31 July 2009

A new twist on the Obama birth conspiracy theory

It's bad enough that some right-wing crackpots still refuse to accept the validity of Barack Obama's publicly released birth certificate. Now they are taking it a step farther (and a few steps more ridiculous).

In response to my recent column about how CNN's Lou Dobbs has been propagating the birth certificate conspiracy theory, I got a comment from a right-winger on the OpEdNews.com site. The commenter, a white man (per his photo) who simply goes by the name "Gallaher", replied to my piece thusly:
Obama does not want people to see is [sic] real 1961 Hawaiian birth certificate, because the state legally declared Obama a "Caucasian" baby, not "Black".

This is the real reason Obama is using millions of dollars and tens of attroneys [sic] to hide his real birth certificate and any other documents where Obama listed his race as black for personal gain.

You see it is felony fraud.

There you are enlightened...
Enlightened? Perhaps Gallaher should enlighten himself a bit more by doing his homework before spreading his conspiracies.

You see, Gallaher apparently doesn't realize that Hawaiian birth certificates do not list the baby's race. They list the race of each parent. In Obama's case, the mother is listed as "Caucasian" and the father is listed as "African".

The certificate is available for viewing online at the Los Angeles Times website here.

But, of course, the conspiracists are unlikely to let the facts get in the way of their hysteria. Especially where a dark-skinned U.S. president is concerned.

30 July 2009

Glenn Beck says Obama hates white people (like his mother?)

I didn't want to dignify this nonsense with a commentary. But I can't help myself, because it's just so absurd.

Earlier this week, right-wing nutcase Glenn Beck reinforced his position on the far-right lunatic fringe -- a territory he shares with a few of the other most extremist conservative commentators such as Limbaugh and Coulter.

Beck said he believes that President Obama is a racist, and that Obama has "a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture."

Would someone please explain to Glenn Beck that Obama is actually biracial?

Would someone please explain to Glenn Beck that Obama's beloved late mother was white?

Would someone please explain to Glenn Beck that Obama's beloved maternal grandparents who raised him were white?

Does Beck think that Obama was faking his affection for his mother and his maternal grandparents?

Does Beck think that Obama's close relationship with his fabulous sister Maya -- who is a different variety of biracial -- is feigned?

These, of course, are merely rhetorical questions. I expect no rational response from the right.

29 July 2009

Sotomayor, racism, and the future of the GOP

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13-6 to endorse Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court.

She is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate next week.

Meantime, in yesterday's vote, only a single Republican -- Lindsey Graham, no less -- voted in favor of Sotomayor.

As I think back to her confirmation hearings and how some Republican senators made fools of themselves with their ridiculous racist comments, I cannot help but wonder if the process would have been considerably less contentious if Sotomayor were a white man.

After all, if Sotomayor were a white man, the "wise Latina" talking point would be a non-issue. As would the question of judicial empathy towards minorities and the less privileged.

As for those who bullied Sotomayor and/or voted against her confirmation, I hope their constituents will keep this episode in mind when those senators are up for reelection.

And, considering that a 2008 report from the U.S. Census Bureau projected that whites will be in the minority in this country by the year 2042, the Republicans had better think twice about alienating today's minority groups if they want the GOP to survive.

28 July 2009

Lou Dobbs undermines CNN's credibility

With Fox News tilted firmly to the right and MSNBC leaning more and more to the left, CNN is commonly regarded as the more moderate, more balanced cable news alternative.

And that generally seems to be the case, with a couple of exceptions, the most glaring of which is Lou Dobbs.

In recent years, Dobbs gained notoriety for his loud opposition to U.S. immigration policy, especially where brown-skinned people are concerned.

But now Dobbs is sinking even further into Wingnutland.

Lately, Dobbs has been using his CNN desk to propagate the ridiculous crackpot claim that Obama was not born in the U.S. and therefore is not constitutionally entitled to the presidency.

Never mind the fact that an image of Obama's birth certificate has been available online at FactCheck.org since well before last November's election.

And never mind the fact that Washington's power base -- and the Clintons -- would likely never have allowed a non-citizen to assume the office.

But Dobbs refuses to believe that there is no vast left-wing conspiracy that bypassed the Constitution to put an African American in the White House. (Hey Lou: If there really is such a vast left-wing conspiracy, why is it having such a hard time passing a public health care plan through Congress?)

The bottom line is this: Even though several of his CNN colleagues have refuted the birth certificate conspiracy theory on the air, as long as Dobbs continues to use his position to spread this kind of nonsense, CNN's reputation for objectivity will be on the line.

Apparently CNN's honchos realize this, having gotten some pressure from the public and at least one civil rights organization.

So last Thursday CNN president Jon Klein sent Dobbs an email declaring that the Obama birth certificate story "is dead", and that "anyone who still is not convinced doesn't really have a legitimate beef."

So will Dobbs comply and give it a rest? Time will tell.

Maybe he'll go back to focusing his energy on the Mexicans he so fears (not that he ever really stopped).

Or maybe he'll find someone new to hate.

Because he seems to be so deeply entrenched in his xenophobic paranoia that he must have someone to point to and condemn.

Because of that, I pity him.

And, because of that, CNN has become harder and harder to watch.

27 July 2009

What if Professor Gates were white?

Based on the limited, media-filtered information that I have about the recent case in which an African-American Harvard professor was arrested while trying to break into his own home, I believe that the whole thing has been overblown by both sides.

And both sides should have done things differently.

Professor Gates should not have provoked the police with what appeared to be an arrogant attitude.

But, at the same time, the police should not have assumed the worst without first investigating the facts.

In that respect, President Obama was correct in calling Police Sgt. James Crowley's actions "stupid". But President Obama also jumped the gun here, as he later admitted.

But what is even more disturbing is that fact that race was dragged into this story. (The arresting officer is white.) This proves that race is still a factor in American daily life, even as an African American sits in the White House.

A post-racial America is still no more than a far-off dream for the future, folks.

And such will be the case for as long as race remains a factor in news stories such as this.

26 July 2009

What job will Sarah quit next?

Today, Alaskans rejoice as Sarah Palin serves her last and final day as governor of our northernmost state.

Not showing a lot of staying power, she has quit with 18 months left in her first term.

Flighty as that might seem, however, many folks are still speculating that Palin might be looking at a presidential run in 2012. Some even think she might be successful at it, particularly if President Obama fails to keep the key campaign promises that got him elected.

While the prospect of a Palin presidency is a scary thing indeed, there is one consolation: If she thought being Alaska's governor was too hard a job to finish, we should see her resigning from the White House even earlier in her first term.

Let's just hope that Joe the Plumber won't be her vice president.

25 July 2009

Maddow vs. ... Behar?

For so long, talk radio and cable news were dominated by the right wing.

Finally, in 2004, Air America Radio brought a progressive voice to the radio airwaves and internet streams.

Meanwhile, Keith Olbermann had started to take on the conservative talking heads via his evening show "Countdown" on MSNBC, and that network's ratings soared.

The icing on the cake was added late last year, when MSNBC hired the congenial, funny, and extremely smart Air America host Rachel Maddow to follow Olbermann each weeknight.

With the recently added advantage of Ed Schultz at 6:00, MSNBC now had a lineup that could stand up to Limbaugh, O'Reilly, and Hannity.

And the momentum for left-wing TV talk continues to build. Because now left-of-center Joy Behar, a host on the daytime show "The View", will get her own primetime show on HLN this fall.

This is good except for one thing: Behar's show will compete with Maddow's 9:00 program.

Too much of a good thing? Not on your life. Fox News needs all the competition that the left can throw at it.

But now I just might have to invest in a TiVo after all.

24 July 2009

Christian right wants to mislead Texas schoolchildren

Oh, what fools we Americans must seem to our European cousins!

From the British newspaper The Guardian:
"The Christian right is making a fresh push to force religion onto the school curriculum in Texas with the state's education board about to consider recommendations that children be taught that there would be no United States if it had not been for God.

"Members of a panel of experts appointed by the board to revise the state's history curriculum, who include a Christian fundamentalist preacher who says he is fighting a war for America's moral soul, want lessons to emphasise the part played by Christianity in the founding of the US and that religion is a civic virtue."
There are so many problems in those two paragraphs that I don't know where to begin.

And, of course, I've said it all before, but the religious extremists won't let facts and logic get in the way of their crazed agenda.

First of all, despite their repeating the myth over and over again ad nauseam, the U.S. was not founded as a Christian nation, and many of our most prominent Founding Fathers were Deists, not Christians.

It was with good reason that this nation's founders wrote the "establishment clause" into the First Amendment, which states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." Yes, folks, it says so right there in the U.S. Constitution!

But I guess the Texas school curriculum will ignore that major fact of U.S. history.

Who needs truth, logic, or reason when there are vulnerable children who need to be brainwashed into lockstep?!

23 July 2009

GOP priorities: War over wellbeing

Now, after all these years of throwing billions of dollars at George W. Bush's unnecessary war of aggression in Iraq, the Republicans are suddenly worried about spending.

Because now there is a Democrat in the White House and a Democratic majority in Congress. And because President Obama wants to throw some money at the people, for a change.

Obama wants to fund health care coverage, job growth, and green energy development -- all the reasons why we voted for him in November.

So now the Republicans suddenly care about "fiscal responsibility".

To them, a war of choice, waged on lies, is apparently a justifiable expense. The wellbeing of our people and our planet, however, is not. And the billionaires enjoy their tax cuts and their tax havens as the rest of us foot the bill for this misguided agenda.

Do these people have no hearts? No souls?

And that goes for the obstructionist Blue Dog Dems as well.

22 July 2009

Grim milestone reached yesterday: 1,000th execution by lethal injection in U.S.

Yesterday in Ohio, Marvallous Keene became the 1,000th person executed by lethal injection in the U.S.

Let's hope that we will never see a 2,000th case.

The death penalty is about revenge, not justice.

And, as Mahatma Gandhi said, "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."

For more reasons why the death penalty is not the answer, see the Amnesty International USA website: www.amnestyusa.org/death-penalty

21 July 2009

Israeli soldiers describe sanctioned abuses in Gaza (and am I anti-Semitic for saying so?)

One of the reasons why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues is because each side blames the other, and each side refuses to admit to any wrongdoing.

Furthermore, any critiques of Israel's actions are usually met with cries of anti-Semitism -- as if any Israeli military action is justified, no matter what, and any complaints must therefore be racist.

Therefore, I was hesitant to write this. But the truth must be known.

You see, last week, the organization "Breaking the Silence" released a new booklet containing testimonies by about 30 Israeli soldiers describing the use of "accepted practices" during the Gaza invasion which included "the destruction of hundreds of houses and mosques for no military purpose, the firing of phosphorous gas in the direction of populated areas, the killing of innocent victims with small arms, the destruction of private property, and most of all, a permissive atmosphere in the command structure that enabled soldiers to act without moral restrictions."

There is no excuse for that. But I applaud the soldiers for speaking out.

Of course, I also condemn Hamas's rocket attacks on Israel, to which the Israeli invasion was a response. But the United Nations and several human rights organizations have described Israel's counterattacks as disproportionate, and therefore in violation of international law.

Indeed, back in March, CNN quoted a United Nations estimate that, of the 1,453 people estimated killed in the conflict, 1,440 were Palestinian, including 431 children and 114 women.

That's 1,440 Palestinian deaths to 13 Israeli deaths. Disproportionate indeed!

Still, I will probably be called anti-Semitic for saying so.

And that tells me that the apologists for the Israeli military have no other argument to stand on.

I am reminded of the wise words of a young (twenty-something) Jewish-American woman who shared with me her view that the Jewish people, for all their suffering through the millenia, should be especially sensitive to the suffering of others. Yes, one would think. But, instead, the oppressed have become the oppressors.

That is no way to find peace or closure.

20 July 2009

Possibly tomorrow: 1,000th execution in U.S. by lethal injection

Tomorrow, July 21, we may see the 1,000th execution in the U.S. by lethal injection, as Ohio is scheduled to kill Marvallouse Keene.

If that falls through, Texas has a July 23 execution date on the books for Roderick Newton.

This milestone is nothing short of barbaric.

You'll find a good summary of the arguments against the death penalty on website of Amnesty International USA here: www.amnestyusa.org/death-penalty

19 July 2009

Six ways to prevent wrongful convictions

Time and time again in the criminal "justice" system, eyewitness testimony has proven unreliable. In fact, according to the Innocence Project, a legal organization dedicated to exonerating the wrongfully convicted, "[e]yewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions overturned with DNA testing, contributing to 75 percent of the 240 DNA exoneration cases to date!

So what can we do about this?

To help answer that question, the Innocence Project has released a new report that explores the problem and outlines six steps that states and municipalities can take to reduce the possibility of wrongful convictions.

A summary:
1. Proper lineup composition: The non-suspects in the lineup should resemble the eyewitness’s description of the perpetrator, and the suspect should not stand out.

2. Blind administration: The officer administering the lineup should not know which participant is the suspect.

3. Witness instructions: The witness should be told that the perpetrator may not be in the lineup and that the investigation will continue regardless. This helps the witness understand the role of the identification and may decrease the pressure to make an identification.

4. Confidence statements: Juries assume confident eyewitnesses are more reliable, but sometimes confidence in an identification increases as an investigation progresses. Lineup administrators should ask for a witness’s level of confidence, in his or her own words, immediately after the lineup.

5. Recording lineups: An accurate video or audio record of the lineup procedure can help a jury or judge gauge the possibility of misidentification.

6. Sequential lineups: When witnesses view lineup members one by one instead of all at once, they are less likely to misidentify an innocent person. Research is ongoing on this reform and the Innocence Project recommends it as an optional addition to the reforms above.
These steps are not drastic, expensive, or complicated to implement.

On the other hand, the costs of each wrongful conviction, in financial terms and most especially in human terms, are far too great to ignore.

>> Read the executive summary or download the full report.

>> Learn about the policy in your state.

18 July 2009

Walter Cronkite, RIP

The world of journalism, and the world at large, suffered a great loss last night with the death of legendary newsman Walter Cronkite. He was 92 years old.

Cronkite has been called "the most trusted man in America" because of his journalistic integrity and appealing demeanor.

On a professional level, I think of him as a "journalist's journalist". He was fearless in seeking out the truth about the current events of the day. In covering World War II, he was right there alongside our troops flying bombing raids over Germany.

And he had a way with words, a seemingly easy ability to turn a poetic phrase in a compelling intro to the serious stories of the day.

After his retirement, we still heard from him. But, by that point, Cronkite was free to share his personal commentary on the issues of the day. And he did. He criticized George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq, he took issue with the political agenda of the religious right, and he denounced Fox News as "a far-right-wing organization". And he did so with intelligent, rational insight.

As a journalist, Cronkite is one of my professional heroes. As a human being, he is one of my personal heroes.

May he rest in peace.

17 July 2009

Musicians ask Obama to ban music torture

A few years ago, British attorney Clive Stafford Smith spoke at an Amnesty International conference that I attended. Smith represents some Guantanamo prisoners, and he shared their horrible stories with us.

One chilling example is the story of his client Binyam Mohem, a Londoner who has since been released from Guantanamo:
"They hung me up. I was allowed a few hours of sleep on the second day, then hung up again, this time for two days. My legs had swollen. My wrists and hands had gone numb.... There was loud music, [Eminem's] 'Slim Shady' and Dr. Dre for 20 days.... The CIA worked on people, including me, day and night.... Plenty lost their minds. I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors, screaming their heads off."
That's our tax dollars at work, people.

In further discussing how loud music is played for hours, days, and months on end to "break" the prisoners, Smith half-jokingly pondered the possibility of suing the military for unpaid broadcast license fees on behalf of the musicians whose music was misused in this way.

While Smith has yet to go that far (that I am aware of), it appears that a step has been made in the right direction.

Smith's organization Reprieve recently worked with legendary musician and human rights activist Peter Gabriel and other musicians to prepare a letter to President Obama asking him to ban the use of music by U.S. military interrogators. The letter, dated July 16, 2009, is co-signed by the Musicians' Union and UK Music, and supported by several prominent musical artists.

An excerpt from the letter:
"We are, of course, against all forms of torture, but as musicians we are particularly concerned about the misuse of music and that this practice may slip under the radar unless you explicitly condemn it.

"The practice is an abuse of our rights as well as, of course, those of the prisoners who are subjected to it.

"We ask you to send a clear message and explicitly outlaw the use of music to 'break' and interrogate prisoners."
In announcing the letter, Smith made the following statement:
"Blasting prisoners with ear-splitting music 24/7 is a form of modern torture. Yet because this technique leaves no visible scars, there is a real chance that President Obama will consider it harmless. It is not. It causes severe psychiatric problems, the devastating effects of which can last a lifetime.

"It is a clear violation of the Geneva Conventions, and an affront to musicians everywhere.

"Reprieve joins Peter Gabriel and the music industry in urging President Obama to explicitly ban the use of 'torture music' in the new Army Field Manual, thereby sending a clear message to military and CIA operatives that this technique is officially illegal."

The United Nations and the European Court of Human Rights have banned the use of loud music in interrogations, but we are apparently still using it. Prisoners have said that the experience is harder to bear than even physical torture.

I hope that President Obama will see the light and immediately ban this practice.

16 July 2009

Only a "meltdown"

The big show in Washington this week has been the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

In my opinion, Judge Sotomayor has done a fine job in dealing with her interrogators -- the friendly ones, the not-so-friendly ones, and even the racist nutjobs. She has generally come across as poised, prepared, and prudent (alliteration unintentional).

And that means that it is likely that she will be confirmed.

In fact, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said to Sotomayor, "Unless you have a complete meltdown, you are going to be confirmed."

While I appreciate Sen. Graham's reassurance, I winced at his use of the word "meltdown".

Would he have used that term if he had been talking to a man? I cannot read the senator's mind, but I suspect not.

The word "meltdown" implies emotion and drama -- two qualities that some men tend to associate more with women than with other men.

But, to her credit, Judge Sotomayor has displayed neither during the hearings this week. Instead, she has remained ever calm, focused, and professional.

And that must surely have caught some of the more right-leaning senators off-guard.

15 July 2009

Philadelphia's latest shame

Can Philadelphia still claim the nickname "City of Brotherly Love"? That might seem questionable after last week's swimming pool scandal.

The Valley Swim Club, in suburban Huntingdon Valley, made national news last week when a group of young campers, who had a pre-arranged and pre-paid agreement to use the pool, were subjected to racially-charged comments and were ordered to leave the club. You see, most of the campers (if not all) had brown or black skin.

Philadelphia's NBC affiliate quoted Valley Swim Club president John Duesler as saying in a statement, "There was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion ... and the atmosphere of the club."


Righteous protests ensued.

Valley Swim Club tried to backpedal, saying that the kids were turned away because of safety issues due to the number of campers. But safety issues didn't seem to be a concern when the club originally took the kids' money. It suddenly became an issue once they saw what the kids looked like. Or so it would seem.

Eventually, the disgraced swim club succumbed to public pressure and invited the campers to return. The campers declined, and I'm glad they did. After all, why would they want to return to a place where the long-term (white) members had made racial comments and pulled their own (white) kids from the pool at the sight of the minority children?

That is certainly not a pool where I would want to spend my time. And I'm white.

Meantime, the campers are suing, as well they should. And I hope the lawsuit will cost the Valley Swim Club dearly, although some legal experts say it's unlikely.

While no amount of money can compensate for the pain those children must have felt when they heard the racist remarks, the Valley Swim Club needs to be punished.

And I hope other recreational facilities, whether public or private, will take note.

14 July 2009

Government run insurance: Good enough for Washington elite, but too socialist for us?

Yesterday, Dr. Jill Biden, wife of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, had outpatient surgery at Thomas Jefferson Hospital here in Philly to relieve some shoulder pain. She is recovering well.

I'm guessing that Dr. Biden's surgery was probably paid for through the government-run, taxpayer-subsidized medical insurance program offered to members of Congress and other federal employees and their families.

And I'm guessing that Dr. Biden is getting very good care under the plan.

While not the ideal single-payer solution that I'd like to see for all Americans, opening this plan up to all citizens would be a fairly good alternative.

But, of course, this would be the kind of health care reform that the Congressional Republicans love to point a finger at and call it "socialist".

Never mind the fact that these same Republicans don't seem to complain when they take advantage of the program to pay for their own health care needs, and those of their families.

It's good enough for them, but too "socialist" for us.

And why?

Because their insurance-company bedpartners want us to remain underinsured and at their mercy -- so they can make a profit off our illnesses and pain.

13 July 2009

Do your job, Mr. Holder

The Associated Press reported yesterday that Attorney General Eric Holder is thinking about maybe appointing a special prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration's pro-torture policies.

In my opinion, he shouldn't just be thinking about it.

Adding to my frustration, the AP quoted Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller as saying, "As the attorney general has made clear, it would be unfair to prosecute any official who acted in good faith based on legal guidance from the Justice Department."

However, in my opinion, it would be unfair to all the victims of those illegal torture practices -- many of whom are known to be innocent -- if we were not to prosecute the torturers as well as those who authorized their actions.

Because of their training, the CIA agents and any others who committed torture in our name had to have known full well that they were violating the Geneva Conventions and numerous other domestic and international laws and standards. If someone offered you some twisted logic to justify murdering your ex-wife, you'd still know that it's illegal to kill her. Same thing. (And you would surely go to prison if you followed through, regardless of the excuses.)

But even if he continues to abide by President Obama's promise not to punish the thugs who actually did the torturing, Holder has no excuse not to investigate and prosecute those who hijacked the law in order to make it happen. And that means John Yoo, Jay Bybee, Alberto Gonzales, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, and anyone/everyone else who may be found to have either authorized the use of torture or jumped through semantic hoops in order to justify it in policy.

It seems like it's been a while since we've had someone in the higher echelons of the Justice Department who actually did their job, which is to enforce the rule of law rather than tap-dance around it. I strongly urge Attorney General Holder to restore some validity -- and some dignity -- to the Department.

12 July 2009

More fun with Honduran warlords

In a recent column, I condemned the military coup that has overthrown the democratically elected government of Honduras and sent President Manuel Zelaya into exile in Costa Rica.

In response, I heard from several people, including one Honduran citizen, who insisted that this change of government was perfectly legal, and who scolded me for daring to suggest that it was anything but proper and praiseworthy.

If I am to be scolded for condemning the coup, then so are the United Nations General Assembly, the European Union, and the Organization of American States, whose views on the matter were a strong influence on mine. Obviously I am in good company.

More noteworthy still is the fact that a top attorney in the Honduran army has admitted that the military coup was in violation of the law.

The Miami Herald quoted Col. Herberth Bayardo Inestroza as saying, "We know there was a crime there. In the moment that we took [Zelaya] out of the country, in the way that he was taken out, there is a crime. Because of the circumstances of the moment this crime occurred, there is going to be a justification and cause for acquittal that will protect us."

Inestroza's "logic" in justifying the coup despite its inherent illegality brings back memories of the Bush administration's "logic" in justifying its own crimes against the Constitution and humanity.

That doesn't make it right.

My Honduran correspondent told me that he wants democracy in his country, and he accused the ousted Zelaya of being anti-democracy.

But Zalaya had been democratically elected. And he was militarily (not democratically) ousted.

As George W. Bush never seemed to understand, you cannot spread democracy at the point of a gun.

11 July 2009

Society, politics, and the overpopulation problem

I am writing this on July 11 -- World Population Day. And I am reflecting on the fact that the world's population continues to grow year after year, even though our planet and its resources remain finite.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, new Americans are being born faster than the old ones are dying off, yielding a net gain of one person every 11 seconds in this country alone. And the population worldwide is growing even faster. This results in ongoing and ever-worsening shortages of food, clean water, shelter, and other necessities of life.

Nevertheless, the right-wing zealots continue to oppose responsible birth control programs. They like to think of themselves as "pro-life". However, they don't seem to care so much about the quality of life outside their country clubs. And, indeed, it's in the poorer neighborhoods and developing nations that overpopulation causes the greatest suffering.

Another part of the problem exists at a societal level. As a woman who has chosen to remain child-free all my life, I am viewed by many as an anomaly. In our society, parenthood is encouraged, glorified, and glamorized (see "Jon & Kate Plus 8"). I frequently see otherwise intelligent people choosing to have three or four children -- or more. While most surely don't over-reproduce for malicious reasons, their naivete and/or thoughtlessness strike me as irresponsible, and more than a little narcissistic.

On a more positive note, President Obama has already taken some important steps in addressing family planning issues worldwide as well as domestically. He repealed the Bush administration's Global Gag Rule, which had withheld federal funds from nongovernmental health and family planning organizations that provide abortion information or referrals in other countries. And his budget for FY 2010 eliminates funding for abstinence-only sex education and instead supports a new Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative designed to "support community-based and faith-based efforts to reduce teen pregnancy using evidence-based and promising models."

But, like putting a Band-Aid on a cancer, these programs will not adequately address the underlying societal attitudes that need to change.

Just as the "green" movement has caught on in recent years, educating and inspiring ordinary people to be more environmentally responsible, we need a similar movement for population control.

Society needs to embrace the concept that it is perfectly acceptable -- and, in fact, a positive thing -- for a couple to have only one child, or none.

And adoption should be encouraged for those who want more.

We need to get to a place where reckless over-reproduction is generally regarded as irresponsible and uncool. Because, in this day and age, it truly is.

10 July 2009

Me vs. Yoo in the Philly Inquirer

When the news broke that the Philadelphia Inquirer had awarded a monthly column to torture memo author John Yoo, I vowed that I would challenge each and every one of Yoo's neoconservative blatherings. And so, each month, I've been firing off letters to the editor in response to Yoo's columns.

In his latest column, published on July 5, Yoo cited the recent Supreme Court decision in Ricci v. DeStefano as a decisive victory over judicial empathy in general and Judge Sonia Sotomayor in particular. (Should we even be surprised that someone who jumped through semantic hoops in an effort to justify torture would have some disdain for the concept of empathy?!)

Today, the Inquirer published my response.

Below is the text of my letter, as it appears in today's newspaper, followed by links to the letter and Yoo's column on the Inquirer's website:
John Yoo cites the recent decision in Ricci v. DeStefano as a victory against the kind of judicial empathy that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor promises to bring to the table, suggesting that Sotomayor might be out of place. He then hails it as a sign that we are entering a post-racial America ("No more quotas," Sunday).

I wish he were right.

The fact is that, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which collects and publishes such statistics, the number of hate groups in the United States grew by a whopping 54 percent from 2000 through 2008.

One need only look at all the recent fuss about Latino immigration, along with the irrational suspicion of anyone who might look Middle Eastern, to realize that a "post-racial" America is still just a pipe dream. And, until we get there, a little more empathy is just what we need.
>> Read my letter on the Inquirer's website.

>> Read Yoo's July 5th column which triggered my response.

Note: The Inquirer keeps its content active only for a limited time.

09 July 2009

Suicide by governor

You may have heard of "suicide by cop". Well now, here in Pennsylvania, it appears we have a case of "suicide by governor".

William Wright has been on death row for almost 10 years. He claims he is innocent, but he's sick of death row. And since he won't get out alive, he wants to get it over with.

Wright sent a letter to Governor Ed Rendell asking that his execution date be moved up.

Governor Rendell complied.

So, sadly, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has scheduled the assisted suicide for September 3.

Paid for by my state tax dollars.

08 July 2009

Will Sarah Palin ever be satisfied?

"How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Paree?" the old song would ask.

Today's version might inquire, "How you gonna keep her up in AK after she's seen DC?"

The Wasilla beauty queen was lucky enough to get a taste of what it's like to be on the world stage, and now, apparently, Alaska just isn't good enough anymore.

Palin's resignation last Friday has the pundits' imaginations working overtime. Some have called it political suicide. Others have chalked it up to calculated genius.

In any case, one thing is clear: The woman is ambitious. So much so that she scares me.

Because, if she happens to achieve what might be her next goal -- the White House -- will she quickly become bored with that, too?

And, if that should happen, will we see an imperialistic administration that will make Bush-Cheney look timid by comparison?

Let's hope that we don't have to find out.

07 July 2009

A greater consequence of "don't ask, don't tell"

So what has been the cost of Bill Clinton's misguided "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) policy on gays in the military?

If you ask some liberals and progressives, the response would probably be that DADT is not fair, but that it is better than a broader ban on gays in the military. When your colleagues talk about their girlfriends, just keep quiet about your same-sex relationship, and everyone will be none the wiser. And everyone can live happily ever after.

Or not.

It now seems that the consequences are far more dire than we ever imagined.

Case in point: Last week, a gay sailor was found dead at Camp Pendleton.

Apparently, he had been harassed previously for being gay, but didn't report the harassment because of DADT.

So, because of DADT, he ended up dead.

This is not friendly fire, folks. It's ignorant, intolerant, hate-filled fire. And it needs to be prosecuted to the fullest.

And this is a queue that we need to repeal DADT immediately.

No more excuses for inequality.

06 July 2009

Glorifying gluttony on the 4th of July

I was just reading about the annual hot dog eating contest held on July 4th each year at Coney Island, New York. This year's "winner" consumed 68 hot dogs in 10 minutes.

The concept makes me sick.

Gluttony is being glorified and rewarded.

Meanwhile, some 12.4 million children go hungry in the U.S. today. (That's 16.9 percent of all children in this country.)

05 July 2009

Progressive disillusionment and the election of 2012

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's recent resignation announcement has sparked a lot of speculation about the 2012 election. Does Palin have her eye on the presidency? (Imagine!)

On the Democratic side, it is likely that President Obama will run for a second term unless he screws up too badly in his first term.

And, while I don't see him screwing up quite that badly, I, like many other progressives, am disappointed in much of what I've seen so far this term.

Obama has disappointed the LGBT base with his rejection of a challenge to the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.

He has let down the human rights community with his continuation of Bush's policies of warrantless spying and indefinite detention without trial.

Obama won the presidency because he energized a whole generation of political newcomers who responded to his promise of change we can believe in. That energy has now morphed into disappointment and battle fatigue.

We have yet to see any change we can believe in.

And that presents an all-too-promising prospect for the Republican party, even as disheveled as the GOP might be at the moment.

Time to swim, Mr. President, lest you sink and take this whole country down further with you.

04 July 2009

July 4th and the pursuit of happiness

Today is July 4th -- Independence Day in the USA. On this date in 1776, the Second Continental Congress met here in Philadelphia and approved the Declaration of Independence, severing the colonies' ties to the British monarchy.

The second paragraph of the Declaration begins with these words:
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.
These words are as relevant today as they were 233 years ago. Because today we are living under a different kind of tyranny -- tyranny of the rich, white, homophobic, male corporatocracy.

And, because of that tyranny, some Americans still don't seem to have equal rights in the pursuit of happiness.

It wasn't until the early 20th century that women were considered worthy of the right to vote.

It took several more decades for African Americans to be similarly enfranchised.

And both groups statistically still lack full equality of wealth, power, and opportunity today.

Then there's the issue of gay rights, which has been called the last civil rights movement. Even as the First Amendment forbids religious interference in government, equal opportunity in the pursuit of happiness is still a pipe dream in most of these United States for LGBT persons who are limited by the religious convictions of a very vocal minority. How would those homophobes feel if someone tried to tell them who they may or may not marry?

In the past 233 years, certainly we have made much progress towards true equality for all Americans. But we still have a long way to go. Hopefully it won't take us another 233 years to get there. Because the Declaration states that all men are created equal -- not just the rich, white, heterosexual ones.

03 July 2009

Heaven help our captured soldier

Apparently a U.S. soldier has been captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Heaven help him.

My heart goes out to the captured soldier and his family.

And I hope that the Taliban will treat him better than we treat our own prisoners who've been captured in Afghanistan.

02 July 2009

USA's role in the Honduran coup -- and how we must fix it

"The U.S. Army School of the Americas ... is a school that has run more dictators than any other school in the history of the world."
-- Congressman Joseph Kennedy

They're baaaaaa-aaaack! "They" being military dictatorships in Latin America, such as the Reagan administration loved so much and so readily supported with guns and money.

Last weekend, a military coup in Honduras overthrew the democratically elected government of that Central American nation and sent President Manuel Zelaya into exile in Costa Rica. The coup was apparently led by Romeo Vasquez, a graduate of the notorious School of the Americas (SOA), a military/torture school located at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Most Americans have probably never heard of the SOA, which was cleverly renamed a few years ago to "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC)", perhaps in an attempt to dodge the stigma surrounding the school's reputation.

But changing the name doesn't change the fact that the school continues to use our tax dollars to train Latin American warlords and dictators in the art of torture and repression. The graduates then use their new skills to violate human rights in their home countries. Like we're seeing now in Honduras.

The United Nations General Assembly has condemned the coup and has called for the peaceful restoration of President Zelaya. So has the Organization of American States.

President Barack Obama, on the other hand, simply provided the following statement in a press release:
"I am deeply concerned by reports coming out of Honduras regarding the detention and expulsion of President Mel Zelaya. As the Organization of American States did on Friday, I call on all political and social actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Any existing tensions and disputes must be resolved peacefully through dialogue free from any outside interference."
But here I think some outside interference is indeed called for. Because talk is cheap, especially when there is U.S. funding -- more of our tax dollars -- still flowing into Honduras.

If Obama truly wants to break away from the Reagan-Bush legacy, he should do the following:

• Call for the immediate, safe, and unconditional return of President Zelaya the presidency;

• Call for the immediate, safe, and unconditional release of any government officials and activists who may currently be detained as a result of the coup; and

• Suspend all military aid to Honduras. They need to know that we mean business -- literally as well as figuratively. If we do not do this, then we are essentially supporting the coup with our tax dollars.

Then he should close the SOA/WHINSEC for good. Our training has contributed to more than enough human rights violations by SOA graduates.

01 July 2009

Me vs. Bruce Castor on the death penalty

On June 21, the Patriot-News, a Harrisburg newspaper, ran an op-ed by Bruce Castor Jr., a former District Attorney here in the Philly suburbs and now a Montgomery County Commissioner.

In the op-ed, Castor criticized U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor for having "urged public opposition to the reinstatement of the death penalty in New York while she was the director of a Puerto Rican advocacy group in the early 1980s."

Castor then accused Sotomayor of making "a number of controversial assertions about the death penalty, including [that] capital punishment is associated with evident racism in our society."

He went on to defend the use of the death penalty by pointing out that "close to 70 percent of Americans support the death penalty under the proper circumstances," although he didn't go into any detail about what constitutes "the proper circumstances."

So then, it appears that Castor would have us believe that the death penalty is appropriate simply because 70 percent of Americans say so. How can 70 percent of Americans be wrong?!

And, since 70 percent of Americans approve of state-sponsored killing, then any argument against it by a seasoned judge must be "controversial".

This is the "logic" of a former District Attorney!

I could not let this go unaddressed, so I submitted a response to the Patriot-News, and today they printed it.

Below is the text of my letter to the editor, followed by links to the letter and Castor's original op-ed on the Patriot-News website.
In his article (June 21), Bruce Castor Jr. calls "controversial" Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's assertion that capital punishment is associated with evident racism in our society. What Castor failed to say was that Sotomayor's assertion is true.

Studies, including the Baldus-Woodworth study on race and the death penalty in Philadelphia in 1998, found that African-American defendants were several times more likely to receive the death penalty than were people of other ethnic origins who committed similar crimes.

As a result, in 2003 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's Committee on Racial and Gender Bias in the Justice System called for an immediate moratorium on executions, citing strong indications that Pennsylvania's capital justice system does not operate in an evenhanded manner.

But so far, Gov. Rendell has ignored the committee's call for a moratorium, possibly due to the fact that as a former Philadelphia District Attorney, Rendell had convicted many of the commonwealth's death row prisoners.

Could Castor's past experience as a DA be coloring his own attitude as well?
>> Read my letter on the Patriot-News website.

>> Read Castor's original op-ed which triggered my response.