30 April 2010

A mayday for May Day

Tomorrow, May 1, is May Day, also known as International Workers' Day. On May 1 each year, workers and their supporters engage in celebrations and political demonstrations for workers' rights.

Workers' rights are enshrined in Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as follows:
(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
But Corporate America obviously didn't get that memo.

The unemployment rate here in the U.S. is horribly high, even as the CEOs and the bailed-out Wall Street bankers continue to rake in obscene salaries and bonuses.

The middle class is shrinking, and the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen.

Unions are busted. Workers are fired. Homes are foreclosed upon. Coal miners and other workers are needlessly endangered. And the cycle continues.

And, sadly, since corporations are now permitted to spend unlimited amounts of money to buy and sell our politicians, I don't see the status quo changing any time soon.

But that doesn't mean we should sit back and take it.

Fortunately, Congress has started working on legislation to help curb corporate campaign influence. Goldman Sachs is under some intense scrutiny, with other firms quite possibly to follow. And financial regulatory reform is in the works.

We need to keep an eye on these and any other measures that could help put government back in the hands of We The People, and do all we can to push for needed change.

And we need to encourage others to do so as well.

It's the only way we'll see any kind of change that can help Main Street rather than Wall Street.

As Margaret Mead once said:
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

And yes we can!

29 April 2010

Politics over planet

Last Thursday, we celebrated Earth Day. So now what are we doing this week as a follow-up? We're learning that bipartisan efforts at climate legislation appear to be on the rocks in the U.S. Senate.

While the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman bill is far from perfect, I'm pretty sure it would be better than nothing. As the Sierra Club notes, "The Kerry-Graham-Lieberman proposal can serve as a foundation on which we can liberate America from dependence on foreign oil, create millions of new clean energy manufacturing, construction and service jobs here at home, and slash the carbon pollution that is threatening our economy, our health and our climate."

The Sierra Club adds, "But it will only serve as a solid foundation if the Senate completes it." And that's the rub. Right now the bill seems to be headed for legislative limbo.

Different commentators have different opinions on whose fault it is, but it seems to boil down to the possibility that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wants to put immigration reform before climate change -- which some see as a campaign move.

And Republican Senator Lindsey Graham is apparently threatening to abandon climate change negotiations (and the bill that bears his name) unless Reid drops the immigration reform efforts.

Immigration has nothing to do with climate change -- at least not directly. But the climate -- indeed, this very planet -- is being held hostage while politicians play their games.

How can they not care?

28 April 2010

Evidentiary hearing set for Troy Davis - June 30

Good news (hopefully) in the case of Georgia death row inmate Troy Davis: An evidentiary hearing has been scheduled for June 30 in Savannah. Davis will finally have an opportunity to present the evidence that could prove his innocence.

This follows a Supreme Court ruling last August in which the Supremes ordered that the evidence be reviewed in federal court.

I am cautiously optimistic. My caution stems from this reality check I received in an email from a fellow advocate for justice at Amnesty International:
"Unlike with a new trial, where the state would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty and convince 12 jurors; this is a hearing conducted by one judge. The burden falls on Davis to 'clearly establish his innocence', which is an incredibly high legal standard."
Sadly, justice doesn't come easy.

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 is no excuse to execute someone when there's reasonable doubt as to his guilt.

Stay tuned for updates, with fingers crossed.

27 April 2010

Republicans protect Wall Street, ignore Main Street

The Republicans in the Senate are playing their procedural games and not even letting financial reform be debated on the Senate floor.

They did not vote against the current bill, they voted against even allowing it to be discussed, debated, and amended. So the bill sits in legislative limbo for now.

This is while so many regular Americans are suffering so badly in the current economic crisis as a result of the Wall Street's reckless behavior.

Rather than doing something to hold Wall Street accountable and taking measures to prevent this sort of crisis from happening again, the Republicans, by stalling, are protecting those who caused the problem.

But maybe that's because they know where the campaign cash is coming from.

Now that corporations -- including the big Wall Street firms (who exist today because of taxpayer bailouts) -- are free to spend unlimited cash on political campaigns, could it be that the Republicans no longer feel they even need to appear to care about Main Street?

26 April 2010

Arizona - The hate state?

In the past, I never imagined that Arizona was a state full of xenophobic right-wing extremists. But recent events seem to suggest that it is -- at least inside the State Capitol and law enforcement circles.

It was bad enough recently when the State House of Representatives passed a bill that would require all U.S. presidential candidates to show their birth certificates in order to appear on the ballot in Arizona. This was obviously inspired by the long-since-debunked myth that President Obama is not a natural-born U.S. citizen and therefore not eligible for the presidency. Even if that bill were to pass the State Senate and be signed into law by the governor, it would amount to little more than a waste of time and taxpayer money.

But, at the same time, something far more nefarious was brewing. And, on April 23, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law a draconian anti-immigration bill which essentially enshrines racial profiling in the state's Constitution. The new law requires police to question and verify the immigration status of anyone "reasonably" suspected of being an illegal alien. Previously, police could investigate someone's immigration status only if the person was suspected of another crime.

Governor Brewer, a Republican, insists that racial profiling will not be used in enforcing this new law. "Racial profiling is illegal. It is illegal in America, and it's certainly illegal in Arizona," Brewer said. Police, she insists, will be trained on "what does and does not constitute reasonable suspicion that a person is not legally present in the United States."


So will they be stopping people who look like me or like Governor Brewer -- with our blonde hair and blue eyes -- under suspicion that we might have migrated illegally from Canada or Norway? Somehow, I doubt it.

White immigrants weren't the reason why they built a border fence between Arizona and Mexico.

And white immigrants weren't the targets of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's over-the-top crusades that led to a federal investigation of apparent civil rights violations.

No, they just seem to want to crack down on the brown people.

So, if you're planning a trip to Tucson or Sedona, and your skin color is anything other than a pale shade of white, you might want to pack your passport and other forms of identification, even if you're a U.S. citizen.

On the other hand, since Obama's official birth certificate isn't good enough for them, your passport might not be good enough either.

Happy travels.

23 April 2010

Thoughts on the recent passing of a civil rights icon

I and many others have been mourning the death on April 20 of civil rights icon Dorothy Height.

During her impressive life of activism, Height fought hard for civil rights for women and gays as well as for persons of color. "Civil rights are civil rights. There are no persons who are not entitled to their civil rights," she said.

I am glad that Height lived to see the American people elect our first African-American president. She even sat on the stage at Obama's inauguration as an honored guest.

It's just too bad that she also had to see the start of the tea party reaction that ensued.

One large step forward, and one small step back. I guess that's how any civil rights movement goes. Slowly but surely, if you're lucky. As long as the momentum doesn't die.

22 April 2010

Things you can do on this Earth Day 2010 (and beyond)

Today, April 22, is Earth Day. In fact, this is the 40th anniversary of the very first Earth Day on April 22, 1970.

On this day, there are many things you can do to show your respect for the earth and its environment. Here are a few ideas:

Say no to plastic bags: There are enough plastic bags in the landfills and in the oceans. If you haven't done so already, please invest in some reusable canvas bags and take them with you whenever you go shopping. You'll look cool and you'll help the planet.

Say no to bottled water: It's less regulated -- and therefore possibly lower quality -- than tap water, and the plastic bottles they come in are a whole other horror story. Instead, invest in a reusable stainless steel bottle, and refill it with plain or filtered tap water. It's better for the planet, better for your health, and better for your wallet.

Go meatless for a day: A 2006 United Nations report called the meat industry "one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global." According to the website goveg.com, eating 1 pound of meat emits the same amount of greenhouse gasses as driving an SUV 40 miles. And so cutting back on the dead animals you put on your dinner plate can make a big difference. Meatless dining is not just about sprouts and tofu. You probably already eat a lot of meatless meals without realizing it -- pasta with veggies, a veggie pizza, etc. It's all good. And it's also better for your health. Then expand it to a once-a-week "meatless Monday" -- or more.

Then on Sunday...

If you're near DC, join the Climate Rally on the National Mall - April 25, 11:00 am to 7:00 pm. Learn more.

21 April 2010

Thoughts on the latest birther stunt

Barack Obama has occupied the White House for 15 months now, but the "birthers" will not give up on their conspiracy theory that Obama is ineligible for the presidency because he was allegedly born in a foreign country.

And they've really gone overboard now. I read yesterday in the Huffington Post that the Arizona House passed a bill "that would require President Barack Obama to show his birth certificate if he hopes to be on the state's ballot when he runs for re-election."

The legislation isn't all about Obama. They were at least smart enough to dress it up as a general requirement for all U.S. presidential candidates who want to appear on the ballot in Arizona. But it's pretty obvious where this is coming from.

The whole "birther" thing is ridiculous because:

1. The birthers' claims were debunked long ago. Obama's birth certificate was obtained and verified. (Of course, I suspect that no document would be good enough to satisfy this crowd, no matter how official and valid.)

2. If there were really any question as to Obama's birthplace and citizenship, surely the Clintons would have jumped all over it in the run-up to the 2008 primary elections. I mean, duh.

It's time for the birthers to stop the nonsense and learn to accept the fact that there is a black guy legally occupying the White House.

But I don't think they really ever will.

20 April 2010

It's Fair Pay Day: Urge your senators to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act

Today, April 20, 2010, is Fair Pay Day, also called Equal Pay Day. This date symbolizes how far into the year a woman must work, on average, to catch up with what the average man earned in 2009 here in the U.S.

According to the National Women's Law Center (NWLC), on average, women are paid only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. For women of color, the numbers are even worse.

It was a good step forward last year when President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law. The Ledbetter Act gives women some options when they discover that they've been victims of pay discrimination.

But there is more work to be done.

The AAUW says that "giving women the Ledbetter Act without the Paycheck Fairness Act is like giving them the nail without the hammer."

To that end, we need to get the Senate moving towards passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act (S.182), which would further help to deter wage discrimination against women.

According to the NWLC, the Paycheck Fairness Act would "update and strengthen laws against wage discrimination, create stronger incentives for employers to follow the law, and strengthen federal outreach and enforcement efforts. Additionally, the bill includes tougher penalties for equal pay violations."

As Barack Obama proclaimed at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, "Now is the time to keep the promise of equal pay for an equal day's work, because I want my daughters to have the exact same opportunities as your sons."


>> Click here to urge your senators to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act!

19 April 2010

A lesson on the Oklahoma bombing anniversary

April 19, 2010, marks the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, in which 168 people died (including 19 young children) and more than 680 people were injured.

Crazed Muslims? Actually, no.

This crime against innocent people was committed not by dark-skinned, jihad-driven, Islamic radicals. No, it was committed by two "Christian" white guys. Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were supposedly angry about the 1993 Waco fiasco. And so -- no coincidence, I think -- they bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on the two-year anniversary of the fire that destroyed David Koresh's Waco compound, in which 76 people died.

These white American right-wing vigilantes took the "law" into their own hands and avenged the deaths of 76 people by killing 168 unrelated innocent people. They killed innocent babies for revenge on an unrelated incident outside of their control.

So please think of this the next time you hear about an act of possible terrorism and immediately assume it's al-Qaeda.

I am certainly no apologist for al-Qaeda. Its members and supporters all deserve to be captured, put on trial, and then locked up for life if found guilty of terrorism or terrorist conspiracy. But our vigilance against al-Qaeda should not lead to a dangerous sense of security outside the al-Qaeda threat.

And, by that, I'm talking about racial profiling. A USA Today/Gallup poll this past January showed that an alarming majority of Americans support ethnic profiling. However, the Oklahoma City case clearly illustrates that racial profiling is a misguided reaction that can actually be counterproductive.

In worrying about what people look like, law enforcement officials may be too quick to overlook suspicious behavior by clean-cut white guys like McVeigh and Nichols.

And, in worrying about what people look like, law enforcement officials may be too quick to assume the worst of people who just happen to look a certain way.

Therefore, racial profiling is rightly illegal for the reasons outlined above and more.

Facts are facts:

1. Most Muslim and Middle Eastern people are not terrorists.

2. Many terrorists are neither Muslim nor Middle Eastern.

To assume otherwise is to engage in nothing short of racism based on ignorance. And that, of course, does not comprise a valid argument.

The truth is that human beings of all colors and creeds are capable of engaging in great good or great evil.

Most of us live somewhere in between. But those who operate on the fringe should be recognized as such -- for better or for worse.

In this case, we're looking at the worst. And they should be recognized as such regardless of their white skin and their "Christian" claims.

16 April 2010

McCain: From maverick to teabagger?

Up through the latter portions of the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign season, we kept hearing about what a maverick John McCain was. Then Sarah Palin came along and latched on to the word herself. As if.

That said, there was a time, long ago, when perhaps the "maverick" label did apply to Senator John McCain, at least some of the time.

For instance:

• He worked with liberal Democratic Senator Russ Feingold on campaign finance reform.

• He opposed military involvement in Somalia.

• He took on the tobacco industry by introducing legislation to increase cigarette taxes.

• He opposed the George W. Bush administration's torture policy, at least at first.

But then something happened. Maybe it was the influence of his vice presidential running mate from the 2008 campaign. Whatever it was, it turned the former sometimes-maverick into just another partisan sheep. Or worse.

The evidence: Last month he had Sarah Palin speak at a rally for his upcoming reelection race. And she was as black-and-white extremist as ever, associating McCain's reelection bid with the tea party movement that she now seems to lead:
"Everyone here supporting John McCain, we are all part of that tea party movement."
Will this new association with the tea partiers help or hurt McCain's chances at re-election? My instinct tells me that the tea partiers were there for Palin, not for McCain.

McCain apparently senses the danger, as he is now denying that he was ever a maverick.

It's as if he is trying to reinvent himself yet again in a desperate attempt to remain relevant to whatever group will support him.

At any rate, it will surely be an interesting campaign season.

And I wonder how McCain sleeps at night.

15 April 2010

It's April 15. Where are your tax dollars going?

Today, April 15, is the deadline for filing our U.S. tax forms for income earned in 2009.

I don't mind paying taxes if the money is spent wisely. But I'm not happy about the choices that Congress has been making lately on how to spend my hard-earned cash.

For example, according to the National Priorities Project, for fiscal year 2009, 26.5 percent of our tax dollars went towards the military and its operations (i.e., wars, KBR, etc.), while only 2 percent went towards education, and 1.3 percent for transportation.

On Capitol Hill, these are the priorities. Killing and destruction (disguised as "national security") are apparently 13 times more important than our children's education.

Is this what you voted for?

14 April 2010

On corporate campaign finance (and more), the GOP vs. the people

The Hill reports that Senate Republicans are threatening a possible filibuster if President Obama's next Supreme Court nominee expresses a willingness to overturn the recent high court ruling in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which gave corporations the unlimited right to spend as much money as they want on political campaigns.

In threatening a fight to keep the Citizens United decision in place, the Senate Republicans are apparently choosing to dismiss the views of their constituents. According to a February poll by the Washington Post and ABC News, 80% of Americans surveyed oppose the ruling. The results were bipartisan, with 85 percent of Democrats opposing the ruling, along with 76 percent of Republicans and 81 percent of Independents.

Of course, these new threats by the Senate Republicans should come as no surprise, since their voting records in recent decades have made it quite clear that they are working for the corporations, not for the people.

Sometimes I wonder if any of the non-wealthy people who vote Republican will ever wake up and see that they are voting against their own best interests.

On the other hand, with Washington shifting more and more to the right, sometimes it seems like there are really no alternatives. But that is a whole other topic for another day.

13 April 2010

Dawn Johnsen is a victim of the war on terror

On April 9, Dawn Johnsen, President Obama's nominee to lead the Office of Legal Council (OLC), withdrew her nomination. Her nomination had been in various stages of limbo for more than a year.

There is a great deal of speculation out there regarding the reasons for Johnsen's withdrawal. Sadly, most of the speculation I've heard involves the fact that Johnsen was an outspoken critic of the George W. Bush administration's torture and state secrecy policies. She also previously served as an attorney for NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Because of her "controversial" (i.e., law-respecting) positions, the Senate Democrats apparently do not have the votes to confirm her.

And, because of her "controversial" (i.e., law-respecting) positions, the Obama White House apparently does not have the stomach to push the issue, according to an unnamed Senate Democratic leadership source quoted by ABC News.

For the White House to push for Johnsen's confirmation would mean endorsing her views that the Bush administration should be held accountable for its illegal behavior in its so-called "war on terror". But, of course, Obama likes to skirt the issue by saying that he wants to look forward, not backward. No wonder Obama did not include Johnsen in his recent recess appointments.

And it is a very sad shame.

After the sorry legal advice that Bush and Cheney dragged out of their own OLC, Johnsen would have been like a welcome breath of fresh air for those of us who value human rights and respect the rule of law.

As Marge Baker, Executive Vice President at People For the American Way, said upon Johnsen's withdrawal, "Dawn Johnsen's only offenses were to stand up against illegal torture under the Bush administration and to defend a woman's right to choose. Her criticisms of the Bush-era OLC have been echoed by legal scholars of both parties and by the Justice Department's own internal investigations. And a belief in the Constitutional right to reproductive freedom isn't just mainstream: it's the law of the land."

But, apparently, Obama's "change we can believe in" will be implemented very selectively, lest he step on too many Republican toes. (Did health care use up the quota?)

So, all things considered, I really cannot blame Johnsen for wanting to move on with her career.

And I wish her much success and happiness in her life outside the White House.

12 April 2010

Dangerous coal, neglected lives

Last week, 29 workers died as a result of an explosion at a West Virginia coal mine. The mine was owned by Massey Energy.

Apparently, Massey CEO Don Blankenship has a history of putting profits over worker safety by fighting against any kind of regulation, accountability, or labor rights, as Bloomberg News reports:
"Don Blankenship, chief executive officer of Massey Energy Co., has fought with mine regulators, unions, residents of his town and even his personal maid.

"His company regularly appeals fines for safety infractions. He has personally gone into mines to persuade workers to abandon union organizing efforts. Massey is fighting lawsuits that claim it contaminated groundwater in Blankenship’s town. A maid supplied by a company she claimed was a Massey unit was forced to fight all the way to West Virginia's highest court to collect unemployment benefits."
Not exactly a likely candidate for Boss of the Year, and certainly not the kind of guy I'd want to work for. But in Appalachian coal country, where I grew up, working-class folks don't have a lot of options, especially in today's economy.

I remember, decades ago when I was a child, seeing the men come home from the coal mines at the end of the day covered in so much black coal dust that the whites of their eyes seemed to shine in contrast. There was nothing to keep that dust out of their throats, lungs, or lunchboxes.

But that's just one of the dangers that coal miners face each day at work. As the tragic news from West Virginia brought to light, the minors there were also exposed to high levels of methane, which may have played a part in the explosion that killed the 29 miners last week.

Not only is coal mining hazardous to the workers, it is also deadly to the planet and the population at large. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, coal-burning power plants are the largest U.S. source of carbon dioxide pollution, producing 2.5 billion tons every year. And the non-profit environmental group Earthjustice reports that coal ash, which can be highly toxic, frequently contaminates the groundwater at disposal sites, thereby increasing cancer risks.

So, all things considered, is there really any good reason not to move money, people, and other valuable resources away from coal and other outdated fossil fuels and invest instead in the development of clean, renewal energy?

Oh, yeah: It would be inconvenient for the CEOs like Blankenship, who care more about profits than people.

And, thanks to a government that continues to allow that sort of thing, and thanks to a Supreme Court that gave corporations like Massey the unlimited right to buy and sell elected officials from Congressmen to judges, Blankenship and his ilk will likely continue to call the shots for a very long time to come.

And the workers will continue to be seen as little more than disposable tools.

09 April 2010

Temple squanders million$ to replace striking nurses

About 1,500 nurses and other health professionals from Philadelphia's Temple University Hospital are currently in their second week of a strike, after failed negotiations regarding pay raises and benefits.

And the way that Temple is dealing with it doesn't make much sense to me.

Temple has flown in over 800 temporary nurses and other staff to fill in for the striking workers.

Temple is paying these temps up to $10,000 per week, and is paying for their $175/night hotel rooms and meals, as well as travel expenses. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, this is adding up to $4-$5 million per week to replace the striking workers.

I've been told that the $9 million that Temple is spending on temp workers for just the first two weeks of the strike is roughly equal to all of the additional costs of the entire four-year contract proposed by the nurses and allied professionals. Therefore, Temple's behavior will surely be regarded by many as a blatant union-busting move.

Temple needs to stop risking the well-being of its hospital patients by squandering all that money on a skeleton staff of outsiders. Management needs to show some respect for its long-time employees and the quality of care they provide. Otherwise, they're going to lose patients over the long term, and that will affect the bottom line if not their conscience.

Perhaps it was summed up best on a sign seen at a recent rally by the striking health care workers at Philadelphia City Hall:

"Wounds Won't Heal Until The Scabs Go Away"


08 April 2010

With death penalty, the U.S. stands alone among democracies of the world

Question: What does the U.S. have in common with China, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia?

Answer: These five countries carried out the overwhelming majority of state-sponsored executions in 2009.

Amnesty International (AI) recently released a report titled Death Sentences and Executions in 2009, which examines the use of the death penalty last year around the world. And the U.S. stands out as one of the world's most brutal nations in this regard.

In 2009:

• China executed more people than the rest of the world put together. (Exact figures are not available, since China refuses to provide that information. However, according to AI, evidence from previous years and current sources indicate that the figure remains in the thousands.)

• Iran executed at least 388.

• Iraq executed at least 120.

• Saudi Arabia executed at least 69.

• The U.S. executed 52.

In the realm of criminal "justice", this is the company we keep.

Virtually all other recognized democracies have abolished the use of the death penalty in favor of life imprisonment.

To add insult to injury, we also learned last year that Texas (the execution capital of the U.S.) executed an innocent man, Cameron Todd Willingham, in 2004. Given the proven fallibility of the "justice" system, how many others may have been executed for crimes that they did not commit? Why take any more chances?

The death penalty does not represent justice, it represents revenge -- sometimes misdirected revenge.

Shouldn't we as a society be above that sort of thing?

Isn't it time we joined the other democracies of the world in abolishing this barbaric practice?

>> Learn more about AI's opposition to the death penalty.

>> Download the full report. (PDF)

07 April 2010

April 7 is World Health Day - "1000 Cities, 1000 Lives"

World Health Day, sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO), is celebrated each year on April 7. This year's theme, "1000 Cities, 1000 Lives", focuses on building a global movement to make cities healthier.

The goals:

1000 cities: to open up public spaces to health, whether it be activities in parks, town hall meetings, clean-up campaigns, or closing off portions of streets to motorized vehicles.

1000 lives: to collect 1000 stories of urban health champions who have taken action and had a significant impact on health in their cities.

The challenges:

According to the WHO, the vast majority of the world's population growth over the next 30 years will be in urban areas, exacerbating the many health challenges related to urbanization, such as environmental and water issues, violence and injury, and communicable diseases.

Furthermore, "[t]he major drivers, or social determinants, of health in urban settings are beyond the health sector, including physical infrastructure, access to social and health services, local governance, and the distribution of income and educational opportunities."

The solutions:

So what are the solutions? The WHO says, "Urban planning can promote healthy behaviours and safety through investment in active transport, designing areas to promote physical activity, and passing regulatory controls on tobacco and food safety. Improving urban living conditions in the areas of housing, water, and sanitation will go a long way to mitigating health risks. Building inclusive cities that are accessible and age-friendly will benefit all urban residents."

The cost (i.e., the least of our obstacles):

"Such actions do not necessarily require additional funding, says the WHO, "but [do require] commitment to redirect resources to priority interventions, thereby achieving greater efficiency."

So it's really just a matter of adjusting and prioritizing resources to optimize the health of a city's residents.

That might sound like a no-lose situation, except for the fact that the greedy special interests that promote less healthy options are sure to put up a fight.

Progress in Philly:

Fortunately, here in Philadelphia, we've already won a few of those fights.

For example:

Smoking is prohibited in public places and workplaces in the city.

• Chain restaurants are required to post calories for each item on their menus.

• And new bike lanes have been designated on two major cross-town streets.

If Philly can do it, so can other cities around the world.

A community is only as strong as its people, so municipalities everywhere should find it in their best interests to encourage community health via similar measures.

More info:

>> Learn more about World Health Day 2010 and join the movement!

06 April 2010

Oil, coal, and us

As with oil, not only does coal ruin the environment when used as fuel, mining it can be pretty deadly as well.

We've had to learn that lesson yet again with the deaths of more than two dozen workers in a coal mine explosion in West Virginia yesterday.

Coal mining leads to things like this. In fact, another coal mining disaster killed a handful of people in China just last week.

Lessons learned (or still to be learned):

Our old fuel sources just aren't working for the people or the planet.

Coal mining is dangerous and unnecessary.

Oil leads to wars, and both oil and wars are unnecessary.

Both coal and oil, when burned, release unacceptable levels of carbon into the atmosphere.

It is time to switch to solar, wind, and other clean and renewable energy sources.

But, of course, that's not where the corporate robber barons are coming from.

05 April 2010

Racism then and now

April 4, 2010, marked the 42nd anniversary of the assassination of the great civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I often wish that King had lived to see Barack Obama, an African-American, become President of the United States of America.

Indeed, there have been other obvious civil rights victories since King's day that are worth celebrating. We've had two African-American Secretaries of State, both -- believe it or not -- appointed by a Republican president! And countless notable African Americans have achieved great success in mainstream business and academia as well.

But, even as Barack Obama sits in the Oval Office, we have not yet achieved King's dream of a post-racial America. Not even close.

While Jim Crow laws may be a thing of the past (except in some places, like that swim club in Philly), racism itself unfortunately is not. In fact, it appears as though Obama's presidential campaign and election have fueled a resurgence of bold displays of racially charged hatred against African Americans. There are all those racist signs carried by tea partiers at their rallies, sporting slogans like "Obama's Plan: White Slavery" and "Save White America!" And then there was the N-word that was shouted last month at Rep. John Lewis, a hero of the civil rights movement, while another protestor spat on Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, who is also black. It's starting to look more and more like the 1960s and earlier. In fact, a 2009 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center noted that the number of organized hate groups in the U.S. has actually been rising.

Prior to the 2008 campaign season, the most conspicuous (i.e., most publicized) examples of racism in the U.S. typically involved prejudice towards Latinos (as evidenced by the war on immigration) and -- especially since 9/11 -- prejudice towards Muslims and Middle Easterners in general. While those forms of racism have certainly not subsided, now that we have a black guy in the White House, it's bringing out the anti-black sentiments of tea partiers and other bigoted cowards into full public view. Sadly, they are inspired and encouraged by their right-wing leaders, like Rush Limbaugh, who entertained his radio listeners with a song called "Barack The Magic Negro". And -- perhaps worst of all -- they seem to have no qualms, no shame, and certainly no apologies.

This is the year 2010. How many more generations will it take before all people will, to quote Dr. King, "be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character"?

I fear that I will not live to see the day. But I continue to hope. The younger generations are our future, and I hope that the more open-minded young people in this country will consistently outnumber and outvote those who are brainwashed into bigotry by the irrational fears of their fathers.

Indeed, it seems as though our younger generations, for the most part, are much more color-blind that those of the past. Interracial marriages -- often resulting in beautiful multi-racial children -- are much more commonly accepted these days. And our non-white population is slowly but surely edging its way into a demographic majority. While this is surely a contributing factor to the white man's fear, it represents to me a welcome kind of karmic justice. Still it is a shame, however, if the war on racism can be won only by outnumbering the racists.

In the meantime, let us mark each success, large and small -- a black man in the White House, a wise Latina on the Supreme Court, two black Secretaries of State, and other notable accomplishments -- as a huge step forward on a very long road towards a post-racial America.

And may Dr. King rest in peace.

02 April 2010

How Christian is the pope, really?

The independent and foreign press have written much in the past about the current pope's ongoing cover-ups of clergy sex abuse in the Catholic Church. Now the American mainstream media are finally catching on. But it's long overdue. So here is a history:

Back in 2001, when we still knew him as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the British press leaked a confidential letter from Ratzinger to all Catholic bishops ordering that "the church's investigations into child sex abuse claims be carried out in secret," and asserting "the church's right to hold its inquiries behind closed doors and keep the evidence confidential for up to 10 years after the victims reached adulthood." In other words, keep it all under wraps until the statutes of limitations expire. Clearly he was not on the side of the victims. How Christian is that, really?

In 2002, he discounted the whole issue, referring to the media coverage of clergy sex abuse as a plot to discredit the Church. Again, clearly he was not on the side of the victims. How Christian is that, really?

In 2005, after he had assumed the papal throne, he asked then-President George W. Bush to grant him immunity from prosecution for covering up clergy sex abuse allegations in a Texas diocese. Equally disgustingly, Bush complied. Clearly neither man was on the side of the victims. How Christian is that, really?

And now, with the news of several clergy sex scandals (and alleged cover-ups) unfolding across Europe, the American mainstream media are finally shining a light on this problem. So now, with all the additional scrutiny, will those responsible be held accountable?

When I was a child in Catholic school, I was taught that the pope is Jesus's representative on earth. But, if you ask the famous question "What would Jesus do?", the answer would surely not involve the cover-up of pedophilia.

Child sexual abuse is a crime, and the pope knows it. Covering up a crime is also a crime in itself.

However, it appears that the pope will get away with it all. As Reuters reports, "Pope Benedict, accused by victims' lawyers of being ultimately responsible for a cover-up of sexual abuse of children by priests, cannot be called to testify at any trial because he has immunity as a head of state, a top Vatican legal official said on Thursday."

And, unlike George W. Bush, whom I hope will someday be prosecuted for his war crimes, the pope retains his title -- and therefore his diplomatic immunity -- for life.

And so, despite the harm his actions have caused to so many abused children, it appears that justice will never be fully served.

How Christian is that, really?

01 April 2010

Solar, Barry, solar!

At the 2008 Republican National Convention, they chanted "Drill, baby, drill!" So the American people instead elected Obama.

That same pro-drilling message is equally offensive coming today from the Obama White House.

The money spent on drilling would be much better spent on earth-friendly, sustainable energy development. Solar, baby, solar!