31 July 2007

House passes Lilly Ledbetter bill; NOW sees other obstacles.

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2007 (H.R.2831), by a vote of 225 to 199. This legislation was prompted by the unfair ruling in the case of Ledbetter v. Goodyear, which held that a worker has only a 180-day window in which to take action in pay discrimination cases. Currently, if you don't find out about it until it's been going on for more than 180 days, you're simply out of luck.

While today's passage was a good start towards pay equality, I have to wonder what those 199 dissenters were thinking.

And the National Organization for Women (NOW) sees other possible bumps in the road to pay equality. Below is the text of a NOW press release, issued today in response to the House vote:

House Passes "Ledbetter" Fair Pay Act But Too Soon to Declare Victory

Statement of NOW President Kim Gandy

July 31, 2007

In a close vote of 225 to 199, today the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2007. It's not surprising that the bill passed, because it simply re-states the law as it has been interpreted for many years. What is truly shocking is that 199 members of the House voted to roll back our rights and deprive women of this longstanding remedy for pay discrimination.

While passage of the Ledbetter Act is an important first step in returning Title VII, the law against employment discrimination, to its original intention regarding remedies for pay discrimination, there are not enough votes to override a threatened veto, and the House still has much work to do to eliminate the systemic pay discrimination faced by women workers. And if this vote is a guide, the Republican leadership will be fighting it every step of the way.

The Ledbetter Act was drafted to overturn the Supreme Court's May decision in the case of Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., which dealt a near-fatal blow to underpaid workers' ability to use the protections of civil rights laws to remedy pay discrimination.

Lilly Ledbetter had worked at Goodyear for 19 years when she discovered she was being paid significantly less than every single one of her male counterparts. A jury agreed that she had been paid unfairly, and awarded her $223,776 in back pay, and over $3 million in punitive damages, but a judge cut that to only $300,000 because of a 1991 law that limited a company's liability for damages -- even when found guilty of willful wage discrimination.

In an "off with her head" moment, the U.S. Supreme Court took away every penny of the back pay and damages awarded to Lilly Ledbetter, saying incredibly that the 180 day filing limit had begun way back when the very first paycheck showed lesser pay. Eighteen years of continuing wage discrimination against Ledbetter by Goodyear held no sway with the Roberts court.

The House legislation would return us to the longstanding rule (before the Supreme Court changed it in May), which treated each and every discriminatory paycheck as a new discrimination, thus re-starting the 180-day clock. However, this is only a partial restoration of the original intent of the civil rights law. The Ledbetter Act does not eliminate the "cap" on damages that was inserted into the law by the Civil Rights Act of 1991. By immunizing employers from any costly liability for pay discrimination -- called "punitive damages" because the award is meant to truly discourage discrimination -- employers gained and workers lost.

George W. Bush has already threatened to veto the legislation. Shame on him for treating fair pay for workers as a burden for employers, and completely ignoring our nation's working women. And shame on him for stacking the court with cronies of big business.The Bush administration has bent over backwards to shelter businesses, including trying to eliminate the collection of employment data by gender, which could be used to identify and stop discrimination.

Women will be paying the price for a long time.

The Senate has a counterpart bill, the Fair Pay Restoration Act, and NOW is working with our allies in the senate to include language that eliminates the cap on damages.

House passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2007 is a hopeful sign, but we must do more to preserve and protect our nation's hard won civil rights. Women workers certainly deserve better than the 77 cents that they earn to a man's dollar.They deserve the right to go to court when they discover they've been paid unfairly. They deserve a Congress and a President who will stand up for them, and a workplace that values their work equally. Every employer should do the right -- and smart -- thing and value their women workers. Lilly Ledbetter -- and all women -- want and deserve justice.

>> See how your Representative voted. (And keep it in mind the next time he or she is up for re-election.)

30 July 2007

A third of Iraqis need urgent aid. This is "liberation"?

It's been more than 4 years since we attacked Iraq with "shock and awe". In the 4+ years since, one would expect that we'd have rebuilt that country. But, if you've been paying attention, you'd know that Iraq is still a mess. We destroyed the country and we haven't bothered to fix it. No wonder so many Iraqis believe that they were better off under Saddam than they are now.

And an article today by the BBC tells us that "[n]early a third of the population of Iraq is in need of emergency aid, according to a new report from Oxfam and a coalition of Iraqi NGOs."

In other words, there's a humanitarian crisis going on in Iraq that is Bush's fault, and for which there is no end in sight.

Bush told us that we invaded Iraq in order to liberate that country's people. So this is liberation?

29 July 2007

George W. Bush, Warlord

Ever the violence-inducing hawk, George W. Bush now wants to sell $20 billion in advanced weapons to six Persion Gulf countries -- Saudia Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman.

But, according to an article in today's Washington Post, some House members will try to block the sale. I hope they will succeed.

According to the article:
Human rights groups warned that new U.S. arms meant to contain Iran's rising influence could backfire, allowing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to rally greater support for his hard-line faction in the run-up to parliamentary elections next spring.

And arms control groups said Bush's strategy would accelerate an already-dangerous trend that could increase tensions rather than generate a greater sense of security.
No kidding.

Some of the countries involved are notorious for committing gross violations of human rights. And Bush wants to enable them to commit further violence, when we should instead be pressuring them to change their policies and start respecting human rights.

Keep your fingers crossed in hopes that Congress will force some restraint.

28 July 2007

Tell your representative to stop wage discrimination and restore fairness

This past May, as you may recall, the Supreme Court ruled against a Goodyear employee who earned considerably less than her male counterparts. Their justification? She waited too long to sue. If you don't learn about the discrimination and take action within 180 days of when it started, you're out of luck. If you don't find out about it until it's been going on for several years, you're simply out of luck.

Is that fair? I don't think so.

Fortunately for workers, Rep. George Miller (D-CA) doesn't think so either. He is sponsoring the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2007 (H.R. 2831), which will likely come to the House floor for a vote on Monday evening, July 30. According to an action alert from the National Organization for Women (NOW), the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act "eliminates these unreasonable time limits, allowing victims of pay discrimination to seek back pay and damages when they become aware of the injustice."

Take action:

>> Tell your representative to vote for the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (H.R. 2831).

26 July 2007

Gonzo caught perjuring himself again

The Attorney General of the United States of America is supposed to be the chief law enforcement officer of this nation. But who enforces the law when the Attorney General breaks it?

Well, Congress is trying, and it has gotten quite interesting.

It was bad enough when our current Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, used rhetoric to justify torture and other abuse of prisoners in violation of the Geneva Conventions and other national and international laws and treaties.

It was bad enough when Gonzales tried to justify Bush's warrantless spying on American citizens.

And it was bad enough back in the 1990s when Gonzales, acting as legal counsel to Texas Governor George W. Bush, consistently handled death penalty cases in that case with no regard to fairness, due process, and equal protection under the law.

But now, in defending the firing of all those U.S. attorneys, Gonzales is treating Congress (and, by extension, the American people) as if we're fools. First, he stammered his way through more sworn testimony earlier this week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, in which it became quite obvious that his integrity might be an issue (to put it mildly). And now an Associated Press article reveals that some documents have been uncovered that directly contradict some of Gonzales's Tuesday testimony.

This means that the nation's chief law enforcement officer cannot be trusted to follow (let alone enforce) the law.

Note to Congress: Would you please restore the rule of law in this country so that the rich are accountable for their misdeeds? The little guy must pay for his crimes. The fat cats should as well. (See "equal protection under the law.")

25 July 2007

UK wants to extend pre-charge detentions for terror suspects. Amnesty Intl fires back.

The Bush administration has been under fire from human rights groups ever since they started locking up terror suspects indefinitely after 9/11, without charge and without trial.

The UK was more rational. Under current terrorism legislation, police in the UK are allowed to detain people without charge for no more than 28 days. But now they want to extend it to 56 days.

Below is a press release on the subject, issued today by Amnesty International. It makes some good points.

Amnesty International Charges That United Kingdom's Extension of Pre-charge Detention Amounts to Internment

(Washington, DC) Amnesty International today condemned the UK government's proposal to extend the period for which people can be detained under terrorism legislation by the police to 56 days.

"The UK government's proposal to lock people up for 56 days without charge or trial amounts to internment and is an assault on human rights and freedoms," said Nicola Duckworth, Director of the Europe and Central Asia Program at Amnesty International.

"The UK government appears to have forgotten the lesson of Northern Ireland in the 70s where internment had devastating consequences for those affected and a disastrous impact on human rights protection, the rule of law and society as a whole.

Reintroducing internment today by further extending pre-charge detention is likely to have a similar effect as it had in Northern Ireland. It will further alienate affected communities, leading people to mistrust the authorities and make them less likely to want to cooperate with the police.

Amnesty International recognizes that the UK authorities have a primary duty to take necessary measures to combat terrorism. However, those measures must be consistent with fundamental human rights and the rule of law.

"Our worldwide research over the years has also shown that prolonged pre-charge detention creates a climate for abusive practices that can result in detainees making involuntary statements, including forced confessions and therefore undermines confidence in the judicial system," said Duckworth. "Our concerns are not allayed by the government's proposals for judicial and parliamentary scrutiny of this extension."

Amnesty International calls on the UK government to see sense and retract this regressive and counterproductive proposal. The organization urges all members of UK Parliament to uphold human rights and the rule of law and reject any new terrorism measures which further erode the protection of human rights for all in the UK.


Amnesty International has unreservedly opposed the already existing police power of detention for up to 28 days. The organization considered that the previous limit of 14 days was already too long.

Anybody held on suspicion of having committed an extremely serious offence such as murder under the ordinary UK criminal law, may be held without charge for a maximum period of four days. The period for which police are allowed to detain people under current terrorism legislation is -- at 28 days -- already seven times as long.

Prolonged detention without charge or trial undermines fair trial rights, including the right to be promptly informed of any charges, the rights to be free from arbitrary detention, torture or other ill-treatment and the presumption of innocence. It could also have the unintended effect of increasing the likelihood of statements obtained from the suspect being deemed inadmissible at trial precisely because of the oppressive nature of the conditions in which they were obtained.

24 July 2007

Bush refuses to help sick children. Will Congress care enough to override a veto?

Remember how George W. Bush liked to refer to himself as a "compassionate conservative"? Well, tell me: What's so compassionate about refusing to provide health care coverage to uninsured children?

Yet that is what Bush is threatening to do. According to the Washington Post, Bush is threatening to veto legislation that would renew a popular program that provides health coverage to poor children.

To George W. Bush, insurance company profits are more important than the health and well-being of the children of this country. The poor can remain sick, so that the rich can remain rich. Compassionate? Hardly.

Now the question remains as to whether enough Republicans in Congress will have the guts to vote for children over corporations and override Bush's veto. According to the Los Angeles Times, it could happen. But I will believe it when I see it. In the meantime, my fingers are crossed.

23 July 2007

Bush refuses to share post-attack plan with Congressional Homeland Security Committee member

Rep. Peter DeFazio is a member of the Homeland Security Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. As such, according to an article in The Oregonian, he is permitted to examine classified material. So, in response to concerns expressed by his constituents, DeFazio requested to review the classified portion of a White House plan for operating the government after a terrorist attack.

The response from the White House: DENIED

I'm no conspiracy theorist, but I have to wonder what they're hiding. And I hope DeFazio, and the whole Committee, will continue to pursue this.

This degree of White House secrecy is not compatible with true democracy.

21 July 2007

Amnesty Intl responds to Bush's executive order on treatment of detainees

Yesterday, in an apparent PR move, George W. Bush signed an executive order prohibiting cruel and inhuman treatment of detainees in the "war on terror".

Apparently he felt this was necessary even though he keeps telling us that "we do not torture."

Is this a reason for hope? Is this country finally taking a much-needed step towards restoring a respect for human rights and the rule of law? Does Bush suddenly have a moral conscience?

Probably not, unfortunately.

Below is a statement by Jumana Musa, Amnesty International USA's advocacy director for domestic human rights and international justice, in response to yesterday's executive order:

"Today's executive order is noteworthy for what it does not say as much as for what is does state. Although the order prohibits sexual assault or abuse, sexual humiliation and denigration of religion, the deafening silence on other techniques that the CIA may have used, such as waterboarding, the cold room technique and sleep deprivation, speaks volumes. The United States can no longer hide behind the specter of national security and providing so-called 'too much information' to Al Qaeda to avoid an outright rejection of such patently unlawful techniques.

"The broader problem with this executive order is that it works off the mistaken contention that there is a global war that extends the law of war framework to every corner of the world. This misappropriation of humanitarian law has been used by the administration to avoid human rights law and assert ultimate executive authority over detention and interrogation of anyone President Bush designates an 'unlawful enemy combatant.'

"Also, this order is designed to determine the lawfulness of interrogation techniques that can be used in the CIA's 'program of detention' -- widely known as an illegal program of 'disappearances' and secret prisons. A legitimate interrogation regime cannot cure the illegality of this despicable practice and does not bring this nation in line with its treaty obligations.

"The fact that President Bush continues to assert the authority to engage in secret detentions and applies that authority to a broad range of people who can picked up anywhere around the world indicates an unrepentant administration that seeks to minimize the rule of the law."

19 July 2007

America the paranoid

Yesterday's steam pipe explosion in New York City couldn't have been better timed. The accident was quickly determined not to be an act of terrorism; however, when the news first broke, surely most of us wondered if al-Qaeda had struck again. After all, just last week we learned that al-Qaeda has regrouped and grown stronger. We also learned that Michael Chertoff's innards told him that the U.S. is at high risk this summer for a terrorist attack.

All this because the Bush administration's "war on terror" has failed miserably.

And all this because the world's strongest and most powerful nation has become one of the world's most paranoid and belligerent nations.

And for what?

17 July 2007

July 17 - World Day for International Justice

Today, July 17, is World Day for International Justice. On this date in 1998, the Rome Statute was adopted, which established the International Criminal Court (ICC) to end impunity for the worst crimes in international law.

Below is the full text of a message from the International Secretariat of the Coalition for the ICC in observation of this anniversary. The message outlines some of the Court's successes through the years and takes a look at its ongoing challenges. One sentence struck me in particular: "[W]e must not overlook the fact that even with 105 states parties and one hundred and thirty-nine signatories to the Rome Statute, some of the world's most influential nations remain outside observers instead of inside actors in this fight against impunity."

The U.S. is one of those outside observers. In fact, the Bush administration has gone to great lengths to undermine the ICC (and thereby undermine the prospect of accountability for crimes against humanity).

What is Bush afraid of? Who is he protecting? And why? If Bush and his minions are breaking no laws, surely they would have nothing to fear.

Anyway, here is the full text of today's message from the Coalition for the ICC:

Dear Members and Friends of the CICC,

The Coalition for the ICC observes the 17th of July as the World Day for International Justice, in honor of the adoption of the Court's founding treaty, the Rome Statute, on 17 July 1998. The Rome Statute establishes a new system of international criminal justice -- now encompassing more than have of the world's nations -- that ends impunity for the worst crimes in international law.

Unfortunately, war crimes and other major crimes against humanity committed in the last decade have only underscored the need for the ICC. Several times a week I am reminded that had the CICC and governments not won adoption of the treaty on July 17, 1998 it would not have been completed in the turbulent years since.

Each year, the CICC uses this day to evaluate our progress and look forward to our challenges in the global struggle to end impunity for the gravest of crimes.

As we celebrate the fifth anniversary this year of the entry into force of the Rome Statute, we can confidently say that the ICC is now fully functional, growing and well poised to become a permanent fixture on the world stage.

Although both the Court and its states parties have still to overcome major deficiencies and daunting challenges, no one could have predicted the many positive developments of the past few years.

Here are just a few of the major achievements for the ICC since 1 July 2002:

* The referral of situations from three states parties to the Court: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and the Central African Republic;

* The historic referral of the situation in Darfur, Sudan to the Court by the UN Security Council;

* The recognition of the jurisdiction of the ICC by Côte d'Ivoire even though it is not a state party to the Rome Statute;

* The intensive analysis by the Office of the Prosecutor of potential situations on four continents;

* The opening of an investigation in the CAR that would prosecute the widespread crimes against women as crimes against humanity;

* The issuance of five arrest warrants for members of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA);

* The issuance of two arrest warrants for suspects in the situation in Darfur, Sudan; and

* The confirmation of charges and move to trial against DRC's Thomas Lubanga Dyilo for war crimes relating to the recruitment and enlistment of child soldiers.

In addition to the Court's progress in its investigations, the growing list of member states further highlights the impact of this new system of international criminal justice. Today, Japan formally deposited its instrument of ratification to the Rome Statute, making it the 105th state party to the Court. This is a momentous step forward in the campaign to ensure universal ratification of the Statute and a clear sign that the Court's legitimacy is growing in major capitals around the world.

In 1998, the most optimistic expert predictions were that it would take ten to twenty years to achieve sixty ratifications. The fact that more than two-thirds of the world's nations have signed or ratified the ICC treaty shows the determination of states not to yield to political pressure from a few powerful nations that continue to oppose the ICC.

Furthermore, just within the past year, there have been a number of important decisions made by the Court on a range of legal issues, including affirming victims' rights to participate in the judicial process, requesting that assets of accused persons be traced and frozen and clarifying certain concepts in the Rome Statute, such as the difference between the Court's definition of a case and a situation. Additionally, with the decision of the CAR Cour de Cassation (Supreme Court) that the CAR justice system was unable to carry out effective investigations and prosecutions, we finally witnessed a state examining the complementarity principle contained in the Rome Statute and recognizing its importance to the dispensation of justice on both the national and international levels.

In spite of these achievements, many serious challenges remain for the ICC and its state parties. One of the most pressing challenges for the Court will be to continue implementing a dramatically improved communications strategy. The ICC has failed to reach out effectively to victims, media, civil society, and parliamentarians in situation countries, and to provide essential information to governments and international organizations. Effective communication with states must occur, for state cooperation will become increasingly vital to the success of the ICC. Perhaps the most important need for state cooperation, given the Court's limited ability, is to arrest accused persons.

The Assembly of States Parties (ASP), the UN Security Council and other UN agencies, including peacekeeping operations and rapid deployment forces, must step up to the challenge. Multiple investigations and warrants without arrests and trials could be disastrous for the ICC. Many other vital state and international organization cooperation issues will require much more effort by the ASP in coming years.

In the next year, the CICC not only looks forward to the start of the first trial at the ICC, but also the continued collaboration among CICC members that ultimately impacts the various aspects of the Court's work.

On this World Day for International Justice, we celebrate the enormous strides that have been made in upholding and advancing the principles of international justice through the ICC. We remain convinced that international justice will have a deterrent effect on the perpetration of widespread and systematic atrocities. We believe that the ICC is a 'root cause' institution, one that will contribute to the prevention, and reconciliation of conflicts involving the worst international crimes.

Statements from states supporting the ICC during recent Security Council debates and General Assembly meetings show that the United Nations will continue to be a vital partner in strengthening the ICC. Members of the CICC will follow the activities of the Human Rights Council, the Office of the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities, the application of the new "Responsibility to Protect" norm, and the Peacebuilding Commission, as they relate to the ICC.

However, we must not overlook the fact that even with 105 states parties and one hundred and thirty-nine signatories to the Rome Statute, some of the world's most influential nations remain outside observers instead of inside actors in this fight against impunity. Thus, we as civil society, with the cooperation of governments and international institutions, are charged with the responsibility to speak on behalf of the victims of the world's conflicts and lead this ever-growing global movement for peace and justice.

In peace and justice,

William Pace
Convenor, Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC)

16 July 2007

Urgent: Tell your senators to restore habeas corpus

This week, the U.S. Senate will have their first up-or-down vote on restoring habeas corpus, so detainees held as enemy combatants (many of whom are believed to be wrongfully imprisoned) could challenge their treatment and detention in U.S. courts. The Senate will be voting on S.A. 2022, an amendment to the defense authorization bill that would take this important first step towards undoing the damage caused by the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

The vote will be close, so we need to make a lot of noise.

>> Send an e-mail message to your senators urging them to support this amendment.

>> Also please take a few extra minutes to make a phone call to your senators to reinforce the message.

Thank you for taking action on this very important issue.

15 July 2007

A vote for Bush was a vote for the terrorists

The past week was an interesting one in the so-called "war on terror".

First, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said that his "gut feeling" was that the U.S. is at high risk this summer for a terrorist attack. On other words, the guy in charge of homeland security told us that the homeland is not very secure.

Almost immediately afterwards, as if on cue, we learned that al-Qaeda has regrouped and is now as strong as it was before 9/11.

But wait! How can this be?

In the run-up to the 2004 presidential election, George W. Bush won the support of "red state" voters by touting 9/11 and the "war on terror" and convincing them that only he could keep America safe. A vote for John Kerry would be a vote for the terrorists.

Now it appears that a vote for Bush was a vote for the terrorists.

Bush took his eye off the ball. He let bin Laden get away. Almost six years after the attacks of 9/11, bin Laden is still at large. And why? So we could focus instead on Iraq, which, at the time we invaded that country, posed no threat to the U.S. or our allies, and had no credible ties to al-Qaeda.

So here we are.

Iraq remains devastated. Many Iraqis believe that life for the Iraqi people is worse today than it was under Saddam Hussein. In many cases (if not most), the Iraqi people have fewer jobs, less clean water, less electricity, and a lot less security than they did before we went there. And those are the lucky ones.

Tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi men, women, and children have lost their lives in this war.

Countless others have been tortured.

And, as of this writing, more than 3,600 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq, and tens of thousands more have been wounded.

And for what? For nothing, I fear.

And every day we remain there, real security gets more and more unlikely -- for the Iraqis, for the U.S., and for our allies.

Bush had his chance, and we know now that his promises to keep us safe and effectively combat terrorism were no more credible than his promise to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Enough is enough.

There are no more good reasons to stay in Iraq. And there can be no more excuses.

Every day we remain there will result only in more death, more destruction, and less security.

And now the Iraqi president has invited us to leave.

It is time to surge the troops homeward.

14 July 2007

Bush puts his blinders on for his weekly radio address

In his weekly radio address today, George W. Bush tried to sell us on some reasons why we should keep our troops in Iraq.

His rhetoric reminded me of a Lewis Carroll story.

Below I quote some of his reasons (i.e., excuses), along with my responses.


Bush: "To begin to bring troops home before our commanders tell us we are ready would be dangerous for our country. It would mean surrendering the future of Iraq to al-Qaeda"

Me: Whose fault is this? al-Qaeda didn't have a presence in Iraq until we invaded that country and bombed it back to the Stone Age. Also consider the fact that al-Qaeda can thrive in Iraq only if the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government choose not to interfere with their activity.


Bush: "risking a humanitarian catastrophe,"

Me: There's already a humanitarian catastrophe in Iraq, and it's Bush's fault.


Bush: "and allowing the terrorists to establish a safe haven in Iraq and gain control of vast oil resources they could use to fund new attacks on America."

Me: In this same radio address today, Bush admitted that one of the Iraqi government's missed benchmarks was their failures to "pass a law to share oil revenues." And, of course, terrorists already have a safe haven in Iraq, thanks to Bush for invading that country and thereby fueling al-Qaeda's interest in Iraq, and then leaving the Iraqi borders so porous as to make it extremely easy for al-Qaeda to slip in (or pour in, as the case may be).


Bush: "And it would increase the probability that American troops would have to return at some later date to confront an enemy that is even more dangerous."

Me: In other words, we haven't learned from our mistakes.



13 July 2007

Tell Congress to provide health care coverage for uninsured children

In his new movie Sicko, Michael Moore tells us that the United States is the only industrialized nation that does not offer free basic health care to all of its citizens.

That's bad enough. But why do the children have to suffer for the fact that their parents may not have a job that provides medical insurance?

Please click the link below to sign a petition from SEIU Healthcare asking Congress to provide coverage to millions of uninsured children and bring America closer to quality, affordable health care for all.

From SEIU:
It's America's great shame: 9 million uninsured children. They have no access to regular checkups, their parents struggle to afford doctors' visits when they are sick, and they often go without care.

Now Congress can provide health insurance to millions of uninsured kids by increasing funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) by $50 billion. SEIU Healthcare, with one million health care members, is working with a broad coalition of groups to urge Congress to take action now.

Our goal is to collect one million petition signatures to Congress to make sure they hear us loud and clear: health care reform starts with America's children.

You can help millions of kids get the health care they need by
taking action:

*** Be one in a million - sign the petition today!

*** Get more information about the campaign, read stories, and find out what else you can do to help.

Every child deserves health care. Please take action today!

Be the change.

12 July 2007

UK wants to lift the ban on torture

What has become of the United Kingdom? First, Tony Blair disappointed me by becoming Bush's cheerleader and lap poodle. Now the UK wants the European Court of Human Rights to ease its ban on torture, in light of some current cases in the Court.

Experts have shown that torture doesn't work. So why are they so eager to torture people?

Below is the text of an Amnesty International press release issued yesterday on the subject:

European Court of Human Rights: Ban on torture is absolute and universal

Amnesty International, the AIRE Centre, The International Commission of JURISTs, Interights and REDRESS are warning that, in a hearing today, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights is being asked to reconsider the absolute ban on torture and other ill-treatment.

Weakening the universally accepted absolute ban on torture and other ill-treatment, would not only be wrong, it would endanger us all, by undermining one of the basic values on which the European system is built.

In the case being considered Saadi v Italy, Nassim Saadi claims, among other things, that the order to deport him from Italy to Tunisia, under the Pisanu law, violates the Italian Government's obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights to prohibit and protect against torture and other ill-treatment, because returning him to Tunisia would expose him to a real risk of torture or other ill-treatment.

The government of the United Kingdom, along with a handful of others, have intervened in the case to support the deportation despite the risk of torture and other ill-treatment. The government of the United Kingdom (UK) is asking the European Court of Human Rights to change its case law which is currently consistent with the universally recognized absolute ban against torture and other ill-treatment. The UK is arguing that the prohibition on torture and ill-treatment should not be absolute for foreign nationals whom a state considers represent a threat to national security and whom it seeks to deport.

At present, human rights law is clear. The absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment means that states are obliged to ensure that their representatives do not engage in torture and other ill-treatment, no matter the circumstances. They must bring to justice those responsible for these acts and ensure redress to the victims. The prohibition also means that states may not expose people to risks of torture or other ill-treatment in other countries. Thus they cannot lawfully send someone to any place where they face a real risk of torture or other ill-treatment. These rules hold true, no matter the circumstances, including where the person concerned is suspected of involvement in terrorism.

The prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment is absolute for good reason. Torture is a grave violation of personal dignity and bodily integrity. Its effect is also corrosive on the rule of law and the moral authority of the state itself. For these and other reasons, the practice of torture has been repeatedly condemned by international and national courts. Its absolute prohibition has attained the highest status of international law, it is fundamental, peremptory and intransgressible.

The international community has made repeated legal commitments and public declarations that the measures taken by states to protect us all from terrorism must be consistent with international law, including the absolute ban on torture and other ill-treatment. However, the media, reports of human rights organizations, and the reports of UN and Council of Europe expert-bodies have been replete with examples of measures taken by states that seek to circumvent the absolute prohibition. The sending of people to places where they risk torture or other ill-treatment on the basis of a "diplomatic assurance", as Italy seeks to do in the Saadi case, is just one example of this phenomenon that is of particular concern in Europe. A "diplomatic assurance" is an unenforceable "gentleman's agreement" with the receiving state that it will make an exception to the "normal practice" of torturing detainees by protecting the individual concerned from such treatment.


The case of Saadi v Italy is being considered by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights on 11 July 2007. In this case Nassim Saadi is claiming, among other things, that the order to deport him from Italy to Tunisia, under the Pisanu law, violates the Italian Government's obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Nassim Saadi, a Tunisian national residing lawfully in Italy, was convicted in May 2005 and sentenced to a term of imprisonment of four years and six months for criminal conspiracy and forgery. In the same trial he was found not guilty of association with international terrorism. Appeals by both Nassim Saadi and the prosecutor remain pending in the Italian courts.

However, in August 2006, while the appeal was pending, the Minister of Interior ordered Nassim Saadi's deportation to Tunisia under the Pisanu law. Under this law, a person suspected by the authorities of involvement in terrorism-related activities may be deported on the order of the Minister of the Interior or a Prefect, without having been charged or tried. Appeals of such deportation orders are non-suspensive. The Saadi case is one of a number of cases pending which challenge the application of this law, whose constitutionality is currently under review in Italy.

Among other things, in his case before the European Court of Human Rights, Nassim Saadi claims that he faces a real risk of torture or other ill-treatment and other human rights violations in Tunisia, and thus can not lawfully be returned there. Our organizations have reports that people who have been returned to Tunisia from abroad including from Italy, have been held in incommunicado detention and that they have been subjected to torture or other forms of ill-treatment during their detention. Another Tunisian man, expelled from Italy to Tunisia under the Pisanu Law in early 2007, has reportedly been subject to ill-treatment in detention there.

In May 2005, Nassim Saadi was also convicted and sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment, in his absence, by a military court in Tunisia for membership of a terrorist organization operating abroad and for incitement to terrorism, reportedly based on his alleged conduct in Italy. Although he would be likely to be re-tried if returned to Tunisia, such a trial would take place in the military court. The research of our organizations indicates that trials in military courts in Tunisia violate international standards of fairness. The presiding judge is the only civilian hearing the case and there is restricted access to such trials, which are held on military compounds. The European Court of Human Rights has already held in other circumstances that trials of this kind breach the right to a fair trial. Civilians tried in such courts in Tunisia have reported violations of their right to a defence, ranging from not having been informed of their right to a lawyer, to restrictions placed on their lawyer's access to the case file and basic information such as the dates on which the hearings will take place. Appeals are considered only by the Military Court of Cassation, there is no review by a civilian court.

The Saadi v Italy case is one of a series of three cases pending in the European Court of Human Rights in which the United Kingdom and a handful of other European governments are seeking to change the Court's case law on the absolute prohibition of sending a person to a place where they face a real risk of torture and other ill-treatment, in favour of a test which would balance the risk to the individual against the risk to national security.

Another case in which the government of the United Kingdom has made this argument to the Court is in the case of Ramzy v the Netherlands, also pending in the European Court of Human Rights. The Court has yet to hold hearings in the Ramzy case. However, the Court granted the request of the United Kingdom to address the Court during the hearing of the Saadi case and to include its submissions which had been previously filed in the Ramzy case in the Saadi v Italy case file. The Court did not however agree to include in the Saadi case, the counter-balancing written submissions filed by three groups of NGOs, including those filed by Amnesty International, the AIRE Centre, the International Commission of Jurists, INTERIGHTS and Redress, which are part of the case file in Ramzy - which is a matter of regret for the organizations.

11 July 2007

Mandatory reading from The Nation: "The Other War: Iraq Vets Bear Witness"

This week, the magazine The Nation has published an article on its website that includes details obtained via interviews with 50 combat veterans of the Iraq War. This disturbing article outlines the emotional and physical scars that these veterans bear, while revealing "disurbing patterns of behavior by American troops in Iraq", including the senseless brutalization and indiscriminate killing of Iraq civilians.

This article paints a very different picture of the war than what you hear from the White House and the mainstream media.

It's not easy reading, but I think it's mandatory reading for all Americans. Then consider: This is how your tax dollars are being spent.

Check it out: The Other War: Iraq Vets Bear Witness

09 July 2007

No truth, no consequences

No one should be surprised by George W. Bush's commutation of Scooter Libby's prison sentence. Many people had been speculating that Bush would issue a full pardon. And, according to Bush, that option is still not off the table.

Sure, in September of 2003, Bush said, "If there's a leak out of my administration [regarding Valerie Plame Wilson's identity], I want to know who it is. If the person has violated law, that person will be taken care of." We just didn't realize how well he'd take care of said lawbreaker. We were once again taken for fools, and the Bush administration once again stands above the law. No accountability, no real punishment.

When I was growing up in the '60s and '70s, there was a game show on television called Truth or Consequences. It was an either/or kind of thing. From the Bush administration, however, we can expect neither truth nor any consequences.

It may have all started during Bush's 2000 presidential campaign, when he talked about restoring "honor and dignity" to the White House. How can you have honor and dignity without truth and without consequences? Anyone familiar with the Project for the New American Century knows that the real agenda was something very different. It was about regime change in Iraq, even if it required an unprovoked war of aggression on an unarmed nation. It was about U.S. global domination at any cost. And it was about not letting inconvenient little things like human rights or the law get in the way of the agenda. Honor and dignity? Hardly.

And then 9/11 provided the perfect excuse to move the agenda forward. It would just take some cunning and, of course, some deception. No problem for the Bushies. Honor and dignity? Not there.

According to the Bushies, Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. We knew where they were. Furthermore, Saddam was buying yellowcake uranium from Niger. And he was conspiring to sell weapons of mass destruction to al-Qaida. None of this was true, of course. But we attacked Iraq anyway. Honor and dignity? I don't think so.

But the Bushies were sure of it all. They told us so. There was no doubt. If you go to Niger to investigate and publish the real truth, your family will suffer (even if it will compromise national security). After all, only the Bushies were right. No truth, but what the heck? The consequences, deserved or not, are reserved for the administration's critics and other perceived threats, should they be so bold as to tell the truth. Honor and dignity? Give me a break.

And the lies continued:

- Mission accomplished.

- The U.S. does not engage in torture.

- No one anticipated the breach of the levees.

- We are finding terrorists and bringing them to justice.

- The domestic spying program is very limited.

And on and on and on. Honor and dignity? As if.

And now the commutation of Scooter Libby's prison sentence provides just another unsurprising case in point. Libby was convicted of felonious lying and obstruction of justice in a national security matter, yet he will spend not a single day in jail. Bush's friends can lie and get away with it. It doesn't matter if those lies jeopardize national security. And it doesn't matter if the Bush administration's lies have cost us the lives of thousands of U.S. troops and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi men, women, and babies. Honor and dignity? Guess again.

We the people may be angry. We the people may be outraged. But, sadly, we the people have no reason to believe that this cycle of lying and impunity will end. After all, and perhaps worst of all, no one with the power to stop this reign of impunity has bothered to take strong enough action to do so. (Hello, Congress.)

As long as the Bush administration is allowed to continue to lie to the American people and escape any consequence, can we really call ourselves a democracy?

08 July 2007

Global warming is a human rights issue

Some people believe that global warming is a hoax. Or they think it's just a petty matter for tree-hugging radicals to fret about. Or they think it's a partisan issue, raised only by the extreme left wing.

All of these assumptions are wrong. And, as long as those in power continue to deny the threat posed by global warming, the future will remain frighteningly grim for our planet and for our future generations.

The scientific truth is that if action isn't taken immediately worldwide to reduce carbon emissions, the consequences could be catastrophic. This isn't just about polar bears and glaciers. It's about humanity. It's about the right to protection from the deliberate and careless destruction of people's homelands, property, and livelihoods. It's about the right to observe one's native culture. It's about the basic human right to physical integrity. All of these things are on the line for millions of people if this problem isn't stopped now.

In other words, global warming a human rights issue.

Here's how:

Global warming is redrawing the world map, in some cases destroying farm lands or even whole islands.

Global warming is spreading disease to new populations as insects migrate northward. Some people are dying as a result.

Global warming is forcing some island dwellers to migrate to other lands, leaving behind (and leaving drowned) their native lands and native cultures.

Global warming has sparked a new refugee crisis.

And global warming is a threat to food security for millions of people worldwide.

This is not just about some nameless dark-skinned people in faraway countries, although that shouldn't matter. Closer to home, global warming could significantly reduce production of several key food crops grown in North America, such as corn, wheat, and potatoes. This will not only affect world hunger but the lives of American farmers as well.

Furthermore, melting ice caps could raise the sea level enough to submerge parts of Manhattan and many other major population centers. Note that the world's financial center is in lower Manhattan, which is a likely flood area. Think of the implications of that, and then tell me if you still don't care.

Much of the world is moving forward to address the issue. However, the U.S. -- with about five percent of the world's population -- remains the world's chief polluter, generating 25 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions. And the Bush administration continues to stonewall, lest new emissions regulations should inconvenience his corporate cronies.

George W. Bush talks about human rights, but talk is cheap. Just as Abu Ghraib belies Bush's rhetoric, Bush's inaction on the climate change issue further underscores his lack of concern for the wellbeing of this planet and its inhabitants.

We need to work around the Bush administration.

We need to urge Congress to put aside partisan politics and work together to enact legislation that will increase fuel economy standards and establish a realistic national renewable energy standard.

And we need to take matters into our own hands. We need to re-examine our priorities. We need to drive less. We need to choose more fuel-efficient vehicles. We need to conserve energy in our homes and in our workplaces. Every little bit helps. But it will take a serious effort by each and every one of us to make a real difference.

And we must.

This is literally a matter of life and death.

07 July 2007

Live Earth gets booed

I'm watching coverage of the Live Earth concerts on Bravo. A show host just briefly interviewed singer Keith Urban. Urban indicated that at one of his recent concerts, when he said that he'd be participating in Live Earth, he got booed!

Apparently, some people think that the environment is some radical political issue, and that concern for the environment is something to be ridiculed.

These people obviously don't realize that climate change, if not dealt with immediately, may have an enormously grim effect on the future of this planet and its inhabitants.

So they keep driving their gas-guzzling SUVs and thinking that we who care are the bad guys.

Meanwhile, the situation continues to get more and more critical.

Is there any hope?

06 July 2007

Urge your Representative to support meaningful energy legislation

Tomorrow, Al Gore's Live Earth concerts will take place around the world.

I love music, and I will be watching the concerts via the TV and the Internets. But it will take more than just these concerts to address the threat of global warming. It will take real, ongoing action -- by you, by me, and by everyone.

From the Sierra Club, here's a good place to start:

The U.S. House of Representatives will vote on energy legislation in the next few weeks, and we need your Representative's support for increased fuel economy standards and a national renewable energy standard.

Click here to urge Your Representative to support meaningful energy legislation.

04 July 2007

Is the Magna Carta just an historical document?

In honor of the July 4th Independence Day holiday, one of only four existing copies of the Magna Carta is on display at the National Constitution Center here in Philadelphia. Actor James Earl Jones was on hand yesterday for the official unveiling. Great fanfare. Great press.

But I cannot escape the irony.

After all, it's been less than a year since Congress passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which rendered impotent the great writ of habeas corpus that was such a key component of the Magna Carta and in the foundation of American democracy.

So now we have ceremonies to celebrate the great democratic principles that we used to live by.

Happy Independence Day. Enjoy what's left of your freedom while you still have it.

02 July 2007

Fighting them over there and fighting them over here

Just as George W. Bush misled the public about the reasons for attacking Iraq, he continues to mislead the public about our reasons for staying there.

One excuse that we hear most frequently is that we need to fight them over there so we don't have to fight them over here.

But look at the news.

In the past few days, we saw reports of two car bombs in London and an SUV explosion at Glasgow Airport in Scotland.

Closer to home, in May we saw the uncovering of a terrorist plot to kill U.S. soldiers at Fort Dix in New Jersey.

And, of course, there are the over-the-top security rituals that take place at our airports daily.

In other words, the U.S. and our allies already are fighting them at home.

So why again are we in Iraq?