31 May 2007

Bush's sanctions on Sudan: We need to do more - and you can help

We learned earlier this week that Bush is going to impose some new sanctions on Sudan to increase the pressure for an end to the ongoing violence in the Darfur region.

I hope this will help, and I hope that none of the civilians who are already suffering there will end up suffering more due to the sanctions.

But Bush's sanctions are not enough. We need to do more to address the crisis in Darfur.

Since the Darfur conflict erupted in February of 2003, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed, and over 2 million civilians have been displaced, by the government-backed Janjawid militia. Many have fled to refugee camps in neighboring Chad, and the situation there is horrific as well. It will take more than Bush's sanctions to end the violence.

Below are links to some actions that you can take on the Amnesty International USA website to address various aspects of the problem. With just a few clicks of the mouse, you can help to put an end to the crisis in Darfur.

Urge China to Protect Civilians in Darfur
As the leading foreign investor in Sudan, China can exert significant influence on the government of Sudan to admit UN peacekeepers into Darfur. China has sent mixed messages to Khartoum, but is now increasingly indicating that Khartoum must accept the compromise UN/AU hybrid force. Call on your Senators and Representative to urge China to protect civilians in Darfur.

Call on Russia to guarantee security in Darfur and eastern Chad
Darfur and eastern Chad are in urgent need of effective peacekeeping forces to provide security and enforce the arms embargo on Darfur. Call on Russia to take steps to support the deployment of these peacekeepers in Darfur and to work with other countries on the Security Council to strengthen and enforce the arms embargo.

Halt the death sentence imposed on Darfuri minors
Abdelrhman Zakaria Mohamed and Ahmed Abdullah Suleiman, both aged 16, were sentenced to death by the Criminal Court in Nyala, South Darfur, on May 3rd. Urge Sudan’s Minister of Justice to uphold their right to protection from the death penalty, as recognized by the Geneva Conventions, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Urge Chad to accept peacekeepers to protect civilians
Thousands of women and girls have been raped, child soldiers have been recruited, whole villages looted and destroyed, and an estimated 120,000 people have been forced from their homes in eastern Chad, some of whom have been desperate enough to escape into Darfur. Urge Chad to accept peacekeepers to protect displaced civilians in Chad.

Call on your Senators to Urge China to Support Human Rights in Darfur
Recognizing China’s unique relationship with Sudan, Senate Resolution 203 has been introduced to urge China to take full advantage of its influence to press the Government of Sudan to end atrocities and protect civilians in Darfur. Call on your Senators to co-sponsor S.Res.203 and increase the pressure on China to do its part to protect the people of Darfur.

Urge Your Elected Officials to fund AU and UN Peacekeepers in Darfur
A robust peacekeeping force is urgently needed to bring security to the people of Darfur and neighboring eastern Chad. The African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) has been providing the only barrier between Darfuri civilians and warring parties, but with only 7,000 troops, AMIS has been unable to provide adequate protection to civilians or humanitarian workers.

Ensure Justice for the People of Darfur
Despite international outrage over the human rights crisis in Darfur, not a single perpetrator of war crimes or crimes against humanity has been brought to justice. Send two crucial messages to Secretary of State Rice and your Members of Congress today: Strengthen the U.S. government’s relationship with the ICC, and keep the pressure on Sudan's government to cooperate with the ICC investigation.

For news, background, and other information regarding Amnesty International's human rights concerns in Darfur, click here.

Thank you for taking the time to act for the innocent victims in Darfur.

30 May 2007

Supreme Court rules in favor of pay discrimination

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled against a Goodyear employee who earned considerably less than her male counterparts. Their justification? She waited too long to sue.

Wait a minute. Suing your employer is a big step, and a scary one. It's not something that most people would jump at. It takes time to evaluate the risks, seek the backing of legal experts, get your courage up, and - perhaps most important - build a solid case.

But, according to the Supremes, you have just 180 days to do all that and to save up your pennies in case the company wins and you can't stay at your job.

According to an article by the Associated Press, "The 5-4 decision underscored a provision in a federal civil rights law that sets a 180-day deadline for employees to claim they are being paid less because of their race, sex, religion or national origin."

OK, so given that law, perhaps the Court felt stuck between a rock and a hard place. In fact, according to the AP article, "Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing in dissent for the court’s liberal members, urged Congress to amend the law to correct the court's 'parsimonious reading' of it." I'll second that. Then perhaps those white men on the Court (and Clarence Thomas) will have no choice but to rule in favor of the unfairly treated worker rather than the big fat corporation.

29 May 2007

Cast your vote for the worst offenders in the Corporate Hall of Shame

All companies have a responsibility to respect human rights in their operations. But how many really do?

Corporate Accountability International is now soliciting votes for its 2007 Corporate Hall of Shame, and you can help select this year's inductees.

Straight from the official website, here are this year's nominees:

Coca-Cola, for draining local water supplies in drought prone areas in India, allowing harassment of workers fighting for labor rights in Colombia, undermining public confidence in local water utilities, and falsely promoting itself as a socially responsible corporation.

ExxonMobil, for refusing to pay $4.5 billion in damages from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill and spending millions to delay action on global warming, including funding “junk science” to confuse the issue.

Ford, for awful fuel efficiency and pollution ratings, blocking government efforts to improve auto emissions, thwarting efforts by workers to unionize, and paying its CEO $28 million (for only four months of work) as they plan to cut 30,000 jobs.

Halliburton, the nation’s leading war profiteer, for grossly under-delivering—and shortchanging our troops—on more than $20 billion in lucrative government contracts and for planning to move its headquarters to Dubai, enabling them to shirk paying their full share of U.S. taxes.

Kimberly-Clark, for using the same tree fiber suppliers -- after years of denial -- for its tissues that have contributed to the destruction of the world’s remaining ancient forests in North America.

Merck, for keeping Vioxx on the shelves for four years after learning that the pain medication was causing heart attacks, heavy-handed political tactics, and fighting government efforts in Thailand to allow generic versions of AIDS medications.

Nestlé, for numerous abuses -- including use of child labor on cocoa farms, skirting responsibility for its role in the obesity epidemic, and draining community water supplies for its bottled water products.

Wal-Mart, for failing to support its workers, who live close to the poverty line and often are not covered by the corporation’s health plan, for displacing local businesses and for massive claims of sexual discrimination.

>> Read more about the nominees.

>> Vote for your top three choices for the 2007 Corporate Hall of Shame. (Write-ins also accepted, one per voter.)

28 May 2007

On Memorial Day in a time of war

Today Americans celebrate Memorial Day, a holiday created to honor the men and women who have died in military service to this country.

War is a terrible thing. It's bad enough when soldiers die for a noble cause, defending our country from true threats. But it's unthinkable for soldiers to have to die for no good reason, like in the current situation in Iraq. In defiance of the United Nations and international law, George W. Bush invaded and is occupying a country that posed no threat to us, at least not four years ago when he started it. And our brave soldiers are forced to do Bush's dirty work.

So please take some time today to grieve for those who have given their lives for Bush's lies. The troops didn't start this war. They're victims of the reckless, senseless ambitions of their Commander-in-Chief. They deserve better.

27 May 2007

Irony: White House considering 2008 troop withdrawals

According to an article in yesterday's New York Times, "[t]he Bush administration is developing what are described as concepts for reducing American combat forces in Iraq by as much as half next year, according to senior administration officials in the midst of the internal debate."

Does anyone else see the irony here?

Just a few weeks ago, Bush vetoed an Iraq spending bill because it would have imposed timelines to withdraw troops from Iraq. He said, "This is a prescription for chaos and confusion, and we must not impose it on our troops... It makes no sense to tell the enemy when you plan to start withdrawing."

So now he is working on his own withdrawal timeline.

I guess in Bush's mind a withdrawal timeline is worth considering only if it was his idea.

26 May 2007

Tell the G8 to keep its promises on AIDS, poverty, health, and education

My organization Amnesty International USA is joining forces with ally organizations in the U.S. and around the world (including Bono's organization DATA) who are concerned about poverty, AIDS, and the rights to health and education. Our aim is to put pressure on the G8 (the leaders of the world's most powerful countries) to meet the funding promises they themselves have set in these areas.

The commitments made by the G8 leaders in 2005 on poverty, aid to poor countries, HIV and AIDS, health systems, and education, are solemn promises, made to impoverished people, including millions of orphaned children.

Yet, the G8 is not on track to keep these promises, and aid levels have actually declined. Less than half of all people in urgent need of AIDS treatment by 2010 will be receiving it, 77 million children have no access to school, and Africa alone faces a shortage of nearly 1.5 million health workers.

Under international law, all countries, particularly those with the resources to assist other countries, are obliged to cooperate in the development and realization of human rights. The international community, particularly the G8 countries, can meet this obligation by providing adequate resources to ensure access to prevention, care, and treatment for HIV and AIDS, to strengthen local health systems, and to achieve universal primary education.

Please take a moment today to sign the petition to the G8, and to encourage your friends to do the same. We and our ally organizations will pool all of our signatures and present them to the G8 when it meets in Germany on June 6.

Join us in holding the G8 accountable for its promises. Sign the petition.

For more information about the issue and what we're doing about it, click here.

25 May 2007

Just another rubber-stamp Congress?

Last November, the American people spoke. We were tired of the direction in which this country was going with Bush and Cheney in the White House and a dutiful Republican Congress eagerly enabling their every reckless, lawless desire. We voted for change. We voted for an end to Bush's illegal and immoral war of aggression in Iraq.

In March, we applauded when Congress passed an Iraq spending bill that would impose timelines to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. Of course, Bush promptly vetoed it.

So what did Congress do in response? They rolled over and let the President have his way. They voted last evening to give him billions more of our tax dollars to continue the fiasco in Iraq. They voted for the wishes of George W. Bush over the wishes of the American people.

They were apparently afraid that they'd otherwise be accused of not supporting the troops. But today the best way to support the troops is to save them from their Commander-in-Chief.

Shame on Congress! How many more American troops will be killed or mutilated as a result of Congress's cowardice? How many more innocent Iraqi men, women, and babies will have to pay the same price?

See how your Representative voted. See how your Senators voted. And keep it in mind when you go to the polls next year.

24 May 2007

E-mail your Senators: Support Sen. Harkin's new bill to close Gitmo

The U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay is a glaring symbol of the Bush administration's human rights abuses in the name of the "war on terror".

For more than five years, hundreds of prisoners have been held in harsh conditions there with no legal recourse. While some have been found innocent and been released, how many other innocent men and boys are still languishing hopelessly in that place? We may not know for a very long time, because the Bush administration refuses to charge them with a crime and give them a fair trial.

Yesterday, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) introduced a bill to close the Guantanamo Bay prison 120 days after passage and to end the practice of indefinite detention without charges.

Please stand up for justice and the rule of law by showing your support for this bill. Click here to e-mail your senators and ask them to co-sponsor Sen. Harkin's bill.

23 May 2007

Amnesty's Annual Report 2007: Politics of fear creating a dangerously divided world

Today, the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International (AI) released its annual report on the state of human rights around the world. The annual report provides a country-by-country overview of AI's research and concerns during 2006.

In releasing this year's report, AI cited a disturbing trend: Politics of fear

The U.S. gets a good scolding for its human rights abuses in the "war on terror".

Below is the text of an AI press release about this year's report, followed by a link to the report online.
Powerful governments and armed groups are deliberately fomenting fear to erode human rights and to create an increasingly polarized and dangerous world, said Amnesty International today as it launched Amnesty International Report 2007, its annual assessment of human rights worldwide.

"Through short sighted, fear-mongering and divisive policies, governments are undermining the rule of law and human rights, feeding racism and xenophobia, dividing communities, intensifying inequalities and sowing the seeds for more violence and conflict," said Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

"The politics of fear is fuelling a downward spiral of human rights abuse in which no right is sacrosanct and no person safe."

"The 'war on terror' and the war in Iraq, with their catalogue of human rights abuses, have created deep divisions that cast a shadow on international relations, making it more difficult to resolve conflicts and protect civilians."

Scarred by distrust and division, the international community was too often impotent or weak-willed in the face of major human rights crises in 2006, whether in forgotten conflicts like Chechnya, Colombia and Sri Lanka or high profiles ones in the Middle East.

The UN took weeks to muster the will to call for a ceasefire in the conflict in Lebanon in which approximately 1,200 civilians lost their lives. The international community showed no stomach to tackle the human rights disaster resulting from severe restrictions on freedom of movement of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, reckless attacks by the Israeli army and inter-factional fighting among Palestinian groups.

"Darfur is a bleeding wound on world conscience. The UN Security Council is hampered by distrust and double dealing of its most powerful members. The Sudanese government is running rings around the UN. Meanwhile 200,000 people have died, more than ten times that number have been displaced, and militia attacks are now spreading to Chad and the Central African Republic," said Ms. Khan.

Thriving in an arc of instability, extending from the borders of Pakistan to the Horn of Africa, armed groups flexed their muscles and engaged in massive abuse of human rights and international humanitarian law.

"Unless governments address the grievances on which these groups feed, unless they provide effective leadership to bring these groups to account for the abuses they have committed and are ready to hold themselves accountable, the prognosis for human rights is dire," said Ms Khan.

In Afghanistan, the international community and the Afghan government squandered the opportunity to build an effective state based on human rights and the rule of law, leaving the people to chronic insecurity, corruption and a resurgent Taleban. In Iraq, the security forces incited sectarian violence rather than restrained it, the justice system proved woefully inadequate, and the worst practices of Saddam's regime -– torture, unfair trials, capital punishment and rape with impunity –- remained very much alive.

"In many countries, a fear-driven political agenda is fuelling discrimination, widening the gap between the 'haves' and the 'have nots', 'them' and 'us', and leaving the most marginalized people unprotected," said Ms. Khan.

In Africa alone hundreds of thousands of people were evicted forcibly from their homes with no due process, compensation or alternative shelter –- often in the name of progress and economic development.

Politicians played upon the fears of uncontrolled migration to justify tougher measures against asylum-seekers and refugees in Western Europe, while migrant workers were left unprotected and exploited around the world, from South Korea to the Dominican Republic.

The divide between Muslims and non-Muslims deepened, fuelled by discriminatory counter-terrorism strategies in western countries. Incidents of Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, intolerance and attacks on religious minorities increased worldwide.

Meanwhile, hate crimes against foreigners were widespread in Russia while segregation and exclusion of the Roma community were rampant around Europe, illustrating the blatant failure of leadership to combat racism and xenophobia.

"Increasing polarization and heightened fears about national security reduced the space for tolerance and dissent. Around the world, from Iran to Zimbabwe, many independent voices on human rights were silenced in 2006," said Ms Khan.

Freedom of expression was suppressed in a variety of ways from the prosecution of writers and human rights defenders in Turkey, to the killing of political activists in the Philippines, to the constant harassment, surveillance and often imprisonment of human rights defenders in China, to the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya and new laws regulating non-governmental organizations in Russia. The Internet became the new frontier in the struggle for dissent as activists were arrested and companies colluded with governments to restrict access to information on-line in countries such as China, Iran, Syria, Vietnam and Belarus.

Old-fashioned repression gained a new lease of life under the guise of fighting terrorism in countries like Egypt, while loosely defined counter-terrorism laws posed a potential threat to free speech in the United Kingdom.

Five years after 9/11, new evidence came to light in 2006 of the way in which the US Administration treated the world as one giant battlefield for its 'war on terror', kidnapping, arresting, arbitrarily detaining, torturing and transferring suspects from one secret prison to another across the world with impunity, in what the US termed 'extraordinary renditions'.

"Nothing more aptly portrayed the globalization of human rights violations than the US-led 'war on terror' and its programme of 'extraordinary renditions' which implicated governments in countries as far apart as Italy and Pakistan, Germany and Kenya," said Ms. Khan. "Ill-conceived counter-terrorism strategies have done little to reduce the threat of violence or ensure justice for victims of terrorism but much to damage human rights and the rule of law globally."

Amnesty International called on governments to reject the politics of fear and invest in human rights institutions and the rule of law at the national and international level.

"There are signs of hope. A momentum was created by European institutions for transparency and accountability on renditions. Thanks to civil society pressure, the UN agreed to develop a treaty to control conventional arms. In a range of countries new leaders and legislatures coming to power have an opportunity to redress the failed leadership that has plagued the human rights scene in recent years. A new US Congress could take the lead in setting the trend, restoring respect for human rights at home and abroad," said Ms Khan.

"Just as global warming requires global action based on international cooperation, the human rights meltdown can only be tackled through global solidarity and respect for international law."
Browse AI's 2007 report online, or download the PDFs.

22 May 2007

Despite global warming, people are polluting more than ever

At this point, the scientific community pretty much concurs that global warming is real, and that the consequences could be devastating.

Nevertheless, an article in today's Christian Science Monitor tells us that "Global emissions of carbon dioxide are growing at a faster clip than the highest rates used in recent key UN reports."


In other words, we're exceeding the highest (or worst) expectations for propagating the climate change problem via our own shameless addiction to large gas-guzzling vehicles and corporate polluters gone wild.

And that's going to make the problem even harder to solve, of course.

Experts quoted in the Monitor article attribute much of the increase to China's recent industrialization. But that doesn't leave us off the hook. After all, U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide account for 23 percent of the world total.

So why do we do it?

10 or 20 years ago, when the SUV craze was just starting up, global warming wasn't on the radar. Back then, all the yuppies needed their SUVs to transport all the supplies from Home Depot to their sprawling new suburban homes. And there was no known reason not to. My then-husband's Jeep Cherokee simply wasn't an issue back then. Nobody really knew about global warming, and so nobody worried about it.

Fast forward. Now we know. Now we should care. Here I am feeling guilty over my 30+ MPG Toyota Corolla, and looking forward to buying a hybrid as soon as I can afford a new car.

But, sad to say, I'm clearly in the minority. In the office parking lot, in the shopping center parking lot, on the freeway, and in the neighborhood, big SUVs dominate.

And I need to know: Polar bears are dying. Islands are drowning. Why exactly do you need to drive that big fat pollution machine?

21 May 2007

The HPV vaccine war continues

Ever since the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine was approved last year by the FDA, it's been at the center of a lot of sanctimonious right-wing histrionics.

An article yesterday by the Associated Press pretty well sums up the hot points on the issue. Foremost is the tired old right-wing assertion that giving a girl the vaccine will make her promiscuous. Sure, HPV is sexually transmitted. But so are a whole lot of other diseases. The HPV vaccine isn't going to prevent syphilis or herpes or AIDS. But it will prevent cervical cancer. Doesn't that count for something among the so-called "pro-life" folks?

Besides, the vaccination process can make a good opening for educating our daughters about the other types of sexually transmitted diseases and how to prevent them. After all, ignorance is far more likely to lead to promiscuity and disease than a potentially life-saving vaccination. But, of course, the anti-vaccine contingent likely overlaps significantly with the dangerously irresponsible abstinence-only crowd, so this argument won't fly with them.

I'm not necessarily in favor of making this vaccine mandatory for all girls. After all, it seems that most of the vaccinations required for entry into school are for infectious diseases that can be spread by classroom proximity. HPV doesn't travel in a sneeze or a cough.

But the bottom line is that the right-wing stance is not about saving lives. It's about controlling women. As with the anti-choice lobby, it's about keeping in place all possible unwanted consequences for girls and women who have sex.

Meanwhile, they're all too happy to let the Viagra flow freely.

20 May 2007

Is California's new "pain-free" lethal injection protocol even less humane?

Lethal injection as a method of execution has been under fire lately due to evidence that it doesn't always work as expected, and can cause a slow, excrutiatingly painful death. As a result, it has been put on hold in some states, including California.

But now California is ready to crank open the execution chamber once again with a new lethal injection protocol.

According to an article last week in the LA Times, California is adjusting the dosages of the three-drug protocol and training prison staff "to ensure that inmates are thoroughly unconscious before the final painful drugs are given."

However, per the LA Times article, "Under the new protocol, the state will administer less sodium thiopental -- 3 grams rather than 5, more pancuronium bromide -- 50 milligrams rather than 40, and less potassium chloride -- 200 milliliters rather than 240."

Wait a minute!

Under the new protocol, they will administer less sodium thiopental! That means less of the drug that renders the person unconscious so that he does not feel the pain caused by the potassium chloride!

Suddenly I feel like Alice in Wonderland. Is there a medical doctor out there who can explain this paradox to me?

That said, some death penalty supporters tell me that death row inmates deserve to suffer a slow and painful death. To them, I offer two points:

1. It's illegal. The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution explicitly bars cruel and unusual punishment.

2. We can't be sure that we're not accidentally executing an innocent person who was wrongfully convicted. Don't believe me? Think the system is good enough to keep an innocent person from being executed? Then click here, and see why I hope that none of your loved ones will ever be convicted of a capital crime that he or she did not commit.

Amnesty weighs in

In response to California's new lethal injection protocol, Larry Cox, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, issued the following insightful statement:
The recent announcement regarding California's revised lethal injection protocol demonstrates how far the state will go to preserve the myth that human beings can be exterminated "humanely". Like recent reports in Tennessee and Florida, California's report details the "improvements" that will be made to its lethal injection procedure. Predictably, the new protocols merely repackage the same old macabre practices. The alleged "safeguards" do not mitigate any of the numerous ethical concerns surrounding the use of lethal injection.

These attempts to tinker endlessly with the mechanism of execution are both misguided and futile. The real problems that plague the death penalty system transcend the method by which a person is put to death. No matter how "sanitized" the execution process, the death penalty remains racially biased, carries the very real risk of executing the innocent and is arbitrary and capricious at its very core.

Tweaking the instruments of death is ultimately a distraction from the fact that politicians aren't effective in addressing violent crime. Given that many people are realizing the numerous ethical dilemmas surrounding this issue, the clear trend both nationally and internationally is to move away from the death penalty. Now is not the time to attempt to streamline the execution process -- it is time to abandon this archaic and gruesome practice once and for all.
Amen, Larry.

18 May 2007

Mark Fiore: Axis of Uh-Oh

In his latest animation, political cartoonist Mark Fiore takes an amusing look at the hypocrisies and absurdities in the Bush administration's foreign policy.

Check it out: Axis of Uh-Oh

17 May 2007

Suddenly we need a "War Czar"?

Earlier this week, George W. Bush created a new official U.S. government position: "War Czar"


This nation has gotten along just fine for more than two centuries, and through several wars, without a "War Czar". Why do we need one now?

Is this Bush's way of making the "War on Terror" seem more urgent, or more important, than all those previous wars (such as WWII), for which we did not have a "War Czar" on the payroll (as far as I can tell)?

Or is it that this administration is so bloodthirsty that it needs to appoint yet another official person in charge of war operations, in addition to the Secretary of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, etc.?

Or perhaps is it that the administration, deep down inside, really does see that this "War on Terror" thing is truly out of control, so they need another scapegoat?

As of yesterday, at least three retired four-star generals have spurned the idea. To read their views as published by the Washington Post, click here.

War is supposed to be a defensive activity of last resort. We shouldn't need a freaking "War Czar" now. But then, we shouldn't be at war now at all.

16 May 2007

Jewish Navy vet says chaplains used high-pressure methods to convert him to Christianity

The Founding Fathers of the United States of America deliberately wrote a clause into the First Amendment that would form a wall of separation between Church and State.

But that doesn't seem to matter now.

From the Des Moines Register:
U.S. Navy veteran David Miller said that when he checked into the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Iowa City, he didn't realize he would get a hard sell for Christian fundamentalism along with treatment for his kidney stones.

Miller, 46, an Orthodox Jew, said he was repeatedly proselytized by hospital chaplains and staff in attempts to convert him to Christianity during three hospitalizations over the past two years.

He said he went hungry each time because the hospital wouldn't serve him kosher food, and the staff refused to contact his rabbi, who could have brought him something to eat.
[Read more.]

Right now, our Founding Fathers, especially Jefferson, are spinning in their graves.

15 May 2007

Lou Dobbs incorrectly asserts that immigrants are bringing leprosy into the U.S.

Watch out, your nose might fall off. Or worse. At least that's what CNN's Lou Dobbs would like you to think if we don't do more to keep illegal immigrants out of this country.

But seriously, first of all, I want to say upfront that I don't hold a singular opinion on immigration. I hold several. It's too complex an issue to simplify in the way that so many officials and pundits would like to.

That said, I have a real problem with Lou Dobbs' recent erroneous assertion that immigrants are bringing leprosy into the U.S.

Dobbs' statement has been proven incorrect. But some people who haven't heard the truth will likely belive that they will be exposed to leprosy because we don't have a fence to keep the brown people from spilling across the Rio Grande. (I'm guessing that Dobbs isn't blaming any Canadians for the leprosy.)

For a thorough, well-qualified debunking of Dobbs' xenophobic assertions, check out this piece from AlterNet: CNN's Lou Dobbs Defends Claim That Illegal Immigrants Are Bringing Leprosy to America

Is Dobbs so short on real immigration-reform arguments that he has to resort to twisting the medical facts?

14 May 2007

Iraqi parliament wants U.S. out

On May 1, Bush vetoed the Iraq spending bill because it called for timelines to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.

Then, a few days ago, the Washington Post reported that "[a] majority of members of Iraq's parliament have signed a draft bill that would require a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from Iraq and freeze current troop levels."

Only Bush wants us to stay in Iraq. And Cheney. And Halliburton.

Bush keeps talking about spreading democracy around the globe. But he won't respect the decisions of the new Iraqi democracy. And he won't respect the decisions of our own democracy here at home.

To him, democracy is just a word that sounds good in speeches.


"If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier... just so long as I'm the dictator."

-- George W. Bush, December 18, 2000

13 May 2007

Speak out against Bush's Iraq policy and lose your job at CBS

General John Batiste resigned from the U.S. Army in protest of the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq war.

He was serving as a consultant to CBS news until very recently. You see, General Batiste appeared in a VoteVets ad, speaking against Bush's Iraq strategy. So CBS fired him.

So now you know who controls the news, and what happens when someone tries to share the other side of the story.

Fortunately, though, we still have MSNBC's Keith Olbermann to give us a better perspective. On the May 10th edition of Countdown, Olbermann talked with General Batiste about the situation. To read the transcripts or download the interview, click here.

On Mother's Day, tell Congress to support children's health

Today is Mother's Day in the U.S. On this occasion, please join me in taking the following action from the Save the Children Federation and tell your Congressman and Senators to support the Global Child Survival Act:

This Mother’s Day, millions of families will celebrate life’s most fundamental bond between mother and child. And yet for too many families in poor countries, the joy of parenthood is cut short by anguish. This May, nearly a million parents worldwide will lose a young child.

Every year, 10 million children under five die from preventable and treatable diseases. They’re not dying from mysterious, incurable diseases, but from diarrhea, pneumonia, malnutrition, and other causes that would be unthinkable in our own country.

The significant commitment of the United States to children’s health in the developing world contributed to a 50 percent reduction in child mortality between 1960 and 1990. And yet we’ve allowed funding for global maternal and child health programs to stagnate in recent years.

Members of Congress have stepped up and introduced the U.S. Commitment to Global Child Survival Act. This legislation would recommit the United States to improving children’s health by expanding funding for proven solutions like immunizations and antibiotics.

Please tell your representatives in Congress to support the Global Child Survival Act.

12 May 2007

Have we reached a real turning point on the Iraq issue?

I'm not a big fan of the war in Iraq. I was against it from the start. We attacked an unarmed country that posed no threat to us. We did so in violation of the United Nations Charter. It was waged as an illegal war of aggression.

We destroyed that country four years ago, and it still lies in ruins. Reconstruction is a joke. And our troops, along with innocent Iraqi civilians, are still dying for Bush's ego and Cheney's oil.

But could it be that things are finally starting to turn around? Has America regained its moral conscience? Recent developments might suggest that this is so.

First, a delegation of 11 Republican Congressmen visited the White House this past week and staged a come-to-Jesus meeting with George W. Bush. In a nutshell, they told Bush that he had no credibility left on the Iraq issue. They told him that they need candor and honesty from the White House. They said that any future assessments of the situation in Iraq need to come not from the White House but from General Petraeus.

Sure, these Congressmen may well have been motivated more by electoral vulnerability than by any sense of moral responsibility; but this is nonetheless a positive sign that more and more of our legislators are seeing that it's time to put some real pressure on the White House.

Second, according to an article in yesterday's Washington Post, General Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, warned the troops against using torture. According to the article, Petraeus "admonished his troops regarding the results of an Army survey that found that many U.S military personnel there are willing to tolerate some torture of suspects and unwilling to report abuse by comrades."

The article goes on to quote from an open letter from Petraeus dated May 10 and posted on a Military website: "This fight depends on securing the population, which must understand that we -- not our enemies -- occupy the moral high ground."

Petraeus then underscored my longstanding argument that torture doesn't work. He stated, per the Post: "Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they also are frequently neither useful nor necessary." Bingo!

OK, so these two developments of the past week are just small steps towards some positive change. But they're important. Every little step counts. Let's keep our fingers crossed in hopes that this trend will continue.

11 May 2007

Mark Fiore: Pentagon Film Fest

In his latest animation, political cartoonist Mark Fiore takes an amusing look at how the Bush administration and the Pentagon have been spinning the news on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Check it out: Pentagon Film Fest

10 May 2007

More dead babies in Iraq

More than four years ago, George W. Bush invaded Iraq, telling us that he was going to liberate the Iraqi people.

Would someone please give the president a dictionary?

According to an article yesterday in the British newspaper The Independent, there has been a huge rise in the mortality among young children in Iraq, "leaving statistics that were once the envy of the Arab world now comparable with those of sub-Saharan Africa."

The article goes on to say that a study by the Save the Children charity found that "in 1990 Iraq's mortality rate for under-fives was 50 per 1,000 live births. In 2005 it was 125. While many other countries have higher rates - Angola, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, for instance, all have rates above 200 - the increase in Iraq is higher than elsewhere."

Of course the earlier sanctions didn't help. But then Bush blew up the country's infrastructure; hospitals are hurting; doctors are leaving Iraq in droves; and, of course, so many Iraqi children are simply hapless casualties of the war that Bush started for no good reason.

That doesn't sound like liberation to me.

09 May 2007

Tell Fidelity: Divest for Darfur

A divestment campaign is well under way to cut off funding for the crisis in Darfur, in which hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed, and over 2 million civilians have been displaced, by the government-backed Janjawid militia.

Here's one way you can help, from the Save Darfur Coalition:
By withdrawing investments from companies that help finance the genocide, we can build economic pressure to end the atrocities.

That's why we are calling on the investment firms with the largest ties to Sudan, such as Fidelity, to divest their holdings now, before more lives are lost.

Click here to sign the petition calling on Fidelity to divest from companies that help fund the genocide.

Fidelity is a major holder of PetroChina, the Chinese oil company that is one of the biggest offenders in helping to fund the genocide in Darfur.

Despite complaints from concerned citizens and investors, Fidelity has not accepted responsibility for its role in investing in companies that help fund the genocide in Darfur and has refused to withdraw these investments.

Tell Fidelity it's time to stop investing in companies that help fund the genocide. Click here to sign the petition asking them to cut their ties with businesses supporting the genocide.

While diplomacy is crucial, most international efforts have failed to get through to Sudan.

But money talks -- Sudan has been very responsive to economic pressure in the past. That is why we believe divestment could be highly effective in forcing Sudan to cooperate with the international community.

Divestment helped end apartheid in South Africa in the late 1980's and it can help end genocide in Darfur in 2007.

Click here to demand that Fidelity do their part to help end the violence by divesting from companies that help fund the genocide.

08 May 2007

More U.S. health care woes: Self-employed struggle to get insurance

There's no question that we've got a health care crisis here in the U.S.

The U.S. placed 37th in the World Health Organization's rankings of the world's health systems (below Malta, Iceland, Saudi Arabia, and numerous other countries that might surprise you). Yes, apparently you can get better health care in the United Arab Emirates than you can in the good ol' USA.

The number of uninsured Americans continues to climb. Nearly 10 million children are uninsured in this country, even though 90 percent of them have one or more parents who work. Too many Americans cannot afford health care when they need it for themselves or their children.

And these are not just the working poor. According to a May 5th article in the New York Times, more and more self-employed Americans are unable to afford the rising costs of individual health insurance.

Article 25 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control."

But, here in the richest nation on earth, so many of us do not seem to have those rights, because insurance coverage is so closely tied to one's employment situation, and the insurance companies want to put profits before people.

Here in the richest nation on earth, there's no excuse to rank 37th in health care or leave so many of our citizens uninsured.

There has got to be a better way.

06 May 2007

CREW: Feds rejected million$ in foreign aid after Katrina

I received an interesting report this past week from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

Apparently, that organization has obtained some documents indicating that "the federal government had turned down millions of dollars in aid from foreign countries in the aftermath of Katrina."

According to CREW:
Incredibly, $854 million in aid was offered from countries across the world, yet only $40 million has been used so far for victims or reconstruction. In fact, offers to provide rescue equipment, cruise ships, medical teams and water were rejected, as victims went without basic necessities. Even assistance that was accepted, such as medical supplies from Italy, were unused, exposed to the elements and eventually discarded.
Read more and see the documents.

Of course, this is the same country whose president fiddled while New Orleans drowned, and whose Secretary of State thought that the best use of her time was to go shoe shopping and catch a Broadway comedy in New York.

Can't let the tragic destruction of a major American city (and the poor people in it) interfere with their fun, I guess. And they apparently also had better things to do than to accept the financial contributions of the world and put them to good use to assist those whose lives had just been devastated.

I miss the days when I was proud to be an American.

05 May 2007

U.S. turns further away from human rights

Remember when the U.S. was considered a beacon of human rights? Remember how the U.S. led the way in establishing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Ah, those were the days.

Then came Iraq, Abu Ghraib, the PATRIOT Act, warrantless wiretapping, etc., etc., etc.

Now the Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS) is reporting that the U.S. is separating itself from the United Nations Human Rights Council. And the rest of the world believes that the U.S. has lost its credibility on human rights.

Here are some excerpts from a May 3rd IPS article:
When the 192-member U.N. General Assembly meets in mid-May to elect 14 new members to the 47-nation Geneva-based Human Rights Council (HRC), the United States will be conspicuous by its absence and missing from the ballot.

Justifying its decision, Washington says it will skip the elections because the HRC has lost its "credibility" for focusing primarily on one country -- Israel -- and ignoring "human rights abusers" such as Myanmar (Burma), Iran, Zimbabwe and North Korea.

But U.N. diplomats, human rights activists and legal experts point out that the administration of President George W. Bush has no legitimate right to sit in judgment over the transgressions of others while its own "abusive behaviour" is not under scrutiny by any international body.

"The United States does not have a shred of moral authority left; its only authority is the big stick," Michael Ratner, president of the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, told IPS.

He argued that the U.S. claim it is staying away from the elections because the Council has lost its credibility is "bogus".

"It is the United States that has lost its credibility, and that is why it would never be elected. Ask almost anyone in the world whether the U.S. engages in torture -- sadly the answer will be affirmative," he added.


Stephen Zunes, professor of politics at the University of San Francisco, says the United States is certainly not the only country which has engaged in violations of international humanitarian law to an extent that raises questions regarding the appropriateness of sitting on the U.N.'s Human Rights Council.

Indeed, there are quite a few countries that are even worse, he noted, particularly regarding the treatment of their own citizens.

"Still, there is perhaps no other country that is so self-righteous about lecturing governments it doesn't like about their human rights abuses while simultaneously defending its own human rights abuses of foreign nationals as well as providing large-scale security assistance to allied regimes which engage in even more egregious human rights abuses," Zunes told IPS.
Read the full article.

So this is how we are seen by the world today. We have lost our moral authority.

Today, America stands as a symbol for the blatant disregard of human rights and the rule of law.

I am embarrassed, ashamed, and angry as hell.

04 May 2007

Kent State: Thoughts on a sad anniversary

Today, May 4, marks the 37th anniversary of the Kent State massacre. On this date in 1970, four Kent State University students were killed, and nine were wounded, when members of the Ohio National Guard opened fire on a group of kids who were protesting the U.S. invasion of Cambodia. Four dead in O-hi-o.

Today we are fighting a similarly unpopular war. We haven't seen Iraq war protesters gunned down like those at Kent State. (Knock on wood.) But maybe that's because the National Guard is so busy in Iraq, following George W. Bush's orders to "liberate" (read: "destroy") that country, and killing and maiming innocent Iraqi men, women, and children in the process. Certainly the Bush administration is no less arrogant and agenda-driven than the Nixon administration.

Why does this kind of history have to repeat itself?

Why do we keep putting greedy crooks and liars into the highest positions of power in this country?

Will peace, sanity, and human rights ever prevail for the long term?

Will we ever have a world in which those in charge value mankind more than money, people more than power, reason more than revenge, and kindness more than killing?

03 May 2007

Take action on World Press Freedom Day

Today, May 3, is World Press Freedom Day.

Even in the 21st century, governments around the world are violating the right of journalists to report the truth. Some are imprisoned. Some are even killed. This is "shooting the messenger" in the worst and most literal sense of the term.

On this day, please take one or both of the following online actions to defend the freedom of journalists and the press:

Join the campaign for Alan Johnston
The BBC’s Palestinian Territories correspondent has been held hostage in the Gaza Strip since March 12. Sign the BBC's petition to call on everyone with influence to increase their efforts to ensure that Alan is freed quickly and unharmed.

Call for justice for Anna Politkovskaya
Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian reporter for the independent biweekly Novaya Gazeta, was murdered in Moscow on October 7, 2006. Sign a petition from Reporters Without Borders to call for an international commission of inquiry to establish the truth about Anna Politkovskaya’s murder.

Mark Fiore: Veto Accomplished

George W. Bush used his veto power on Tuesday to reject funding for the troops because the bill would eventually let the troops come home.

In his latest animation, political cartoonist Mark Fiore provides a light but insightful look at just how absurd Bush's stubborn warmongering really is.

Check it out: Veto Accomplished

01 May 2007

Workers around the world are being threatened, harassed, and even killed for standing up for their basic rights

Today, May 1, is International Workers Day.

Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states the following:

(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Yet, according to the human rights group Amnesty International, "workers around the world are being threatened, harassed, even killed for standing up for their basic rights. According to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, at least 100 trade unionists are killed every year for trying to promote better pay and working conditions for employees. Many states have signed international laws safeguarding the right of trade unionists to act freely, yet some states are consistently failing to uphold their responsibilities under these laws."

>> Read about a couple of these cases from Cambodia and Colombia.

It's greed-induced murder.

And it's not just happening in the developing world. While worker repression is usually not quite so violent here in the U.S., corporations here have also been cracking down on unions, using intimidation and other ethically questionable tactics.

>> Read more about the decline in U.S. labor unions, from the Workplace Fairness organization.

It is the workers who perform the necessary tasks that keep our economy running and make our societies great -- not the fat-cat overpaid CEOs. And it is the workers -- not the CEOs -- who truly deserve more respect and greater job security. Without the workers, where would we be?

Innocent people have been executed in the U.S.

I've written before about the prisoners in the U.S. who were eventually exonerated via DNA or other evidence. They now number 200. At least 123 of them had been on death row.

Those are the "lucky" ones. According to a new report by the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP), other innocent people actually have been put to death.

The following is from a statement from NCADP about the report:
Death penalty supporters maintain "the system works" and that no innocent person has been proven to be executed. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia recently wrote that there has not been "a single case - not one - in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit. If such an event had occurred in recent years, we would not have to hunt for it; the innocent's name would be shouted from the rooftops."

Justice Scalia is wrong.

Following up on a handful of investigations spearheaded by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) with a group of committed cooperating attorneys, the Innocence Project, The Justice Project, and students at Columbia, Michigan and several other law schools, some of the nation's best investigative journalists and leading newspapers have recently exposed grave errors leading to the execution of innocent people.
Read More:

Report Home

Executive Summary

Full Report (pdf)

The Executed:

Carlos DeLuna - Did this man die for a phantom's crime?

Larry Griffin - The eye witness who wasn't there

Robin Cantu - An execution on the basis of lies

Todd Willingham - Executed for an accidental fire

Take Action:

Does your state practice the death penalty? If so, send a message to your governor, urging that the NCADP report be read and considered.