "require United States military disengagement from Iraq, [and] provide United States assistance for reconstruction and reconciliation in Iraq."

This bill would bring our troops home from Iraq within a six-month timeframe. During that timeframe, the bill would accelerate the training of a permanent Iraqi security force.

It would rescind the Congressional authorization for the war in Iraq.

Upon request from the Iraqi government, the bill would authorize U.S. support for an international stabilization force. Surely an international force, perhaps under the auspices of the United Nations, would do a better job of stabilizing Iraq than we could. The UN has its problems, but they're not the Bush White House.

Also worth mentioning, the bill would prohibit the construction of permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq. This could be the greatest step of all in the "war on terror". After all, it's the presence of U.S. military bases on Arab-Islamic land (not that they "hate our freedom") that was the primary motivator of Osama bin Laden's jihad against America.

And the bill would ensure that the U.S. has no long-term control over Iraqi oil. Sorry, Halliburton. Sorry, Exxon. Sorry, Chevron. The free lunch is over. Under this plan, Iraq (and its oil) would once again belong to the Iraqis.

And maybe then they could truly be liberated, maybe even by July 4th. What a fabulous coincidence it would be if that date could go down in history as an Independence Day for the Iraqis, too.

John Dean on Gonzales's disgraceful testimony to the Senate

John Dean served as White House Counsel in the Nixon administration. He knows a misguided government when he sees one.

In an article at FindLaw.com, Dean writes that "Gonzales's latest testimony provided a micro-moment of how the Bush/Cheney Administration does business, and how it plays fast and loose with Americans' fundamental rights."

[Read more.]

28 January 2007

Peace signs in Washington

Yesterday, tens (if not hundreds) of thousands patriotic Americans descended on the National Mall in front of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, DC, to call on Congress to end the war in Iraq.

We heard speeches by everyday activists, war veterans, Congressional reps, and Hollywood stars.

Rep. John Conyers reminded us that "George W. Bush can't fire us [the Congress], but we can fire him."

Rep. Lynn Woolsey asked us to lobby for passage of her H.R. 508 legislation, to bring all U.S. troops home within 6 months.

Medea Benjamin chanted that the women of American say "PULL OUT NOW!"

Susan Sarandon called on the VA to start providing adequate care for our returning vets.

And Sean Penn demanded that Congress stand up and pass an anti-war resolution as binding as the death toll.

The crowd waved signs ranging from old standards like "WAR IS NOT THE ANSWER" and "BUSH LIED, THOUSANDS DIED" to new classics like "CUT FUNDING, CLOSE GITMO" and "SURGE PEACE".

But I think my favorite sign from yesterday's rally was the one that read: "LOOK, MA, THE EMPEROR HAS NO BRAINS".

27 January 2007

The state of human rights

On Tuesday, the day of George W. Bush's State of the Union address, Amnesty International USA released its human rights agenda for the new Congress.

An excerpt:
Amnesty International urges the Congress to make human rights a central force in foreign and domestic policy. The America we believe in would set an example in upholding international human rights and humanitarian law. It would embrace not only political and civil rights but also economic, social, and cultural rights, acting, for example, to protect the rights of Gulf coast residents displaced by hurricane Katrina, and it would seek to join the community of nations that have abolished the death penalty. The America we believe in would be a steadfast voice for the voiceless and it would offer consistent advocacy for freedom and justice for all. The America we believe in leads the world on human rights.

Restore US Leadership on Human Rights: End Abuses Related to the War on Terror, Uphold Rights in the United States

The America we believe in would close Guantanamo and restore Habeas Corpus, it would not tolerate torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, it would end Extraordinary Renditions and disclose Secret Prisons, and it would prevent the profiling of individuals based solely on their race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin.

- Guantanamo has come to symbolize US human rights violations committed in the name of the "war on terror." Since January 11, 2002, the United States has detained over 750 men from over 45 nations in Guantanamo. Despite allegations of torture and ill-treatment, international condemnation, three deaths in custody, several unfavorable court decisions, and not a single conviction of a detainee for any crime, the US government has responded by building more permanent facilities. No amount of permanent structures will make the detentions at Guantanamo lawful -- it is time to shut it down. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) broke its habitual silence in 2003 to express its concern about the impact of such prolonged indefinite detention, and, in a 2004 confidential report that was leaked to the press, the ICRC charged that the US intentionally engaged in methods "tantamount to torture" against prisoners held at Guantanamo. There are increasing concerns about the deteriorating mental health of detainees due to increasingly harsh conditions of isolation. It is time to bring America back into the community of nations as a country that is recognized globally for upholding human rights and the rule of law. Congress should ensure that all detainees in Guantanamo be charged immediately and given a fair trial, or released unconditionally and not sent anywhere where they would face torture or other human rights abuses. Congress should conduct oversight hearings on current conditions for detainees and ongoing policies.

- Interrogation techniques that rise to the level of torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment (CID) or violate Common Article 3 are strictly prohibited from use by the US military and any person in a Department of Defense facility as of December 2006. This was made clear by the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA), a Supreme Court decision (Hamdan), and the Army Field Manual regulations that apply to all services. Since the vast majority of people in detention are in DoD facilities this is a significant step forward. The CIA is bound by the prohibition on CID through the DTA and bound by Common Article 3 according to the Supreme Court (Hamdan decision). However, the Military Commission Act (MCA) of 2006 leaves ambiguous the available interrogation techniques and the future of secret detentions. Vice President Cheney’s dismissive comments on "waterboarding" (explicitly prohibited in the Army Field Manual, for example) as a "no brainer" technique for use is a clear indication that more needs to be done. Congress should amend the MCA to restore provisions of the War Crimes Act that criminalize violations of Common Article 3, especially "outrages on personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment".

- The Bush Administration has defended its practice of taking suspects into secret prisons and has refused to specify the standards of treatment that apply to those held there. This practice amounts to secret incommunicado detention and may even qualify as conducting "disappearances." Congress should pass legislation to end the practice of using secret prisons, ensure that all persons in US custody or effective US control are subject to the protections against torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and standards encompassed in Common Article 3, and require that, at a minimum, anyone in US custody or effective US control be registered and visited by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

- The Writ of Habeas Corpus is a historic legal right to challenge one’s detention. It is considered a fundamental check on a government’s ability to detain people arbitrarily. The DTA stripped the right to habeas for Guantanamo detainees. The Supreme Court in the Hamdan decision stated that the DTA Habeas stripping was not retroactive. By implication, this decision allowed the hundreds of habeas cases that were already in place for Guantanamo detainees to go forward. The MCA, in a direct response to the Hamdan decision, applies to all foreign nationals held as unlawful enemy combatants by the United States, stripping them of habeas rights and the right to file any other type of case relating to their detention. Senator Specter introduced an amendment to remove this provision; the amendment failed by a vote of 48-51. The MCA blocked the cases of hundreds of detainees, many with deteriorating health conditions. The right to file a habeas case is extremely important when coupled with the overly broad definition of "unlawful enemy combatant," a status not recognized in international law. The definition allows the US government to designate a person an "unlawful enemy combatant" based on vague or tenuous connections, and does not require that the person be picked up on a battlefield or during an armed combat. The MCA must be amended to restore the centuries old right to Habeas, to narrow or reject the definition of what constitutes an "unlawful enemy combatant," and to restore the US reputation as upholding basic due process.

- Extraordinary Renditions have been used by the Bush Administration to send people for interrogation to countries notorious for using torture. The hypocritical message is that the US may oppose torture publicly, but will send suspects to a country that will torture for them. The United States must end the current practice of extraordinary renditions by providing critical safeguards and confirming that the prohibition on returns to a place where someone is likely to be tortured applies anywhere a person is in US custody or effective US control. For the past two years, the US Congress has passed amendments to annual appropriations bills to restrict the use of funding for renditions. A permanent fix in the form of legislation is needed.

- Racial profiling has historically been used to target the African American, Native American and Hispanic/Latino American community and, since September 11, 2001, law enforcement has increased the use of racial profiling of Arab American, Muslim American, and South Asian American communities. Under the US Constitution and international treaties, every person has the fundamental right to equal protection under the law regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin. Targeting people for law enforcement activity based solely on their race, religion, ethnicity, or national origin is humiliating, degrading, and discriminatory, and it has been proven to be an ineffective investigatory technique. Congress should pass an End Racial Profiling Act to ban the use of racial profiling in federal, state, and local law enforcement.
Read more.

Take Action: Tell Congress to support this human rights agenda.

26 January 2007

George W. Bush is not pro-life

First, let me say that I have never liked the term "pro-life". It's been hijacked by the anti-choice crowd to imply that those of us who support a woman's right to reproductive choice are somehow "anti-life". But, in my 40-plus years, I've never met someone who was truly anti-life. Except maybe George W. Bush and whatever might remain of his followers.

George W. Bush and his cohorts frequently talk about a "culture of life". But actions speak louder than words. You can't be pro-life and yet orchestrate so much death and suffering at the same time. Sooner or later, someone is going to notice.

If you can publicly condemn the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and yet do nothing to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission to protect this country from future attacks, then you are not pro-life.

If you can use the attacks of 9/11 as an excuse to launch a war of aggression, based on lies, against an unarmed country that posed no threat to us, killing countless innocent civilians, then you are not pro-life.

If you can send other people's children (but never your own) into that unnecessary and unjustified war without the equipment they need to protect themselves, then you are not pro-life.

If you can add insult to injury by telling our brave troops to their faces that "you have to go to war with the army you have, not the army you want", then you are not pro-life.

If you can thumb your nose at the Geneva Conventions and other international and domestic humanitarian laws and standards, and play semantic games to justify the denial of due process and the abuse and torture of human beings, then you are not pro-life.

If you can insist on tax cuts for multi-millionaires, while 13 million children in this country suffer from hunger due to poverty, then you are not pro-life.

If you can spend your time protecting pharmaceutical companies' profits by keeping drug prices high and preventing foreign (even Canadian) competition, while 12 million seniors are forced to choose between medicine and food, then you are not pro-life.

If you can pull strings for corporations that pollute the environment, censor the scientists, and deny the threat to the health of our children and our planet, then you are not pro-life.

If you can insist on abstinence-only sex education, and thereby deny the critical disease prevention information that our young people need to avoid AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases should they succomb to their hormones and stray from your mandated path of abstinence, then you are not pro-life.

If you can deny funding for stem cell research that would ease the suffering of countless victims of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and other diseases, even though the needed stem cells would come from embryonic remains that would otherwise be tossed into the trash, then you are not pro-life.

If you can casually sign death warrants while ignoring mitigating evidence, and publicly mock death row inmates who plead for clemency, as George W. Bush did while governor of Texas, then you are not pro-life.

No, Mr. Bush and his cronies can talk all they want to about their so-called "culture of life". But their rhetoric does not mean that they are truly pro-life. In fact, they are merely pro-birth. Once you're born, you're on your own, and heaven help you (unless, of course, you're lucky enough to be born rich).

And, perhaps worst of all, I really don't think they care.

EPA set to abandon 30 years of air quality control. Take action!

In a recent statement, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) pointed out that the EPA is apparently doing the opposite of its job. The EPA is set to stop controlling emissions of lead.

According to the USC's statement:
Lead is one of the most harmful toxins on Earth and is especially hazardous for children. Incredibly, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering removing lead entirely from the list of pollutants it controls under the Clean Air Act.
[Read more.]

Note that "EPA" is supposed to stand for "Environmental Protection Agency", not "Environmental Pollution Agency"!

This is very sad, but not surprising, as the Bush administration is notorious for undermining the legitimate purposes of the EPA. They apparently don't care about the quality of the air that their children and grandchildren will breathe.

But we don't have to stand for it. Click here to tell the EPA that it must continue to use the best available science to protect the air we breathe from dangerous lead pollution.

25 January 2007

Congress needs to get binding

Yesterday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a non-binding resolution rejecting Bush's plans to send additional U.S. troops to Iraq. Now the measure will go to the full Senate for a vote, where many Republican senators are expected to oppose it. [Read story.]

While I'm glad that the Senate is finally doing something to oppose Bush, this resolution is not enough. It's not binding. And Bush and Cheney have already told us that it's not going to keep them from moving forward.

A non-binding resolution is symbolic, but it does nothing to save the lives of our troops. Congress needs to do more. They need to find a binding way of reining in this war-crazed Bush administration. I like this solution proposed by Reps. Lynn Woolsey, Barbara Lee, and Maxine Waters. Here are some of Rep. Woolsey's remarks on the bill:

"The Congress has already appropriated funding that will support our troops and keep this occupation going for at least another six months. That funding instead should be used to finance an aggressive withdrawal plan that brings our troops home to their families. Our bill would do exactly that.

"Our plan will also…

1. Withdraw all U.S. troops and military contractors from Iraq within six months from date of enactment.

2. Prohibit any further funding to deploy, or continue to deploy U.S. troops in Iraq. The bill does, however, allow for funding to be used, as needed, to ensure a safe withdrawal of all US military personnel and contractors, diplomatic consultations. Funding may also be used for the increased training and equipping of Iraqi and international security forces.

3. Accelerate, during the six month transition, training of a permanent Iraqi security force.

4. Authorize, if requested by the Iraqi government, U.S. support for an international stabilization force. Such a force would be funded for no longer than two years, and be combined with economic and humanitarian assistance.

5. Guarantee full health care funding, including mental health, for U.S. veterans of military operations in Iraq and other conflicts.

"In addition the bill would:

6. Rescind the Congressional Authorization for the War in Iraq.

7. Prohibit the construction of permanent US military bases in the country.

8. Finally, we believe that Iraqi oil belongs to the Iraqis. Once the oil is in the international market, the U.S. will certainly have access to our share. That’s why our bill ensures that the U.S. has no long-term control over Iraqi oil.

"Our plan, with the exception of Veterans' benefits, will cost the American people pennies on the dollar as compared to continuing the occupation for two more years. It will save lives, bodies, and minds, and it will give Iraq back to the Iraqis. It is an important step in regaining our credibility in the region and throughout the world, and provides the President, and this Congress, with a comprehensive way to respond to the majority of Americans who want our troops to come home."
[Read the text of the bill (PDF).]

Does Congress have the strength and moral conviction to make this happen?

24 January 2007

Bush on the environment: Too little, too late?

In his State of the Union Address last evening, George W. Bush called for increasing our supply of renewable and alternative fuels. This is a noble goal, and an important step towards environmental responsibility, but it's not enough.

Bush continues to ignore the need for mandatory caps on industrial air emissions. To crack down on corporate pollutors would be to inconvenience his base.

Keeping his rich CEO buddies happy is apparently more important to George W. Bush than the air his grandchildren will breath.

23 January 2007

Spin of the Union (and a temporary remedy)

Tonight at 9:00 pm eastern time, George W. Bush will deliver his annual State of the Union Address. No doubt he will tell us how well things are going.

He will likely tell us that the economy is strong, even though many of us are deeper in debt, and saving less, than ever before.

It is likely that he will pay lip service to reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil and in favor of alternative energy, even though last year he cut funding for several leading energy-efficiency research programs.

And, of course, he will defend his decision to send more than 20,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq, in defiance of the wishes of pretty much everyone in the world except for Senator John McCain and a handful of other handmaidens of the Bush administration.

This speech will be very difficult to listen to. Bad for the blood pressure. But at least we have the 2007 State of the Union Drinking Game (for medicinal purposes, of course).

22 January 2007

Happy anniversary, Roe v. Wade

Today marks the 34th anniversary of the decision in Roe v. Wade that recognized a woman's constitutional right to reproductive choice.

Preserving that right, however, continues to be an uphill battle.

Below is a press release from the National Organization for Women (NOW) to commemorate this anniversary:

Roe v. Wade at 34: A Pillar of Reproductive Freedom

January 22, 2007

Today marks the 34th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that recognized a woman's constitutional right to abortion. The National Organization for Women, the first women's organization to call for an end to criminal abortion laws nearly 40 years ago, and a leader in the ongoing fight for reproductive rights, health and justice, salutes the doctors, counselors, clinic owners and activists who stand up every day for a woman's right to make her own childbearing decisions.

"We have endured more than three decades of challenges and roadblocks from a well-funded opposition, and our rights are more tenuous than ever -- but we are determined to fight, and we will not go back to the days when women had 12, 15, 18 children, often dying in childbirth, their bodies spent. Or they died in back alleys or dirty motel rooms, or were left injured and infertile after botched illegal abortions. Most of our grandmothers had no self-determination when it came to pregnancy and childbearing, and we are determined that our daughters will never suffer that fate," said NOW President Kim Gandy.

In the next few months, the U.S. Supreme Court will be deciding two cases regarding the deceptively-named Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Nine justices will determine the constitutionality of the first federal law ever to ban a medical procedure -- a law virtually identical to the Nebraska ban that was struck down by the Court in 2000 because it didn't have an exception to protect the woman's health. All eyes will be on the high court's two newest justices -- will they be devoted to precedent as they profess to be, or will they deviate from mainstream opinion and follow their own opposition to abortion? Also under close watch is Justice Anthony Kennedy, who voted to uphold the Nebraska ban seven years ago, and whose swing vote may determine whether the federal ban, already struck down by three federal courts of appeal, will become law.

"In this time of many challenges to our liberty, preserving women's reproductive freedom calls for constant vigilance and concerted action," said Gandy. "Abortion opponents are attempting to eliminate access to abortion in many states -- by passing TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws to put clinics out of business, passing waiting periods and notice requirements that cut access for rural women, poor women and young women, and by enacting outright abortion bans that would jail doctors and revoke their medical licenses."

As we mark 34 years of legal protection for abortion, we renew our determination to end the punitive Hyde Amendment, which 30 years ago decreed that Medicaid could not pay for a poor woman's abortion," said Gandy, "and which continues to this day to cause suffering and pain to those least able to provide for their own health care. We must ensure that not one more life is sacrificed by those who would force unwilling women to give birth, but who care little for children after they are born."

"A record number of women voters spoke in the 2006 midterm elections, protecting abortion rights in all three statewide ballot measures, and electing pro-women candidates to Congress. With Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, women's reproductive rights will be less of a gamble, but remain far from guaranteed," said Gandy.

In remembrance: read about women who died from illegal and unsafe abortions.

21 January 2007

Is this nation any longer a democracy?

I just received my February 5th issue of The Nation magazine. This week's cover is very powerful. No cartoonish illustrations, no biting headlines. Just the following text, in large, bold characters:

World opinion is against the US escalation in Iraq. The American people are against it. The Iraqi people are against it. The Iraqi government is against it. Can a single man force a nation to fight a war it does not want to fight, expand a war it does not want to expand? If he can, is that nation any longer a democracy in any meaningful sense? If not, how can democratic rule and the republican form of government be restored?

That pretty much says it all.

I think our only hope is that Congress will do everything in its power to stop this madness.

19 January 2007

Pentagon sets no-win rules for detainee trials; Amnesty responds

In yet another setback for human rights, the Pentagon now wants to allow hearsay evidence and coerced testimony in the trials of Guantanamo detainees. [Read story.]

Now imagine that you have been wrongfully imprisoned at Guantanamo, and those are the terms of your trial. It's your word against the the word of whatever uniformed individual might have a grudge against you that day.

In a press release yesterday, Jumana Musa of Amnesty International USA issued the following statement:

"If the goal is to bring people to justice, rather than tinkering with a system that was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court and hastily passed by Congress, the United States should use the system that is in place -- the federal courts, as their procedures meet fair trial standards. Amnesty International regrets that the Department of Defense declined to subject the new military commissions rules to a notice and comment period, which would have allowed relevant legal and human rights experts the opportunity to provide input into the system. Amnesty International has repeatedly raised concerns about the commissions rules and finds that with today?s revised rules there remain fundamental issues that will prevent these reconstituted military commissions from meeting internationally recognized fair trial standards.

"Although Congress has authorized this ill-advised system that gives fewer rights and protections to foreign nationals than to U.S. citizens, that does not guarantee that the system will pass judicial scrutiny. While there are some notable improvements over the old system that the Supreme Court struck down, the changes do not go far enough to ensure the due process rights of those who will face the system. Civilians picked up far from any battlefield still may be tried in a military system of justice, and defendants can be convicted on evidence obtained through coercion or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment that would be inadmissible in any other U.S. judicial forum. The commissions are not bound by any precedent or case law, making the mounting of an effective defense extremely difficult.

"Amnesty International renews its call to scrap the new military commissions system and instead to try people accused of terrorism-related offenses in federal court. Rather than proceed with these commissions, the United States should use established systems of justice whose standards meet the requirements for fair trials."

18 January 2007

Is Barack Obama not black enough for the right-wingnuts?!

Now that Senator Barack Obama has announced a presidential exploratory committee for a possible 2008 run, the right-wing pundits are launching new and creative attack strategies.

But apparently it's too much trouble to try to criticize Obama on the actual issues. So instead they're resorting to schoolyard tactics, and focusing on his racial makeup, as if it matters.

According to the watchdog group Media Matters for America:
On the January 16 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh called Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) a "half-minority" and said that "the media ... are in the midst of Obama-gasms" because "Barack Hussein Obama" has formed a presidential exploratory committee. Limbaugh called Obama "a half-minority" in the context of criticizing Obama for supporting his hometown Chicago Bears over the New Orleans Saints in the upcoming January 21 National Football Conference championship game.

Limbaugh presumably referred to Obama as a "half-minority" because of Obama's lineage: his father was black and born in Kenya, while his mother was white, born in Kansas. Similarly, conservative talk-radio host Brian Sussman previously characterized Obama as "Halfrican."
[Read story.]

In a way, it seems as though they're trying to make trouble based on the fact that Obama's black father hooked up with his white mother, because that kind of interracial hanky-panky might stir up the rednecks.

And this is supposed to be the 21st century. Amazing.

17 January 2007

What if the troops in Iraq don't want more funding?

At this point, a majority in Congress probably want us out of Iraq. But, understandably, they don't want to cut off funding for the war because doing so would be seen as "not supporting our troops".

But what if the troops themselves asked Congress to cut off funding for the war?

According to the January 16 edition of NPR's "All Things Considered", it's already happened:
[A]ctive-duty members of the U.S. armed forces visit Capitol Hill to present more than 1,000 signatures demanding that lawmakers cut off funding for the Iraq war. They say that most of the people who signed the Appeal for Redress have served in Iraq, while others expect to be sent there. Two House Democrats received the petition and promised to urge the entire House to consider it.
[Read more.]

16 January 2007

Is Exxon changing its evil ways?

I have been no fan of the Exxon Corporation ever since it so grossly mishandled the Exxon Valez oil spill. But no one is all bad or all good. And now, according to an article from MSNBC, Exxon is taking steps to cut its ties to global warming skeptics.

Some excerpts:
Oil major Exxon Mobil Corp. is engaging in industry talks on possible U.S. greenhouse gas emissions regulations and has stopped funding groups skeptical of global warming claims -- moves that some say could indicate a change in stance from the long-time foe of limits on heat-trapping gases.

Exxon, along with representatives from about 20 other companies, is participating in talks sponsored by Resources for the Future, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit. The think tank said it expected the talks would generate a report in the fall with recommendations to legislators on how to regulate greenhouse emissions.
"The fact that Exxon is trying to debate solutions, instead of whether climate change even exists, represents an important shift," said Andrew Logan, a climate expert at Ceres, a coalition of investors and environmentalists that works with companies to cut climate change risks.
[Read the complete story.]

15 January 2007

Barbara Boxer vs. Condi: We're all alone in this escalation

The New York Times last week published transcripts and audio of an exchange between Senator Barbara Boxer and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that took place during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Iraq.

During this hearing, Senator Boxer made a very interesting point -- that the U.S. is alone in our escalation of the war in Iraq. None of our so-called allies are increasing their military presence there. In fact, most (including Great Britain) are scaling back.

[Read the transcripts and/or listen to the audio.]

MLK vs. war

CODEPINK has produced a very moving Flash video of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking out against war.

[Check it out.]

Dr. King's words are every bit as relevant today as they were four decades ago.

In pursuit of Dr. King's dream

Today is Martin Luther King day in the U.S., and I awoke today wondering how, four decades after Dr. King did his great work, we still have racial prejudice and bigotry in this country.

Yes, Dr. King did a great deal for civil rights, but we still have a long way to go before his dream is fully realized. Today, it's not just about white vs. black, but also white vs. brown, and white vs. anyone who is different.

We must all work every day to promote tolerance and acceptance. We must all work every day towards achieving Dr. King's dream, in which all people "will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Your homework for today:

- Watch video of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

- Read the text of the speech.

14 January 2007

EU urged to lead on human rights as U.S. loses moral authority

It should come as no surprise.

The United States used to be regarded worldwide as a champion of human rights. But no more.

Despite Bush's gratuitous lip service to human rights and the rule of law, we no longer hold the moral high ground. The Bush administration's activities of the past 5+ years in the so-called "war on terror" have done so much damage to this country's reputation. We hold detainees indefinitely without charge or trial. We torture people. We invade countries that pose no immediate threat to us. We tap the phones and read the mail of our own citizens without bothering to obtain the required court warrants.

So Human Rights Watch is now urging the European Union to pick up the slack on human rights.

Upon releasing its Annual Report (which, appropriately enough, was released on January 11, which was the 5th anniversary of the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay), Human Rights Watch stated that
"The Bush administration has proven largely incapable of providing leadership on human rights."
"Since the US can't provide credible leadership on human rights, European countries must pick up the slack."
[Read the report.]

13 January 2007

Can Congress stop the war?

Despite the wishes of most Americans, George W. Bush is moving ahead with his escalation of the Iraq war.

Can Congress do something?

According to a report from the Center for American progress, there are some options that have been used in the past.

An excerpt:

[P]ast Congresses have chosen among several different policy levers to guide U.S. national security policy as it relates to the deployment of American troops. Broadly speaking, the Congress can:

* Condition, limit, or shape the timing and nature of troop deployments and the missions they are authorized to undertake;

* Cap the size of military deployments; and

* Prohibit funding for existing or prospective deployments.

Since 1970, there have been several instances in which these powers were exercised and passed into law by Congress. Several of these are detailed below. Each of these provisions reflects the basic fact that the Founding Fathers deliberately created a system of government containing branches that were both interdependent and competitive. Each has a specific role to play and each needs to respect the role of the other branches. While the president is commander-in-chief, Congress retains the power (with the consent of the president) to establish the laws by which the United States conducts foreign policy and more importantly, to decide whether the activities in which the president is engaged are deserving of the resources from the American people he requests to conduct those policies.

Additionally, there have been hundreds of amendments—which did not ultimately become law—where members of Congress sought to shape overseas deployments. These amendments reflect modern congressional understanding of Congress’s power and authority. In particular, there were a series of attempts by Republicans and Democrats throughout the 1990s to influence deployments in the Balkans. Though largely unsuccessful on policy grounds, the provisions—an illustrative list of which appear at the back of this document—were attempted by prominent Republicans and Democrats, many of whom remain involved in today’s debate on Congress’s role in national security policy. What was true then remains true now: Congress has an obligation to remain engaged on shaping national security policy.

The report provides several examples of these options being used in the past.

[Check it out.]

12 January 2007

Are we at war with Iran?

That's probably a rhetorical question.

I started watching Dubya's Wednesday night speech, but I had to turn off the television when he started blaming all our problems on Iran and Syria, because the whole thing was making me too angry.

Now, in today's edition of the British newspaper The Independent, I found an article titled Bush's tough tactics are a 'declaration of war' on Iran!

The article starts out as follows:

American forces stormed Iranian government offices in northern Iraq, hours after President George Bush issued a warning to Tehran that was described as a "declaration of war".

The soldiers detained six people, including diplomats, according to the Iranians, and seized documents and computers in the pre-dawn raid which was condemned by Iran. A leading UK-based Iran specialist, Ali Ansari, said the incident was an "extreme provocation". Dr Ansari said that Mr Bush's speech on future Iraq strategy amounted to "a declaration of war" on Iran.

"The risk is a wider war. Because of the underlying tensions, we are transferring from a 'cold war' into a 'hot war'," he said.

In his speech, the President accused Iran and Syria of providing material support for attacks on US troops, and vowed to stop the "flow of support" from across the border. "We will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq," he said.

Dr Ansari argued that the Bush administration had decided to confront Iran at a time when public opinion has been focused on the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. "There's been a shift of emphasis without anyone noticing," he said.
[Read the complete article.]

No wonder terrorists around the world want to attack American interests, like this morning's rocket attack on the U.S. embassy in Athens.

Hopefully the new Congress will do something quickly to put an end to Bush's imperialistic aggression. We cannot let this continue for another two years.

11 January 2007

Gitmo's unhappy anniversary

Five years ago today, the U.S. began detaining terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay.

The Bush administration chose Guantanamo as the location for this detention facility in an attempt to hold detainees beyond the reach of U.S. and international law. For five years, the vast majority of these men have been held in indefinite detention, without charge or trial. For five years, we have heard stories of torture and ill-treatment. And for five years, we have been assured that these detainees were captured "on the battlefield" and represent the "worst of the worst".

Yet the U.S. government's own tribunals have determined that over half of those detained never committed any hostile acts against the United States. And most of those held at Guantanamo were not captured on any battlefield, but were handed over to the U.S. by others in exchange for cash rewards. Undoubtedly, this practice of paying bounties for prisoners has led to mistakes; yet for five years the U.S. government has denied that these men have the basic right to challenge their detentions.

The past five years have been a degrading experience, both for Guantanamo Bay detainees and for the United States. It is time for the U.S. government to end this unhealthy attachment to Guantanamo Bay. We should close Guantanamo, and either charge and fairly try the detainees, or release them. Five years of lawlessness is too long.

10 January 2007

Big Brother goes online -- with YOU!

It's not enough that the feds are tapping our phones and reading our mail. Now they want your Internet provider to report on every website you visit. [Read story.]

If they get their way, keep in mind that your visits to those porn sites might not be so private anymore.

09 January 2007

Why I oppose the draft

With George W. Bush possibly calling for tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops to be sent to Iraq, I have to wonder where all these troops will come from.

For now, I am told, some will be redeployed to Iraq from elsewhere. But the U.S. military is already stretched too thin. So they'll also continue with the "backdoor draft", extending the stay of those troops already in Iraq, even though these kids are tired and stressed and deserve to go home. They'll simply ignore the fact that people cannot function at their best in those conditions.

And there have been rumors of bringing back the draft. As of this writing, the official Selective Service website (www.sss.gov) is displaying a message on its main page indicating that no draft is on the horizon. But what's true today might not be true tomorrow.

For a while, I kind of liked the idea of reinstating the draft. It might level the playing field, so that it won't just be the poor kids with few options in life who are entering the military. A senator's kid would be just as vulnerable. Would a senator be as likely to vote for war if his own son or daughter might have to do the fighting?

But then I talked with a young man in his 20s, whose future might hang in the balance if the draft is reinstated. He opposes the draft, not because he might be called on to fight, but rather because he might be called on to fight an unnecessary and poorly planned war of aggression based on lies.

The more I thought about it, the more I found myself in agreement.

After the attacks of 9/11, men and women were flocking to the military recruiting stations to sign up to fight the terrorists who caused the attacks. It was payback time. They had a righteous mission, they had an identifiable enemy (al-Qaeda), and they were pumped. No draft needed.

If the mission had stayed on track, perhaps the military recruiters would not be having such a hard time meeting their quotas today. But nobody wants to sign up to be a target for insurgents in George W. Bush's ill-conceived war of lies. Who can blame them? And how could we sleep at night if our tax dollars supported a draft system that forced them to go?

So, the more I think about it, the more I see no reason for a draft. As we learned after 9/11, a military that's employed honorably to defend this country against real, genuine threats will naturally attract plenty of enthusiastic men and women who are passionately committed to the cause. You can't force that kind of enthusiasm.

Perhaps all our senators and congressmen should use a simple litmus test before waging future wars: Ignore all the war-drum propaganda and check all the facts. Then, if you can enthusiastically send your own son or daughter off to battle, and if he or she concurs, then vote in favor of the war and point your kid to the recruiting office. Otherwise, you're just a chickenhawk. And it's time to clip those chickenhawk wings.

08 January 2007

Pentagon confirms that Bush's new Iraq strategy won't work; Bush likely won't care.

According to an article from Capitol Hill Blue, "Pentagon planners have examined President George W. Bush's 'new' plan for his failed Iraq war and most agree on one key point: It won't work."

The situation in Iraq is not just a military one, it's a political one as well. You can't solve it by brute military force alone. You need diplomacy.

But, as we've seen time and time again, the Bush administration doesn't do diplomacy. They just use force.

So many more U.S. troops will be killed or maimed, along with many more innocent Iraqi civilians -- because George W. Bush is too stubborn to stop the cowboy act, listen to the experts, and do things right.

I hope the Dems now in control of Congress will find ways to put some limits on Bush's insane agenda. We cannot let this madness continue. There are too many lives in the balance.

07 January 2007

Iraq PM discounts the right to a fair trial

An article by the BBC quotes Iraq's Prime Minister Maliki as defending the execution of Saddam Hussein by saying, "The decision was implemented after a just trial which the dictator did not deserve as the crimes he committed against the people, the country and its institutions were disgraceful."

What? Saddam did not deserve a just trial?!

Sorry, Mr. Maliki, but the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has an equal right to due process, and to a fair and just public trial, regardless of the gravity or nature of the crimes of which he is accused.

Who is Maliki to decide who does or does not deserve a fair trial?

And where do you draw the line?

06 January 2007

Did Cheney order the Pentagon to draft nuclear war plans against Iran?

Here we go again, only this time with nukes.

I hope this isn't true, but I just became aware of an article dated August 1, 2005, in The American Conservative that alleges that Dick Cheney had ordered the Pentagon to draft a nuclear option to be used against Iran if there is another attack on the U.S. -- regardless of whether or not Iran is involved in the attack (which it probably would not be). [Read story.]

Heaven help us all.

05 January 2007

Bush wants to open your mail

Warrantless arbitrary wiretapping wasn't enough for George W. Bush. Now he wants to read your mail, too -- but without the hassle of obtaining the necessary court warrant as required by law. [Read story.]

You see, Bush believes that he is above the law. He can just issue a signing statement, and then the laws of mortal men no longer apply to him. He can tap your phone; he can read your mail; and he can decide for no reason that you're an "enemy combatant" and send you off to Gitmo to be tortured with no legal recourse. The sky's the limit.

And this is the so-called leader of the "free" world. Doesn't that leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy and proud to be an American?

04 January 2007

Maliki has had enough

It has been said that you can't force democracy at gunpoint. And we've got lots of info from Iraq these days to back up that assertion.

But here's one that carries some serious weight: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki wants to quit. He's apparently tired of being Bush's puppet (and punching bag) in an unrealistic no-win situation. [Read story.]

If Maliki were to quit, who would replace him? Would things be any different under a new PM? Would a new and stronger PM perhaps be what's needed to build up some home-grown security in Iraq? For the sake of all the innocent Iraqi civilians who have already suffered way too much, I hope the situation there is not a completely lost cause.

03 January 2007

"Sacrifice": Olberman lets loose against Bush's planned troop surge

In his special comment last night on his MSNBC show Countdown, Keith Olbermann gave Bush a good verbal slapping over Bush's intention to send more troops to Iraq.

It's a must-see: Check it out.

Heading it off at the pass: Debunking media myths and falsehoods as Dems launch their "100 hours" plan

I wrote previously about Nancy Pelosi's plans for legislation to be implemented in the first 100 hours of the 110th Congress.

Well, the new Congress will be sworn in tomorrow, and then it's time to let that agenda roll. And, of course, the right-wing pundits will be standing by to critique the process every step of the way.

But, never fear -- Media Matters for America has put together a list of the various myths and falsehoods that the right-wingers are likely to propagate, along with well-referenced facts to prove them wrong.

[Do your homework, and check it out.]

And let the games begin.

02 January 2007

Bush's 10 most outrageous civil liberties violations of 2006

Over the past couple of weeks, we've seen countless top-10 lists for the past year. Until today, I've resisted posting any of them here (or creating my own). But a friend just sent me this link to a top-10 list that I really feel is worth sharing, since it speaks to a topic that is very near and dear to my heart.

From Slate: The Bill of Wrongs -- The 10 most outrageous civil liberties violations of 2006

Saddam is dead,and so are many unaddressed international issues

I'm no conspiracy theorist. I don't buy into the assertion that the Bush administration (or the CIA, or whoever) played a hand in the rush to execute Saddam Hussein so that he could not be tried on any further charges in which the Reagan administration (or other U.S. officials) could be implicated.

But it's obvious that most people don't realize how much the U.S. aided Saddam Hussein's regime back when it was served the Washington agenda du jour.

In a recent column at truthout.org, William Rivers Pitt does a good job of summing up a lot of this stuff. Read it: Hussein the Rabbit

01 January 2007

New York Times vs. Gitmo

Yesterday's New York Times contains a very good (but deeply disturbing) account of how hopeless things are for Guantanamo detainees as a result of the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

Some excerpts:

At one end of a converted trailer in the American military detention center here, a graying Pakistani businessman sat shackled before a review board of uniformed officers, pleading for his freedom.

The prisoner had seen just a brief summary of what officials said was a thick dossier of intelligence linking him to Al Qaeda. He had not seen his own legal papers since they were taken away in an unrelated investigation. He has lawyers working on his behalf in Washington, London and Pakistan, but here his only assistance came from an Army lieutenant colonel, who stumbled as he read the prisoner's handwritten statement.

As the hearing concluded, the detainee, who cannot be identified publicly under military rules, had a question. He is a citizen of Pakistan, he noted. He was arrested on a business trip to Thailand. On what authority or charges was he even being held?

"That question," a Marine colonel presiding over the panel answered, "is outside the limits of what this board is permitted to consider."

Under a law passed by Congress and signed by President Bush in October, this double-wide trailer may be as close to a courtroom as most Guantanamo prisoners ever get. The law prohibits them from challenging their detention or treatment by writs of habeas corpus in the federal courts. Instead, they may only petition a single federal appeals court to examine whether the review boards followed the military's own procedures in reviewing their status as "enemy combatants."

But an examination of the Guantanamo review boards by The New York Times suggests that they have often fallen short, not only as a source of due process for the hundreds of men held here, but also as a forum to resolve questions about what the detainees have done and the threats they may pose.

Some limitations have long been evident. The prisoners have no right to a lawyer, or to see classified evidence, or even to know the identity of their accusers. What has been less visible, however, is what many officials describe as a continuing shortage of information about many detainees, including some who have been held on sketchy or disputed intelligence.


Even before Mr. Bush decided in February 2002 that the United States would not observe the Geneva Conventions in fighting terrorism, Donald H. Rumsfeld, then the defense secretary, dismissed the idea of Geneva-style hearings for the detainees, maintaining that they would never be entitled to the prisoner-of-war status that such tribunals could grant them in other conflicts.

"There is no ambiguity in this case," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

Yet intelligence officers at Guantanamo found ambiguity everywhere. Many of the detainees had been captured by Afghan militias, Pakistani border guards and other surrogates, and some had been turned in for bounties, intelligence officials said. Information about their identities and actions was often vague and secondhand. Physical evidence, if any existed, was sometimes lost before reaching Cuba.

Still, the detainees who were held on the weakest information tended not to be a priority for either intelligence officers or the military's criminal investigators.

"It wasn't the job of the intelligence community to verify their guilt or innocence," said Col. Brittain P. Mallow, a retired Army investigator who led a task force that gathered evidence for war crimes tribunals that are expected to prosecute about 50 to 70 of the remaining 396 detainees.

[Read the complete article.]