28 February 2007

Bush vs. the Dow

For the past six years, George W. Bush has been telling us how the U.S. economy is doing so well. It's "growing". It's "steady and strong".

Just last month, in his 2007 State of the Union Address, Bush told us that "[a] future of hope and opportunity begins with a growing economy -- and that is what we have. We're now in the 41st month of uninterrupted job growth, in a recovery that has created 7.2 million new jobs -- so far. Unemployment is low, inflation is low, and wages are rising. This economy is on the move, and our job is to keep it that way, not with more government, but with more enterprise."

Nonetheless, yesterday the Dow Jones Industrial Index dropped 400 points in reaction to "a global sell-off that started in China." [Read story.]

At the water coolers and the Starbucks, I hear people speculate about a possible recession. Indeed, even former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan recently warned that a recession may be imminent.

Will the White House continue to deny that you can't have a strong economy with a $250 billion deficit?

By the way, did you know that 41% of your 2006 federal income tax dollars paid for war?

26 February 2007

An easy way to address an inconvenient truth: Support the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act

I was delighted to hear that Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth won the Oscar last night for Best Documentary.

The global warming naysayers will likely just blame it on the "Hollywood liberals", but hopefully this award will prompt more people to see the film and to care about the issue.

And here's a good place to start -- from ActForChange:

An Easy Way to Address an Inconvenient Truth

Help Stop Global Climate Change!

Last night's victory for An Inconvenient Truth at the Academy Awards is bringing new attention to the urgent problem of global climate change. It follows closely the recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which predicts a very dangerous warming of several degrees Fahrenheit in coming decades if we do not change our present course.

Renewed attention to this issue couldn't come at a better time, as the new Congress in Washington -- after years of inaction -- now seems ready to address the problem. Senators Boxer (D-CA) and Sanders (I-VT) have just introduced the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act of 2007, which will achieve 80 percent emission reductions (from 1990 levels) by 2050, and provide strong incentives for renewable energy development.

Tell your senators: support the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act of 2007!

Climate change caused by global warming does not mean that all areas of the earth will get a little warmer. Instead, the consequences can best be thought of as "climate destabilization" -- stronger storms, longer droughts, deeper freezes, and more extreme heat waves -- with catastrophic results for human life all over the planet.

The United States, which is responsible for approximately 25% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, bears a special responsibility to start addressing this issue as soon as possible. It's long past time for Congress to take action.

Click here to tell your senators: support the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act.

Please share this message with everyone you know who is concerned about the future of our planet.

Thank you for working to build a better world.

25 February 2007

In the world of racism, is brown the new black?

10 years ago, when we thought about racial profiling, we would think about the unfair, prejudicial suspicion of people who were caught "driving while black". These days, however, "breathing while brown" appears to be a much more suspicious activity.

Ever since the attacks of 9/11, swarthy Middle-Eastern-looking men are often viewed as potential terrorists by the public and law enforcement alike. Middle Eastern men were responsible for 9/11, the logic goes. Al-Qaeda consists mostly of Middle Eastern men, they say, and so that's who law enforcement and security personnel should look at first.

By that logic, then, why didn't we crack down on all white European-American men after Timothy McVeigh blew up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, or after Eric Rudolph bombed the Olympic Park in Atlanta in 1996? Is it because McVeigh and Rudolph look like any other guy from the American heartland? Is it because without the dark skin they don't look scary? If so, doesn't that attitude actually make us less safe?

According to the human rights group Amnesty International, "discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, or on any other particular identity undermines the basic human rights and freedoms to which every person is entitled." Racial profiling is a violation of the basic tenets of the U.S. Constitution and international human rights laws and treaties. Furthermore, it simply does not work.

Racial profiling gives terrorists a formula for greater success. It tells them who they need to recruit in order to be more effective. This became apparent way back in World War II when, despite the massive internments of Japanese Americans and visitors, none of the people convicted of spying for Japan were of Japanese or Asian ancestry. Moreover, the arrests of John Walker Lindh (a white, middle-class Californian), Jose Padilla (an Hispanic gang member), and Richard Reid (a British citizen of West Indian ancestry) suggest that terrorist organizations have already been successful in recruiting a diverse group of sympathizers who by their nature could not be identified through racial profiling.

And these days, when illegal immigration is such a hot issue, Middle Eastern people share the burden of racial profiling with Hispanics. No Mexicans were involved in the 9/11 attacks. Why then does the issue of migrant workers provoke such hysteria? Are they really such a threat to our national security?

No, they're not. It just seems as though Americans have somehow been programmed to feel threatened by our brown-skinned neighbors. And they need to get over it if we want to achieve greater homeland security.

In a nutshell, racial profiling is ineffective, impedes the process of finding the real criminals, encourages hate, and undermines national unity. It fails to address the true roots of terrorism. And, for these reasons and more, racial profiling in itself will likely fuel even more anti-American hatred.

Indeed, America will be much better protected if law enforcement and security personnel focus on what people are doing, and not on what they look like.

22 February 2007

Senate Democrats move to limit U.S. mission in Iraq

Breaking news tonight: According to the Associated Press, "Determined to challenge President Bush, Senate Democrats are drafting legislation to limit the mission of U.S. troops in Iraq, effectively revoking the broad authority Congress granted in 2002, officials said Thursday." [Read story.]

That's certainly an admirable move. But can it pass?

Last week we learned that the Senate couldn't muster enough votes to even consider a non-binding resolution condemning an escalation of the U.S. troop count in Iraq. So how could an actual binding bill have any chance of passing?

Sorry to sound pessimistic, but I also remain hopeful.

Fingers crossed.

Bush's shrinking coalition

So now Tony Blair has announced that Great Britain will begin pulling its troops out of Iraq. Ditto for Denmark. [Read story.]

Apparently George W. Bush is the only person in the world who wants to increase the number of troops in Iraq.

Does he truly believe that only he is right, and everyone else in the world is wrong? (Rhetorical question, of course. We know the answer.)

21 February 2007

High court rules against due process; Amnesty responds; you can take action

Yesterday, in a flagrant disregard for the fundamental human right to due process, a federal appeals court ruled that Guantanamo detainees may not challenge their detention in U.S. courts. [Read story.]

Hopefully this ruling will be appealed to the Supreme Court, and hopefully the Supremes will rule in favor of human rights.

Meantime, Larry Cox, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, issued the following statement:
"Today's decision means that the legal limbo dance continues for detainees in U.S. control and is a blow to the American justice system, known for its commitment to rule of law and due process. It is unconscionable that these men are denied the most basic right to challenge their detention. If today's decision is allowed to stand, it will join the ranks of cases like Korematsu and Dredd Scott, which are widely recognized as shameful moments in U.S. jurisprudence.

"Immediate action must be taken to invalidate this appalling decision. It's time for Congress to reverse the damage caused by the Military Commissions Act and the Bush administration?s policies."
How you can help: Ask your senators to support S.576, the Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007.

From the Center for Victims of Torture:
Please voice your support for legislation introduced in the Senate to correct many of the most egregious problems of the Military Commissions Act of 2006. The bill, called Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007, would restore judicial review -- habeas corpus -- so that detainees held as terrorism suspects could challenge their treatment and detention in U.S. courts. The Center for Victims of Torture views habeas corpus as a necessary tool to examine allegations of abuse so mistreatment does not continue unchecked.

It would also prohibit evidence obtained through coercion or hearsay. Under the Military Commissions Act, evidence obtained through torture or coercion can be introduced during trials of terror suspects. Again, CVT and our colleagues around the world involved in torture rehabilitation know that allowing evidence obtained through torture or mistreatment is an invitation to continued abuse.

Urge your senators to support the Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007. Tell them you expect our leaders to uphold our commitment to the rule of law and humane treatment even in the face of our enemies.
Take action now.

20 February 2007

How Guatanamo affects families

Another reason to close Guantanamo: The effect it has on families.

Think of how it would feel if your husband, father, or brother were locked up and tortured, with no means of challenging his detention or proving his innocence, just because it makes George W. Bush feel powerful.

Amnesty International has collected the testimonies of some of those affected. [Read their stories and watch excerpts of their interviews.]

18 February 2007

Congress: Coequal or codependent?

Unfortunately, yesterday the Senate voted against considering the non-binding resolution that passed the House on Friday denouncing Bush's Iraq policy. [Read story.]

I was happy to see that both of my senators from Pennsylvania voted in favor of the resolution, including Republican Arlen Specter. [See how your Senators voted.] But it wasn't enough.

Unlike the House, the Senate apparently missed the message that We The People sent to Capitol Hill last November.

Is this an indication that the Senate over the next two years will just continue to be a rubber stamp for the Bush administration? Heaven forbid.

17 February 2007

It's official: Congress disapproves of Bush's Iraq policy

Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives demonstrated to this nation and to the world that they will no longer be a rubber stamp for the Bush administration. Yesterday, in accordance with the will of We The People, they passed a non-binding resolution denouncing Bush's Iraq policy. It passed by a 246-182 margin, with 17 Republicans voting in favor. [Read story.]

The text of the resolution reads as follows:
Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That--

(1) Congress and the American people will continue to support and protect the members of the United States Armed Forces who are serving or who have served bravely and honorably in Iraq; and

(2) Congress disapproves of the decision of President George W. Bush announced on January 10, 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq.
While I want them to follow up with some binding legislation, I found the following statement by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) interesting:
"The Congress of the United States knows that if we pass a bill, a law, a binding document, the president can veto that. What the president cannot veto is the opinion of the Congress of the United States, the judgment of the United States Congress, the advice and counsel of the Congress of the United States. He cannot veto that."
And so Bush cannot veto this clear message that Congress and the American people do not approve of Bush's Iraq policy.

The next step:

Now Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) is looking for ways to use Congress's control of the pursestrings to effectively stop a troop building in Iraq. Murtha's plans would "attach strings" to the additional war funds that Bush is seeking:
The Pentagon would have to certify that troops being sent to Iraq are "fully combat ready" with training and equipment; troops must have at least one year at home between combat deployments; combat assignments could not be extended beyond one year; a "stop-loss" program forcing soldiers to extend their enlistment periods would be prohibited.

"We're trying to force a redeployment not by taking money away, by redirecting money," Murtha said, adding he wants U.S. funds to be slanted more toward diplomacy and Iraq reconstruction.
[Read more.]

Murtha's plan is bold, yet practical. And, since it focuses on ensuring that the troops have the training and equipment that they need (which hasn't happened yet in this war), nobody can say that this plan doesn't support the troops.

Bush would surely veto any bill that would reflect Murtha's strategy. But we need to push for this legislation, and an overturn of any veto.

Enough is enough.

16 February 2007

What if Tim Hardaway were anti-Semitic?

By now, most of you have probably heard former NBA star Tim Hardaway's recent on-air anti-gay rant. It included the following tidbit:
"Well, you know, I hate gay people. I let it be known I don't like gay people. I don't like to be around gay people. I'm homophobic. It shouldn't be in the world, in the United States, I don't like it."
His intensity on the subject really makes me wonder what kinds of personal issues Hardaway must be dealing with.

And, while the media did cover this to some extent, I didn't see nearly enough outrage in response.

Imagine the outraged responses we'd see if Hardaway had said this:
"Well, you know, I hate Jews. I let it be known I don't like Jews. I don't like to be around Jews. I'm anti-Semitic. It shouldn't be in the world, in the United States, I don't like it."
Sadly, homophobia in American society is more "acceptable" than other forms of bigotry.

Why do Americans get so obsessively upset about what other consenting adults might do in the privacy of their own bedrooms?

14 February 2007

8 Reasons to Close Guantanamo Now

Amnesty International and other human rights groups have long been calling for closure of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, which has come to symbolize much of what is wrong with the Bush administration's approach to the "war on terror".

Now, in an article in In These Times, Karen J. Greenburg explores eight powerful reasons to close Gitmo now.

The article starts out like this:

The first detainees arrived in Guantanamo four months to the day after the 9/11 attacks. From the opening of Camp X-Ray—the first site of imprisonment, notorious for its tin-roofed open-air cages—to the recently completed permanent prison known as Camp 6, critics have called for its closure. Even President Bush has said, "I'd like to end Guantanamo. I'd like it to be over with." Yet he refuses to close it because, he says, it holds detainees who "will murder somebody if they are let out on the street."

It’s time to look at the powerful reasons to close Guantanamo, both the standard ones enumerated below -- and also what may be the most compelling, if unspoken, one of all: Guantanamo must be closed because the United States needs to indicate that it has decided to change course. Closing Guantanamo will help to restore America's standing in the world and in the eyes of its own citizens.
[Check out the eight good reasons to close Gitmo.]

13 February 2007

Guns killing people in Philly

There is an article in today's Christian Science Monitor about the disturbing black murder rate in Philadelphia these days, particularly among youth.

An excerpt:
The three teens are in good schools, college bound, and full of adolescent bravado. Each also knows someone who was shot and killed on the streets of Philadelphia.

That kind of up-close encounter with violence and murder is not the norm for teenage America. But this is Philly, which has the highest homicide rate for African-Americans among the nation's biggest cities – and a place where the risk of being killed is especially high for blacks under age 18.

The possibility of a short life and a violent death weighs on African-American teens like Andrea Williams, Sierra Daniels, and Christopher Fuller, though they seem to shoulder the burden as if it's just an extra load of books. Andrea worries most about her younger brother and sister, afraid one of them will get hit by a misguided bullet fired by someone bent on revenge or protecting turf or just venting anger.

"Sometimes I hate to walk down the street with them, because I couldn't live without my little brother and sister," she says.

Nationally, the murder rate for African-Americans is more than three times the average: 19 black murder victims per 100,000 people versus five for the general population.

In Pennsylvania, the disparity for black homicide is even more pronounced: 30 per 100,000, or six times the national average, according to a study released last month by the Violence Policy Center (VPC), a gun-control research group in Washington.

Those numbers are "disproportionate, disturbing, and undeniable," says the VPC report, which analyzed crime data from 2004 in its study. Moreover, almost 80 percent of black murder victims in the US were shot and killed with guns, the study found.

Philadelphia follows the pattern. The vast majority of black murders in the city -- 3 in 4 -- are from gunfire, according to police.
[Read more.]

Proponents of unrestricted, no-strings gun ownership tell me that "guns don't kill people, people kill people." But those people kill with guns, damn it!

You can kill a lot more people a lot more quickly with guns than with knives, blunt objects, or bare hands. Does that really not matter?

12 February 2007

Revenge of the Dixie Chicks, Part II

Four years ago, the Dixie Chicks were blacklisted for speaking out against George W. Bush and his war in Iraq.

The Dixie Chicks got some revenge on their critics last summer when their latest album debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts.

And the momentum continued through to last evening, when they swept the Grammy awards.

This, along with the results of last November's elections, appears to be a sign that America is waking up and realizing that dissent is patriotic.

Congratulations, Chicks, and keep up the good work.

11 February 2007

Are You Afraid Of Shaquille O'Neal?

We've all heard ignorant Americans' stereotypes of Muslims. They're all terrorists. The Koran teaches them to kill all infidels. Et cetera. Ad nauseum.

Never mind the fact that Tim McVeigh was white. He looked like anyone from Kansas or Oklahoma. Without the dark skin, he didn't look scary, I suppose. Or whatever.

A friend recently shared a link to a somewhat old but still very relevant article at Chattanoogan.com that does a great job of exposing the absurdity of anti-Muslim prejudice.

An excerpt:

I am not afraid of terrorism. Maybe it's because I did not live in New York City during 9/11 or maybe it's my corny belief that good always prevails in the end. Whatever the reason I find myself unafraid. Even with the arrests of alleged Al-Qaeda members, rising terror color-codes and wars raging in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I still find myself unafraid. I am not afraid because no one can tell me what I should be looking for in a terrorist. Well, not really. Maybe if U.S. intelligence could tell me specifically what a terrorist sounds like or smells like or eats. From the things I read and see on television I'm guessing most terrorists are of Middle Eastern descent, heavily bearded and absolutely positively they are Muslim. That's it! Look out for intimidating Muslims in places with a lot of innocent American pedestrians. Hey, somebody quick, arrest Shaquille O'Neal!

Shaq daddy is a Muslim – did you know that? You didn't see him and Sacramento Kings' guard Peja Stojakovic kiss each other on each cheek before Western Conference Playoff games a few years back? Did you miss that? Did you think they were French? Those are two really big intimidating Muslims right there! Are they terrorists in training? The media (yes, I am included) uses death, Muslim and terrorism so collectively you would think they were the names of the Three Stooges! Is it fair?

When you look at Shaq in interviews, smiling, giving those incredibly witty sound bites, do you think of terrorism? Now that you know he follows the same religion as the Iraqi insurgents our American troops fight daily, will you look at him differently?

The word terrorism confuses me when it is married to the word Islam. Why are there Muslim extremists and not just Iraqi extremists or extremists (solo)? Is it because the extremists that carry out acts of terror against America hide behind their religion? Isn't it the responsibility of the media (and individuals) to decipher Islam as just a characteristic of the extremists and not extremist as a characteristic of Islam?

Throughout history, the KKK has preached loyalty to Christianity but no one dares to label Christianity as a characteristic of racism. Adolph Hitler was also Christian (and also hid behind the religion) but I don't hear Christianity glued to the phrase Nazism. Sexual abuse by priests has just cost the Catholic Church more than $1 billion in settlements but no one believes that being Catholic makes you more prone to becoming a child molester – and no one should.

So why is Islam automatically related to terrorists? And why do we so easily link the two?

Honestly. Are you aware that the "Muslim" extremists at war with the U.S. only make up a very minute percentage of Muslims worldwide? And when I say minute I'm talking about brothers playing polo minute, horse jockeys slam dunking minute, politicians getting crunk to Lil John minute! The same goes for the small percentage of Catholics who rape children and the very small number of Christian bigots who hide behind big white sheets.

Honestly. When you hear the word Muslim, is your first thought terrorism? Because when I hear Muslim, the first thing that pops in my head is one of my childhood heroes, Muhammad Ali. Ali, who as the Heavyweight Champion of the World decided that he would not fight in the Vietnam War because he could not kill anyone that did him no harm. His assistant trainer Drew Brown took it a step further in 1967 saying, "He's fighting for the respect of his religion. He's not fighting for his country." Ali was stripped of his title and labeled an unpatriotic, out of control, radical Black Muslim. As a kid I learned on my own that Ali was fighting for what he believed in. What's more American than that?
[Read more.]

09 February 2007

Bush again thumbs his nose at the world

This is not surprising, but it is maddening: Nearly 60 countries signed a treaty on Tuesday that bans governments from holding people in secret detention, but the United States was not among them.

Some of our "allies" also did not sign.

From the Associated Press via Common Dreams:

Nearly 60 countries signed a treaty on Tuesday that bans governments from holding people in secret detention, but the United States and some of its key European allies were not among them.

The signing capped a quarter-century of efforts by families of people who have vanished at the hands of governments.

"Our American friends were naturally invited to this ceremony; unfortunately, they weren't able to join us," French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy told reporters after 57 nations signed the treaty at his ministry in Paris.

"That won't prevent them from one day signing on in New York at U.N. headquarters - and I hope they will."

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack declined comment except to say that the United States helped draft the treaty, but that the final text "did not meet our expectations."

McCormack declined comment on whether the U.S. stance was influenced by the administration's policy of sending terrorism suspects to CIA-run prisons overseas, which Bush acknowledged in September.


U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour called the treaty an important step both in preventing injustices common years ago and barring newer abuses that often fall through regulatory loopholes.

Arbour said the United States had expressed "reservations" about parts of the text, but declined to elaborate, and she urged U.S. officials to sign and ratify it. She noted that America often backs activities of the UNHCR without formally signing on to them.

She called the treaty "a message to all modern-day authorities committed to the fight against terrorism" that some past tactics are now "not acceptable, in a very explicit way."

The convention defines forced disappearances as the arrest, detention, kidnapping or "any other form of deprivation of freedom" by state agents or affiliates, followed by denials or cover-ups about the detention and location of the person gone missing.

Nations that eventually ratify the text would enshrine victims' rights, and would require states to penalize any forced disappearances in their countries and enact preventative and monitoring measures.

French officials, who led the effort, counted more than 51,000 people who were disappeared by their governments in over 90 countries since 1980, Douste-Blazy said. Some 41,000 of those cases remain unsolved.

"Men and women disappear every day on every continent, for defending human rights, for just opposing their governments' policies or simply because they want justice," Douste-Blazy said. "The situation could not continue to go unpunished. It required a strong response from the international community."

Latin American states like Argentina, once plagued by disappearances, are now owning up to much of the violence that left hundreds of thousands dead or disappeared in the 1970s and 1980s. Disappearances were also a common Nazi tactic in World War II.
[Read more.]

Why will these hold-out countries not promise to end "disappearances"?

What do they need to hide?

08 February 2007

Act now to restore Habeas Corpus

As a human rights activist, one of my primary hopes for this new Congress is that they will take prompt action to restore some of the damage that the Bush administration has done to human rights and due process in the name of "security".

That great patriot Benjamin Franklin said, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

I disagree with Ben only in that I believe everyone deserves both liberty and safety.

And we really can have both. We must have both.

Fortunately, to that end, Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and some other good guys are preparing a bill to restore the rights of Habeas Corpus and due process that were swept away with the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

We all need to push for passage of this bill.

From the American Civil Liberties Union:

We have seen five years of lost liberties all in the name of keeping America safe. You and I know that we can keep America safe and free at the same time. We can uphold the liberties outlined in the Constitution, while at the same time ensuring our government is diligent in keeping us secure.

Today, you can begin restoring the Constitution and American values. Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and several other senators are getting ready to introduce a bill to fix the Military Commissions Act, a law that stains our nation's legacy as the standard-bearer for the protection of human rights, undermines American values of due process and removes important checks on the president's power.

Help restore lost liberties -- tell your senators to co-sponsor Senator Dodd's bill today.

We are asking you to continue to stand with us right now and over the coming months as we campaign to rebuild our fundamental freedoms and ensure that Congress and the courts restore our Constitution and the rule of law.

You will hear more from us during the coming months on all the ways that your efforts can support this campaign.

Take the first step now by supporting Senator Dodd's bill.

In their last hours before adjourning last year, Congress passed and the president signed the Military Commissions Act. In doing so, they cast aside the Constitution and the centuries-old principle of habeas corpus, which protects against unlawful and indefinite imprisonment. Congress also gave the president the power to decide by himself who is and who is not an enemy, and to strip individuals of their right to due process under the law.

Join us in keeping America Safe and Free -- tell your senators to restore due process.

Senator Dodd's bill restores due process and the Constitution’s habeas corpus rights for detainees being held indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. It enforces the Geneva Conventions as the law on how we treat people. And it holds government officials accountable so that due process violations and torture stop, and never happen again.

When nearly 400 men are held indefinitely and without charge at Guantanamo, that’s un-American. But when our own government admits that more than 100 of them shouldn’t even be there, and that no more than a few dozen will ever be charged, that is an affront to our Constitution and is a stain on our nation. Adding insult to injury, just yesterday the U.S. refused to sign onto a U.N. treaty that would prohibit governments from holding people in secret detention.

Ask your senators to end indefinite detention without due process.

Senator Dodd's bill is only the beginning of our efforts to restore habeas corpus and due process.

We've got a long battle ahead of us to restore the Constitution and reverse the damage done by the Military Commissions Act. You'll be hearing more about this campaign in the coming weeks, but you can take a first step today by contacting your senators and asking them to co-sponsor Senator Dodd's bill.

Thank you for getting involved.
Remember, there's currently nothing stopping George W. Bush from declaring you an enemy combatant with no legal rights.

07 February 2007

Mistrial declared in Watada court-martial

I'm not completely sure what this means for Watada's status as a Lieutenant or as a free person, but it's interesting.

From truthout.org:

The court-martial of First Lt. Ehren Watada, a commissioned US Army officer who refused deployment to Iraq on the basis that he believed the war was illegal, has ended in a mistrial, a military court judge ruled Wednesday.

In a stunning defeat for military prosecutors, Lt. Col. John Head, the military judge presiding over Watada's court-martial, said he had no choice but to declare a mistrial because military prosecutors and Watada's defense attorney could not reach an agreement regarding the characterization of a stipulation agreement Watada signed before the start of his court-martial. The government characterizes the stipulation agreement as an admission of guilt by Watada for "missing movement" and making statements against the Iraq war that resulted in charges of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.

Eric Seitz, Watada's attorney, said the stipulation Watada signed, however, was by no means an admission of guilt by his client. Rather, it was a statement of fact that his client believed the Iraq war was illegal, and that he refused to deploy to the region with his unit because of his beliefs.

Lt. Col. Head said he wanted to question Watada regarding the agreement to gain a better understanding of what Watada's state of mind was when he signed it, but Seitz would not allow the judge to question his client unless he knew the questions in advance. Head said if he could not question Watada to ensure the accuracy of the document he signed prior to the start of the court-martial, he would have to throw out the agreement, meaning the charges against Watada would become null and void.
[Read more.]

Bush: To hell with all the sick American children, we've got a nice, juicy war to fight!

Many of us have known for years that George W. Bush's priorities are misguided.

Now he wants to take benefits away from sick children to pay for the ongoing killing and destruction in Iraq.

From yesterday's Boston Globe:
President Bush yesterday proposed deep cuts to federal healthcare, education, and transportation programs, searching for new money in the federal budget to pay for increasingly costly defense programs and the war in Iraq.

The president's $2.9 trillion spending plan calls for saving $100 billion in Medicare and Medicaid payments, and for limiting eligibility in the State Children's Health Insurance Program -- a change that could result in the loss of health care for children in Massachusetts and other states.
[Read more.]

They say that Congress controls the pursestrings. Now that the Dems are in charge, they better not pass up any opportunity to adjust our fiscal priorities.

It's time to start using the checks and balances that our Founding Fathers set in place especially for times like this.

Will this Congress have the courage to do so?

06 February 2007

Update: Mars Inc. pulled the Snickers ad campaign

Here is an update from my earlier post about the homophobic Snickers ad:


This just in from the Human Rights Campaign:
Human Rights Campaign Commends Mars Inc. for Pulling Ad Campaign Encouraging Anti-Gay Bullying

HRC Looks Forward to Establishing a Working Relationship with the Company

WASHINGTON - The Human Rights Campaign, AmericaBlog.com and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) yesterday called on the makers of Snickers, and its parent company Mars Inc., to pull an online ad campaign launched during the Super Bowl that depicted violent and anti-gay behavior by two actors. By the end of the day Monday, the ads and the additional footage of players from the Colts and the Bears had been pulled from the company website.

The ad featured two men who accidentally engage in a kiss while sharing a candy bar and then try to distance themselves from any perception of being gay by rushing to "do something manly."

"While we are pleased with the initial response from Mars, this is not the time to spike the ball," said HRC President Joe Solmonese. "This is the time to establish a dialogue with this company about why images that encourage bullying, on the playground and beyond, are dangerous."

Added Solmonese, "After speaking with company representatives today, we hope to continue a dialogue and establish a working relationship with Mars Inc., as we have with the majority of Fortune 500 companies, about responsible marketing and fair workplace policies for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans."

A solution to the voting machine integrity issue?

Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) has reintroduced the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act.

This bill seems to solve a lot of the problems with electronic voting machines.

According to an announcement from People for the American Way (PFAW):
Rep. Holt's bill requires the following for ALL federal elections starting in 2008:
  • Paper Ballots -- ALL voting machines must produce a paper ballot

  • Audits -- ALL voting machines must be audit-able

  • No Secret Source Code -- ALL voting machine vendors MUST make the machines' software available for inspection

  • Ban on Wireless Devices -- Prohibits wireless technology in voting machines

  • Access for All Eligible Voters -- Ensures disabled and minority language voters can vote privately and independently
Please add your name to PFAW's petition to Congress to pass this bill!

Gay rights group speaks out against Super Bowl Snickers commercial

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) equality, yesterday issued the following press release yesterday condemning the Snickers commercial that ran during the Super Bowl.

Human Rights Campaign Condemns Violent and Homophobic Marketing Campaign by Mars, Inc.,

HRC Urges Ads Be Pulled from Campaign

WASHINGTON - The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, is calling on the makers of Snickers, and its parent company Mars Inc., to pull the ad campaign launched yesterday during the Superbowl. The ad features two presumably straight men who accidentally engage in a kiss and then try to distance themselves from any perception of being gay by "doing something manly."

Three alternate endings to the commercial spot are posted on the Snickers website, one of which includes the two men violently attacking one another - which sends a dangerous message to the public condoning violence against gay Americans.

HRC President Joe Solmonese issued the following statement:

"The makers of Snickers and it's parent company at Mars should know better. If they have any questions about why the ad isn't funny, we can help put them in touch with any number of GLBT Americans who have suffered hate crimes."

Two other video clips posted on the Snickers website feature players from the Bears and the Colts watching the ads and responding to the two men kissing.

Solmonese continued:

"This type of jeering from professional sports figures at the sight of two men kissing fuels the kind of anti-gay bullying that haunts countless gay and lesbian school children on playgrounds all across the country. Eighty-four percent of GLBT students report being verbally harassed at school, and this type of ad only reinforces that."

"Is Snickers suggesting that people who eat their candy bars are cavemen? It's an odd market to court, particularly after the Isaiah Washington flap a couple weeks ago, which clearly showed that there's a strong distaste out there for people who portray themselves as anti-gay or holding on to old prejudices and stereotypes."

"Mars and Snickers need to pull the 'Wrench' ad and the footage of the NFL players out of their campaign immediately."

The Human Rights Campaign is America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against GLBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

I wonder:

Is the HRC overreacting? Or could this type of ad indeed contribute to anti-gay violence at worst, or anti-gay bigotry at best?

And why are so many allegedly heterosexual American men so obsessed with proving that they're not gay? This commercial is an exaggeration, of course, but I know a lot of men who are very defensive about their heterosexuality. Why are they so insecure?

05 February 2007

Amnesty International speaks out in support of Lt. Ehren Watada

Lt. Ehren Watada faces court martial today for refusing to serve in Iraq and for speaking out against the war. He is the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq.

On Friday, Amnesty International issued the following news release regarding his case:

USA: War objector’s freedom of conscience must be respected

Pending the trial on Monday 5 February of Ehren Watada over his refusal to participate in the Iraq war, Amnesty International stated that a guilty verdict would be a violation of internationally recognized rights to conscientious objection.

"If found guilty, Amnesty International would consider Ehren Watada to be a prisoner of conscience and call for his immediate and unconditional release", said Susan Lee, Amnesty International’s Americas Programme Director.

28-year-old Army Lieutenant Ehren Watada faces a possible four year prison sentence on charges of "missing movement" -– due to his refusal to deploy to Iraq in June 2006 -- and of "conduct unbecoming an officer" -- because of his public comments regarding his objections to the war in Iraq.

Ehren Watada has stated that his refusal is based on his belief that the Iraq war is illegal and immoral. In a pre-court martial hearing held on 16 January, a military judge ruled that he could not base his defence on the legality of the war in Iraq.

However, the right to refuse to perform military service for reasons of conscience, thought or religion is protected under international human rights standards, including Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which the US has ratified.

Ehren Watada joined the army in 2003 for a three year term, which was due to end in December 2006. In January 2006, he submitted a letter to his army command outlining his reasons for refusing to participate in the Iraq war and asking to resign from the army. He did not formally apply for conscientious objector status because US army regulations stipulate that applicants for this status must be opposed to war in any form; they do not provide for conscientious objector status on the basis of an objection to a specific war.

In his letter, Ehren Watada said: "I believe so strongly in this cause that I would sit in prison or die for that belief. I would accept any punishment and take solace in a clean and clear conscience when the easier path, the safer path would have been to serve my year in Iraq." He received a reply in May 2006 stating that his request had been denied. He was ordered to deploy to Iraq with his unit in June 2006, an order he refused.

Amnesty International has declared a number of imprisoned conscientious objectors in the US to be prisoners of conscience. They included Camilo Mejia who was sentenced to one year's imprisonment for his objections to the war in Iraq and Abdullah Webster who refused to participate in the same war due to his religious beliefs. Another, Kevin Benderman was sentenced to 15 months' imprisonment after he refused to re-deploy to Iraq because of the scenes of devastation he witnessed there. All three have since been released.

See/read Watada's speech at a Veterans for Peace convention, 12 August 2006.

Listen to an interview with Watada's mother on Law and Disorder radio.

My own questions on this:

Does it even make sense for the U.S. military to try to force people to fight when they're unwilling to do so?

Can a forced warrior really be effective? Or would his reluctance possibly endanger the troops around him?

04 February 2007

For Black History Month: Lessons not learned

February is Black History Month in the U.S. It gives us an extra reason to ponder the journey of African-Americans from the early days of slavery, through Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, an on through the present day.

As we do so, most of us are thankful that our society has evolved to where African Americans are no longer bought and sold, treated not like people but rather as property, without reward, without a voice, and virtually without any rights at all.

Yes, we have evolved - somewhat. African-Americans are free. Like most Americans, they live their lives, go to school, have careers, have families. They are our teachers, our doctors, our stockbrokers, our Secretary of State.

But, even so, is our society really as enlightened today as we might like to believe? Have we really learned enough from the horrible mistake of slavery?

Perhaps not so much after all.

The Declaration of Independence proclaims that all persons are created equal. But, while we no longer practice slavery in this country, are people of color truly equal in our society?

While African-Americans are certainly much better off than they were in centuries past, the socio-economic disparity between the races remains pronounced in the U.S. today.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the 2005 median income for white households was $48,554, while that of black households was only $30,858.

The Bureau also reports that in 2001, 22.7 percent of blacks lived below the poverty level, while only 7.8 percent of non-Hispanic whites lived below the poverty level.

And racism and race-based discrimination, while not politically correct in this day and age, are still rampant. People - especially white people - are just not comfortable talking about it.

Witness Hurricane Katrina. We didn't see very many white people trapped inside that stadium.

On a wider scale, race-based inequity is perhaps most apparent in the criminal justice system, where the color of the defendant's skin and the victim's skin play a significant role in determining who receives the death penalty in the U.S.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), people of color have accounted for a disproportionate 43 percent of all executions since 1976, and currently account for 55 percent of inmates currently awaiting execution. While white victims account for approximately one-half of all murder victims, 80 percent of all death penalty cases involve white victims. Furthermore, according to the ACLU, "as of October 2002, 12 people have been executed where the defendant was white and the murder victim black, compared with 178 black defendants executed for murders with white victims."

Sometimes when I quote these statistics, the listener (usually white) will speculate that perhaps black people proportionally commit more murders than white people, and therefore are more likely to end up on death row. While this theory is racist by its very nature, and not based on facts, we can easily disprove it with actual numbers. A 1997 study of death sentences in Pennsylvania from 1983 through 1993 showed that a black defendant was 38 percent more likely to receive a death sentence than a white defendant accused of a similar crime. Yet Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, like several other governors across the nation, continues to sign death warrants and propagate this racially biased system.

None of this will change until our society evolves a whole lot further. None of this will change until WE change. All of us.

None of this will change until each of us - white, black, brown, yellow, purple, or polka-dot - can look in the mirror and look at each other and see humanity, not color.

None of this will change until, to paraphrase the great and wise Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., all people are judged not for the color of their skin but the content of their character.

03 February 2007

Oil companies tried to pay scientists to undermine climate change report

Yesterday, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a major report on climate change. [Read the report (PDF).]

According to the Unon of Concerned Scientists:
After six years of assessing climate science research from around the world, the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has solidified the scientific understanding that key heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere "have increased markedly as a result of human activities," and the "net effect of human activities since 1750 has been one of warming." The report states that evidence of the climate's warming "is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global mean sea level."

"This report reaffirms that our emissions are the primary cause of global warming," said Peter Frumhoff, Director of Science and Policy at UCS. "The good news is that by taking action today to dramatically reduce our emissions, we can avoid much of the warming projected in this report."
[Read more.]

Sounds like the kind of official validation we need to actually start doing something in this country to curb our carbon emissions, right?

Well, maybe not.

You see, even as the Rep. Henry Waxman's House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform was conducting a hearing to investigate political interference in the work of government climate change scientists, the British newspaper The Guardian was preparing to report that "the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an ExxonMobil-funded thinktank with close links to the Bush administration," offered money to scientists for articles that criticize the IPCC report. [Read story.]

Money can perhaps buy lies, money can buy spin, but money can't change the truth about the real damage that we're doing to the earth.

But unmitigated profits are apparently more important to these rich oil executives than the health of this planet or its effects on their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

02 February 2007

Al Gore nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

From the Associated Press:
Former Vice President Al Gore was nominated for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his wide-reaching efforts to draw the world's attention to the dangers of global warming, a Norwegian lawmaker said Thursday.
[Read story.]

In my opinion, this is well deserved.

If you haven't already seen Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth, please run out to your local video store right now and rent a copy. Or, better yet, buy a copy and pass it around to everyone you know.

People in other countries already get the point. The British newspaper The Independent today reports that all British students will be given lessons in climate change.

But, here in the USA, where we have case after case of government vs. science, we must all work with Al Gore to wake America up to the horrific consequences of global warming, lest our grandchildren and great-grandchildren be forced to pay an unthinkable price.

01 February 2007

It's time again for government by fear (and who we should really be afraid of)

On Wednesday afternoon, breaking news reports alarmed the American public with the story that parts of Boston were in lockdown upon the discovery of several suspicious packages.

After scaring us all and inconveniencing a lot of commuters, the authorities determined that these suspicious packages were just some harmless props in a cartoon marketing campaign. [Read story.]

I'm no conspiracy theorist, but it certainly seems like a terror threat miraculously appears any time that the White House finds itself in the hot seat.

When things aren't going well, gotta shake things up and scare the folks. A frightened public won't think so much.

And a study really has found that Bush's approval numbers tend to increase after announcements of terror threats.

But we've got greater dangers to fear. Like this one: Bush, laughing the whole time, nearly kills the press corps with a tractor.

All that was missing was Dick Cheney riding shotgun (in more ways than one).