31 July 2008

Exxon Mobil records record profits while we get squeezed at the pump

The Associated Press reports the following:
Exxon Mobil Corp. reported second-quarter earnings of $11.68 billion Thursday, the biggest quarterly profit ever by any U.S. corporation
But that's not good enough. The results "fell short of Wall Street expectations". So the price of their stock fell.

Now wait a minute:

#1: Exxon Mobil rakes in record profits, but it's not good enough for Wall Street.

#2: Exxon Mobil rakes in record profits, so they're rolling in money, but they still have to squeeze $4.00 per gallon out of us. Oh, wait, that's right -- they have to pay their executives some obscene salaries and perks. Never mind.

30 July 2008

Bush may again side with Big Business and risk our children's health

Is there no low to which George W. Bush will not stoop in order to protect the corporations from any inconvenience?

That's a rhetorical question, of course. If you've been paying attention over the past several years, you know the answer.

And now Bush is threatening to veto a new bipartisan product and toy safety bill due to pressure from the industries that manufacture hazardous products.

According to an e-mail from NotInMyCart.org, a project of Consumers Union, the bill would:

• ban lead in children’s products and toys;

• significantly increase funding and staff for safety inspections, including imports;

• give shoppers the latest information on problems and unsafe products; and

• prohibit certain chemicals, called phthalates, in children’s products.

The European Union and several other countries already have similar bans in place. They want to protect their children. But your president doesn't seem to care about your children. He seems to only care about keeping the rich corporations happy.

God bless America.

29 July 2008

Report confirms that DOJ hiring officials illegally discriminated against non-conservatives

As many have suspected, we now know that former Justice Department officials working for then-AG Alberto Gonzales broke the law by weeding out non-conservatives in the hiring process. The results of an internal investigation were released yesterday.

Among other things, Monica Goodling, then the DOJ's White House liaison, would ask job applicants, "What is it about George W. Bush that makes you want to serve him?"


In addition to the fact that it's a loaded question, DOJ employees aren't supposed to serve the president, they are supposed to serve the people of this nation -- by enforcing our laws, not by breaking them!

It appears that there is no low to which the Bushies will not sink.

>> Download the report.

28 July 2008

McCain in bed with Big Oil

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported: "Campaign contributions from oil industry executives to Sen. John McCain rose dramatically in the last half of June, after the senator from Arizona made a high-profile split with environmentalists and reversed his opposition to the federal ban on offshore drilling."

Some maverick!

We cannot afford another president who is beholden to the oil companies.

Instead, we need a president who will champion the development of clean, renewable energy sources as an urgently needed alternative to the current policies under which the oil companies rake in huge profits while we pay $4.00 per gallon at the gas pump.

27 July 2008

Senator Casey defends his FISA vote (lamely)

Prior to the senate's disgraceful FISA vote earlier this month, I wrote to my two senators from Pennsylvania -- Arlen Specter (a moderate Republican) and Bob Casey (a moderate Dem) -- and urged them both to vote against the bill, particularly if it would include telecom immunity and/or decreased presidential accountability.

Senator Specter spoke extensively against immunity for the telecoms. He ended up sponsoring an amendment that would require the court to determine the constitutionality of the NSA spying program and enact telecom immunity only if the program was found to be constitutional. His amendment failed, however, and Specter voted for the bill anyway.

Similarly, Senator Casey voted for the failed Feingold-Dodd amendment that would have stripped immunity for the telecoms, but nevertheless he ended up voting for the bill in the long run.

Now that it's a done deal, Senator Casey has sent me the following explanation via e-mail. I remain disappointed, as I think he sugar-coated some of the bill's provisions.
Dear Ms. Shaw:

Thank you for taking the time to contact me regarding debate on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). I appreciate hearing from all Pennsylvanians about this important issue.

After careful deliberation, on July 9, 2008, I voted in favor of legislation to revise and update the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act of 1978. This bill is not perfect, but it does improve on the legislation hurried into law last summer by the White House when it comes to strengthening civil liberties protections for Americans, enhancing judicial oversight, and providing the intelligence community with the necessary tools and legal authorities to target terrorists who would do harm to the American people.

Despite these improvements, I also believe the bill had some significant shortcomings. For that reason, I proudly voted for the Feingold-Dodd amendment that would have stripped immunity for telecommunication firms that may have cooperated with the President's warrantless surveillance program from the bill. Additionally, I have cosponsored and spoke on the Senate floor in support of the Bingaman amendment that would have delayed these limited immunity provisions until the Congress receives a final report on the President's warrantless surveillance program. Unfortunately, both of these amendments failed to gain the necessary support for passage.

However, I was pleased that the legislation enshrines the principle that the FISA statute is the exclusive authority for electronic surveillance and that the President must obey the FISA statute. It also restores the principle of basic judicial oversight over all surveillance activities and re-establishes the principal of accountability by requiring a comprehensive Inspector General's report on the President's warrantless surveillance program within a year. It is for these reasons I ultimately chose to vote in favor of the final bill.

I have been gratified to hear from so many of my constituents on this issue. Please be assured that I kept your concerns in mind as I deliberated and cast my vote. Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future about this or any other matter of importance to you.

If you have access to the Internet, I encourage you to visit my web site, http://casey.senate.gov. I invite you to use this online office as a comprehensive resource to stay up-to-date on my work in Washington, request assistance from my office or share with me your thoughts on the issues that matter most to you and to Pennsylvania.

Bob Casey
United States Senator
For me, these excuses are not satisfactory.

We Pennsylvanians elected Bob Casey to the senate because we'd had enough of Rick Santorum. But, with this particular vote, it made no difference.

I am disappointed in Senator Casey. I had hoped that he'd be a stronger proponent for change.

26 July 2008

McCain calls the kettle black

On Thursday, John McCain criticized Barack Obama's well-received Berlin speech.

McCain said:
"Well, I'd love to give a speech in Germany ... a political speech or a speech that maybe the German people would be interested in. But I would much prefer to do it as president of the United States rather than as a candidate for the office of the presidency."
Apparently, though, it's OK to give a speech in Canada, Mexico, or Columbia as a candidate. Because that's exactly what McCain did over the past few weeks.

Do as I say, not as I do.

25 July 2008

In Berlin, Obama gets the rock star treatment

He's young.

He's handsome.

He's charismatic.

He's eloquent.

He's very, very smart.

And, perhaps most importantly, he's not George Bush.

There's none of the hawkish rhetoric or the cowboy-style approach to foreign and domestic policy.

Instead, you get a real promise of positive change in America's trans-Atlantic relations and our role in the world.

You get a sense of someone who is motivated by compassion and common sense rather than greed.

You get a much-needed sense of hope in these seemingly hopeless times.

And that is why more than 200,000 people gathered in Berlin yesterday to see and hear Barack Obama.

"The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand," Obama said, as he stood not far from where the Berlin Wall once divided East and West. "The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes, natives and immigrants, Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand," he said.

Amen. Obama gets it.

On the other hand, if McCain -- who has been sounding more and more like Bush lately, with his tough-guy talk, decreasing eloquence, and increasing number of gaffes -- were to visit Germany today, would he receive a welcome half as warm as Obama's?

I strongly doubt it.

But then the Germans won't be doing the voting in November.

24 July 2008

Torture is not a game

Should you take 'Torture' seriously?
Nope, says the young man who developed this controversial Web game
So begins an MSNBC article that a human rights colleague recently brought to my attention.

In "The Torture Game 2", players use various devices and methods to torture the victim to see how long they can keep him alive.

What does this say about the people who actually designed and programmed this thing?

What does this say about the people who play the game and find it "fun" (or "totally awesome", as MSNBC quotes one gamer as saying)?

And the name -- "The Torture Game 2" -- implies that there was a Torture Game 1, and a demand for a follow-up. What does that say about our culture post-Abu Ghraib?

But I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. After all, consider the popularity of the television series "24". With "The Torture Game 2", players get to be Jack Bauer with no holds barred.

How cool and glamorous, they must think.

What have we become?

23 July 2008

Will Colin Powell or Condi Rice endorse Obama?

Powell I could see endorsing Obama, after the way he was used and abused by the Bush administration in the run-up to the Iraq invasion.

But not Rice. After all, I've heard Rice's name bandied about as a potential running mate for McCain. But, according to Paul Bedard's Washington Whispers blog on the U.S. News & World Report website, there's "huge buzz" that Rice, as well as Powell, might endorse Obama for president.

Certainly either endorsement would likely help Obama win some votes from moderate Republicans.

Both endorsements might send a clear message to the Republican Party leadership.

But I'll believe it when I see it.

22 July 2008

Appeals court rules against CBS's "wardrobe malfunction" fine

Surely you remember the sanctimonious outrage when, during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, Janet Jackson experienced a "wardrobe malfunction" which gave the audience a glipse, lasting nine-sixteenths of a second, of one of Janet Jackson's breasts.

Judging from the hysteria, one might think that children's psyches were forever traumatized by that fleeting moment where, if they were paying attention closely enough, they may have caught that brief shot of a beautiful woman's breast. The end of civilization as we knew it.

So the FCC hit CBS with a $550,000 "indecency" fine.

It reminded me of when former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft spent $8,000 of taxpayer money for drapes to cover two partially nude statues that stand in the Great Hall of the Department of Justice.

Fortunately, cooler heads have prevailed in the CBS case -- for now. Yesterday, here in Philly, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the fine.

The religious "right" will surely be up in arms now. They seem to want their children to believe that our bodies are bad, "dirty", or shameful.

It's no wonder that we hear of so many right-wing politicians, ministers, etc., leading secret sexual lives (secret at least until they get caught).

21 July 2008

George W. Bush and the subjugation of women

Here they go again. The Bushies want to take us back four decades and make us give up control over our bodies and our reproductive lives. According to Reuters, they are pushing a change to Health and Human Services (HHS) regulations which would undermine state laws that ensure that women can get contraception when they want or need it.

The proposal redefines abortion to include several types of birth control, including the pill, emergency contraception, and IUDs.

So, in Bush's world, birth control = abortion. Talk about throwing out the baby with the bathwater! (Pun unintended.)

So if Bush's two 20-something daughters are using birth control, they're essentially having abortions every month, per their father's lexicon. To him, everything is black and white. And here we are.

20 July 2008

Al Gore's 10-year climate challenge

On July 17, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former U.S. vice president Al Gore presented a 10-year plan to solve the climate crisis.

As Gore noted:
[O]ur dangerous over-reliance on carbon-based fuels is at the core of all three of these challenges - the economic, environmental, and national security crises.

We're borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet. Every bit of that's got to change.

But if we grab hold of that common thread and pull it hard, all of these complex problems begin to unravel and we will find that we're holding the answer to all of them right in our hand.

The answer is to end our reliance on carbon-based fuels.
Under Gore's plan, in 10 years we can be producing 100% of our electricity from renewable and clean carbon-free sources.

The above video contains highlights from the speech. I strongly urge everyone to check it out and then join in the challenge.

We can't let the oil men in the White House and their friends in Congress stop our efforts to overcome our carbon addiction.

>> Watch the full speech and read the transcript.

19 July 2008

Does Obama need a running mate with war clout?

The media keep telling us that the polls place John McCain ahead of Barack Obama when it comes to national security. People just somehow believe that a Republican can keep us safer. Ironic, considering that we've had Republicans in the White House since pre-9/11, and they neither prevented the attack nor captured or killed Osama bin Laden. But that's a whole other rant.

The fact is that too many people mistakenly believe that McCain can keep them safer. So I've been wondering if it might help if Obama were to select a running mate with some war clout.

I had been thinking about General Wesley Clark, but the media's twisting of Clark's recent remarks, in which he said that McCain's military service does not automatically qualify him to be commander in chief, was probably enough to take him out of the running. This is no fault of Clark's, in my opinion, since there are a lot of former POWs and other military veterans who aren't necessarily good presidential material. But such is the world of politics and media spin.

I had also been thinking about Virginia Senator Jim Webb, who happens to be a Vietnam vet. But, on July 7, Webb proactively issued a statement indicating that "[u]nder no circumstances" does he want to be considered for the VP slot. While he promised to work hard to help Obama get elected, Webb believes that he can do more good by staying in the Senate right now. I am hugely disappointed. But, of course, it's Webb's prerogative.

Now there seems to be a lot of speculation about the possibility of an Obama-Hagel ticket, especially in light of the fact that (Republican) Senator Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam vet, plans to accompany Obama on an upcoming trip to Iraq. The prospect of an Obama-Hagel ticket is fascinating and somewhat appealing, but unlikely.

Like many others, I believe that Hillary Clinton would be a strong addition to the ticket. Of course, she doesn't have any war clout, just lots of baggage. But she's tough, and that could be a big plus when it comes to military issues.

Is there another VP choice out there who could help Obama close up the war/security gap? Does he really even need to? For both questions, I think the answer is that it depends -- on so many factors.

It depends on whether we see an October surprise, be it an attack on Iran by Bush or by Israel, a terrorist attack on U.S. interests, or even just another bin Laden tape.

It depends on whether Obama and his running mate can adequately dispel the myth that the Republicans can keep us safer.

And, perhaps most importantly, it depends on whether the voters place more importance on health care, the economy, our constitutional rights, and the need to move away from the toxic neocon agenda.

Heaven help us if they don't.

18 July 2008

Happy Birthday, Nelson Mandela!

Today, July 18th, is Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday.

Mandela was a leading figure in South Africa's anti-apartheid movement. Unfortunately, some of his earlier methods were not ones that I admire, as he did resort to violence initially. He ended up spending 27 years in prison for crimes including the sabotage of military and government targets. Because he advocated the use of violence, Amnesty International did not declare Mandela a "prisoner of conscience". The ends don't always justify the means.

But he has long since redeemed himself many times over. After his release from prison, Mandela changed his tactics. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, he switched to nonviolent methods and helped to bring an end to apartheid through peaceful negotiation. In 1993, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Even at his advanced age, Mandela continues to campaign for human rights, social justice, and political reconciliation.

Happy birthday, Mr. Mandela. You are a true inspiration.

17 July 2008

The Iran negotiations double standard

All along, George W. Bush has been provoking Iran by labeling them as part of the "Axis of Evil" and accusing them of aiding terrorists.

He kept telling us that diplomacy is off the table because we don't negotiate with terrorists.

In fact, the July 13th edition of the British Sunday Times reported that Bush "has given an 'amber light' to an Israeli plan to attack Iran’s main nuclear sites with long-range bombing sorties." As the article goes on to explain, "Amber means get on with your preparations, stand by for immediate attack and tell us when you’re ready."


But now Bush seems to have changed his tune, or is at least willing to stall. He is preparing to send William Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, to a summit this weekend for talks with a European Union foreign policy chief and Iran's nuclear envoy.

In other words, we're going to take part in diplomatic negotiations with a member of the Axis of Evil.

Apparently it's OK if Bush does it.

But when Obama talks about diplomacy, he is scoffed at and labeled an "appeaser".

Go figure.

16 July 2008

ACLU: Terrorist watch list hits one million names

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), they now have a million names on the U.S. government's terrorist watch list.

Looks like a pretty good example of trying to find a needle in a haystack. After all, the list includes Nelson Mandela, some U.S. Senators and Representatives, several infants and children, the president of Bolivia, active U.S. military personnel (including at least one who was on his way home from Iraq), and people with such common names as Gary Smith and John Williams. (Do I hear "Mary Shaw"?)

Combine this with making us remove our shoes at the airport checkpoints, and it just doesn't seem like the most efficient or effective way of protecting us from terrorists. In fact, the terrorists probably find it all quite amusing. The joke's on us.

Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU's Technology and Liberty Program, shared the following views on this problem:
"America's new million record watch list is a perfect symbol for what's wrong with this administration's approach to security: it's unfair, out-of-control, a waste of resources, treats the rights of the innocent as an afterthought, and is a very real impediment in the lives of millions of travelers in this country. It must be fixed without delay.

Putting a million names on a watch list is a guarantee that the list will do more harm than good by interfering with the travel of innocent people and wasting huge amounts of our limited security resources on bureaucratic wheel-spinning. I doubt this thing would even be effective at catching a real terrorist."

>> Read an ACLU press release on this issue and what they are doing to address it.

>> Read the stories of some innocent people who have been caught up in the watch list fiasco.

15 July 2008

Scott McClellan did not kill Tony Snow

Here's a new crazy theory out of the right: Scott McClellan caused Tony Snow's death.

Tony Snow, of course, is the former White House press secretary who had replaced Scott McClellan at the press room podium.

McClellan went on to write his recently released book What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception, which is quite critical of the Bush administration.

Meanwhile, Snow's colon cancer got the best of him, and he died on July 12.

Coincidence? Surely.

But some people apparently disagree.

In the checkout line yesterday at my local supermarket, I overheard a middle-aged couple discussing Snow's death. I heard the man tell his wife, "That crazy book of lies from that whining traitor Scott McClellan probably aggravated Tony Snow's condition."

As if that's not enough, he went on to speculate that the Dems would reward McClellan accordingly. "Hussein Obama will prolly make him the vice president for that," he guessed.

I briefly and discreetly glanced his way to get a sense of whether or not he might actually be joking. He wasn't.

I bit my tongue and kept quiet. You cannot reason with some people.

14 July 2008

Shame on The New Yorker

I have not yet received my copy of this week's edition of The New Yorker, but already I don't like it. The outcries in the media over the cover illustration have caused quite a controversy.

The drawing depicts Barack Obama dressed up in Muslim garb, along with his wife Michelle sporting an automatic rifle draped over her shoulder. A photo of Osama bin Laden rests above the fireplace.

Apparently, a New Yorker staff member explained to ABC News that the cartoon "is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Senator Obama's right-wing critics have tried to create."

And that is how I interpreted it.

But I do think it's in very bad taste. I had thought that The New Yorker was above that kind of thing. I am disappointed.

13 July 2008

Mark Fiore: Insta-Scandal!

This is a busy weekend, and I don't have time to write much original stuff today. (Mark your calendar: Mary was relatively speechless on July 13!)

So I'm taking the day off and turning the soapbox over to political cartoonist extraordinare, Mark Fiore. In his newest short animation, Fiore takes an amusing yet astute look at how the media and blogosphere are so good at turning trivial, irrelevant, and generally inane or benign information into "hot news" and major political scandals, while ignoring the real news.

Check it out: Mark Fiore: Insta-Scandal!

12 July 2008

Coming to terms with Obama's FISA vote

Still fuming over the FISA sellout, and greatly disappointed by Barack Obama's "Yea" vote, I decided to do more research.

What I found did help a bit, but I'm still disgusted by the fact that the telecoms who illegally spied on us now have retroactive immunity.

What I found, the thing that helped me feel a tiny bit better about all this, was a statement by Barack Obama about why he decided to support the FISA bill.

In a nutshell, he voted for the bill because:

• it brings the FISA court back into the picture and demands compliance with the court;


• it requires the Inspectors General to investigate past misconduct, so maybe someone(s) -- other than the now-immune telecoms, of course -- will be exposed for their role(s) in the illegal wiretapping and perhaps even held accountable.

So he obviously put a great deal of thought into it and did what he felt was best for now. That's his prerogative.

But I still strongly oppose this legislation.

Sure, the FISA court is back as a requirement, but that never stopped the Bushies from sidestepping the court.

And the Inspectors General may launch an investigation, but we know that the Bushies are good at dodging any kind of proceedings through which they might be held accountable for their misdeeds. They just play the "state secrets" card, or the "executive privilege" card, like they're above the law. And they always seem to get away with it.

And the fact still stands that Congress gave the telecoms a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Imagine the outrage if Bill Clinton had illegally spied on us like Bush has. They probably would have used that to impeach Clinton all over again, not pass a bill supporting the activity.

But Bush -- with a 25% approval rating -- gets a free pass and a Congressional blessing. Why?

No wonder this Congress now has a 9% approval rating.

In an ideal world, Obama would have joined with Senators Russ Feingold, Chris Dodd, Pat Leahy, and others who firmly opposed the bill, and we would have seen a filibuster.

But this is not a perfect world, and Obama is not a perfect person. He is a politician, and this is a very important election year. We know that the Republicans will continue to play the fear card. Hence, Obama's "Yea" vote.

Disappointed as I am, however, I will still support Obama's campaign in every way I can.

Because no one is perfect.

Because this election is about more than just one issue.

And because the alternative -- a McCain presidency -- is unthinkable.

11 July 2008

Sudanese president to be charged with genocide

Today's Washington Post leads with a report that the International Criminal Court plans to arrest Sudanese President Omar Hassan and charge him with genocide and crimes against humanity related to the killings in Darfur.

But some United Nations officials (and I) are concerned that this will complicate the peace process and provoke an escalation of violence by Sudanese forces and militia.

I'm all for accountability, and it will be a great thing to see Hassan put on trial for his crimes. But he hasn't been acting alone. And the situation there is so fragile, with so many lives in the balance, even after so many have already died.

I just have to hope that the international authorities know what they're doing.

Fingers crossed.

10 July 2008

ACLU will sue over the new FISA bill

In response to yesterday's passage of the new FISA bill, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced that they plan to challenge the bill in court as soon as Bush signs it into law.

Below is the text of an ACLU news release on the subject, dated yesterday. It makes some very interesting points.
Senate Passes Unconstitutional Spying Bill And Grants Sweeping Immunity To Phone Companies

ACLU Announces Legal Challenge To Follow President's Signature

Today, in a blatant assault upon civil liberties and the right to privacy, the Senate passed an unconstitutional domestic spying bill that violates the Fourth Amendment and eliminates any meaningful role for judicial oversight of government surveillance. The FISA Amendments Act of 2008 was approved by a vote of 69 to 28 and is expected to be signed into law by President Bush shortly. This bill essentially legalizes the president's unlawful warrantless wiretapping program revealed in December 2005 by the New York Times.

"Once again, Congress blinked and succumbed to the president's fear-mongering. With today's vote, the government has been given a green light to expand its power to spy on Americans and run roughshod over the Constitution," said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "This legislation will give the government unfettered and unchecked access to innocent Americans' international communications without a warrant. This is not only unconstitutional, but absolutely un-American."

The FISA Amendments Act nearly eviscerates oversight of government surveillance by allowing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to review only general procedures for spying rather than individual warrants. The FISC will not be told any specifics about who will actually be wiretapped, thereby undercutting any meaningful role for the court and violating the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

The bill further trivializes court review by authorizing the government to continue a surveillance program even after the government's general spying procedures are found insufficient or unconstitutional by the FISC. The government has the authority to wiretap through the entire appeals process, and then keep and use whatever information was gathered in the meantime. A provision touted as a major "concession" by proponents of the bill calls for investigations by the inspectors general of four agencies overseeing spying activities. But members of Congress who do not sit on the Judiciary or Intelligence committees will not be guaranteed access to the agencies' reports.

The bill essentially grants absolute retroactive immunity to telecommunication companies that facilitated the president's warrantless wiretapping program over the last seven years by ensuring the dismissal of court cases pending against those companies. The test for the companies' right to immunity is not whether the government certifications they acted on were actually legal -- only whether they were issued. Because it is public knowledge that certifications were issued, all of the pending cases will be summarily dismissed. This means Americans may never learn the truth about what the companies and the government did with our private communications.

"With one vote, Congress has strengthened the executive branch, weakened the judiciary and rendered itself irrelevant," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "This bill -- soon to be law -- is a constitutional nightmare. Americans should know that if this legislation is enacted and upheld, what they say on international phone calls or emails is no longer private. The government can listen in without having a specific reason to do so. Our rights as Americans have been curtailed and our privacy can no longer be assumed."

In advance of the president's signature, the ACLU announced its plan to challenge the new law in court.

"This fight is not over. We intend to challenge this bill as soon as President Bush signs it into law," said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. "The bill allows the warrantless and dragnet surveillance of Americans' international telephone and email communications. It plainly violates the Fourth Amendment."

For more information, go to:

09 July 2008

Fourth Amendment, RIP

It's over. Today, the U.S. Senate passed the FISA bill by a final vote of 69-28, thereby giving a wink to Bush's illegal warrantless eavesdropping, and granting retroactive immunity to the telecoms that broke the law.

Three different amendments, which would have either stripped immunity from the bill or limited the immunity, were all defeated.

Proponents of the bill call it a "compromise", but really it's just a capitulation.

In essence, the Democratic Congress has voted to pardon a felony committed by the Bush administration and the telecoms.

Shame on them all.

Now be careful what you say on the phone and in your e-mail and text messages. Some suspicious bipartisan-enabled goons just might be listening and watching.

08 July 2008

Librarian with "McCain=Bush" sign charged with trespassing at a public event

Yesterday, John McCain was in Denver for a town hall meeting which was billed as being "open to the public." But when 61-year-old librarian Carol Kreck showed up carrying a sign that read "McCain=Bush", she was charged with trespassing, removed from the premises, and told not to return.

Remember when this was the land of freedom?

07 July 2008

The mess in Afghanistan -- What did we expect?

Of course we all know that things are not going well in Iraq. But remember the other war? Remember Afghanistan -- the place where Osama bin Laden was once hiding, probably with help from the Taliban?

Well, things aren't going too well there these days, either.

According to George W. Bush himself, last month, June 2008, was the deadliest month for foreign troops in Afghanistan.

The Taliban are back. They've regrouped.

And the Afghan government has no sympathy for us. In fact, the Associated press reported yesterday that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered an investigation into allegations that missiles from U.S. helicopters killed up to 27 Afghan civilians walking to a wedding ceremony on Sunday. You know, the stuff that the Bushies call "collateral damage".

Remember, it's been almost 7 years since we invaded Afghanistan post-9/11. We did well at first. But then we took our eye off the ball, let bin Laden escape, and diverted our attention to Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11.

So can anyone really be surprised at the mess we've left behind in both countries? Can anyone really be surprised that things are dragging on in both places with no progress in sight, just more and more dead U.S. troops, and more and more dead civilians?

These are not wars of strategy. They are wars of will. That's been proven time and time again, as Bush has replaced several generals who tried to place strategy above the Bush agenda.

Such is life in Bushland.

At least Afghanistan's poppy trade is doing well. According to Voice of America, "Afghanistan supplies virtually all of the world's illegal opium. Last year, the country's drug trade was a $4 billion business, half of which alone was produced in the south where the fighting against the Taliban insurgency is the fiercest." I guess it helps to numb the pain.

06 July 2008

Bush, freedom, and empire building

Yesterday, in his weekly radio address, George W. Bush talked about freedom and liberty and the role of the U.S. in defending freedom around the world.

He said, "This creed of freedom has required brave defenders, and every generation of Americans has produced them. From the soldiers who fought for independence at Bunker Hill and Yorktown, to the Americans who broke the chains of slavery, liberated Europe and Asia from tyranny, and brought down an evil empire, the people of this great land have always risen to freedom's defense."

Fine. Good.

But then he had the nerve to compare our Iraq adventures with the above. He said that today "the men and women of America's Armed Forces continue this proud tradition of defending liberty."

He said that in Iraq "many risk their lives every day to protect America and uphold the principle that human freedom is the birthright of all people and a gift from the Almighty. These brave Americans make it possible for America to endure as a free society."

Wait a minute. We needed to invade a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 and posed no threat to us at the time, and then continue to occupy it, to "make it possible for America to endure as a free society"?

Even as he chips away at our own Constitutional liberties?

No, that's not a free society. That is a would-be empire.

And, to many people in other parts of the world, America does look like today's "evil empire".

04 July 2008

A timeless Declaration

Today is Independence Day in the U.S.

On July 4, 1776, our Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, breaking away from the rule of England's tyrannical King George.

I was rereading the text of the Declaration, and it occurred to me that the ideas expressed in that document are as meaningful today as they were in 1776 -- so much so that it's almost scary. After all, today we are ruled by the whims of another George who would be king, who believes that he is above the law, accountable to no one but the rich and the powerful.

I have copied the text of the Declaration below. Please take a few minutes to read these words and think about how they apply to us today. And, in November, please vote to separate ourselves from the neocon agenda and restore the values that our Founding Fathers fought for.
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

03 July 2008

Philly honors George Washington's slaves

It is painful to acknowledge the fact that many of our founding fathers owned slaves. In fact, George Washington kept nine slaves here in Philadelphia at the old President's House.

Fortunately, times have changed. And soon Washington's slaves will be honored with a memorial at the site on Independence Mall where the President's House once stood.

Meantime, an event will be held today starting 4:30 pm on Independence Mall to honor the slaves and tell their stories.

With all the Independence Day festivities taking place in Philly this week, it is good to see that the city will also be acknowledging this darker side of our history and honoring the slaves who helped to build this nation when this nation was young.

02 July 2008

Are we gearing up for war with Iran?

My new (July 7 & 14) issue of The New Yorker arrived yesterday. It contains an article by award-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh titled Preparing the Battlefield. In the article, Hersh tells us that last year Congress authorized the use of as much as $400 million to escalate covert operations against Iran. The operations were designed to "destabilize the country's religious leadership" and gather intelligence about Iran's suspected nuclear-weapons program.


Later in the article, Hersh points out that "[the] request for funding came in the same period in which the Administration was coming to terms with a National Intelligence Estimate, released in December, that concluded that Iran had halted its work on nuclear weapons in 2003."


And scary.

And a little bit of deja vu.

Back in early 2003, Bush had an itch to after Iraq, and look what that got us. 4,113 dead troops and many more still there in harm's way.

Now he's got an itch for Iran. What will that get us?

That would-be Texas cowboy is out of control, with six more months in office. Heaven help us all.

For more info:

On June 30, Amy Goodman interviewed Seymour Hersh on her radio/TV show Democracy Now!

>> Read the transcript, or download the audio or video stream.

01 July 2008

Federal appeals judges criticize the handling of "enemy combatant" cases

Today's Washington Post tells us:
In reversing a military tribunal's determination that a Chinese detainee was an "enemy combatant," a federal appeals court criticized the government's evidence and compared its legal theories to a nonsensical 19th-century poem.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit wrote in a 39-page opinion released yesterday that tribunals and courts must be able to assess whether evidence is reliable before determining the fate of detainees.

That did not happen in the case of Huzaifa Parhat, a Chinese Uighur determined to be an enemy combatant by a tribunal that relied heavily on questionable evidence in classified documents, the appeals court found.

The ruling, the first successful appeal of a detainee's designation as an enemy combatant, ordered the government to release, transfer or hold a new hearing for Parhat. The opinion was issued on June 20 and was declassified and released yesterday.

The opinion could have broad implications for scores of other detainees classified as enemy combatants by Combatant Status Review Tribunals. The opinion is also likely to guide federal judges weighing evidence in up-coming hearings.


We are finally seeing some pushback against the Bush administration's unreasonable handling of detainees who may or may not be guilty of any terrorist acts or terrorist connections.

I'm not soft on crime, and I'm not soft on terrorists. I want to see the bad guys punished. But I'm tired of hearing of so many cases of innocent people, sold to U.S. troops by bounty hunters or arrested and detained on a translation error, who are trapped in legal limbo and at the mercy of Gitmo's kangaroo court system.

Now, finally, fortunately, it appears that the wheels might be in motion to move us towards true justice, or something closer to it, in this thing Bush calls the "war on terror".