28 February 2009

Will the economy make you fat and unhealthy?

In the midst of this economic crisis, I've seen many of my favorite shops and restaurants forced to go out of business, as so many consumers have cut back on spending due to job loss or the possibility thereof.

One company, however, is still making a killing -- in more ways than one.

Fast food giant McDonald's recently reported a nice increase in profits worldwide.

It makes sense.

In today's world, where many of us are having to pinch our pennies much more so than ever before, that dollar menu can be attractive. There aren't many places where you can fill yourself up with more than 1,000 calories' worth of food for under $3.00.

But, as we learned from Morgan Spurlock's film Super Size Me, and as many others have surely learned through their own experience, most of the food served at McDonald's is unhealthy. It will make you fat and it will make you sick. As if the economy isn't already hard enough on you.

Sure, McDonald's can point to some of the healthier choices on their menu, like their salads. But those aren't the cheap items that sell well in hard times. And they're not even all that healthy when you add in the rich, creamy dressings.

As always, I suppose, you get what you pay for. And killing yourself with burgers and fries can be pretty darned cheap.

27 February 2009

Congratulations, Hilda Solis!

The news is three days old. But for those who haven't heard, I am delighted to report that the Senate on Tuesday confirmed Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor.

This finally happened after weeks of stalling by Republicans who were uncomfortable with Solis's history of supporting workers' rights.

And, because of all that fuss, I was surpised that Solis got as many votes as she did. It was 80-17, with 2 not voting.

After the past couple of decades where we've seen the rich and powerful overlords of business trample the rights of the workers and get away with it, it's nice to have someone in charge now who cares about the little guy.

Especially in these current hard times.

26 February 2009

Diplomacy is not a weakness

A few days ago I wrote a blog post in praise of the Obama administration's approach to foreign policy, as demonstrated via Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent visit to Asia. I pointed out how we've quickly progressed from a policy of aggression, finger pointing, and fear mongering to a policy of warmth, listening, and learning -- exactly what is needed to repair our relationship with the rest of the world.

The resultant influx of hate mail from the right wing was swift, predictable, and -- in most cases -- flatly lame.

An example:
"Democrats have a three part plan for defense, 1. Run. 2. Hide 3. Wave the white flag."
In other words, this person seems to believe that diplomacy = surrender. If you don't adopt the Bush doctrine of preemptive war on unthreatening unarmed nations, and if you seek active diplomatic engagement as opposed to swaggering finger pointing, threats, and unnecessary violence, then you're a wimp.

The logical errors here are numerous. I'll just address a few of them.

First, those who would suggest that Hillary Clinton would promote a policy of running, hiding, and waving the white flag was obviously not paying attention to the 2008 Democratic primary season. If anything, Clinton was too aggressive here, and she's not going to suddenly sweep her moxie under a rug. In fact, her never-back-down fighting spirit might actually be one of the reasons why Obama chose her to head up the State Department.

That said, it was President Theodore Roosevelt -- a Republican, mind you -- who advocated that we "speak softly but carry a big stick." That is exactly what Obama and Clinton are doing. They are "speaking softly", and thereby winning hearts in minds in parts of the world where it's really, really needed. But they also carry a big stick -- arguably the greatest military force in terrestrial history. And they're not afraid to use that stick, as evidenced by Obama's recent decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, to finish the job that George W. Bush should have finished years ago, but didn't.

On a final note, I will point out that you can't solve the world's problems through violence. Quite the opposite, as a matter of fact. Violence begets violence, as demonstrated most recently by the Bush administration. Proof: Bush's own intelligence experts have stated that Bush's foreign policy -- most notably the Iraq war -- has made us less safe, and has, in fact, worsened the terrorism threat.

However, it would appear that the indoctrinated "true believers" don't care about any of that. They just want/need to engage their irrational aggressive tendencies, no matter what the cost.

After all, as they see it, they are Americans, so they are invincible. Kick foreign ass and rule the world.

They have no idea how naive they really are.

Fortunately, as evidenced by the 2008 elections, these folks today appear to be in the minority, albeit a highly vocal minority.

25 February 2009

Hey GOP, it's not about gender or race

I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't heard it with my own ears. No, wait, yes, I guess I would have believed it. Because this is what the nature of right-wing politics has become.

Yesterday, I overheard two expensively suited Wall Street types discussing the fact that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal would be delivering the GOP response to President Obama's Tuesday evening address to Congress and the American people.

Many people have been speculating about a Jindal run for the presidency in 2012 or beyond. And why not? He's smart, articulate, photogenic, popular, and he toes the Republican party line.

However, the well-heeled duo in my presence did not seem too concerned with Jindal's real qualifications. They support a Jindal candidacy because, well, Jindal -- the son of Indian immigrants -- "is young and he's brown," as one of them put it.

For these two, it's all about identity politics.

After Hillary Clinton lost the Democratic nomination for the presidency, the GOP countered with Sarah Palin in an attempt to win the votes (if not the hearts and minds) of 18 million disappointed Clinton supporters. That didn't work. But they -- at least these two men I encountered yesterday -- didn't take away the lesson that it's not about identity politics, it's about the issues.

So now they figure they'll run a brown guy against the black guy. Apples for apples.

But it will not work. At least not for the reason they think.

The American people these days are smarter than that. And the issues of the day are too important to vote for a skin color or a gender.


Hopefully those eight years of the Bush administration have taught the American people the importance of voting based on a well-informed and well-reasoned analysis of the issues, not any superficial (and thereby irrelevant) characteristics, or lazy who-I'd-have-a-beer-with kinds of criteria.

We seemed to have learned that hard-earned lesson in time for the 2008 presidential election. Now hopefully that lesson will stick for a while.

24 February 2009

Obama denies rights of Bagram prisoners

Shame on Barack Obama! I thought that we would once again become a nation that observes and respects human rights and the rule of law. Instead, the Obama administration has reportedly chosen to side with George W. Bush in saying that the detainees held at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan have no right to challenge their detention!

For all we know, many of these prisoners may be innocent, having been sold to us by bounty hunters or arrested in a case of mistaken identity or a translation error. But they have no right to a day in court to state their case.

The same situation had existed at Guantanamo until the Supreme Court ruled last year that Gitmo detainees could challenge their detention in court.

Still, those at Bagram have no similar right. At least not yet. Double standard -- the new American way?

Hopefully this issue, like its Gitmo counterpart, will find its way to the Supreme Court. Meantime, I am greatly disappointed, to say the least.

23 February 2009

Obama promises deficit reduction

In light of the current economic crisis, I think many of us had given up any hope of reducing the annual deficit in the foreseeable future. First things first: We've got to bring the economy back to life, and then we can worry about the deficit.

But, as it turns out, President Obama believes that he can fix both at once.

As the New York Times reported over the weekend, Obama "will set a goal this week to cut the annual deficit at least in half by the end of his term." This will be done primarily by reducing our very expensive involvement in Iraq and by once again requiring the very rich to pay their fair share of taxes.

This makes sense. After all, George W. Bush's actions in those two areas -- funding the unnecessary war on Iraq and cutting taxes on the rich (his base) -- are arguably the two biggest factors in how Bush turned Bill Clinton's record surplus into a record deficit.

It's ironic. The Republicans love to describe the GOP as the party of fiscal responsibility. However, our economic history of the past 25 years -- since the imposition of Reaganomics, no coincidence -- strongly suggests otherwise.

If Obama manages to pull this off, might it be the final nail in the Reaganomic coffin?

Stay tuned, and keep fingers crossed.

22 February 2009

NY Post cartoonist targeted gays too

By now you're probably aware of the controversy surrounding a recent cartoon in the New York Post that seemed to compare President Obama (creator of the stimulus bill) to a chimp. Indeed, my first reaction upon seeing the cartoon was that it was racist, invoking the age-old bigoted tactic of comparing black people to lower primates.

Even as the Post tries to tapdance around it with a lame semi-apology, Post employees are ashamed. As they should be.

And, when it comes to bigotry, it seems that the cartoonist, Sean Delonas, is an equal opportunity offender, attacking other minority groups as well. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has accused Delonas of "continued juvenile and defamatory treatments of LGBT issues." In fact, he was named to GLAAD's Worst Defamation of 2008 list.

To prove their case, GLAAD has compiled a slideshow highlighting a selection of past Delonas cartoons that attack gays and lesbians.

>> View the slideshow.

21 February 2009

Hillary demos our new foreign policy

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been in Asia this past week on a "global listening tour". She has been engaging not only world leaders, but the people themselves.

Like in Indonesia -- the largest Muslim-majority nation in the world -- where she appeared on some popular radio and TV shows and toured poorer neighborhoods, receiving a warm welcome.

Part of the warmth that the Indonesians feel for her might be in part because of the fact that her boss, President Obama, spent part of his youth in Indonesia. But you cannot deny that her friendly and engaging manner has got to be appreciated for its stark contrast to the cowboy-style foreign policy of the previous administration.

The Bush administration's foreign policy was defined by words like "axis of evil" and "You're either with us or you're with the terrorists."

On the other hand, the Obama administration's foreign policy is taking shape through words like "The United States wants to listen" and "I believe strongly that we learn from listening to one another."

We've gone from a policy of aggression, finger pointing, and fear mongering to a policy of warmth, listening, and learning.

This is exactly what is needed to heal our wounded relationship with the rest of the world.

20 February 2009

Another reason not to support the Boy Scouts

It's not the fault of the kids themselves. Most are too young to understand the implications of the Boy Scouts of America's despicable policies. No, it's the fault of the adults at the top of the organization.

I stopped supporting the Boy Scouts years ago when I learned of their policies of discrimination against gays and the non-religious.

As a private organization, they can choose their membership however they see fit, but I won't donate to that kind of cause. And neither will the tax payers of Philadelphia.

But apparently discrimination isn't the only right-wing value that the club supports. They're now actively trashing our forests. The group formerly renowned for being good conservationists is now becoming known for choosing financial profits over the environment.

According to Hearst Newspapers, a recent investigation uncovered dozens of cases in which the Boy Scouts "ordered the logging of prime woodlands [that had been donated to them] or sold them to big timber interests and developers, turning quick money instead of seeking ways to save the trees."

These are the "values" they are teaching our young boys.

I wonder if they have some new badges to go along with these new "skills".

19 February 2009

Rumsfeld's other crime

We know about Donald Rumsfeld's war crimes. He was instrumental in the Bush administration's lies that led us into an unnecessary war of choice against Iraq, which had previously posed no threat to us. And he authorized the use of torture, in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

But, as it turns out, that is not where Rumsfeld's sins against humanity began. Way back during the Reagan administration, Rumsfeld -- a former CEO of Searle Laboratories, which developed the artificial sweetener aspartame (NutraSweet) -- deliberately appointed an FDA commissioner whom he knew would approve NutraSweet for the U.S. market. This is after sixteen years in which the FDA had refused to approve NutraSweet due to evidence of dangers associated with its use, including links to brain cancer and eye diseases.

Just as Rumsfeld lied to justify an attack on an unarmed nation, and just as Rumsfeld went out of his way to make sure that we tortured our prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan, and at Gitmo, he also went out of his way to ensure profits for his colleagues at Searle, no matter what the risks to the American consumer.

Does the man have no conscience?

How can he sleep at night?

Thanks to Thom Hartmann for alerting me to this issue via a recent edition of his radio show on Air America.

18 February 2009

The most powerful three on Capitol Hill

Yesterday, President Obama signed the $787 billion stimulus plan that will hopefully create and save millions of jobs, rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, and kick-start the economy.

It wasn't easy. The Republicans in both the House and the Senate fought it tooth and nail. The bill would not have passed in its present form if not for the three moderate Republicans in the Senate who were willing to break party ranks and support a compromise that didn't totally obliterate the original intent of the bill.

With this one big piece of legislation, those three Republican senators -- Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania -- have demonstrated that they will likely control what legislation passes in the 111th Congress.

This makes them arguably the three most powerful people on Capitol Hill.

17 February 2009

Now Montana might abolish the death penalty

When it rains, it pours, as the saying goes. And that can be a good thing. Especially when we're trying to put an end in this country to that ancient, barbaric custom known as the death penalty. It's so Middle Ages. Like torture, except these days waterboarding replaces the thumbscrews. And lethal injection replaces hanging, drawing, and quartering.

This is the 21st century, and we, as human beings, should by now have evolved beyond the inclination to torture and execute other human beings. But take a look at those photos from Abu Ghraib, and the reports from Gitmo, and you know that we still torture. And take a look at the upcoming execution roster, and it's clear that we still engage in a lot of state-sponsored killing.

We kill someone in order to show that killing is wrong. Huh?!

So yesterday I wrote about the fact that the New Mexico House of Representatives had voted last week to abolish the death penalty in that state and replace it with a sentence of life in prison without parole. It's now in the hands of New Mexico's Senate.

And, I am happy to report, it seems to be catching on elsewhere in this nation. The reliably red state of Montana, for instance.

Yesterday, the Montana state senate endorsed a death penalty ban in that state. Montana's House still needs to vote on this measure.

My fingers are crossed.

Stay tuned.

16 February 2009

New Mexico moves to abolish the death penalty

The state of New Mexico has taken a step forward towards more civilized behavior -- true legal justice instead of revenge.

Last week, New Mexico's House or Representatives voted to abolish that state's death penalty and replace it with a sentence of life in prison without parole.

The legislation now goes to the New Mexico Senate.

Fingers crossed.

I've written much over the years about why the death penalty is wrong. For new readers, I will summarize below:

The death penalty is applied unevenly and unfairly, and minorities are victimized in the process. In a recent study by a committee of the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court, it was discovered that African-American defendants were almost four times more likely to receive the death penalty than were people of other ethnic origins who committed similar crimes. Similar studies in other states were consistent with this. Where is the justice here?

In addition to its biased application, the death penalty is demonstrably not a deterrent, and is irreversible, which is a problem given so many cases of death row inmates who have been exonerated after conviction, based on DNA or other evidence. (How many other innocent persons weren't lucky enough to be proven innocent prior to their executions? We know of at least a few.)

On a more philosophical note, Amnesty International describes the death penalty as "the ultimate, irreversible denial of human rights."

These are some of the reasons why most European nations have abolished the death penalty.

It has been more than a year since New Jersey abolished the death penalty, and prosecutors -- yes, prosecutors! -- in that state have found no problems with the new system.

So will New Mexico see the light?

I hope so.

Stay tuned.

15 February 2009

Alison Des Forges, RIP

The human rights community is mourning the death of Alison Des Forges, who was killed in the plane crash near Buffalo, New York, a few days ago.

Alison was a senior advisor to the Africa division of Human Rights Watch (HRW). She was considered the world's leading expert on the 1994 Rwanda genocide and its aftermath, and a report she published with HRW on the subject is considered the definitive work on that conflict.

Alison worked so hard at exposing human rights abuses in Rwanda and trying to bring about change that the Rwandan government recently banned her from the country.

The world is a better place for her hard work and dedication to exposing, ending, and prosecuting human rights abuses. She will be missed.

>> Read more about Alison on the Human Rights Watch site.

>> Read Alison's definitive report about the Rwanda genocide.

14 February 2009

Love is love. Period. Deal with it.

I am writing this on February 14th, Valentine's Day, when people in many parts of the world celebrate the phenomenon of love.

Sadly, in most parts of the world, some couples' love is still regarded as less genuine, less real, and less acceptable than others'. These days, same-sex couples are probably the hardest hit by this ridiculous double standard.

If a man can fall in love with a woman, why can't a woman fall in love with a woman? If a woman can fall in love with a man, why can't another man do the same? It's no less natural than heterosexual attraction, as clearly evidenced by the widespread occurrence of homosexual behavior in animals.

Some folks argue that same-sex couples cannot reproduce, as if that makes a reasonable case against same-sex unions. By that standard, though, should we not also criticize unions between elderly couples, or between sterile couples, who also cannot reproduce? Should your grandmother die lonely just because she can no longer bear children?

Some folks argue (ignorantly) that the "gay lifestyle" is all about risky promiscuous behavior. However, I know a number of gay couples who have enjoyed strong, committed relationships that have lasted much longer than my own heterosexual ex-marriage. (And I know some astoundingly promiscuous heterosexuals.)

And, of course, the gays are not lurking behind every tree, waiting to "convert" your children.

The more arguments the homophobes throw out there to try to justify their irrational fear, the sillier it all seems.

It boils down to this: If you are not comfortable with another person's sexual choices, then don't make those same choices for yourself. But don't deny another person the right to love and companionship. And don't worry about what they may or may not be doing in the bedroom. It is not about you. It is none of your business.

Love is something to be celebrated, not judged by strangers.

Perhaps James Carville said it best: "I was against gay marriage until I found out I didn't have to have one."

Or maybe Jesus said it best: "Judge not, lest ye be judged."


Happy Valentine's Day to all.

13 February 2009

Today's Senate and the U.S. Supreme Court

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg had surgery last week for pancreatic cancer. Fortunately, it was found and treated in the early stages. Hopefully she will have a smooth recovery and remain with us -- and on the Court -- for many years to come.

But Justice Ginsberg's medical condition caused me to reflect on how fortunate we are that Barack Obama won the presidency. There's a good chance that he will be responsible for nominating one or more judges to the highest court in the land. And I'd much rather have him do it than his former presidential rival John McCain, who has long since abandoned his centrist persona to move farther and farther to the neocon right.

Nevertheless, we still have reason for concern. Just as the economic stimulus bill had a hard time making its way through the Senate, so might it be for any Supreme Court nominee whom the Republicans feel might be too idealogically progressive.

Only time will tell.

12 February 2009

Octuplet mom vs. the planet

I hadn't planned to write about the California woman who recently gave birth to octuplets, even after she already had six other children at home. It seems weird. It seems eccentric. But it's her business, not mine.

Just as I will defend a woman's choice against giving birth, I will also defend a woman's choice to give birth to one or more children.

But 14?!

In my grandparents' day, it wasn't unusual to see large families with 6 or 7 children or more. But these days, it seems at best impractical. Most families need two working parents to make ends meet, which discourages excessively large families.

And now we are aware of another very big consideration: the survival of our planet.

We have become more aware of our carbon footprints and the need to conserve our resources. In fact, two Yale economists recently went so far as to estimate the lifetime cost to society of each person in terms of impact on living standards and the environment. Costs range from more than $100,000 per person in high-income countries to about $2,500 per person in the lowest-income countries.

But I prefer not to think of the issue in terms of financial costs. I prefer to think of it in more tangible terms -- the impact each of these children will have over the course of their lifetimes on issues such as carbon emissions, water deficits, food shortages, etc., even here in the so-called richest country on earth.

Think of all the diapers that will today end up in landfills. Think of all the resources that this brood will consume and destroy over the course of their 16 lifetimes.

Now imagine that every household in America felt the same as Nadya Suleman and had 14 children. Think of the negative effects on resources and overcrowding.

With all things considered, Ms. Suleman's decision to give birth to 14 children was not only selfish -- it was reckless and irresponsible.

11 February 2009

Senate compromise is a necessary evil

Yesterday, the Senate passed a trimmed-up version of President Obama's economic stimulus plan. It would not have passed if not for the fact that a small handful of Republican moderates sat down with the Dems and worked out a few compromises.

As a result, some important provisions were cut, and I'm not happy about that.

But the fact is this: The Dems do not have the needed 60-seat filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. So, until we get there, we need the support of any moderate Republicans who might be willing to talk to us. And, to bring them over to our side for any significant vote, we will need to compromise.

It's a shame. My impression is that the cuts they made to the stimulus bill may have watered it down too much.

But I'm afraid it's the best we can hope for right now. Better half a loaf of bread than no loaf at all, as it were.

Right now, my biggest fear is this: If the watered-down plan lacks the teeth to really work as well as it needs to, the media, the Republicans, and perhaps the American people, might ultimately blame Obama for the failure.

Hopefully the American people are still awake enough to see the truth.

Stay tuned.

10 February 2009

The GOP's filibuster hypocrisy

I find it ironic. And, of course, hypocritical.

Just a few years ago, when the Republicans were in the majority in Congress, they threatened to use the "nuclear option" to do away with the filibuster option, to prevent the Senate Dems from blocking confirmation of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.

But, now that they want to block President Obama's economic stimulus bill that will create jobs for the American workers, the Republicans seem to think that a filibuster is a great idea.

I was planning to write about this issue in more depth. Then, while doing my research, I discovered that Robert Parry had already done so -- in a very good piece published yesterday at Consortiumnews.com. So I'll turn the soapbox over to him. Check it out: The GOP's Filibuster Hypocrisy

09 February 2009

The definition of insanity

As they fight their ongoing battle against President Obama's economic stimulus plan, Republicans on Capitol Hill continue to repeat the same old GOP mantra: Tax cuts

They see tax cuts as their panacea, their cure-all. Especially when the tax cuts go to the richest 1 or 2 percent of Americans.

But, as Obama understands, Republican tax cuts are one of the things that got us into this mess.

Instead, Obama proposes projects that will put Americans to work on much-needed infrastructure projects. This will not only get those things done and result in a stronger America, but the workers will now have jobs, and some discretionary income. That will lead to a rebound in consumer spending, which will help to boost the economy. Makes sense, no?

But, despite some gratuitous lip service, the Republicans don't seem to care about jobs for the little people. They just want tax cuts for their corporate bedpartners. Tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts.

In reality, giving even more tax breaks to big business will do nothing to help all the unemployed workers in this country. It hasn't worked so far, and it's not going to magically start to work now. Unless other types of changes are made, the jobs will continue to be outsourced to dirt-cheap labor in India and China.

Albert Einstein once defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Are the Republicans insane? Or do they think we are?

08 February 2009

Who are the real mavericks?

In years long past, Senator John McCain may have sometimes crossed party lines in Washington, perhaps most notably to sponsor the McCain-Feingold Act along with the very liberal Russ Feingold. But that was the old McCain. As he demonstrated in the run-up to the last election, McCain is now solidly ensconced in the Neocon camp.

And now, in the battle over President Obama's economic stimulus bill, McCain is again proving himself to be no maverick, just another Republican party hack.

McCain has reacted to the bill as expected, with finger pointing, criticism, and some grumbling about how its passage would mark "a very bad day for America." Nothing truly constructive.

On the other hand, there are some real mavericks on Capitol Hill these days. Republican Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, and my own Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, have been working overtime to reach compromises that will allow them to support the stimulus plan and provide the necessary 60 votes to move it forward. I salute them for their strength and integrity in this matter.

McCain would do well to ask himself who the real mavericks are these days. And who is the real McCain?

07 February 2009

Cheney's sneer replaced by Biden's smile

It's so symbolic on the surface, and truly genuine in what it represents.

As I write this, I am watching MSNBC's live coverage of Vice President Joe Biden's speech at a security conference in Munich, Germany.

It is refreshing to see a U.S. vice president greet the world with a warm smile instead of a sinister sneer.

And it is refreshing to hear a U.S. vice president talk about working together with our allies, listening to them, and "sharing ideals".

Gone is the cowboy-style foreign policy. Gone is an administration with a chip on its shoulder. The bullies have left the White House.

And, for the first time in a long time, I once again feel proud to be an American.

06 February 2009

Obama, labor, and change we can believe in

Earlier this week, I wrote about why labor unions are important, and why the Republicans are afraid of them.

In response, a reader reminded me of a recent quote (or, rather, series of quotes) from Barack Obama, which proves that he really understands that the pro-labor movement isn't innately anti-business. In fact, pro-labor can be regarded as pro-business. I just have to share it:

Last week, Obama made the following clear, rational, and astute observations:
I do not view the labor movement as part of the problem, to me it's part of the solution.

"You cannot have a strong middle class without a strong labor movement."
[T]he American economy is not and never has been a zero-sum game. When workers are prospering, they buy products that make businesses prosper.
It makes perfect sense. This is the kind of attitude that brought about the American middle class.

But apparently that's not good enough for the corporate CEOs and the Republican lawmakers they sleep with. Why should they settle for six-figure salaries when they can exploit the workers, bust the unions, and send American jobs overseas to a cheaper labor market, and thereby bring in seven-figure salaries for themselves?

After all, the CEOs don't shop at Wal-Mart, so they don't have to worry about poisonous baby formula, toxic pet food, toxic toys, etc., that have resulted from the cost-cutting practice of outsourcing.

Is it not obscene?

Therefore, it's not enough for Obama to be pro-labor. He must also take action to rewrite our trade agreements to reduce our trade deficit. Outsourcing, at its recent level, must stop. And it must be reversed.

It's time to put Americans back to work manufacturing products, rather than just buying outsourced (and too often unregulated) products.

Besides, so many of us are no longer employed and therefore cannot afford to buy the outsourced merchandise, dirt-cheap as it may be.

Think about it.

This is not the America that my blue-collar grandparents migrated here to be a part of.

05 February 2009

Another problem with Alaska: No DNA testing

In a recent press release, the Innocence Project, which is dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted prisoners, observes the following problem with Alaska's "justice" system:
In the vast majority of cases, prisoners are granted DNA testing under state law or because prosecutors consent to testing without a court order. Alaska is the exception. It is the only state in the nation with no known case of a prisoner receiving DNA testing, either through court order or a prosecutor’s consent.
So you better hope you don't get wrongfully accused of a crime in Alaska.

But the Innocence Project believes that the Due Process clause of the U.S. Constitution ensures the right to DNA testing that could prove a defendant's innocence.

And they're taking it all the way to the Supreme Court. Last month, the Innocence Project filed a brief on behalf of William G. Osborne, who was convicted of rape and attempted murder 15 years ago. Alaska has denied him advanced DNA testing that was unavailable at the time of his trial, but which today could prove his innocence.

This is astounding. Why would the state of Alaska deny DNA testing that could prove Osborne's guilt or innocence? Don't they want to be sure that they've got the right guy?

The Court will hear oral arguments in this case in March. Stay tuned for updates.


>> Read the full press release about the case.

>> Download the brief that was filed with the Court. (PDF)

04 February 2009

New video and action on Troy Davis case

Amnesty International recently released a new video, featuring music by State Radio, which illustrates the injustice of the Troy Davis case.

I've written many times before about the case of Troy Davis, who sits on Georgia's Death Row despite compelling evidence of his innocence.

According to Amnesty International USA, "7 out of 9 witnesses have recanted or contradicted their testimony, no murder weapon was found and no physical evidence links Davis to the crime." But this evidence of his innocense has never been heard in court.

In what may be a final step in Davis's long and frustrating journey through the so-called "justice" system, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta will decide on his fate any day now.

>> Watch the video.

Call for Clemency:

>> Write to Georgia Governor George Purdue and ask him to support clemency for Troy Davis.

03 February 2009

Docs call on Obama to close torture loopholes

On January 22, President Obama issued an executive order intended to ensure that intelligence gathering by U.S. agents complies with the Geneva Conventions. The order also revoked various Bush policies that allowed the use of harsher interrogation techniques.

This was a positive step forward, of course.

However, the nonprofit group Physicians for Human Rights is calling attention to "a little-reported section of the Army’s Field Manual on Interrogation that they say still allows the use of tactics that can constitute torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment under U.S. and international law."

In a recent article for the Inter-Press Service (IPS), my friend and fellow journalist, Bill Fisher, explains:
While applauding President Barack Obama's recent executive orders banning torture and other harsh interrogation practices, medical authorities are calling attention to a little-reported section of the Army's Field Manual on Interrogation that they say still allows the use of tactics that can constitute torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment under U.S. and international law.

The suspect section of the Manual is known as Annex M, which allows the use of sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, and isolation, termed "separation" in the Manual. Obama's executive orders directed all government agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), to follow the manual for interrogations.

But Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), a Nobel laureate not-for-profit organisation, is calling on the task force appointed by the president to review U.S. interrogation and transfer policies to revoke the Appendix and consult with human rights organisations as part of the review process.

John Bradshaw, director of PHR's office in Washington, told IPS, "The technique of separation allowed by Appendix M sounds innocuous, but in reality it allows the use of sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation and isolation."

"Particularly when used in combination, these techniques amount to psychological torture. The Obama administration must close this loophole in the Army Field Manual by eliminating Appendix M, which leaves the door open to torture," he said.

Legal experts agree. Marjorie Cohn, president of the National Lawyers Guild, told IPS, "President Obama's announcement that the United States will not engage in torture is commendable. But cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment also violate U.S. law, as specified by three treaties we have ratified."

"The new administration should not use the Army Field Manual as the gold standard for interrogations since Appendix M sanctions techniques, including isolation and prolonged sleep deprivation, that amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment," she said.

PHR also called on President Obama and Congress to "immediately authorise a non-partisan commission to investigate the authorisation, legal justification, and implementation of the Bush administration's regime of psychological and physical torture."

It added that "any accountability mechanism must include a subgroup tasked with investigating the participation of health professionals in detainee abuse."

If the U.S. is to truly mend its image in the world, we must do so through full respect for human rights. No loopholes.

And no impunity for past offenders or present ones.

>> Read Bill Fisher's full article.

02 February 2009

Labor in limbo

I was thrilled when President Obama nominated labor-friendly Hilda Solis to be his Secretary of Labor. But Senate Republicans aren't so thrilled, so they're stalling the confirmation process.

I'm assuming it's her union-friendly attitude that has them scared. After all, Republicans typically take the side of big business over the worker. Unions empower the workers, but the politicians' big corporate donors prefer to keep the workers "in their place".

Besides, Solis was a co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for employees to join or form a union.

Of course, it's already supposed to be easy. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 was designed to protect the rights of workers to organize unions and engage in collective bargaining.

It's also a basic human right. According to Article 23(4) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), "Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests."

Nevertheless, over the past few decades, unions have fallen victim to corporate greed.

Unions protect workers from corporate tyranny.

And that, I suspect, is precisely why the Republicans are so against them.

01 February 2009

Fear and xenophobia are alive and well

Yesterday, I was standing in line at a packaging/shipping center. I had arrived at a very busy time. There were three people ahead of me in line, and only one store employee. So there was plenty of time to get to know the other customers.

The woman at the front of the line had a package that she wanted to send to Iraq. As it turned out, the UPS system would not process the shipping order without a destination phone number, which the woman did not have available.

A middle-aged couple in front of me also had a package to be sent to Iraq. They remarked that they frequently send packages to their military nephew, and never needed a phone number. As it turned out, yes, the system processed their APO package without a phone number.

And that got them suspicious.

The first woman needed a phone number, so she must be trying to send the package to someone other than a member of the military.

The man thought carefully and then remarked, "Yeah, there are good, patriotic people over there working for KBR and Blackwater. Good for them. She was probably going to send something to one of them. Good for her."

I couldn't resist, so I pointed out that there are also journalists over there, not to mention all the innocent civilians who might be potential recipients of gifts from the U.S.

This was too much for the man. He insisted, "No, there's the good American troops, there's the good American contractors, and the rest of 'em over there are towel-headed terrorists. Remember what they did to us on 9/11. That's why we're over there kicking their ass."

Then it occurred to him: "That woman was probably trying to ship supplies to a terrorist. That's why they need a phone number!"

At that point, I gave up and looked the other way. Some people just cannot be reasoned with.