30 September 2007

Bono speaks out against torture -- and gets censored

On September 27th, here in Philadelphia, the Liberty Medal for 2007 was awarded to Bono and his organization DATA (Debt AIDS Trade Africa), for their work in fighting AIDS and poverty in Africa. Each year, the National Constitution Center awards the Liberty Medal to a person or persons for outstanding work in advancing the cause of liberty around the world.

While Bono's entire acceptance speech was quite good, I was particularly moved when he spoke out against the use of torture. He said, "You do not have to become a monster to defeat a monster."

Indeed. Very well put.

And I wrote those words down right after I heard them, because I was so impressed and wanted to share the wisdom.

However, two days after the event, I downloaded the official video of Bono's speech at www.libertymedal.org. And I discovered that the official video had been edited so that it no longer contains the references to torture, or other portions of the speech that apparently were not acceptable to The Powers That Be. Furthermore, the edited version seems to over-emphasize the few gratuitous positive comments that Bono made regarding the current Bush administration. (By the way, George Bush Sr. presented the award.)

Not being a conspiracy theorist, I began to question whether I had heard it all correctly the first time.

Fortunately, I discovered that Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News heard the same speech that I heard, and he wrote about it in his blog at www.attytood.com. Bunch's blog entry about Bono's speech fills in some of the gaps that are missing from the official video, including the context surrounding Bono's "monster" comment.

So, thanks to Will Bunch, here is what Bono had to say about torture:
Today I read in the Economist an article reporting that over 38 percent of Americans support some type of torture in exceptional circumstances. My country? No. Your country? Tell me no. Today, when I receive this great honor, I ask you, I implore you as an Irishman who has seen some of these things close up, I ask you to remember, you do not have to become a monster to defeat a monster. Your America’s better than that.
Yes, that is exactly what I heard.

But, in the official video, all is missing except the last two sentences.

Yes, this is America, land of the free. Or so it once appeared to be.

Let's face it: When you feel you must censor the acceptance speech of a Liberty Medal recipient, something is seriously wrong.

28 September 2007

Good news: Verizon reverses its policy on pro-choice messages

Yesterday I wrote about how Verizon Wireless blocked a text-messaging program that would allow subscribers to receive text messages from pro-choice group NARAL.

I am pleased to announce that Verizon has now reversed that policy.

According to The New York Times, Verizon spokesperson Jeffrey Nelson said that the previous decision to block NARAL's text messages was an "isolated incident" and "an incorrect interpretation of a dusty internal policy" that "was designed to ward against communications such as anonymous hate messaging and adult materials sent to children."

To me that seems like a lame excuse, given that you have to actively subscribe to NARAL's text messages. They're not sent anonymously or unsolicited.

Nevertheless, this is good news for Verizon Wireless subscribers, and for the First Amendment in general.

Take O'Reilly to an Eagles game

There's been a lot of media buzz this past week about conservative pundit Bill O'Reilly's appalling comments about how surprised he was that people were behaving in a civilized manner at a Harlem restaurant.

During the September 19th edition of his syndicated radio show, O'Reilly told his listeners that he "couldn't get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia's restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it's run by blacks, primarily black patronship."

Sounding very surprised, like it was was an eye-opening experience, O'Reilly added: "There wasn't one person in Sylvia's who was screaming, 'M-Fer, I want more iced tea.'"

Maybe someone should bring O'Reilly to Philadelphia for an Eagles game. How suprised he would surely be at the uncivilized behavior of the infamously rabid Eagles fans, since most of the ill-behaved ones happen to be white.

27 September 2007

Verizon Wireless rejects pro-choice text messages

Today's New York Times reports that Verizon Wireless has rejected a text-messaging program that would allow subscribers who request the service to receive text messages from NARAL Pro-Choice America. Verizon says it has the right to block "controversial or unsavory" content.

So let's see what they consider "controversial or unsavory". Here is an example of one of NARAL's text messages:
"End Bush's global gag rule against birth control for world's poorest women! Call Congress. (202) 224-3121. Thnx! Naral Text4Choice."
So there you go.

I pay a lot of money to Verizon Wireless each month, and I resent the fact that they think they can tell me what content is appropriate for the text messages I receive. I should be the one who makes those decisions.

Besides, look at all the goofy and offensive personal text messages that kids and adults send each other every day. I'm sure that many cell phone users have received far less tasteful text messages than the one I quoted above. Is Verizon going to start censoring those kinds of messages too?

I hope Verizon will reconsider their decision and adopt a policy that's more in line with the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech.

Otherwise, I think I will have to switch to another provider, hassle though it would be. So should you.

25 September 2007

Thom Hartmann: Columbia University Shows True American Values

Everyone seems to have an opinion about Columbia University's invitation to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at the school, which he did yesterday.

I like the points expressed by writer and Air America radio host Thom Hartmann, which I share below:

Columbia University Shows True American Values

by Thom Hartmann

Columbia University, by inviting Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak, has shown confidence in the wisdom and adultness of their students and our republic.

Ahmadinejad is the president of a major nation in a vital part of the world, and we should have enough self-assurance and belief in our own system of government, and in the intelligence of our college students, that we can let them (and our larger public) evaluate his words, whatever they may be.

To be terrified of his speaking there (or, for that matter, laying a wreath at Ground Zero) is behavior one would have expected from a fragile regime like Khrushchev's USSR or Burma's military junta, not the bold, brave, and fearless USA.

We are the nation whose President Nixon reached out to and met with China's Mao Tse Tsung at the same time Mao was funding and arming the North Vietnamese to kill our soldiers in Vietnam. We're the nation whose President Reagan confronted Soviet President Gorbachev, who at the time had thousands of nuclear warheads armed and pointed at us and was actively funding and arming proxy wars we were fighting in more than a half-dozen nations. We're the nation whose President Roosevelt said, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."

And let's also remember that the people of Tehran, Iran, produced one of the largest candlelight vigil demonstrations in the Muslim world in support of the USA the day after 9/11, repudiating the act and actors of that event. We still have the ability to make an ally of that nation, and shouldn't blow it by fear and bluster (or bombs). America is better and stronger than the nervous Nellies and chickenhawk war-mongers who currently have control of the Republican Party (and a few Democrats, apparently).

As JFK said: "We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people."

We are not afraid. We are Americans!

Thom Hartmann (thom at thomhartmann.com) is a Project Censored Award-winning New York Times best-selling author, and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk program on the Air America Radio Network. www.thomhartmann.com His most recent books are "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," "Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights," "We The People: A Call To Take Back America," "What Would Jefferson Do?," "Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class and What We Can Do About It," and "Cracking The Code: The Art and Science of Political Persuasion."

Permission is granted for reprint in print, email, or web media so long as this credit is unchanged.

Published on Monday, September 24, 2007 by CommonDreams.org

Urgent: Tell Congress to support health care for America's children

Congress is expected to vote this week on reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Plan (SCHIP), which provides health care coverage to low-income children.

George W. Bush has threatened to veto it, so we need enough votes to override a veto. We can't let our nation's poor children suffer for Bush's greed.

Please read the action alert below from the League of Women Voters and click one of the links to tell your Senators and Representative to vote for children's health.

This summer the Senate and the House passed bills to reauthorize the State Children's Health Insurance Plan (SCHIP), which provides health care coverage to millions of low-income children. This past Friday congressional leaders announced they had come to a bipartisan, bicameral agreement in a conference committee. Votes in both the House and Senate are expected this week so we must take action to encourage Congress to pass SCHIP reauthorization legislation at the $50 billion funding level NOW!

Take action today to help insure America's children!

Over the past ten years, SCHIP has dramatically improved children's access to health care, and has made great strides in covering children. The program covers children from low-income families who do not qualify for Medicaid. As of today, SCHIP is only authorized through September 30, 2007, which is fast approaching. It is the right time to improve and strengthen SCHIP to further increase access to affordable, comprehensive, equitable, and quality health coverage for all of our nation's children. As a direct result of this program the percentage of low-income children in the United States without health coverage has fallen by one-third in the past decade even as employer-based coverage has decreased.

The conference bill will include up to $50 billion over five years to provide health care for about half of America's nine million uninsured children. It is important to continue our nation's great progress in covering more uninsured, low-income children. We hope you will send a message to your Senators and Representatives to encourage them to pass the bill at the $50 billion funding level.

Without SCHIP millions of children whose families cannot afford health care coverage will go uninsured!


24 September 2007

Tell American Eagle to respect workers' rights

The right for workers to form unions is guaranteed via Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, a lot of companies prefer corporate tyranny. Allowing unions would threaten their absolute power over their workers, and that's not acceptable.

Apparently, one of these companies is a contractor for American Eagle, a major clothing manufacturer with stores in malls across the U.S.

Below is an action alert from American Rights at Work. Please read it and take action.

As the weather cools down and school starts up, you might think about picking up some new fall fashions from American Eagle Outfitters.

While American Eagle, one of the biggest clothing retailers in North America, has a corporate code for contractors that supports workers' rights to join a union, it seems one of the company's contractors is cut from a different cloth.

Workers at American Eagle's Canadian distribution contractor have a shocking story to tell. When these men and women first tried to form a union, they say they were subjected to harassment and intimidation -- all part of a massive unionbusting campaign.

Write a letter to American Eagle demanding that the company enforce its code of conduct at the distribution center.

How far will American Eagle's contractor go to suppress workers' rights to join a union? The company flew in a unionbusting firm to run a campaign against employees the very same day the workers petitioned for union certification. According to workers, the company:

* Made workers attend daily, two-hour anti-union meetings,

* Plastered huge "vote no" posters all over the workplace, and

* Mailed an anti-union DVD to each worker's home.

We call that unionbusting -- and it's simply unacceptable. Despite promising to treat workers with “dignity and respect,” American Eagle has not lifted a finger to enforce its code of conduct. As the largest customer of National Logistics Services, the company that owns and operates the distribution center, American Eagle can make a difference in the lives of these workers.

But instead the company has turned a blind eye -- claiming it holds no responsibility for the way its distributor treats workers, who say they suffer from stagnating wages, little job security, and daily disrespect from management.

Contact American Eagle and say that this just doesn't fit!

You know as well as I do that the company can choose to do the right thing. These workers have a right to join a union, free from harassment and fear.

Thank you for taking action on behalf of these workers!

Liz Cattaneo,
American Rights at Work

23 September 2007

A challenge to the U.S. Senate: If the troops must forego R and R, so should you.

Last November, the American people voted for change. We were fed up. So we sent more Democrats to Washington with the expectation that we would finally see some positive change, some real efforts to reverse the direction in which this country has been led (and misled) over the past six years.

No such luck.

And now they've outdone themselves.

All along, Congress has been rubberstamping Bush's misguided Iraq war policy. They fear that if they don't, they'll be accused of not supporting our troops.

So now what do they do? They block legislation that would support our troops. Stranger than fiction.

Last week, the Senate rejected a bipartisan proposal to give our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan more leave time.

The proposal had been introduced by Senator Jim Webb, who happens to be a Viet Nam veteran. How many of the senators who voted against it have any idea of what it's like to serve in military combat? Not many, I suspect.

Our troops are overstretched. They're tired. They're stressed to the max. And they have to endure the most horrific conditions imaginable for months and months on end. They deserve a generous amount of time off. Besides, it's no secret that long, endless work shifts under stressful conditions will reduce one's performance and present safety issues. We've got laws regulating how long a trucker can drive at a single stretch, and how many hours per week a medical resident can work. And, as stressful as their jobs can be, truck drivers and doctors are not typically in danger of being shot at 24 hours a day. Don't our troops deserve better?

How would these senators feel if they were deprived of R and R?

Maybe we should see.

Since these senators feel that time off isn't so necessary, maybe they should forego their own vacations. And maybe they should live like the troops for a while, as a show of support and solidarity, and to see for themselves what it's like.

Make them work 24/7 under the most stressful conditions, with someone barking orders at them constantly. Make them sleep and shower in group facilities and eat only military chow and MREs. Make them walk the streets each day in a high-crime section of D.C. to see what it's like to have bullets flying by their heads.

Make them live like this for six months, and don't give them a single day off. No break. And they're not allowed to complain.

Make them live like this for six months, and then see if they still feel that the troops have it just fine.

21 September 2007

Senate votes against free speech

Over the past six years, Bush's enablers in Congress have been slowly eroding our Constitutional rights and liberties. But, until now, it was always somewhat masked in fear-inducing terror-related rhetoric.

Their latest stunt, however, is masked much more transparently.

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution condemning the organization MoveOn.org for criticizing General Petraeus for blindly and obediently propagating Bush's failed Iraq war strategy.

In other words, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution against freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press.

In other words, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution against the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

72 senators voted in favor of this resolution!

Freedom to dissent is one of the cornerstones of our democracy. In fact, true democracy cannot exist without it, because an informed electorate must have an understanding of the various sides of an issue.

President Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, once said, "To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."

And that applies, by extension, to criticism of those who carry out the president's misguided policies.

But now 72 senators, representing both political parties, are telling us that we must shut up and not criticize Bush's Iraq policy or those who implement that policy, lest they condemn us too.

Do they not realize what they've done?

Or do they?

The latter would be even scarier.

>> See how your senators voted.

20 September 2007

Senate puts another nail in the habeas corpus coffin

Well, they tried. But that wasn't good enough.

Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) introduced S.AMDT.2022 to restore habeas corpus rights for detainees held by the U.S.

20 senators cosponsored it, including Democratic presidential candidates Clinton, Obama, and Dodd.

Yesterday, the roll call vote was taken.

Along with Specter, a handful of other Republicans voted in favor of habeas corpus. But the Republicans still had enough "Nay" votes to kill it, with help from Joe Lieberman.

>> See how your senators voted (and keep it in mind when they're up for reelection).

These Republican senators voted against one of the fundamental principles of our free democracy. They believe that detainees held as enemy combatants (many of whom are believed to be wrongfully imprisoned) should not have the right to challenge their treatment and detention in U.S. courts. No due process.

They support the idea that anyone can be declared guilty with the wave of a hand, and never have a chance to be proven innocent, just because George W. Bush says so.

In response, Larry Cox, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, issued the following statement:

The United States Senate missed a major opportunity to demonstrate leadership by failing to provide Senators the opportunity to help re-establish a cornerstone of the U.S. justice system -- the right to habeas corpus. By not voting for cloture, the Senate gave up an important chance to help restore the United States' reputation as a nation that respects and adheres to the rule of law.

Amnesty International praises Senators Specter, Leahy, and Dodd for their work and all the Senators who voted to reinstate a basic civil right.

Amnesty International encourages the U.S. House of Representatives to allow the question of habeas corpus to be debated in an open forum as a step forward in fixing the disaster Congress created last year by the passage of the Military Commissions Act.

I miss the America I grew up in -- the one that stood for something positive.

19 September 2007

Does O.J. really matter?

Once again, O.J. Simpson is dominating the U.S. mainstream media, this time for allegedly breaking into a Las Vegas hotel room with some friends armed with handgun(s).

Why? Well, allegedly, to recover some O.J. memorabilia that he believed were rightfully his.

Um, like he believed Nicole was rightfully his, even after the divorce?

Oh, never mind.

I don't care.

At least, I mean, I shouldn't care.

I shouldn't give a damn about O.J., just like I shouldn't give a damn about Britney Spears or Paris Hilton.

Neither should you.

But even when we make an honest effort to avoid the junk TV, even when we force ourselves to watch only the cable news channels, hoping to witness some relevant developments of the day, hoping to actually learn something, what do we see?

We see O.J.'s mug shot. I guess it's supposed to get us excited. Draw us in. Mmmmmm, scandal. Juicy, embarrassing, life-altering scandal. Someone getting caught, like you're sure you never will be.

We see Marcia Clark, one of the prosecutors in the original O.J. trial for Nicole's murder, suggesting that we should have listened to her back in the '90s.

We see Larry King discussing O.J.'s latest adventures with Kato Kaelin, as if Kato can offer any insight into O.J.'s psyche in this particular century.

And more. La-de-duh. Emphasis on the "duh".

Meantime, George W. Bush is tapping your phone calls without a court warrant, American soldiers are dying in Iraq (along with even more innocent Iraqi men, women, and babies), the polar ice caps are melting fast, 47 million Americans do not have health insurance, and Dick Cheney is itching for a war with Iran.

So, all things considered: Should we -- or rather, why do we -- care about O.J.? Or Britney? Or Paris?

Does America really want only fluffy, mindless entertainment?

Can America not handle the ugly truth of what's really going on in this country and around the world -- I mean the life/death stuff that really matters?

Never mind. I suppose those questions are merely rhetorical ones. Unfortunately.

18 September 2007

Tell Congress to revoke Bush's unlimited wiretap authority

This past summer, Congress passed the so-called "Protect America Act", which legalized Bush's illegal warrantless spying program. So now Bush can spy on you, your mother, your grandmother, and your kids, without having to demonstrate due cause. And Congress calls it "Protection".

But Congress might be waking up.

Please read the following alert from OMB Watch, which provides some updates on this issue, and then click the link at the bottom of this alert to tell your Senators and Representatives to reconsider their actions and revoke Bush's unlimited wiretap authority.

On Aug. 6, President Bush signed the Protect America Act of 2007 (PAA), S. 1927, granting the government the authority to wiretap anyone, including U.S. citizens, without any court approval as long as the "target" of the surveillance is located outside the U.S. The legislation will expire in six months, but we can not wait that long to correct this serious invasion of privacy and erosion of civil liberties.

The PAA amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and permits the Attorney General and Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to wiretap without court approval:

* An immigration group calling a foreign country to help a client;

* A church that calls Kenya to arrange for members to volunteer at an orphanage; or

* An association holding its convention in Toronto that calls a hotel to make arrangements.

This expansion of government authority to collect information without judicial oversight was fast-tracked into law without sufficient congressional oversight. Only five days separated the introduction of the bill to Congress, on Aug. 1, and it's being signed into law by the president. No committee hearings, no reports, no serious debate of the issues. The impacts on personal privacy and people's right to due process were never sufficiently considered or discussed.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) have agreed to ask Congress to take a second look at S. 1927 right away and consider important privacy protections that were not in the bill. Pelosi has released a letter to key committee chairs calling for legislation to re-amend FISA as soon as possible.

The letter states, "Many provisions of this legislation are unacceptable, and, although the bill has a six month sunset clause, I do not believe the American people will want to wait that long before corrective action is taken."

Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. has already responded to Pelosi with a Sept. 5th hearing to review the PAA. Hearing witnesses expressed unease with the White House for not explaining to the public the constitutional basis for the changes. Democrats have clearly made reconsidering the FISA amendments a top priority, but increased pressure from you will help advance the much needed changes.

Let Congress know that the public will not wait until the bill sunsets. Tell Congress the sweeping, unchecked surveillance powers in the Protect America Act must be cut back.

Tell Congress to reconsider the Protect America Act of 2007!

17 September 2007

Will Bush's new AG nominee respect our Constitutional rights?

According to a report by the Associated Press, George W. Bush is going to announce today (on Constitution Day, coincidentally) that he has selected Michael B. Mukasey, a retired federal judge from New York, to replace Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General.

So I decided to do a little digging into Mukasey's background. First I learned that Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) had recommended Mukasey as a possible nominee for the Supreme Court, as well as for the AG gig. So maybe he's not so bad.

I also learned that Mukasey had heard the trial of Jose Padilla. He ruled that Padilla could be held as an enemy combatant (not so good), but that Padilla was entitled to see his lawyers (good).

Then I read an op-ed that Mukasey had written in the Wall Street Journal about the Padilla case. While dressed in all kinds of legalese, the piece made me uncomfortable. It seems that Mukasey was advocating for secret evidence and other restrictions on a defendant's Constitutional rights and civil liberties. Will he be another enabler of the Bush administration's policy in which national "security" trumps the rule of law?

Read the op-ed and decide for yourself: Jose Padilla Makes Bad Law

And remember the words of Benjamin Franklin: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

16 September 2007

Bob Herbert: The Nightmare is Here (and what is Halliburton doing with our tax dollars?)

Bob Herbert of The New York Times is one of my favorite columnists. In yesterday's paper, he points out an aspect of the Iraq war that went pretty much unmentioned in all those speeches this past week from Petraeus, Crocker, and Bush.

An excerpt:
We've heard from General Petraeus, from Ambassador Crocker, and on Thursday night from President Bush. What we haven't heard this week is anything about the tragic reality on the ground for the ordinary citizens of Iraq, which is in the throes of a catastrophic humanitarian crisis.

President Bush may not be aware of this. In his televised address to the nation he warned that a pullout of U.S. forces from Iraq could cause a "humanitarian nightmare."

A trusted aide should take the president aside and quietly inform him that this nightmare arrived a good while ago.

When the U.S. launched its "shock and awe" invasion in March 2003, the population of Iraq was about 26 million. The flaming horror unleashed by the invasion has since forced 2.2 million of those Iraqis, nearly a tenth of the population, to flee the country. Many of those who left were professionals marked for death - doctors, lawyers, academics, the very people with the skills necessary to build a viable society.

The Iraq Ministry of Health reported that 102 doctors and 164 nurses were killed from April 2003 to May 2006. It is believed that nearly half of Iraq's doctors have fled. The exodus of health care professionals in a country hemorrhaging from the worst kinds of violence pretty much qualifies as nightmarish.

While more than two million Iraqis have fled to other countries, another two million have been displaced internally. According to the Global Policy Forum, a group that monitors international developments:

"Most of these internally displaced persons, or I.D.P.'s, have sought refuge with relatives, or in mosques, empty public buildings, or tent camps.... I.D.P.'s live in very poor conditions. Public buildings are particularly unsanitary, often overcrowded, without access to clean water, proper sanitation and basic services, in conditions especially conducive to infectious diseases."

Iraqis are enduring most of their suffering out of the sight of the rest of the world. International relief organizations and most of the news media are largely kept at a distance by the insane levels of violence.
>> Read the complete column.

And this prompts a question:

Four and a half years ago, we bombed Iraq to bits with Bush's "shock and awe" campaign. We've had more than four years to rebuild that country. Billions of our tax dollars have gone to Cheney's company Halliburton and other war profiteers that were supposed to rebuild Iraq. What have those companies been doing with our money?

14 September 2007

What about Pakistan, Mr. President?

In his televised speech last evening, George W. Bush said, "The success of a free Iraq is critical to the security of the United States. A free Iraq will deny al Qaeda a safe haven."

So, Mr. President, what about Pakistan?

Bush has described Pakistan as a valued partner in the war on terror, and yet our own CIA has claimed that Pakistan is providing Osama bin Laden and his friends a safe haven, complete with new training camps.

So why aren't we sending a troop surge to Pakistan, Mr. President?

Or are you not being completely honest with the American people whom you are supposed to serve?

12 September 2007

When a hate crime can't be called a hate crime

Earlier this week, I learned about the case of a young black woman in West Virginia who had been kidnapped and tortured for several days. According to CBS News, "Megan William, 20, was forced to eat rat and dog feces and drink from a toilet. She was sexually assaulted, doused with hot water, choked with a cable cord and stabbed in the leg, according to criminal complaints."

Talk about man's inhumanity to man!

So what does this have to do with hate crimes? Well, that same CBS article gives us more horrific details, stating that, "At one point, one of her captors cut her ankle with a knife and used the N-word in telling her she was victimized because she is black."

So the assailants themselves admitted that they were doing it because she is black. In other words, the crime was committed because of the victim's race. That is one of the criteria for a hate crime in the U.S.

So I was absolutely horrified to see an MSNBC headline today that read, "No federal hate crime charges in torture case". After all, it seemed pretty clear-cut to me. I mean, duh.

But then I read the article, which explained that "Logan County Prosecutor Brian Abraham said his office would pursue other charges first because they carry stiffer penalties."

OK. What these people did was exceptionally heinous, and they should indeed be subjected to the stiffest penalties. So I momentarily stopped panicking about the fact that this case won't (at least initially) be prosecuted as a hate crime. Because we're going to throw the book at them.

But now I wonder if this all makes sense. At least in this case, a hate crime would get a lesser sentence than a "regular" crime of the same nature. It seems to me that there is something very wrong with this picture.

For now, I support the Logan County Prosecutor in his efforts to prosecute these people to the fullest extent of the law and hopefully get them the maximum possible sentences.

But, at the same time, I think that this case gives our lawmakers good reason to reevaluate the sentencing guidelines under our current hate crime laws.

While any crime of this nature is wrong, whatever the motivation, a hate crime tends to involve an emotional element that makes it much more dangerous to society in general if not adequately punished.

If this case doesn't prompt some action in this regard, what will?

11 September 2007

Answering the Petraeus report

Yesterday, General David Petraeus gave his long-awaited testimony before a joint hearing of the House Armed Services Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee. And, not surprisingly, there were no surprises.

His well-rehearsed comments, which were prepared by the White House, repeated the same old spin and the same old tricks that we've come to recognize in Brand Bush:

We're making progress in Iraq.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq is weakening.

Some of our troops might be able to come home soon.

We just need to give it more time -- and more money.

Many more American troops, and more innocent Iraq men, women, and babies, must die for Bush's oily imperial agenda. (Of course, he didn't come out and say that last part.)

>> Watch Petraeus's opening statement.

The Institute for Policy Studies has prepared a response, which is being distributed by the United for Peace and Justice anti-war coalition.

An excerpt:
The so-called Petraeus Report - actually written within the White House - is supposed to evaluate "progress" in the U.S. war and surging occupation of Iraq based on a set of congressionally-determined benchmarks. Those evaluations will ostensibly provide an overview of how far along U.S.-occupied Iraq is in achieving "stability," "democracy," "equity between groups," and more.

But however the White House drafters and General Petraeus and the spindoctors assess the benchmarks, what the report will almost certainly NOT do is provide a true glimpse of what the shattered lives of the 25 million Iraqis look like today.

It will almost certainly NOT mention the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians dead because of the U.S. war and occupation: the British medical journal Lancet reported 650,000 dead as of two years ago and casualties have increased since.

It will probably NOT say much about the two million Iraqis who have fled the war to seek hard-to-find refuge in neighboring countries, nor the additional two million Iraqis forced by war-fueled violence to flee their homes and who remain displaced and homeless inside Iraq.

It will very likely NOT mention that most Iraqis have electricity for only about five hours a day, that clean water remains scarce for most and unobtainable for many, and that Iraq's oil production remains a fraction of what it was before war.

It is NOT likely to highlight the fact that the Pentagon has already spent $456 billion or so of our tax dollars, occupation, war and violence have so devestated the Iraqi economy that unemployment has reached up to 40% and higher, and underemployment an additional 10% or more.

If the report has anything close to a true assessment, it would acknowledge that the lives of people in 2007 Iraq are worse than ever.

It will NOT admit to another set of truths as well. The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq was illegal, and in violation of the United Nations Charter. It was based on lies, and those lies have NOT become truths just because the U.S. occupation has now continued for 4 and 1/2 years.

• The war was NOT launched because Iraq had weapons of mass destruction; it didn't;

• The U.S. did NOT invade Iraq because Saddam Hussein was tied to al-Qaeda; he wasn't;

• The U.S. did NOT invade to bring democracy to the people of Iraq; it hasn't.

The failure of the Iraq War has also meant a huge cost to our democracy at home. We have paid an enormous price: in the deaths and shattered minds and bodies of our young soldiers; in the threats to an economy ravaged by billion-dollar bills to pay for an illegal war; in the destruction of so much of our infrastructure, security and social fabric because of human and financial resources diverted to Iraq; and in the shredding of our Constitution and civil rights as fear becomes a weapon in the hands of the Bush administration aimed at Congress, the courts and the people of this country.
>> Download the full report (PDF).

I also recommend reading this excellent analysis of the situation by Arianna Huffington: Denying the Truth: Petraeus, Iraq, and Our Pontius Pilate Press

10 September 2007

Six years of what?

This week, we mark the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. And where do we stand? Let's see.

Osama bin Laden is still at large, and continues to taunt us.

Al-Qaeda and its sympathizers continue to plan attacks on Americans and our allies.

Top foreign policy experts say that we are losing the war on terror.

And Americans feel less safe today than ever before.

All this despite our having to take our shoes off in airports.

All this despite the fact that I am not allowed to carry a four-ounce bottle of shampoo onto an airplane.

All this despite the Bush administration's insistence that only George W. Bush can keep us safe, and that a vote for John Kerry would have been a vote for the terrorists.

And all this despite Bush's assertions that we are fighting the terrorists over there so we won't have to fight them over here.

Instead of keeping us safe, Bush diverted our attention and resources from a noble effort in Afghanistan, where bin Laden was hiding, and chose to wage an unprovoked war of aggression on an unarmed country that had nothing to do with the attacks of 9/11 and posed no threat to us. As of this writing, Bush's Iraq adventure has cost the lives of 3,762 U.S. troops and countless innocent Iraqi men, women, and children.

Instead of keeping us safe, Bush turned the world against us with his arrogant cowboy-style foreign policy, bypassing the United Nations and international law. Shoot first, ask questions later.

And, of course, when questions do get asked, it's done under what they like to call "enhanced interrogation techniques" (so they don't have to call it "torture").

Yes, instead of keeping us safe, Bush has his advisors engage in semantic and legal gymnastics to justify torture, even as he denies its use.

Instead of keeping us safe, Bush kidnaps "terror suspects", their families, and anyone that the bounty hunters care to sell us for whatever reason and whatever price. He locks them up in places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and he throws away the key.

Or he sends them to other countries that are known for their use of torture, and lets them do the interrogating.

Instead of keeping us safe, Bush methodically undermines the rights and liberties that until now were guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. He spies on us without court warrants, he does away with habeas corpus, and he establishes secret prisons, and military kangaroo courts that mock the rule of law.

If anyone complains, Bush simply has his servants in Congress pass legislation that legalizes Bush's illegal activities.

And I fear that it will not stop, because Congress chooses to represent the White House rather than We The People.

Barring impeachment, Bush still has another 16 months in office. Imagine how much more damage he can do.

09 September 2007

Bush says normal life is returning to Iraq

My fellow Americans, your president is out of touch with reality. Hopefully you knew that already.

Speech after speech, he keep trying to sell us his propaganda, and I can't help but wonder if he really thinks we're so stupid that we'll believe him despite the facts.

The latest example: Yesterday, Bush announced that "normal life is returning" to Iraq.



Iraq is in the midst of a sectarian civil war. People are dying every day. There is no security for the people of Iraq. Even Riverbend, who bravely stuck it out for so long and shared her experiences via her blog Baghdad Burning, has finally fled to Syria.

Normal life, Mr. President?

On the other hand, perhaps Bush is right. After all, the daily violence, the daily deaths, and the daily suffering have indeed become the norm in Iraq. And that, I believe, is the saddest part of all.

08 September 2007

Osama to America: Neener-neener-neener

Right on cue, just a few days before the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden has sent us a new video greeting, to let us know that he's still out there and still thinking of us.

But do not fear. Osama apparently doesn't matter. After all, George W. Bush "[doesn't] spend much time on him."

Saddam Hussein is dead, you see, and that should be proof enough that Bush is working hard to keep us safe. Or so the White House have us believe.

Sleep well, America. The Decider is in charge.

07 September 2007

U.S. is deporting parents of dead soldiers

You're an American soldier, bravely fighting in Iraq, following orders. But then you pay the ultimate sacrifice. You die in service to your country.

And how does the U.S. government express its gratitude for your service and your sacrifice? They deport your parents.

A recent article on the New America Media website claims that this has happened many times.

I know that the illegal immigration issue is a hot one these days. But, no matter which side of it you're on, don't these particular cases seem wrong?

06 September 2007

In Australia, Bush says we're "kicking ass" in Iraq

George W. Bush is in Australia this week.

Upon Bush's arrival, Australia's Deputy Prime Minister asked about Bush's Monday visit to Iraq. Bush replied, "We're kicking ass."

This is appalling on so many levels. And it speaks for itself, so I will add no further comment. I just sit here and shake my head.

05 September 2007

Olbermann: Bush just playing us with 'troop withdrawal'

Two days ago, I wrote with great cynicism about George W. Bush's Labor Day trip to Iraq and the lame promises he made there about bringing some troops home soon.

Not surprisingly, it seems I'm not the only one questioning Bush's integrity on this issue. Last night on his MSNBC show Countdown, Keith Olbermann delivered a bistering "special comment" on the same topic. Olbermann has apparently read Robert Draper's new book Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush. (My copy is on its way from Amazon.com.) And apparently the book reveals some things that Bush said to the author that completely contradict what he has said to the troops and to we the people. Yep, more lies from George W. Bush.

>> Watch Olbermann's special comment, or read the transcripts.

As Olbermann points out, we're stuck with Bush for another 500 days. Think of all the damage he has done in the past 500 days. And then think about how much damage he can do in the next 500.

And perhaps the worst part is that Bush obviously does not give a damn.

04 September 2007

Would Tucker have assaulted a woman?

Tucker Carlson's anecdote about beating up a man who had hit on him in a restroom in college is last week's news. But I've been thinking about it, and it's time to share my two cents' worth before putting this topic to rest.

For those of you who may not have heard the story, on the August 28 edition of MSNBC Live, Carlson alleged that he had been hit on in a men's room when he was in high school. When asked how he responded, Carlson said, "I went back with someone I knew and grabbed the guy by the -- you know, and grabbed him, and ... hit him against the stall with his head, actually."

Carlson went on to say that he and his friend then called the police and had the guy arrested. Yep, the cops arrested the man who was assaulted, not the ones who committed the assault. Hmmmmmm....

Does Carlson not realize that people proposition other people all the time, same sex or opposite? I have been hit on by men and by women. When those advances are unwanted, I walk away. It has never occurred to me to resort to violence in these situations.

So does Carlson always beat up the people who hit on him?

If a woman had hit on him, would she have gotten the same treatment? I doubt it. So there's clearly a double standard here.

Is Carlson really so insecure in his masculinity that he needs to attack gays rather than just saying "no, thanks" and walking away?

Ironically, Carlson labels himself a "libertarian". Liberty for all, except for any men who might think Tucker is cute.

03 September 2007

Why did Bush go to Iraq today?

Today, George W. Bush made a suprise visit to Iraq.


The press seemed to think that he went there primarily to meet in person with General David Petraus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq. This month Petraus will be delivering a report on the situation in Iraq in the wake of the troop surge. (The report, however, is allegedly being written not by Petraus but by the White House.)

While in Iraq today, Bush promised the troops that some of them could go home if security conditions improve in Iraq.

That's a really big "if". After all, we've been there for four and a half years, and security conditions have gone steadily downhill for most of that time. I can't imagine that Bush's troop surge could have cured that syndrome to any real extent. But, of course, Bush isn't concerned with what's real.

I suspect that Bush staged this photo op to start building some momentum for the so-called "Petraus report", which will elaborate on Bush's fantasy-induced assessment of how great things are going in Iraq.

Propaganda is one thing, but toying with our troops is quite another. Today Bush tells them to their faces that they might be able to go home soon. But he attaches a huge caveat. He makes promises to the troops that he might not be able to keep. That's just mean.

So what will he tell them when they're back in Iraq for a third, fourth, or fifth tour of duty? Nothing? More lame promises? Does it even matter?

02 September 2007

Did Larry Craig resign for the wrong reasons?

On September 1, Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) resigned in the wake of the latest Republican sex scandal. Craig had been caught in a sting operation making sexual overtures towards a cute undercover cop in an airport restroom, and then pleaded guilty to a reduced charge in hopes that this would make the whole matter go away. But it didn't go away. And, when the news hit the media, several key Republicans promptly called for Craig's resignation.

But why did Craig really resign? And why did the Republicans get so worked up about this?

After all, other politicians have been caught up in sex scandals of their own, only to survive and thrive in office, even recently. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) comes immediately to mind. Earlier this year, Vitter was identified as a client of the "DC Madam" and a New Orleans brothel, and yet the Republicans stood by him, and Vitter is still in the Senate. Is hiring a hooker less of a crime that making a pass at another guy in the men's room? I am not a lawyer, but I don't think so. At least, it shouldn't be.

Sure, the Craig story is creepy, but what's so different in this case that merits the degree of pressure and humiliation that Craig has been made to suffer? Let's see...

Was it because of the hypocrisy? Was it about the fact that Craig had consistently voted against the interests of gays and lesbians, and judged others on their sexual behavior, while he was busy participating in his own gay sexcapades? That would be a good reason to call for his resignation. But I don't think it was the real factor at play here.

Was it because Craig was actually arrested, and actually pleaded guilty to something, whereas Vitter did not? If so, wasn't Vitter just lucky because the statute of limitations had made prosecution unlikely in his case?

Was it because Craig didn't handle the fallout as smoothly as Vitter did? Perhaps. Vitter delivered an Oscar-worthy press conference performance, his poor wife at his side, in which he admitted to his mistake, apologized profusely, and promised to do all he can to rebuild the trust of his constituents. Emotionally moving enough to win some sympathy. Craig, on the other hand, had an opportunity to redeem himself in a similar manner, and he blew it (no pun intended).

So then was it for partisan political reasons? We might be getting warmer here. If Vitter had resigned, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco would likely have appointed a Democrat to replace him. However, Idaho is a very red state, so Craig will most likely be replaced with another Republican. That Senate seat is safe.

But I think it has even more to do with the gay issue. Vitter solicited a woman's sexual favors. Craig solicited a man's.

And this can help set the stage for the 2008 campaign season, in which the Republicans will likely cling to their tired old themes of God, guns, and gays.

Meanwhile, American troops and innocent civilians are dying in Iraq, the polar ice caps are melting fast, and 47 million Americans do not have health insurance.

Can we really afford to waste time worrying about the sex lives of our politicians?

Does it really matter to you? Does it really matter for America?

01 September 2007

What does Labor Day mean today?

On Monday, September 3, Americans will celebrate Labor Day. This annual national holiday was created more than 100 years ago as a tribute to the American worker. To most Americans these days, however, Labor Day seems to be more about end-of-summer picnics, beach excursions, and an extra day off from work.

The average American isn't the only one who has lost sight of the contributions and sacrifices of the workers of this nation. Over the past couple of decades, American corporations have been ignoring the needs of the workers in order to focus instead on stuffing the bottomless pockets of the CEOs. And the U.S. government has been giving them all the help and support they need.

It wasn't always this way.

Take Henry Ford, for example. Ford introduced the concept of a 40-hour work week for his employees, and paid them relatively high wages for that era. Since Ford paid his employees well, they could afford to buy their own Ford cars. It was a win-win situation.

Ford wasn't without his faults, however. Ford disapproved of labor unions. Accordingly, he was the last Detroit automaker to recognize the United Auto Workers union, finally caving in to pressure from his wife and from other auto manufacturers.

That was before the right to form labor unions was guaranteed by Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But still today there are a lot of corporate giants who either are not aware of that guarantee or just don't care. Also guaranteed under Article 23, and equally ignored by corporate America today, are the right to just and favorable conditions of work, the right to equal pay for equal work, and the right to just and favorable remuneration that will ensure "an existence worthy of human dignity."

First let's take a look at the union issue today. Unions protect workers from corporate tyranny. Unionization gives workers the power to bargain for fair wages, decent benefits, and safe working conditions. But corporations are engaging in extreme union busting, illegally threatening and intimidating workers who want to form or join a union. According to the non-profit organization Workplace Fairness, 25% of employers have illegally fired at least one worker for union activity during organizing campaigns, 75% of employers hire consultants to help them fight union organizing, and 92% of employers force employees to attend mandatory anti-union presentations. As a result, union membership in the U.S. has declined significantly in recent years, from a high of over 35% at the end of World War II to approximately 13% today. By keeping out the unions, corporations can retain only non-union employees who are so desperate for work that they'll accept poverty-level wages, unfavorable working conditions, and unfair treatment.

But the decline of unions in this country is only one of the problems facing American workers today. From manufacturing to computer engineering, U.S. jobs are being outsourced to India and China, where employees are willing to work longer hours for a fraction of what their American counterparts would be paid.

In short, America is being sold to the lowest bidders, and those whose jobs remain in this country are at the mercy of their employers.

And it seems that the U.S. government exists to serve the corporations, not the people.

It's a corporatocracy gone wild.

As a result, the gap between the rich and the poor in this country grows ever wider. The middle class is shrinking, and the American dream has become a pipe dream.

If these things are allowed to continue over time, what will we be left with? A serfdom?

And what will Labor Day mean 50 years from now?