30 September 2010

GOP double standard on female candidates

At a Hillary Clinton primary campaign rally in 2008, some men in the audience shouted, "Iron my shirt!"

And an Ohio GOP newsletter back in April urged voters to "take [Democratic Congresswoman] Betty Sutton out of the House and put her back in the kitchen."

These are clearly sexist remarks.

But those kinds of sexist remarks from the right were nowhere to be found when John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate.

And those kinds of sexist remarks from the right are nowhere to be found when Palin rallies for her "mama grizzlies" -- even Christine O'Donnell of Delaware.

In fact, Ralph Reed dubbed this the year of the conservative Woman.

And Cafe Press is selling men's t-shirts that say "Mama Grizzlies Rock".

Apparently, in the world of the GOP, women are to be respected only if they serve up the conservative Kool-Aid.

And that's a much more subtle kind of sexism.

29 September 2010

NOW delivers tits for an ass

On a lighter note today...

At 9:10 am today, Terry O'Neill, President of the National Organization for Women (NOW), will deliver 1,500 baby bottle tops to Fiscal Commission Co-Chair Alan Simpson.

The gesture is part of NOW's "Tits for an Ass" campaign, in response to Simpson's disgusting tirade last month comparing Social Security to "a milk cow with 310 million tits".

"The Fiscal Commission should be led by someone who will actually try to address the federal budget deficit, instead of using it as an excuse to undermine Social Security by cutting benefits or raising the retirement age," said O'Neill. "Alan Simpson is not that person."

O'Neill will present the "tits" to Simpson at a meeting of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which will be held in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 608. (Location subject to change by commission.)

I wish I could be there to watch.

28 September 2010

Big Brother terrorizes more activists

It's like McCarthyism all over again.

On September 24, FBI agents raided the homes of some anti-war activists in Chicago and Minneapolis on suspicion that they were providing material support to terrorism.

This follows only a few weeks after it was discovered that Pennsylvania's Office of Homeland Security had been spying on activist groups in the Keystone State.

The Chicago Tribune quotes one of the harassed activists in Minnesota as calling the searches "an outrageous fishing expedition."

Indeed. But this is apparently how our tax dollars are being used.

Apparently the authorities still subscribe to the George W. Bush-style assumption that if you're not in lockstep with the government's policies, then you must be with the terrorists.

And the Bush administration's knee-jerk, fear-based policies in response to 9/11 have arguably made it legal for agencies to conduct these witch hunts.

The Patriot Act broadened the definition of domestic terrorism to an extent that it "may have a chilling effect on the U.S. and international rights to free expression and association," says Amnesty International USA.

Amnesty continues: "The law defines 'domestic terrorism' as acts committed in the United States 'dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws,' if the U.S. government determines that they 'appear to be intended' to 'influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion,' or 'to intimidate or coerce a civilian population.' Such ambiguous language allows for loose interpretation that might violate civil liberties and international human rights."

As we're seeing right now.

To further complicate things, as I wrote back in June regarding Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is not unconstitutional for the government to block speech and other forms of advocacy supporting a foreign organization that has been officially (and arbitrarily) labeled as terrorist, even if the aim is to support such a group's peaceful or humanitarian actions.

Coincidentally, the Justice Department's Inspector General released a timely report last week after a review of FBI crackdowns on peace and social justice activists during the George W. Bush administration. The report is rather critical of the FBI.

The ProPublica Blog summarizes:
"The FBI activities reviewed by the Justice Department took place from 2001 to 2006, and involved groups including the Thomas Merton Center (a Pittsburgh social justice center), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Greenpeace, The Catholic Worker (communities of religious pacifists) and a Quaker peace activist.

"The report by the Justice Department watchdog didn't find that the FBI targeted these groups on the basis of their free speech activities - which would be a serious violation of FBI guidelines - but did fault the agency for other reasons, most notably a 'factually weak' basis for opening investigations.

"'FBI agents and supervisors sometimes provided the [Office of the Inspector General] with speculative, after-the-fact rationalizations for their prior decisions to open investigations that we did not find persuasive,' the report said.

"The report also found that that the FBI unnecessarily classified its probes as domestic terrorism investigations, even though some of the potential crimes were trespassing or vandalism - acts not normally considered to be terrorism. This classification resulted in several individuals improperly being placed on terrorism watchlists.

"The Inspector General also found that the FBI gave 'inaccurate and misleading' explanations to justify its attendance at a 2002 rally against the Iraq war organized by the Merton Center."
How much farther will they have to go before this becomes an actual police state?

Or is it already?

And will they raid my home for writing this?

27 September 2010

On DADT repeal, 2 steps forward, 2 or 3 steps back

There have been some interesting developments lately for gay men and lesbians who bravely want to serve this nation in the military. Sadly, some of the developments were not encouraging.

On September 21, Senate Republicans blocked a defense bill that included a conditional repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy. Even though the repeal would have been dependent on the completion of a Defense Department study and subsequent certification that it would not harm military effectiveness, the Republicans wouldn't even let the bill come to the floor for a debate.

The measure had already passed in the House and in the Senate Armed Services Committee. But that apparently made no difference.

Meanwhile, there's been some action in the courts regarding DADT.

On September 9, in Riverside, California, U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips ruled that DADT is unconstitutional. The case had been brought by the Log Cabin Republicans, a grassroots organization that advocates for gay rights.

In her 85-page opinion, Judge Phillips wrote that "the effect of [DADT] has been, not to advance the Government's interests of military readiness and unit cohesion, much less to do so significantly, but to harm that interest."

Sounds good, right? Well, don't hold your breath waiting for the judge's ruling to make a difference, because Obama's Justice Department announced on September 23 that it was filing an objection to the ruling. So the case could remain tied up in the courts for years.

Ditto for a September 24 ruling in a similar case in Tacoma Washington, in which U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton ruled as unconstitutional the discharge of flight nurse Margaret Witt under DADT. As of this writing, there is no word as to whether or not the Justice Department will appeal this case as well, but I would be surprised if it didn't.

In response to the Justice Department's decision to appeal the Log Cabin Republicans' case, the organization's Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper had this to say: "We are deeply disappointed with this Administration's decision. Yet again, the Obama Administration has failed to live up to its campaign promise to repeal this unconstitutional law for the servicemembers of this country."

I don't usually side with the GOP, but in this case I proudly stand with the Log Cabin Republicans.

Terry O'Neill, President of the National Organization for Women, weighed in from a practical perspective. "This 'witch hunt' policy has already resulted in the discharge of more than 14,000 service members, with an estimated 66,000 LGBT people currently serving in the armed forces and at risk of expulsion," said O'Neill. "It not only depletes the number of willing and able American troops, but the very ideal of equality on which our nation is based."

Indeed. This nation was founded on the principle that "all men are created equal" - not just the heterosexual ones. And this discrimination in the military isn't making us any safer.

In choosing to appeal at least one of these cases, the White House just blew a perfect opportunity to lend some validity to Obama's rhetoric about equality. Talk, after all, is cheap.

26 September 2010

NJ governor vs. women's health

This is what happens when you have a conservative administration running a state government:

When New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took office eight months ago, he hit the ground running. He wasted no time in slashing funds for education and various other public services that benefit the "little people", while at the same time giving huge tax breaks to New Jerseyans making more than $400,000 per year.

But that wasn't enough. Now he's going after women's bodies.

Christy vetoed a bill that would have provided $7.5 million for women's health clinics around the state. And, on September 20, the state senate failed to override the veto.

So is it about abortion? No. According to the Star-Ledger, "[t]he bill specifically says clinics, which provide birth control and health screenings, cannot use the money for abortions." With the abortion issue out of the picture, it's just about women's health -- low-income women's health.

As a result of Christie's veto, women's health clinics are having to tighten their belts at best. Planned Parenthood of Southern New Jersey announced that it would have to close a clinic in Cherry Hill. Other clinics may have to close as well, and services will be scaled back at those that remain open.

As clinics close, some low-income women will have to travel farther to get the gynecological and family planning services they need. And, depending on their locations and other circumstances, that could be difficult or impossible. According to the Star-Ledger, "supporters of the bill said 40,000 low-income women would have to go without services such as birth control and health screenings" because of the cut.

This could result in more unwanted pregnancies due to harder-to-obtain contraception. It could result in an increase in cervical cancer due to harder-to-obtain Pap smears. And it could result in an increase of sexually transmitted disease due to reduced availability of STD education and treatment. Is that really what Christy and his senatorial cohorts want? (Of course, they would probably just respond with a call for abstinence -- as Sarah Palin taught to Bristol. Enough said on that.)

To make matters even worse, Christie's veto also closes the door on some significant funding for the clinics from the federal level. According to a statement by Democratic Assemblywoman Patricia Lampitt, the state bill would have brought in $9 in federal funding for each $1 New Jersey spends on women's health care.

Michele Jaker, Executive Director of the Family Planning Association of New Jersey, had this to say about the problem: "The Senate Republicans stood with the extreme right wing of their party instead of standing with the women of New Jersey. Not only did this bill have its own funding source, but it [would have] allowed the state to leverage significant federal funding for these services."

Jaker followed up with a good question: "Do we really live in a state that walks away from tens of millions of federal dollars simply because it funds women’s health care?"

Unfortunately, the answer appears to be "Yes".

24 September 2010

Low IQ woman was executed as an accessory to crime

Last night, the Commonwealth of Virginia executed Teresa Lewis by lethal injection. Lewis had been convicted of the 2002 murders of her husband and stepson.

As I wrote earlier this week, Lewis didn't pull the trigger. She was involved in the plot, but the actual killings were committed by her co-defendants, Matthew Shallenberger and Rodney Fuller. But Lewis was given a death sentence while the triggermen, Shallenberger and Fuller, got life in prison!

Lewis also had a very low IQ, which added to the controversy surrounding her death sentence.

Now it's over.

Lewis's death will not bring the victims back.

It's not any kind of true justice.

It's just more death.

It solves nothing.

23 September 2010

Banned Books Week begins Sept. 25

Banned Books Week 2010 begins this weekend! This annual celebration of the First Amendment and intellectual freedom will be observed this year during the week of September 25 - October 2.

Events are planned all around the U.S. (and online). A list of events can be found here: Events: Banned Books Week 2010

Also, the American Library Association has compiled a Top Ten list of the most frequently challenged books of 2009.

Here they are:

1. ttyl, ttfn, l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs

2. "And Tango Makes Three" by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Reasons: Homosexuality

3. "The Perks of Being A Wallflower," by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Anti-Family, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide

4. "To Kill A Mockingbird," by Harper Lee
Reasons: Racism, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

5. Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group

6. "Catcher in the Rye," by J.D. Salinger
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

7. "My Sister’s Keeper," by Jodi Picoult
Reasons: Sexism, Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide, Violence

8. "The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things," by Carolyn Mackler
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

9. "The Color Purple," Alice Walker
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

10. "The Chocolate War," by Robert Cormier
Reasons: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

I think I'll be downloading at least a couple of these to my Kindle.

22 September 2010

Proof of tea party racism

Here we go again.

I keep hearing from tea partiers and their sympathizers who insist that their movement is not about race.

These people are in denial.


A 3-minute Google search yielded me several examples of the allegedly non-existent racism at tea parties.

Like this.

And this.

And this.

And this.

And last, but certainly not least, these.


21 September 2010

Virginia to execute accessory to crime while triggermen got life sentences

On Thursday evening, September 23, the Commonwealth of Virginia is scheduled to execute Teresa Lewis for the 2002 murders of her husband and stepson.

Some in the media are hyping the execution because Lewis will be the first woman to be executed in Virginia in nearly a century. Being a feminist, I don't think a woman deserves any different treatment than a man would get for committing the same crime. I just oppose the execution altogether.

Aside from my categorical opposition to the death penalty, here are some reasons why I find the Lewis case particularly disturbing:

First of all, she didn't pull the trigger. She was involved in the plot, but the actual killings were committed by her co-defendants, Matthew Shallenberger and Rodney Fuller. But Lewis was given a death sentence while the triggermen, Shallenberger and Fuller, got life in prison!

That alone is incomprehensible, but the plot thickens: Lewis has an IQ in the 70-72 range, which is borderline mentally retarded for legal purposes. In 2002, the Supreme Court had ruled (in Atkins v. Virginia - same state) that execution of the mentally retarded amounts to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The generally accepted cut-off for mental impairment is an IQ of 70. Her lawyers have argued that because of her low IQ, along with a personality disorder and drug use, it is unlikely that she could have "masterminded" the murders as the prosecution contents.

Evidence seems to point to her co-defendant Shallenberger as being the real mastermind behind the murders. In an excellent Washington Post op-ed by John Grisham, the acclaimed author makes points out the following:
"Her lawyers have also argued that Shallenberger, who committed suicide behind bars in 2006, masterminded the murders. They have pointed to evidence that he had an IQ of 113 and was known to be intelligent and manipulative.

"They have cited the sworn affidavit of a private investigator who interviewed Shallenberger in prison in 2004. This investigator said Shallenberger described Lewis as not very bright and as someone who could be easily duped into a scheme to kill her husband and stepson for money. According to the investigator, Shallenberger said: 'From the moment I met her I knew she was someone who could be easily manipulated. From the moment I met her I had a plan for how I could use her to get some money.'

"Lewis's lawyers have also cited a letter Shallenberger sent to a girlfriend shortly after he was sentenced, in which he wrote, 'I figured why go to New York for $20,000 a hit when I could do just one and make $350,000 off of it.' In the same letter he said of Lewis: 'She was exactly what I was looking for.'

"In addition, they have cited a 2004 affidavit by Shallenberger's fellow assassin, Fuller, who said this: 'As between Mrs. Lewis and Shallenberger, Shallenberger was definitely the one in charge of things, not Mrs. Lewis.'"
Nevertheless, on September 17, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell refused to issue a stay of execution.

At this point, it appears that there are only two things that could save Lewis's life:

1. The Supreme Court intervenes; or

2. Governor McDonnell reconsiders and changes his mind.

What you can do:

Contact Governor McDonnell and ask him to reverse his decision and commute Lewis's sentence to life in prison.

The group Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty have provided the following guidelines:
The time is NOW to take further action to save Teresa’s life. We are not giving up. Let Governor McDonnell know that he must reconsider his unjust and inhumane decision. Click on this link, which will take you directly to Governor McDonnell’s webpage for receiving emails:

E-mail Governor McDonnell

You may include your own text for your message to Governor McDonnell, or you may wish to include the following message:

Governor McDonnell, your decision to deny clemency completely ignores the fact that Teresa Lewis is borderline mentally retarded and had a dependent personality disorder, and that a life sentence was given to the man who has repeatedly stated that HE was the mastermind and that "The only reason I had sex with [Teresa] was for the money [and] to get her to 'fall in love' with me so she would give me the insurance money. . . . She was exactly what I was looking for." Killing Teresa now, when this man was allowed to live, is so unfair and unjust that it cannot be permitted.

Or if you prefer: Call the Governor’s Office at 804-786-2211 and register your disapproval of his decision. Demand that Teresa be permitted to live.
Fingers crossed.

20 September 2010

More papal hypocrisy on clergy sex abuse

Pope Benedict XVI spent the past few days in the UK. While there, he met with five former victims of sex abuse by priests. According to CNN, the pontiff expressed his "deep sorrow" for the scandal.

But is he really sorry for the abuse, or is he just sorry they got caught?

Talk is cheap, you see. So let's once again take a look at his actions, which I've documented before, because this nonsense is nothing new. This pope has a long history of covering up the problem. Apparently, protecting the Church's reputation is more important than protecting its children.

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.

In 2002, he discounted the whole issue, referring to the media coverage of clergy sex abuse as a plot to discredit the Church.

Then, 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. (Wuss! Equally disgustingly, Bush complied.)

And, while the pope spews his cheap apologies with impunity, the victims remain damaged for life.

The pope is supposed to be Jesus's representative on Earth. I cannot imagine that Jesus would be pleased about all this.

19 September 2010

Tea party talking points, translated

The tea partiers have their talking points, which they repeat loudly and forcefully (and often misspell). But I wonder if they've actually really thought about the points they're parroting. I suspect not.

They rail against "Obamacare" and anything else that the White House (and Pelosi and Reid) might advocate, even though their protests fly in the face of their own best interests.

In repeating their talking points, here is what they're really saying to the Obama administration and Congress:

- How dare you force insurance companies to cover my preexisting conditions?

- How dare you not allow the insurance companies to drop my coverage when I get sick?

- How dare you try to regulate the financial industry that got us into this economic mess so that they'll be less likely to repeat the same greedy mistakes?

- How dare you pass a stimulus bill that has created some 3 million jobs so far?

- How dare you expect the wealthiest two percent to pay their fair share of taxes even as you extend the tax cuts for us middle-class folks?

- How dare my tax dollars be spent on your "socialist" agenda? (Of course I will gladly take advantage of our socialized fire departments, police departments, schools, roads, bridges, and clean water.)

- How dare you try to restrict more offshore oil drilling that could lead to even more environmental disasters like the recent BP oil spill? (As our Saint Sarah says, "Drill, baby, drill!")

- "Illegal" immigrants are stealing all the great lettuce-picking jobs.

- Oh, and keep your government hands off my government-run Medicare! (Huh?!)

Absurd stuff in an absurd political environment.

Which is what makes me believe that they're not really thinking about their talking points. Instead, it seems, they're only reacting to the brainwashing by Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and the rest of the conservative fear mongers who indulge these people's intellectual laziness, fuel their fears, and dictate their thoughts.

And it all boils down to the following:

- How dare you elect a president whose skin color does not match mine?

- Many of our ancestors immigrated here without papers, but they were white. We don't want more brown people.

- I want my white-controlled America back.

- And I'll demonstrate in front of the Lincoln Memorial, on the anniversary of Martin Luther King's most famous speech, to show the world just how frightened I am!

Perhaps saddest and most frustrating of all, I'm sure they don't even see the irony.

17 September 2010

1 in 7 Americans live in poverty

This simultaneously sickens, saddens, and infuriates me:

The Census Bureau has reported that 43.6 million Americans, or 14.3 percent, were officially in poverty last year. That's up from the 2008 total of 39.8 million, or 13.2 percent. Children were hit especially hard, with 20.7 percent of American children living in poverty in 2009.

This is unacceptable. Anything over zero should be considered unacceptable here in the richest country in the world.

Meanwhile, as so many of our children go hungry, the corporate CEOs continue to ship U.S. jobs overseas as they rake in obscene salaries and bonuses.

And the bankers who caused this recession are doing just fine, thank you very much.

And their Republican pawns in Congress will continue to do all they can to maintain the status quo. Can't let the little people upset their golden apple cart.

16 September 2010

More fun with critics

It appears that the website Information Clearing House has republished my recent article "Nine Years After 9/11, Has al-Qaeda Finally Won?"

I found out when a friend emailed me about an amusing comment that someone posted there in response to the piece.

Here is the text of the comment:
Mary Shaw....I'm sorry to tell you, but you are a dolt...and did not deserve to be published here.
You also confirm my observation that the best articles and written works tend be be produced by males...there are exceptions, but you are not one of them to be sure...
This piece sullies the dignity of those that have been published here and very undeservedly....
Shame on whomever decided to include this cheap tripe.
Apparently this charming commenter disagrees with one or more of the points I made in my article.

But, of course, given his lack of any kind of point-by-point rebuttal, I cannot begin to guess which one(s).

I can only shake my head, sigh, and hope he soon finds some answers to whatever personal issues are leading him to lash out with name calling and sexism rather than with facts, logic, or any other evidence of real thought.

15 September 2010

Amnesty responds to Iran's release of American hiker

The good news: Yesterday, American hiker Sarah Shourd was released from the Iranian prison where she and two other Americans have been held since July 2009. Shourd, who is suffering from some health problems, was reportedly released on $500,000 bail.

The bad news: The other two, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, are still in Iranian custody.

Amnesty International had this to say about her release:
"While we welcome the ordered release of Sarah, Iran must give the others a prompt and fair trial, or they must be immediately released. Iranian officials have alleged the hikers planned to carry out espionage. Statements by senior Iranian leaders have suggested that they may be being detained in order to put pressure on the U.S. government and to possibly use them as bargaining chips. Hostage taking is a human rights violation."
While Iran isn't known for worrying about what the rest of the world expects of them, their willingness to release Shourd gives me some hope. I wish her a safe trip home and a quick and easy recovery from her health problems.

And I continue to hope for the other two to be released soon, or at least be given a fair trial.

Fingers crossed.

Stay tuned for updates.

14 September 2010

Amnesty releases new report on Iraq

Yesterday, Amnesty International released a new report on the human rights situation related to detentions and torture in Iraq. Titled "New Order, Same Abuses: Unlawful Detentions and Torture in Iraq", the report looks at "thousands of arbitrary detentions, sometimes for several years without charge or trial, severe beatings of detainees, often in secret prisons, to obtain forced confessions, and enforced disappearances."

"Iraq's security forces have been responsible for systematically violating detainees' rights and they have been permitted to do so with impunity," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's Director for the Middle East and North Africa. "Yet, the US authorities, whose own record on detainees' rights has been so poor, have now handed over thousands of people detained by US forces to face this catalogue of illegality, violence and abuse, abdicating any responsibility for their human rights."

In addition to documenting specific and general findings on human rights abuses in detention in Iraq, the report contains several recommendations for the Iraqi authority, the U.S. government, and all governments of the world "to counter the impunity and to help protect human rights in Iraq."

The recommendations include ensuring that "all torture and other ill-treatment, enforced disappearances, and other crimes involving human rights violations are ended immediately. Such crimes must be investigated promptly, independently, impartially, and thoroughly, and all suspected perpetrators, including those with command responsibility, must be prosecuted in proceedings that meet international standards of fairness. Victims must be ensured reparations in accordance with international standards."

However, given the U.S. and Iraqi governments' track records so far, I will not hold my breath.

Read the full report (PDF).

13 September 2010

Tony Blair to receive Liberty Medal tonight in Philly

At the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia this evening, former U.S. President Bill Clinton will present the 2010 Liberty Medal to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. I hope Clinton can keep from gagging.

After all, while Blair did some good things to bring peace to Northern Ireland in the earlier days of his career, things changed radically once he jumped into bed with George W. Bush. And so the Liberty Medal will be awarded to the same Tony Blair who so steadfastly supported Bush's unnecessary war of aggression in Iraq.

This same award has gone in the past to deserving people like Jimmy Carter, Thurgood Marshall, Nelson Mandela, and Bono.

But, like the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to President Obama, it appears that the Liberty Medal is losing its value.

12 September 2010

Nine years after 9/11, has al-Qaeda finally won?

As America and the world observed the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it occurred to me that perhaps the terrorists have finally won.

No, not perhaps. It really seems like they have won.

After all, we are no safer today than we were in 2001. In fact, I suspect we're becoming less and less safe with each day that the tea partiers, the anti-mosque protestors, and that crazy Florida preacher demonstrate their belligerent hatred of Muslims, which is founded on ignorance and right-wing fear mongering. That is no way to win hearts and minds, let alone a "war on terrorism".

Al-Qaeda got its holy war. George W. Bush got his crusade. And America has become more divided than it's been in decades.

And that may have been part of the plan all along.

We've lost billions of dollars, thousands of U.S. soldiers, and countless innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, with no conceivable prospect of any kind of real "victory" on either front. To add insult to injury, the Iraq war was waged on lies and was totally unnecessary, thoroughly immoral, and technically illegal. But now it’s the kind of thing that America does. God bless America, baby!

We hold terrorism suspects, including children, in illegal and indefinite detention. They're kept in a legal limbo where they'll be among the "lucky" minority if they ever get a fair trial and a chance to prove that maybe they were among the known innocents arrested on a translation error or turned over to U.S. troops by unscrupulous bounty hunters.

And we torture them. We've become a nation of torturers, where the torturers and their bosses escape any punishment. Is there anything uglier?

And it didn't end with the Bush-Cheney administration.

Despite campaign promises of government transparency, the Obama administration is upholding the Bush administration's "state secrets" excuse to avoid accountability in torture prosecutions.

Big Brother grows bigger.

Our economy has collapsed, along with the middle class, while Congress is too busy playing politics to address the root causes or even treat the symptoms.

But the military-industrial complex continues to thrive.

So do the greedy oil companies, who carelessly pollute our local waters even as they feed our addiction to Middle Eastern oil.

Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck have become major political figures.

And xenophobia is the new norm in what was once a proud melting pot of cultures.

In other words, America has lost its soul. Or sold it to the devil.

Our way of life has been turned upside down, and that's the idea.

Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden is still on the loose, and is surely enjoying every minute of it. "I told you so," he boasts to his followers. "America truly is the Great Satan."

10 September 2010

Federal court says torture's OK

Well, not exactly, but it can go unpunished. Same thing, in essence.

On September 8, in a 6-5 ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a case against Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen Data Plan, Inc. The ACLU had filed the case in 2007 on behalf of five men who had been kidnapped by the CIA and sent overseas (in Jeppesen planes) to be tortured.

The Court fell for the George W. Bush administration's lame and grossly overused "state secrets" excuse, which has apparently now become the Obama administration's own lame excuse as well.

A previous appellate court had ruled that the state secrets privilege could be applied only to selective pieces of evidence and not the entire case. That seems reasonable. Why throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water? What are they hiding?

According to the ACLU, "today's ruling all but shuts the door on accountability for the illegal program."

ACLU attorney Ben Wizner, who argued the case before the Ninth Circuit, issued the following statement:
"This is a sad day not only for the torture victims whose attempt to seek justice has been extinguished, but for all Americans who care about the rule of law and our nation's reputation in the world. To date, not a single victim of the Bush administration's torture program has had his day in court. If today's decision is allowed to stand, the United States will have closed its courtroom doors to torture victims while providing complete immunity to their torturers. The torture architects and their enablers may have escaped the judgment of this court, but they will not escape the judgment of history."
The ACLU intends to seek Supreme Court review of the decision. Fingers crossed for justice and accountability. But don't hold your breath.

09 September 2010

Open letter to the Muslim world: Pastor Jones does not speak for America

To the world's 1 billion Muslims:

I understand that many of you hold an image of America that is represented by the photos of Abu Ghraib, the stories from Guantanamo, the deaths and mutilations of so many innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq, and now small-time Florida preacher Terry Jones, who plans to host a Koran-burning event on Saturday, the 9th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Please know that those actions represent the twisted psyches of a few extremists, not all Americans.

Most thinking Americans know that the 9/11 attacks were not waged by Islam itself but rather by a few extremists who hijacked your religion along with those planes. Likewise, "Reverend" Jones, in his Koran-burning plans, has hijacked Christianity in a most perverted way.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called Jones's plan "disgraceful", and even former President George W. Bush is on record saying "Islam is peace."

Many Americans have personal relationships with Muslim friends and coworkers and understand that we're all human beings, and most of us just want to get along.

If Jones and his followers go through with his extremist plan, I suppose that some extremists in the Muslim world will react in a counterproductive way. Every belief system has its extremists. And so violence begets violence, and hate begets hate.

I just hope that reasonable people on both sides can counter the destruction.

08 September 2010

Soros to donate $100 million to Human Rights Watch, but criticizes US

Good news for the cause of human rights. Bad news for the U.S. track record on same.

According to the New York Times, billionaire philanthropist George Soros has announced that he will be donating $100 million to Human Rights Watch (HRW) "to expand the organization's work globally."

New York-based HRW investigates and reports on human rights abuses worldwide.

According to the Times, "It is the largest gift he has made, the largest gift by far that Human Rights Watch has ever received, and only the second gift of $100 million or more made by an individual this year, according to the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University."

HRW already works globally, but this will enable the organization to "add about 120 staff members to its team of 300 around the world, expand translation of its reports and open new offices. The intent, said Kenneth Roth, the advocacy group’s executive director, is to increase its influence in emerging power centers."

And now for the egg on America's face. Soros explained to the Times why he wants HRW to be less US-centric: "I’m afraid the United States has lost the moral high ground under the Bush administration, but the principles that Human Rights Watch promotes have not lost their universal applicability," he said. "So to be more effective, I think the organization has to be seen as more international, less an American organization."

Indeed. How can the US fault other nations for their human rights abuses when we imprison people indefinitely without charges, torture them, etc.? It's shameful.

Kudos and thanks to Mr. Soros for his generosity towards human rights.

07 September 2010

Obama's economic mission impossible

Yesterday, in a Labor Day speech in Milwaukee, President Obama announced a $50 billion plan to create jobs rebuilding the nation's infrastructure.

Tomorrow, according to CNN, he will announce "a $100 billion plan to permanently extend the tax credit for research and development, hoping to spur companies to invest in their businesses by buying more equipment and hiring more workers."

Fortunately, these are the kinds of things our economy needs in order to grow.

Unfortunately, however, there is no way that the Republicans will allow these measures to pass Congress before the November midterm elections. And, if the Republicans win more seats in both houses of Congress, as expected, it's likely that these measures will never pass.

And so the middle class will likely continue to suffer as Washington plays politics.

06 September 2010

Dems must make jobs the message

For far too many Americans, there wasn't much to celebrate this Labor Day holiday. It's hard to sincerely celebrate the American workforce when you've been out of work, or underemployed, for a year or more. It's hard to celebrate when CEOs continue to rake in obscene salaries while shipping U.S. jobs overseas to exploit cheap sweatshop labor. And you can't appreciate the extra Monday off from work when you're off from work every Monday against your will.

It may be especially hard for Democrats who voted for President Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress, many of whom are feeling ripped off and disillusioned. Continued unemployment is no change we can believe in.

Obama has tried, mind you. He just hasn't tried hard enough. He just hasn't been effective in standing up to the Republicans who only want him - and ordinary working Americans - to fail. It's time for Obama to stop playing the community organizer and start being a strong leader and a champion for the American worker.

Obama and the Democrats in Congress need to work on their message, and then they need to take the message on the road. When the Republicans scream "deficit", the Democrats need to scream "jobs".

They need to stand outside empty factories with bullhorns and point out that the Republicans allowed the Wall Street bailout but won't let Obama bail out Main Street.

They need to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with small business owners who are ready to start hiring - if only the Republicans would stop holding up the small business bill that would make it possible for them to do so.

They need to stand by the unemployed Americans who are losing their homes, or have underwater mortgages, and ask: How can the Republicans oppose additional job-creating stimulus funds when the deficit they decry is largely a result of their own spending on an unnecessary war in Iraq and unnecessary tax breaks for the richest two percent?

They need to loudly make it clear that the Republicans are working for their rich corporate bed partners, not the American workers.

And they need to do it in a way that will stand up to the dirty, twisted campaign messages that the same corporations will be funding limitlessly as November 2 draws near.

They need to demonstrate - in terms that even the tea party crowd (many of whom are themselves unemployed) can understand - that returning Republicans to power in Congress would mean a return to the same policies that created this mess in the first place.

And, perhaps most importantly, they need to do it in a way that will once again inspire the kind of movement that led to the unlikely election of President Obama in 2008.

Can it happen in time for this year's elections? I doubt it. But without that kind of change, things can only get worse.

So I cautiously cling to the audacity of hope.

03 September 2010

Kevin Keith's death sentence commuted

Good news for all who care about true justice: On September 2, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland commuted Kevin Keith's death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

As I wrote in a recent column, Keith had been sentenced to die on September 15 for a multiple murder that he might not have committed.

New evidence in Keith's case discredits the eyewitness identification by which he had been convicted. The evidence also identifies an alternative suspect, Rodney Melton, who may have actually committed the crime for which Keith was convicted. Keith has an alibi for the time of the crime, supported by four witnesses. Nevertheless, on August 19, the Ohio Parole Board rejected Keith's clemency petition by a vote of 8-0.

This is a case in which public pressure likely made the difference. According to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, "more than 25,000 people from Ohio and around the country signed online petitions in support of Mr. Keith. In the last two weeks alone, more than 7,000 people sent letters to Governor Strickland urging him to grant clemency. Kevin Keith supporters included a bipartisan group of 31 former judges and prosecutors, current and former state legislators, former Republican Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro, the national Innocence Network, more than 100 Ohio faith leaders and organizations, and many others... [T]hey were instrumental in helping to persuade Governor Strickland to grant clemency."

Governor Strickland issued the following statement regarding the commutation:
"Kevin Keith was convicted, by a jury, of callously murdering three people - including a four-year old child - and shooting three others, including two young children. Since the time of his arrest more than 16 years ago, Mr. Keith has maintained his innocence, insisting that someone else committed the murders.

"Mr. Keith's conviction has been repeatedly reviewed and upheld by Ohio and federal courts at the trial and appellate level. The Ohio Parole Board recommended against clemency in this case. There is evidence which links him to the crimes that, while circumstantial, is not otherwise well explained. It is my view, after a thorough review of the information and evidence available to me at this time, that it is far more likely that Mr. Keith committed these murders than it is likely that he did not.

"Yet, despite the evidence supporting his guilt and the substantial legal review of Mr. Keith's conviction, many legitimate questions have been raised regarding the evidence in support of the conviction and the investigation which led to it. In particular, Mr. Keith's conviction relied upon the linking of certain eyewitness testimony with certain forensic evidence about which important questions have been raised. I also find the absence of a full investigation of other credible suspects troubling.

"Clearly, the careful exercise of a governor's executive clemency authority is appropriate in a case like this one, given the real and unanswered questions surrounding the murders for which Mr. Keith was convicted. Mr. Keith still has appellate legal proceedings pending which, in theory, could ultimately result in his conviction being overturned altogether. But the pending legal proceedings may never result in a full reexamination of his case, including an investigation of alternate suspects, by law enforcement authorities and/or the courts. That would be unfortunate - this case is clearly one in which a full, fair analysis of all of the unanswered questions should be considered by a court. Under these circumstances, I cannot allow Mr. Keith to be executed. I have decided, at this time, to commute Mr. Keith's sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Should further evidence justify my doing so, I am prepared to review this matter again for possible further action."
This is a good first step. Now what we need is a full and fair review of the case by the courts.

I hope that will be possible, even in the same court system that has rejected Keith's appeals in the past.

02 September 2010

Despite the propaganda, oil is found in the Mississippi Sound

Nine years ago, in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, the EPA declared that the air near Ground Zero was safe to breathe. That turned out to be false.

Now we're seeing something similar in the wake of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In an article for Truthout, Dahr Jamail and Erika Blumenthal write, "The State of Mississippi's Department of Marine Resources (DMR) opened all of its territorial waters to fishing on August 6. This was done in coordination with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the US Food and Drug Administration, despite concerns from commercial fishermen in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida about the presence of oil and toxic dispersants from the BP oil disaster."

So they decided to test the waters, literally, for themselves. And what did they find? Clear evidence that the waters are still contaminated.

They talked with shrimpers and other fisherman, who said that they really want to be fishing those waters but cannot do so in good conscience, fearing that the seafood they catch would not be safe for human consumption. And so the fisherman wait, even though the choice will negatively affect their livelihood.

At least the fisherman are regulating themselves, since the appropriate regulatory authorities are apparently slacking (or bowing to BP).

The Obama administration needs to get involved and do something about it. Otherwise, the administration itself will be complicit in the problem. Remember where the buck stops.

>> Read the full article: Despite "All Clear," Mississippi Sound Tests Positive for Oil

01 September 2010

GOP is winning the war on the middle class

On August 30, USA Today reported that anti-poverty programs, such as Medicaid and food stamps, are now serving a record one in six Americans. And the need continues to expand.

For a nation that is often called the richest in the world, that's pretty pathetic.

Sadly, I think the Republicans like it this way. Why else would they insist on blocking any legislation that could help alleviate this suffering, such as the small business bill, which would provide hiring incentives?

It implies that they like watching innocent men, women, and children suffer. It implies that they want to turn this into a nation of a few rich Scrooges and a whole lot of poor little Cratchits.

I wonder how they can sleep at night.

And I wonder what we can do about it, since so many middle-class Americans are hypnotized by the right-wing media into voting against their own best interests.