31 August 2009

Bill Richardson: Off the hook, but screwed in the process

Well, it appears that New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is now in the clear following a federal corruption investigation.

That's good. But it cost him so much.

I've always been fond of Gov. Richardson. Although he was an underdog in the last Democratic presidential primary race, with probably no real chance of winning against more popular figures like like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, I thought he would have made a fine president.

I also thought Richardson would make a fine vice president, but Joe Biden got that gig.

So then I thought Richardson, a true statesman, would make a fine secretary of state. But Hillary Clinton got that gig.

As a consolation prize, Obama nominated Richardson to be secretary of commerce. But, shortly thereafter, Richardson withdrew his nomination for that post because of the pending investigation.

And now the investigation has been dropped.

But Richardson was royally screwed in the process.

It doesn't seem fair.

30 August 2009

On this Day of the Disappeared, U.S. stands out as part of the problem

Today, August 30, 2009, marks the 26th annual International Day of the Disappeared. This is a day set aside to remember the politically disappeared, draw attention to the problem of secret imprisonment, and demand justice for victims of enforced disappearances.

Disappearances don't just happen in far-off third-world countries -- not since the Bush administration got into the habit of disappearing some of its own prisoners in the "war on terror" through its program of extraordinary rendition. Through this program, detainees have been sent to other countries who will to do the torturing for us (as if we haven't been doing enough of it ourselves).

And now, unfortunately, the Obama administration has decided to continue the Bush administration's rendition program, but with "more oversight". (Yes, we've heard that before.)

In response, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had this to say:
The newly revamped rendition program would rely "on assurances from the receiving country" to prevent torture. These so-called "diplomatic assurances" -- that is, written guarantees from the receiving state that a person would not be subject to torture or other prohibited treatment upon return -- are not a new concept; they were also employed by the Bush administration in the universally condemned "extraordinary rendition program" and proved singularly ineffective in preventing individuals from being tortured after transfer.
This is not change I can believe in. It is no change at all. I am deeply disappointed and very, very sad.

>> Read more of the ACLU's feedback on Obama's unfortunate decision.

29 August 2009

Anti-choice terrorists target Nebraska clinic; women's rights groups fight back peacefully

Following the May 31st assassination of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas, anti-choice terrorists have set their sights on a new target: Dr. LeRoy Carhart and his staff at the Abortion & Contraception Clinic of Nebraska.

But Dr. Carhart and his allies will not be intimidated. At a press conference on Friday, August 28, representatives from various women's rights organizations stood in solidarity with Dr. Carhart and his staff, to defend the right to legal abortions in this country.

Katherine Spillar, Executive Vice President of the Feminist Majority, offered the following words of support:
"Anti-abortion extremists are trying to win on the streets what they have lost at the ballot box.


In this country, we must not settle political differences of opinion by what amounts to a campaign of intimidation."
Indeed. Nor by a campaign of violence by those who will not respect the rule of law.

Along those lines, Terry O'Neill, President of the National Organization for Women (NOW), reinforced her organization's support for Dr. Carhart and his staff at the press conference:
"Because NOW believes that it is every woman's right to have access to the full range of reproductive health care, we are committed to helping defend these courageous providers.

"Clinic violence and harassment are domestic terrorism, plain and simple. The hateful rhetoric and attacks have grown bolder this year. As we stand in peaceful support of women's rights in Nebraska, we know that every clinic in the United States is a potential target. I call on the Obama administration to respond to this threat using the strongest means possible, to prosecute the criminals, their funders and their co-conspirators, and to protect every provider, worker and patient across this nation.

"Women are counting on us. They must not be denied access to safe, legal abortion -- not by harassment or intimidation, not by bullets or bombs."

How you can help:

Sign on to NARAL's letter of support to Dr. Carhart.

28 August 2009

Remembering Katrina (and other lessons not learned)

Four years ago today, on August 28, 2005, Katrina was upgraded to a Category 4 hurricane, and later a Category 5.

The National Hurricane Center notified Bush administration officials that the New Orleans levees could fail.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin ordered mandatory evacuations.

The Louisiana National Guard contacted FEMA and requested 700 buses for evacuations. FEMA sent only 100.

The next day, on August 29, Katrina made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane. The White House was notified that the levees were breached.

Thousands of refugees crowded into the Superdome, the convention center, and the airport, where they waited for days to be rescued. Some died while waiting, including babies.

George W. Bush declared, "In America, we do not abandon our fellow citizens in their hour of need."

And so, in that hour of need, Bush partied with John McCain. ("Let them eat cake.")

Condi Rice went shoe shopping.

Donald Rumsfeld enjoyed a baseball game.

And some 1,836 people lost their lives. 705 others are still listed as missing. And, for tens of thousands more, life will never be the same.

After the Vietnam War, we said, "Never again." But Iraq happened.

After the Rwandan genocide, we said, "Never again." But Darfur happened.

After Katrina, we said, "Never again." Did we mean it? Or are those words still as hollow as any of those uttered by our 43rd president?

27 August 2009

Rights groups mourn the loss of Ted Kennedy

Human rights and civil rights groups are mourning the death of their staunch ally Senator Edward ("Ted") Kennedy.

At its 2008 annual dinner, Human Rights First had honored Senator Kennedy as a lifelong champion of human rights. Upon his death this week, Elisa Massimino, the group's First Chief Executive Officer, shared the following comments:
"Human Rights First mourns the passing of our cherished friend Senator Ted Kennedy, and extends our deepest condolences to his family, his colleagues, and his many friends. Senator Kennedy spent nearly 50 years championing the cause of human rights. He was a voice for the voiceless and a true advocate for the fundamental rights of all people -- Americans, as well as those beyond our shores, including refugees and immigrants, victims of armed conflict, and political prisoners in all corners of the globe. Senator Kennedy's belief in the inherent dignity of all people, combined with his drive to ensure that the United States lived up to its potential to advance that concept at home and throughout the world, animated every battle he fought in his long and distinguished career. We have lost a tireless ally, but the lessons we all learned from him -- about perseverance, principle, and how to make progress towards a world in which all people can live in dignity and freedom -- will ensure that his legacy lasts forever. We will miss him greatly."
Larry Cox, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, weighed in as follows:
"Amnesty International is saddened by the death of Senator Ted Kennedy. The world has lost an active supporter of human rights around the globe, especially in the United States. He worked tirelessly on behalf of people whose voices were never heard, whose plights were hidden from view, and whose well-being was ignored. In that regard he consistently championed the cases of individual prisoners of conscience, who benefitted from his relentless determination to ensuring their freedom.

"The senator played a main role in passage of historic human rights legislation including the Immigration & Nationality Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which expanded employee rights in discrimination cases.

"From advancing reforms on immigrant detention, to championing healthcare as a right for all Americans, to pushing for torture victims' relief, to pressing for humanitarian aid for refugees around the world including the most recent conflict in Sri Lanka, to defending the rule of law, Senator Kennedy always knew and acted to end the misery of those who were suffering.

"His absence will be hard to miss. But the Kennedy family legacy of helping the disempowered remains vital and vibrant."
Terry O'Neill, President of the National Organization for Women (NOW), praised Kennedy's work and then offered a practical way to honor him:
"We lost a true legislative hero in Ted Kennedy -- a defender of women, children, and all those who are discriminated against and underserved in this country. We have Kennedy to thank for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Family and Medical Leave Act. He was a great leader in the fight for health care reform, and I only hope that we can honor him by passing real reform designed to benefit the people -- not insurance CEOs."
A fine idea indeed.

Rest in peace, Senator Kennedy. Thank you for all you've done to make the world a better place. You've left some big shoes to fill. And you will be sorely missed.

26 August 2009

On this Women's Equality Day, we still have a long way to go

Today, August 26, is Women's Equality Day in the U.S., commemorating the anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, passed in 1920, which gave women the right to vote.

We've come a long way in those 89 years, girlfriends. We can vote. We can even run for president or vice president of the U.S. We have control over our reproduction. Many of us are well educated, have successful careers, and/or are financially independent.

But we still do not get equal treatment in our society, including in the workplace.

According to the National Organization for Women (NOW), American women still only make 78 cents for every dollar a man makes. For women of color, the gap is even greater.

We see this kind of discrepancy and discrimination even among medical doctors. According to Linda Brodsky, M.D., writing for Women's eNews, female physicians earn only 61 cents for each dollar a male physician makes. And a female doctor faces a greater than 80 percent chance of experiencing discrimination and/or sexual harassment at some point during her career.

What you can do:

The Paycheck Fairness Act aims to eliminate unfair wage disparities by closing existing loopholes and strengthening incentives to prevent pay discrimination.

The House passed its version of the Paycheck Fairness Act in January. The Senate, however, had tabled the bill. Now it's time to resurrect it.

>> Contact your senators and urge them to sponsor the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 182).

>> Learn more about the Paycheck Fairness Act. (PDF)

25 August 2009

A good start: Holder appoints prosecutor for CIA torture

At last, Attorney General Holder has appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the abuse of prisoners by the CIA in the "war on terror".

This is a good start. The CIA knew full well that some of the techniques they were using (including waterboarding) were in violation of the Geneva Conventions and other domestic and international laws and treaties. And so they should be held accountable for their war crimes.

But, while this is a good first step, it is not enough. The U.S. cannot regain a moral standing in this world until the Bush administration officials who authorized the torture are also held accountable for their actions.

That means Yoo, Bybee, Gonzales, Rumsfeld, Rice, Cheney, Bush, and anyone else who authorized or "justified" the use of torture by U.S. agents.

To overlook these actions by Bush administration officials is essentially to condone them. And that would make Obama a protector and defender of torturers -- of war criminals.

I hope the Obama administration will ultimately choose the high road.

24 August 2009

The irony of the "socialist" scare

Back in the 1950s, Senator Joe McCarthy tried to instill fear in the American people over Communism. Many in Hollywood were accused of being Communists or Communist sympathizers. So were academics, trade unionists, and free thinkers in general.

Now McCarthyism is back, but updated for today's times. It is a new McCarthyism. And this time the perceived threat is "socialism".

The right-wing fear mongers have their sheep in a frenzy over allegations that Obama in general, and health care reform in particular, are leading this nation into "socialism".

The sheep are naive enough to fall for the spin machine that tries to equate socialism with Marxism and/or Communism. That's kind of like suggesting that all dogs are pit bulls. These people never were too appreciative of semantic nuance.

And they apparently didn't pay a lot of attention in Poli Sci class, either.

Or else they are just willingly allowing their fears and emotions to subconsciously deny what they might actually know to be the truth. Because fear, especially racially induced fear, is that powerful, unfortunately.

And so they descend on the health care town hall meetings with their pictures of Obama with a crudely drawn Hitler-style mustache. (I guess socialism = Nazism now, too, for those who will not think. Except that Obama wants to kill all the old people instead of all the Jews.)

They descend on the health care town hall meetings with enough ignorance to challenge the premise that the United States of America should provide for the health and well-being of the citizens who form this nation (although they don't -- i.e., cannot -- word it that way). But then, of course, it's not as though this were still a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people". At least not since Reagan.

And they descend on the health care town hall meetings with their guns fully loaded. And sometimes they get away with it.

So who are the real extremists here? Who are the real threats?

Within all this exhausting drama lie a number of ironies:

First of all, is it not ironic that the right-wingers get to show up at Obama's town hall meetings with loaded guns, when George W. Bush's handlers were famous for systematically banishing citizens who merely sported tee-shirt slogans that they disagreed with?

Next, we need to remember the Terri Schiavo case. The Republicans in the White House and Congress actually saw fit to intervene in this private family medical matter. And all for the wrong reasons. But when a black president tries to provide for the well-being of everyday Americans, and give them some control over their own lives, suddenly he is accused of wanting to kill your grandmother. Even though he doesn't.

Furthermore, we must distinguish between popular socialism and corporate socialism. The right wing will not stand up for the well-being of everyday folks. They don't want to stand up for the workers, or the minorities, or the poor and underprivileged. But they waste no time in rescuing the banks that prey on the vulnerable, and the automobile companies that have kept their heads buried in the sand for the past 20 years. That, dear reader, is corporate socialism. And that, dear reader, appears to be OK -- while populist socialism is not.

Corporate America = too big to fail. You and I = too small to matter. Welcome to America, 2009.

Finally, it is amusing to note that these are some of the same people who send their children to (socialist) public schools. These are some of the same people who expect a (socialist) ambulance to appear when they dial 9/11 in a medical emergency. These are some of the same people who hope that a (socialist) fire truck will arrive quickly when their house is on fire. And these are some of same people who rely on a (socialist) police force to help keep them safe from crime.

Because it all benefits society as a whole in the long run. And that, by extension, benefits each of us.

That is what socialism (in this context) is really all about.

And that, apparently, is what the right-wingers are really so afraid of.

23 August 2009

Good news: Lutherans to allow gay clergy

Another victory for human equality:

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has become "the largest religious denomination in the nation to allow actively gay and lesbian clergy to serve as pastors."

The Inquirer points out that the Lutheran Church "is following a theological trail blazed in recent years by the Episcopal Church USA, the United Church of Christ, and the Unitarian Universalist Church, all of which ordain homosexuals in committed relationships."

The Roman Catholic Church, of course, will not budge in its homophobia. This, of course, is the same Roman Catholic Church that has for so long tolerated and covered up the abuse of minors by Catholic priests. Pedophilia = OK; sex between two consenting adults of the same sex = not OK.

But new and more realistic and gay-friendly flavors of Catholicism have formed recently as spin-off Catholic sects, which have welcomed LGBT individuals into their congregations and even into the clergy.

And I expect this trend to continue into the future, given that the younger generations are generally much more accepting of their LGBT peers than their parents and grandparents ever were.

It's slow progress, but it's progress nonetheless. And I applaud it.

22 August 2009

North Carolina Gov. Perdue signs Racial Justice Act

I have written in the past about the fact that death sentences are applied unevenly and unfairly throughout the U.S., and that a black defendant stands a much greater chance of receiving a death sentence than a white defendant who committed a similar crime.

Fortunately, North Carolina is taking steps to address this problem in that state.

On August 11, Governor Bev Perdue of North Carolina signed that state's new Racial Justice Act into law. The Act prohibits the consideration of race by prosecutors or jurors in determining whether to seek or apply the death penalty in a case.

Governor Perdue issued the following statement in a press release:
"I have always been a supporter of death penalty, but I have always believed it must be carried out fairly. The Racial Justice Act ensures that when North Carolina hands down our state's harshest punishment to our most heinous criminals - the decision is based on the facts and the law, not racial prejudice."
The Act will allow defendants and death row inmates to present a judge with evidence that might indicate that race was a significant factor in seeking or applying a death sentence. If the judge agrees with the evidence, the death sentence can be commuted to life without parole.

Will it work? There is no guarantee that a racist judge won't deny a death penalty challenge for the wrong reasons. But at least the issue is on record, and certainly may save some lives.

So kudos to the North Carolina legislature and to Governor Perdue for taking this important step to hopefully make that state's justice system a little bit more just.

21 August 2009

You know Beck's crossed the line when...

Apparently, right-wing talk show host Glenn Beck has finally crossed a line.

In the wake of Beck's recent assertions that President Obama is a racist who has a "deep-seated hatred for white people", several companies have pulled their ads from his show on Fox News.

First were Lawyers.com, Procter & Gamble, and Progressive Insurance.

Then GEICO joined them, followed by Men's Wearhouse and Sargento Cheese.

And then the floodgates opened. Allergan, GMAC, Best Buy, CVS, Travelocity, and other companies pulled their ads from Beck's show.


But among Beck's former sponsors is one big surprise: Wal-Mart, whose management style has always reflected Beck's worldview much more than mine, dropped the show as well!

And that is a sure sign that Beck has finally crossed a line. And rumors are flying that Beck's recent absence from the show was not a planned vacation.

Could this mean that the Fox News talking heads might finally be held accountable for some of the more hateful nonsense that they spew?

We can hope.

20 August 2009

Bush is to blame for Afghan voting problems

August 20 is presidential election day in Afghanistan. And if you think voter intimidation is a problem in some urban neighborhoods here in the U.S., you ain't seen nothin' like they're seeing in Afghanistan.

The Taliban are threatening the lives and limbs of anyone who might be brave enough to venture out to the polls. And insurgents have set up checkpoints on the roads to the voting locations. Voting today is risky business.

This is the same Afghanistan that George W. Bush had set out to "liberate". With the Taliban wielding so much power again today, things there are scarcely better now than they were before we invaded that country after 9/11.

Back when Bush invaded Afghanistan, I thought it was a reasonably justified war. After all, Osama bin Laden was supposedly living there, as a sheltered guest of the Taliban. Of course we had to get the guy who was responsible for the deadliest disaster to date on U.S. soil!

The problem is that we didn't.

Sure, we took the Taliban out of power. But only for a little while.

Meantime, we got to the point where we had Osama cornered at Tora Bora. Good stuff. There he is! Reel him in, dead or alive!

The problem is that we didn't.

We let him get away.

Because we took our eye off the ball. In fact, we moved a few courts over and started a whole new ball game. Because George W. Bush had an itchy trigger finger and an eye on Iraq, which had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11. ("Oil, that is. Black gold. Texas tea.")

So Afghanistan dropped out of the headlines, while a sexier quagmire in Iraq occupied the media and the rest of Washington.

And so the Taliban regrouped. NGOs and other relief workers fled Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden remains at large. Afghanistan is now the greatest illicit opium producer in the world because farmers there have no other reliable source of revenue. And the prospect of true democracy in that country seems less likely than ever.

So I cannot help but think that throwing more U.S. troops at the situation now will only lead to more senseless American deaths, because it's like putting a Band-Aid on a cancer. It's too little, too late.

Better to cut our losses and let the international community clean up the mess that we created. It's too late to save face.

But, of course, I'm outranked where this sort of thing is concerned.

Way to go, George W. This is your legacy. (Well, one of them.)

19 August 2009

The dangerous irony of the "death panel" propaganda

Sadly, recent rumors out of Washington suggest that a public health care option might be off the table now, even though House Speaker Pelosi says they're still pursuing it. If it does in fact get dropped, I would have to pin some of the blame on the right-wing spin machine.

Somehow the right-wing extremists have convinced a very gullible and very loud minority of Americans that health care reform will lead to "death panels" that will choose whether grandma and grandpa (and, somewhere down the slippery slope, you and I) are worth keeping alive.

First of all, that is absolute nonsense. What has been twisted is a now-dead provision -- sponsored by a Republican -- that would pay for consultations with doctors about end-of-life issues like creating a living will. And that is a conversation that everyone should have at least once in their lives, preferably while still young and healthy.

Furthermore, the right-wing hysteria mongers are neglecting one very important fact: We already have death panels in the health care system.

While the right-wingers keep shrieking that a public health care option would result in government bureaucrats deciding what kinds of treatment you can and cannot have, Michael Moore's 2007 documentary SiCKO showed us proof that insurance company bureaucrats are already doing that. And they're doing it to maximize corporate profits, not health.

So, really, who would you rather have in charge of administering your health care coverage: A public servant whose salary is paid through your own tax dollars? Or a corporate executive whose profits grow when insurance claims are denied?

18 August 2009

Supreme Court orders new hearing for Troy Davis

Good news for all who care about justice:

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that Georgia death row inmate Troy Davis deserves a new hearing. The Court ordered a federal judge in Georgia to review crucial evidence that may prove Davis's innocence.

Justices Scalia and Thomas dissented. Apparently they think it's just fine to risk the possibility of executing an innocent person.

Most of my regular readers are likely already familiar with Troy Davis's case. For those who are not, here is a summary:

Davis has been sitting on Georgia's death row since 1991 for the murder of a police officer which he maintains he did not commit.

Davis's original trial was flawed, and most of the witnesses have since recanted or contradicted their stories. There is no physical evidence linking him to the crime, and his conviction was based solely on that questionable testimony by witnesses. In other words, there is reasonable doubt as to Davis's guilt. And there's no excuse to execute someone when there's reasonable doubt as to his guilt.

Stay tuned for updates.

17 August 2009

The Presidential Medal of Freedom: Obama vs. Bush

On August 12, President Obama awarded 16 people the Presidential Medal of Honor. The impressive list of recipients included the following:

• Physicist Stephen Hawking (in other words, science is good again);

• Senator Edward Kennedy (in other words, compassion is good again);

• Sidney Poitier (in other words, shining a cinematic light on the absurdity of racism is good again);

• Harvey Milk (in other words, our LGBT brothers and sisters can seek public office, make a positive difference in the world, and be rewarded for it, even if posthumously);

• Mary Robinson (in other words, defending human rights is good again);

• Joe Medicine Crow-High Bird (Native Americans are people too);

• Desmond Tuto (who needs no introduction);

and more.

And, while George W. Bush did award the same medal to some worthy recipients (e.g., Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali, Carol Burnett, Hank Aaron, and B.B. King), he also bestowed the honor on the likes of former CIA Director George Tenet, former U.S. Army Gen. Tommy Franks and former Iraq administrator L. Paul Bremer on Dec. 14, 2004 -- all of whom served as Bush's misguided handmaidens in the illegal attack and occupation of Iraq.

That kind of cheapened the significance of the award.

But at least now Obama is on the road to restoring integrity to this highest U.S. civilian honor.

Congratulations to this year's honorees.

16 August 2009

John Edwards and America's obsession with other people's sex lives

Once again, John Edwards' affair with a former campaign worker is taking journalism to new lows.

The National Enquirer (the mother of all U.S. tabloids) is reporting that a recent DNA test has proven that the former senator and former presidential candidate is indeed the father of his former mistress's 18-month-old daughter.

And mainstream media outlets across the country are picking up on the story and running with it. Because sex sells. Especially in America, where people are obsessed with what other consenting adults do in the privacy of their own bedrooms, hotel rooms, or restroom stalls.

I am not defending John Edwards. Who can defend a man who carries on a tryst with a young blonde while his wife is fighting cancer?!

But it should be none of my business nor yours, even if Edwards had won the presidential nomination or the election.

Until the recent rise of the so-called Christian Right, politicians' sex scandals really did seem to receive much less public scrutiny. For example, everyone knows the rumors of Jack Kennedy's affair with Marilyn Monroe, but that never seemed to shrink the high pedestal on which his presidency still stands.

In Europe, where politicians' affairs and divorces are met with disinterested yawns, America surely must look like a snickering, emotionally immature, sex-obsessed adolescent.

And, even though we now have an adult in the White House, I don't see this attitude changing as long as the sanctimonious hypocrites of the religious right continue to have a platform and a willing audience of pliable sheep.

Because of America's twisted obsession with other people's sex lives, a president was impeached for lying about an affair, but his successor received nary a slap on the wrist for using blatant lies to justify an unnecessary war of aggression on an unarmed nation.

War - good. Sex - bad. This is what America has become.

15 August 2009

Why Michael Vick deserves another chance

The Philadelphia Eagles' new two-year deal with just-out-of-prison quarterback Michael Vick has Eagles fans very vocally divided. Vick had been sentenced in 2007 to 23 months in federal prison for his role in a dogfighting operation.

Let me state upfront that I am not a sports fan, and I am certainly not a Michael Vick fan. I am an animal lover. I am a vegetarian. I am a compassionate human being -- too much so for a lot of people. And therein might lie the root of my disagreement with the majority on this particular issue.

While some Eagles fans and others have expressed their opinion that Vick deserves a second chance, those people appear to be in the minority. Since the news broke, I've been seeing mostly negative reactions. In fact, some rabidly loyal Eagles fans are threatening to boycott the next two seasons.

Vick did something very wrong. He is an imperfect human being. But he has paid his debt to society. He has atoned. But that's not good enough for his very vocal critics. They seem to want their athletes to be morally perfect. Let he who is without sin throw the first pass.

So they want Vick's punishment to continue indefinitely. That, dear reader, is not justice. It's revenge. And it illustrates the fact that these disgruntled Eagles fans aren't so morally perfect themselves.

America is supposed to be the land of opportunity. When you fall, you are expected to get back up, brush yourself off, and try better and harder to make something of yourself. But that is possible only if society will let you.

14 August 2009

Anti-choice radicals refuse to face two facts

On July 28, a preliminary hearing was held for Scott Roeder in Kansas. Roeder is charged with the May 31 murder of Dr. George Tiller, who performed late-term abortions. He pleaded not guilty.

Prior to the hearing, Roeder told the Associated Press that Tiller's murder was justified:
"Well, yeah. The thing is, how could it not be? Again, you know, he was in the business, and had been for many years, of taking the lives of unborn children. So if the lives of born children are worthy of protection, why would not the lives of unborn children be worthy of protection? That is really what it comes down to."
I've heard that "justification" before from anti-choice radicals.

But there is a legal fact that they conveniently ignore: Abortion is legal, but the murder of an abortion provider is not.

Another fact: Killing the doctors will not make abortion go away.

Because, if all abortion doctors were killed, many women would still resort to back-alley butchers and dangerous homemade remedies, as in the past. And anyone who would want that to happen cannot be called "pro-life".

13 August 2009

2012 campaign season will be interesting

As interesting as the 2008 presidential campaign season was, I'm starting to think that 2012 will provide pundits, comedians, and talk show hosts with even more fodder.

Sarah Palin alone would be enough to keep us all busy and entertained. But it gets even better.

Politico has hinted that former Senator Rick Santorum may be gearing up for a presidential run.

This is the same ultra-conservative Rick Santorum who compared homosexuality to pedophilia and bestiality.

This is the same ultra-conservative Rick Santorum who blamed "liberalism" for the problem of pedophile priests.

This is the same ultra-conservative Rick Santorum who had called for a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice suits for ordinary Americans whose lives may be ruined by quack doctors, but who had supported his own wife's attempts to win twice that much in damages in a malpractice case against her chiropractor in 1999.

This is the same ultra-conservative Rick Santorum whose voting record was so corporate friendly (and worker unfriendly) that he received a 100% rating from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2003.

This is the same ultra-conservative Rick Santorum who accused the American media of aiding terrorists by covering deaths in Iraq.

This is the same ultra-conservative Rick Santorum whose last name has become a slang term.

But, while the 2012 race will surely be amusing, what won't be so amusing is if the Republican candidate wins. So rest up, folks. A tough and dirty fight lies ahead. But at least we'll have plenty of entertainment.

12 August 2009

International outrage at new Aung San Suu Kyi verdict

Yesterday, ailing Nobel Peace Prize laureate and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced to 18 more months of house arrest by a kangaroo court in Myanmar (aka Burma).

Suu Kyi has spent 14 of the past 20 years in some form of detention, mostly under house arrest. This time around, she was convicted of breaching the terms of her previous detention when she received an uninvited American visitor at her home.

Amnesty International has declared Suu Kyi a prisoner of conscience, and seeks her unconditional release.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated that he is "deeply disappointed" in yesterday's verdict, and has also called for her immediate and unconditional release.

Ditto Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Human Rights Watch said yesterday's "politically motivated guilty verdict" was a "reprehensible abuse of power by Burma's military government." Human Rights Watch called on Burma's allies and other governments to condemn the verdict, demand Suu Kyi's immediate and unconditional release, and impose additional targeted sanctions against the military leadership.

Will all this international pressure make a difference? Time will tell. Fingers crossed.

But, if the sentence holds, her ongoing detention will ensure that Suu Kyi is out of the way for next year's Burmese elections.

And that, I suppose, is what the ruling junta really wants.

11 August 2009

Afghanistan: The new quagmire?

The Daily Beast reported yesterday that some General thinks we need to send an additional 45,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan if we want to make any progress there.

This is after we've already been there for almost eight years. And what have we accomplished? The Taliban have regrouped, women and children are afraid to leave their homes, and Osama bin Laden remains on the loose. Nice job, Mr. Bush!

Will our new Commander-in-Chief please say "enough is enough"?

Sadly, I doubt it.

10 August 2009

Hillary speaks out for women on South Africa's National Women's Day

In its first 200 days, the Obama administration has taken some good, concrete steps towards women's rights and sexual equality.

The first piece of legislation that President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which removed a ridiculous loophole that allowed employers to pay women less than their male counterparts for equal work and get away with it.

A few days prior, Obama had issued an executive order repealing the Global Gag Rule, which had withheld federal funds from nongovernmental health and family planning organizations that provided abortion information or referrals.

Then, in March, Obama established a White House Council on Women and Girls to address "issues that particularly impact the lives of women and girls and to ensure that Federal programs and policies address and take into account the distinctive concerns of women and girls, including women of color and those with disabilities."

And now, on her current diplomatic tour of Africa, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has spoken out for women's rights in South Africa and throughout the continent, in observance of National Women's Day, which falls on August 9 of each year. National Women's Day honors the 20,000 South African women who marched for racial justice on that date in 1956.

Secretary Clinton's comments were published as an op-ed in the August 8 edition of the City Press of South Africa. The extremely cool title and theme: "Women are drivers of positive change"

Some excerpts:
[When] I first visited the Victoria Mxenge co-operative in Cape Town in 1997, I met homeless women working to transform an empty patch of land into a new community.

They pooled their savings and microloans, bought shovels, poured concrete and built new homes for themselves and their children. In 1997 there were just 18 homes. I returned a year later and saw 104. Yesterday I found a village of thousands of homes where once there had been only dust and despair.

The determination and entrepreneurial spirit of the women of Victoria Mxenge underscore a basic truth: empowering women is key to global progress and prosperity. This is not just a moral imperative - it is an economic one as well. When women are accorded their rights and afforded equal opportunities in education, health care and gainful employment, they drive social and economic progress. When they are marginalised and mistreated, as is the case in too many places in Africa today, prosperity is impossible.


South Africans have many reasons to be proud on this National Women’s Day. President Jacob Zuma recently appointed Gill Marcus as governor of the South African Reserve Bank. Across the country, women are leading small and medium-sized businesses that are the foundation of economic progress.


The women of South Africa have helped to make the country an economic anchor for the continent. They are an example of what can be accomplished through civic responsibility, commitment to the rule of law and a diversified and inclusive economy.

Across Africa, women are driving positive change. Kenya’s Wangari Maathai has launched an international movement on behalf of environmental stewardship. Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has taken the reins of a nation once gripped by civil war and proven that women can lead at the highest levels.

But in many parts of Africa, and indeed around the world, the picture is not so encouraging. Laws deny women the right to own property, access credit or make their own choices within their marriage.

Women comprise the majority of the world’s poor, unfed and unschooled. They are subjected to rape as a tactic of war, so-called “honour” killings, maiming, trafficking, child marriages, genital mutilation and other violent, degrading practices.

This week I will visit survivors of sexual and gender-based violence used as a tool of conflict in eastern Congo, where women have been victimised on an unimaginable scale. Some 1 100 rapes are reported each month, with an average of 36 women and girls raped every day.

In the face of such depravity the world must speak with one clear voice: this violence must end.


National Women’s Day commemorates the 20 000 South African women who marched for justice on August 9 1956. Fearless, they sang an anthem that has become a rallying cry: “Wathint’a bafazi, Wathint’ imbokodo” (You Strike a Woman, You Strike a Rock). Women can be the rock on which a freer, safer and more prosperous Africa is built.

They just need the opportunity.
Well said.

>> Read the full op-ed.

09 August 2009

Bush tortured children, and America yawns

At an Amnesty International conference a few years ago, I had the honor of attending a talk by Clive Stafford Smith, a British attorney who represents some of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

Smith shared some alarming details about the abuse that his clients received. Perhaps most shocking was Smith's description of cigarette burns and other scars that covered the body of a teenage prisoner. This boy had been taken into custody when he was only 14 years old.

And this kid is allegedly not the only child who has been forced to experience the nightmare that is Gitmo.

In a forthcoming book, Hearts of Darkness: Torturing Children in the War on Terror, which was recently excerpted at truthout.org, author Henry A. Giroux describes some of these cases in horrifying detail. He righteously condemns the culture of cruelty in which this kind of thing is even possible, and the "resounding silence" on the part of the media, which keeps it off the public radar.

But, even if the mainstream media did find the courage to cover these atrocities, would it make a difference?

It seems as though many Americans have become so desensitized by the right-wing spin machine that they see all Muslims as the enemy, in an overly simplistic "us vs. them" kind of mindset.

Influenced by haters like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, and Sean Hannity, they think every Middle Eastern person looks suspicious.

Influenced by those right-wing extremists, they see every Muslim as a jihadist who wants to finish the job that the 9/11 hijackers started.

And, influenced by those right-wing extremists, they regard the perceived "enemy" as less than human. Like the "gooks" of World War II and Vietnam, the "towelheads" and "hajis" of Iraq and Afghanistan are painted with one big broad brush. Even the children. How else could they justify the killing and maiming of so many innocent civilian men, women, and children, and the torture of any human being, let alone a child?

This is what we have become, seduced by the misguided emotional appeasement of hate.

We attacked an unarmed nation that posed no threat to us or to its neighbors. Then we tortured human beings. We abused children. And we killed the innocent. All paid for with our tax dollars.

America has lost its conscience.

If we are ever to regain a moral standing in this world, Americans need to wake up and see these atrocities for what they truly are: War crimes, and crimes against humanity

And, if we are ever to regain a moral standing in this world, those who committed these crimes -- and those who authorized them -- must be held accountable.

And they must be held up as an example of a foreign policy gone terribly wrong, a foreign policy gone evil.

Because what is more evil than these things that have been done in our name in the past eight years?

There is no excuse.

No excuse at all.

08 August 2009

"Cash for Clunkers" succeeds -- for some

Last week, automobile shoppers took advantage of the new "Cash for Clunkers" trade-in program and drained it of its entire $1 billion in funding in just days. The program provides incentives up to $4,500 for people who trade in their older vehicles for more fuel-efficient models.

Now Congress has approved an additional $2 billion to keep the program running.

Is it worth it? Although I wish the program were greener, it's better than nothing. But it's not enough.

While it is nice to see people out shopping for a big-ticket item again, the fact remains that U.S. auto makers continue outsourcing their manufacturing jobs to places like Mexico and China.

That's no way to save U.S. jobs. That's no way to save the American economy. And that's no way to spend our taxpayer-funded bailout money.

Lots of relatively fuel-efficient cars are being sold, and that is good for the environment and probably good for the economy as well on some level. But, at the same time, Detroit lies in ruins.

There is something terribly wrong with this picture.

07 August 2009

NOW president nails it on judicial empathy, wise Latina

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate confirmed Sonia Sotomayor as the next Supreme Court Justice by a vote of 68-31.

I wonder if the 31 Republicans who voted against her would have done otherwise if the nominee had been a white man.

That said, I was impressed by a post-confirmation statement by Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW). In her statement, O'Neill put the judicial empathy issue and the "wise Latina" controversy into very clear perspective:
"Judge Sotomayor will bring more federal judicial experience to the court than any justice in 100 years, and more overall judicial experience than anyone confirmed in the past 70 years. In addition to her exemplary qualifications, Sotomayor will bring an important viewpoint to the bench. Though it was a difficult concept for some senators to grasp, Sotomayor's experience as a member of two groups who often experience discrimination in this country can only help to broaden the court's perspective on inequity and help advance the cause of equality and justice for all."
Well said.

And congratulations to Justice Sotomayor!

06 August 2009

On Hiroshima anniversary, tell Obama: Never again!

Today, August 6, 2009, marks the 64th anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima, Japan.

With a single bomb, we directly killed some 80,000 people. In the months that followed, injuries and radiation raised the death toll as high as an estimated 166,000. The vast majority of victims were civilians.

Three days later, we bombed the Japanese city of Nagasaki, taking out tens of thousands more people.

This must never happen again, to any people, by any people.

President Obama has already promised to work towards "a world without nuclear weapons."

On this grim anniversary, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation is asking concerned citizens to write to President Obama and ask him to take the following steps to ensure a safer, more secure world:
1. Negotiate a strong, meaningful treaty with Russia to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expires in December, and send it to the Senate for ratification.

2. Encourage Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which bans all nuclear explosions worldwide.

3. Declare a "No First Use" policy, pledging not to use nuclear weapons first under any circumstances.
These steps will not completely rid the world of the nuclear threat, but they are some solid first steps.

>> Click here to send a message to President Obama.

05 August 2009

Sestak vs. Specter in 2010 senate race

Reelection may not come easy to U.S. Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) next year.

Yesterday, Joe Sestak announced his plans to challenge Specter in the Democratic primary. Sestak is a former Navy vice admiral who currently represents a suburban Philadelphia district in the U.S. House of Representatives.

I am not convinced that Sestak has the name recognition in this state to beat a household name like Specter, let alone whoever turns out to be the Republican challenger. Still, my gut tells me to throw my support to Sestak over Specter.

Specter was a Republican for a long time. He switched parties in April when he realized that he might have trouble winning the Republican primary next year.

Perhaps Specter realized that his reputation as a "moderate" might not sit too well with the Republican voters in 2010.

But will the Democratic voters realize that Specter's record of support for some of George W. Bush's most egregious policies is a good reason to vote for Sestak instead? Will the average Democratic voter support this relative newcomer who seems to be much more interested in working for the people rather than the powerful?

In any case, we cannot afford to give up that seat to the GOP. So the real test will be the general election in November 2010. Stay tuned.

04 August 2009

Happy birthday, Mr. President

48 years ago today, in Honolulu, Hawaii (yes, Honolulu), Ann Dunham gave birth to a boy who would grow up to become the 44th President of the United States.

His is a not-so-classic American success story. And that story continues to inspire people of all races, age groups, and nationalities.

Happy birthday, Mr. President.

And thank you for the hope and inspiration.

And, with all due respect, please don't let us down.

03 August 2009

Human rights group says federal courts are best equipped to handle terrorism cases

I've written time and time again about how the Bush administration's military commissions in the "war on terror" were nothing more than a kangaroo court system.

Still, the Obama administration apparently wants to continue this travesty of justice, at least for some detainees, albeit with the promise of some changes.

But there is a far better alternative.

Legal experts and human rights advocates have been calling for the Obama administration to transfer the terrorism cases to our federal court system. If our federal courts were good enough for Timothy McVeigh, and good enough to effectively lock away the perpetrators of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, then they're certainly good enough for the Gitmo crowd.

Furthermore, the group Human Rights First (HRF) recently released a report finding that the U.S. federal courts are actually the best equipped venues for handling complex terrorism cases. To that end, HRF is urging the House Armed Services Committee to abandon the use of military commissions, which HRF describes as being "at odds with the Constitution, the laws of war, and American values."

Elisa Massimino, HRF's Chief Executive Officer, issued the following statement upon the release of the new report:
"Politicians have spent eight years trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to prosecuting terrorism and that approach has failed miserably. This report makes clear that the best way forward is to rely on our existing legal system. Its track record of successfully prosecuting criminals, safeguarding national security, and addressing the complex legal issues of our time is unmatched."
Well said. So then why does our government have to make it all seem so complicated?

>> Read the HRF report: In Pursuit of Justice: Prosecuting Terrorism Cases in the Federal Court - 2009 Update and Recent Developments

02 August 2009

Senator Franken sheds light on judicial activism

I have heard some people say that they can't take Al Franken seriously as a U.S. Senator because of his background as a comedian. Perhaps these people do not realize that Franken is more than just a funny entertainer. He's a Harvard graduate (BA in political science, cum laude). He knows a thing or two about government and politics, and he happens to be very, very smart.

And he has already put his brains and his sharp wit to good use in his new career.

Over the weekend I've been catching up on recent events in Washington via C-SPAN. And I was fortunate to catch Sen. Franken's well prepared and insightful remarks prior to the Senate Judiciary Committee's vote last Tuesday to endorse Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court.

There he shed some light on the real judicial activists. (Hint: Sotomayor is not one of them.)

It's worth watching.

Check it out: C-SPAN Video - Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) on vote for Judge Sonia Sotomayor

01 August 2009

Yet another wacky Obama-birth theory

The birthers are going wild. Their conspiracy theories have gone viral, and are spreading and mutating and becoming more and more bizarre.

It all started last year with the allegation that President Obama was actually born in Kenya, not Hawaii, and therefore is not a natural-born U.S. citizen, and therefore is not Constitutionally eligible for the U.S. presidency. That claim has long since been debunked. But the conspiracy theory lives on. Go figure.

Then yesterday I wrote about a claim someone made to me alleging that there are actually two versions of Barack Obama's birth certificate -- one that lists the baby's race as "Caucasian" and one that lists him as "Black". The theory is that Obama has paid millions of dollars to legions of attorneys to keep one of the birth certificates hidden for "personal gain" of an unspecified nature. Never mind the fact that Hawaiian birth certificates do not even list the baby's race; they just list the race of each parent. But, of course, these conspiracy nuts don't like to let facts get in the way of their hysteria.

And now, believe it or not, it gets even crazier.

I received a lot of responses to yesterday's blog post, but one stands out from all the rest. Here it is, word-for-word as presented by the commenter, who hides behind the simple moniker "Ted":
"The time lines, places, actions, motives, when analyzed, support, and are consistent with, what is the answer to the Obama birth puzzle:

"Obama's grandmother is his mother and his mother is his sister.

"Think about it. Review all the facts and claims."

I wonder if "Ted" believes that the grandmother traveled to Kenya to give birth to her son/grandson. If not, then perhaps we no longer have to worry that he's secretly a Kenyan rather than a U.S. citizen!

And were the grandmother and the mother both romantically involved with Africans, or were the photos of Barack Sr. with Ann Dunham (the president's mom) just a cover-up for some hanky-panky that grandma was having with the young Kenyan student?

And would the birthers be doing this if Obama were white?

Where will it end (if it ever will)?

Rhetorical questions all.