29 October 2010

More conservative male fear

Things are getting more and more bizarre as Election Day grows near.

Yesterday I heard a 40ish conservative white man grumble that liberals "believe in female domination and homosexuality."

It made me wonder what kinds of personal issues have made him so sexually insecure.

28 October 2010

Another injustice in Arizona

On Tuesday night, October 26, Arizona executed Jeffrey Landrigan despite concerns about his representation at trial and other mitigating evidence.

As I noted in a previous blog post, Amnesty International had expressed the following concerns about Landrigan's case:
"Thirteen federal judges have argued that he should have had a hearing into his claim that he was inadequately represented at his 1990 trial. In 2007, the trial judge said that she would not have passed a death sentence if she had heard the mitigating evidence."
I suppose we shouldn't be surprised that Arizona "balked" at the prospect of commuting Landrigan's death sentence, as the Boston Herald put it. Lately that state has not exactly become known for humanitarianism.

After all, this is the same state that earlier this year passed that infamously draconian immigration law, nicknamed the "Show Your Papers" law.

And this is the same state where the infamous Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is the subject of FBI, Justice Department, and Federal Grand Jury investigations for civil rights violations and abuse of power.

Arizona's leaders and other officials appear to be more concerned with power and expediency than actual justice. And that to me seems downright un-American.

27 October 2010

Avoid Hershey's on Halloween (and every other day)

This Halloween, I'm sure many trick-or-treaters will find their bags filled with lots of Hershey's chocolate. But please don't be one of the people who give that junk away.

I stopped buying and eating Hershey's chocolate last year, when I learned (and reported) that they were closing a candy factory in Reading, Pennsylvania, and moving 260 jobs to Mexico instead.

Now, in a Care2 human rights blog post, Beth Buczynski gives us three more good reasons to boycott Hershey's:

Much of Hershey's cocoa is sourced from West Africa, a region plagued by sourced labor, human trafficking, and abusive child labor. Hershey does not have a system in place to ensure that its cocoa purchased from this region is not tainted by labor rights abuses.


While Hershey's CEO received an $8 million compensation package in 2009, many of the farmers who grow cocoa in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana that ends up in Hershey products are barely able to cover their costs, and as a result, use unpaid child labor and even forced labor on their farms.


Hershey points to various charitable donations to children in the US and programs in West Africa as examples of its social responsibility, yet has no policies in place to ensure that the cocoa used in its products is not produced with forced, trafficked, or child labor.
These points were derived from a recent report by Global Exchange, in conjunction with Green America, the International Labor Rights Forum, and Oasis USA. And they are just the tip of the iceberg.

Learn more:

>> Read the full report (PDF): Time to Raise the Bar

26 October 2010

Smart car irony

While driving on a Philadelphia suburban road, I saw one of those cute little Smart Fortwo cars. I smiled and instinctively assumed that the driver was probably an environmentally conscious liberal.

Then I noticed the bumper sticker. It said, "Corbett for Governor". Tom Corbett is this year's Republican candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania. He is anything but liberal. In fact, in his current gig as PA's Attorney General, he has joined other states in a lawsuit against health insurance mandates, claiming that they are unconstitutional. He is anti-choice. He is against same-sex marriage. And, more germane to the Smart car issue, he calls for "voluntary drilling standards" regarding the environmentally controversial hydraulic fracking process for extracting natural gas from Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale deposits. Yes, voluntary -- not mandatory -- standards, based on "consensus" with the oil/gas industry.

I'll bet the driver of that little car doesn't even recognize the irony.

25 October 2010

If Republicans win

I hear from a lot of disillusioned Democrats who are disappointed in the Obama administration and Congress. Their disappointment is understandable. Two years ago, we were seduced by the promise of positive, progressive change. Obama was going to change Washington. Instead, the games in Washington became even more contentious and divisive. And Obama has seemed to lack the strength to effectively stand up to the "Party of No".

Campaign fever two years ago inspired and energized a diverse group of people - young and old, black, white, brown, and yellow - who were fed up with the greed, cruelty, arrogance, and intolerance that marked the Bush administration. They responded by electing an intelligent, thoughtful, articulate, African-American president.

Campaign fever in 2010, by contrast, is strengthening and emboldening the Tea Party, whose knee-jerk rhetoric is far too suggestive of the same kinds of greedy, cruel, arrogant, and intolerant policies that were voted out in 2008.

In coming full circle, we seem to have taken a huge step back. It's no wonder that so many Democrats are feeling broken and bitter.

And it's no wonder that so many Democrats are throwing up their hands and threatening to stay home on November 2. No wonder they don't want to vote for the Democrats they feel have let them down.

But the stakes are too high to sit back and lick our wounds. The stakes are too high to refuse to fight the greater threat.

For example:

If the Republican wins the Senate race in Pennsylvania, we in the Keystone State will be represented by Pat Toomey, who is more extremely conservative than Rick Santorum, whom we voted out of office in 2006. According to the ToomeyWatch website, "Toomey's lifetime score with the American Conservative Union is a stunning 97%, while Santorum's lifetime score is only 88%."

If the Republican wins the Senate race in California, they will be represented by Carly Fiorina who, as CEO of Hewlett-Packard, shipped thousands of jobs overseas while tripling her own salary.

If the Republican wins the Senate race in Alaska, we'll have Joe Miller in Washington, who would vote to repeal the 2010 health care legislation; wants to phase out Social Security and Medicare; believes that evidence of global warming is "dubious at best"; and opposes abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. Also, Miller recently handcuffed a reporter who asked a question he didn't want to answer.

If the Republican wins the Senate race in Kentucky, that state will be represented by Rand Paul, of Aqua Buddha fame, who isn't entirely comfortable with the Civil Rights Act.

If the Republican wins the Senate race in Delaware, Christine O'Donnell will be casting her spells from our nation's capital.

If the Republican wins the Senate race in Nevada, it gets even more weird and worrisome. If Republicans win this election in Nevada, they will be represented by Sharron Angle, who likened Social Security to welfare, and who suggested "Second Amendment remedies" if the elections don't turn out as the tea partiers would hope.

If the Republicans win enough of the less highly publicized House races throughout this nation, the Democrats could lose its majority on that side of Congress, likely rendering the House as incapable of productive work as the Senate has been in the past two years.

If the Republicans win these elections, it will further embolden the Tea Partiers for 2012. (Can you say "President Palin"?)

And, if the Republicans win these elections, it will be a direct result of the stubborn attitudes of the disappointed Democrats who chose to stay at home and let it happen.

That, in my opinion, is so much worse than the ignorant and misinformed Tea Partiers who mindlessly vote against their own best interests.

At least the Tea Partiers will be voting.

22 October 2010

Help save a life in Arizona

Jeffrey Landrigan is scheduled to be executed in Arizona on Tuesday morning, October 26. Amnesty International (AI) has issued an Urgent Action appeal for commutation.

According to AI, "Thirteen federal judges have argued that he should have had a hearing into his claim that he was inadequately represented at his 1990 trial. In 2007, the trial judge said that she would not have passed a death sentence if she had heard the mitigating evidence."

More details from AI:
"The lawyer had not presented, or sought to present, any expert testimony on Jeffrey Landrigan's background. In 1998, a neuropsychologist concluded that a combination of inherited factors, prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol, early parental rejection and troubled relationships with his adoptive family had 'severely impaired' Jeffrey Landrigan's ability to function in society. In 1999, a federal District Court judge refused to hold an evidentiary hearing into the claim that the trial lawyer had been constitutionally ineffective by failing to investigate and present mitigating evidence of Jeffrey Landrigan's background of deprivation and abuse. In 2005, by nine votes to two, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit concluded that the District Judge had abused her discretion by denying such a hearing. The majority concluded there was a reasonable probability that if the trial judge had heard the mitigating evidence that had been presented on appeal she would not have passed a death sentence (which the trial judge has herself since said). Even the two judges who voted against ordering the District Court to hold an evidentiary hearing agreed that the trial lawyer's preparation for the sentencing 'fell below' professional standards.

"In 2007, by five votes to four, the US Supreme Court overturned the Ninth Circuit's ruling, on the grounds that Jeffrey Landrigan would not have allowed his lawyer to present any mitigating evidence that he might have uncovered. The four dissenting Justices accused their colleagues of 'pure guesswork'."
This is not justice.

What you can do:

>> Ask Governor Janice Brewer to commute Landrigan's death sentence.

For more information:

>> Download AI's Urgent Action sheet on the case.

21 October 2010

Frontline piece on Willingham arson murder case can now be viewed online

On October 19, PBS's Frontline program featured a documentary on the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in Texas in 2004 for setting a fire that killed his three daughters.

This case is remarkable because a later forensic review had led to the conclusion that "a finding of arson could not be sustained."

In other words, the fatal fire for which Willingham was executed was probably just an accident.

In other words, Texas probably executed an innocent man.

If you missed the Frontline program when it aired, you can watch it online here: FRONTLINE: Death by Fire | PBS

The program paints Willingham as being a pretty nasty guy. But, nasty or not, nobody deserves to be executed for a crime he did not commit.

More on the case:

For more information about the Willingham case, see David Grann's investigative article published last September in The New Yorker: Trial by Fire

20 October 2010

Reminder: Wear purple today, October 20 ("Spirit Day")

I don't think I've ever repeated the same blog post two days in a row. But today, I'm going to break that tradition and repeat the following item that I posted yesterday. It's that important.

Hopefully some of you are still thinking about what to wear today.

It's Spirit Day. Please wear purple.


If you have a heart, please wear purple [today], Wednesday, October 20. People worldwide will be doing so ... to bring awareness to, and put an end to, bullying, hatred, and intolerance.

This simple grassroots action is in solemn recognition of the recent suicides of teenagers who had been bullied for being gay -- or perceived as gay.

Purple represents spirit on the LGBT rainbow flag. On Wednesday, please show your spirit against homophobia, bigotry, and intolerance.

By participating, you will show distraught young people that there are so many others on their side. By participating, you will give them hope. And, by participating, you will give them something to live for.

19 October 2010

Wear purple on Wednesday, October 20

If you have a heart, please wear purple on Wednesday, October 20. People worldwide will be doing so on that day to bring awareness to, and put an end to, bullying, hatred, and intolerance.

This simple grassroots action is in solemn recognition of the recent suicides of teenagers who had been bullied for being gay -- or perceived as gay.

Purple represents spirit on the LGBT rainbow flag. On Wednesday, please show your spirit against homophobia, bigotry, and intolerance.

By participating, you will show distraught young people that there are so many others on their side. By participating, you will give them hope. And, by participating, you will give them something to live for.

18 October 2010

Lazy rich people

Two clean-cut preppy-type young men emerged from the late-model Jaguar that shared a parking lot with my 10-year-old Corolla. There was a homeless person standing nearby, rattling a can and begging for donations.

"Get a job," yelled preppy #1 at the homeless man.

"Yeah, I'm not gonna give you money for being lazy," said preppy #2.

This reminded me of George W. Bush, who allegedly told one of his Harvard Business School professors that "poor people are poor because they're lazy."

And why, I wonder, are rich people rich, George?

In some cases, it's because they have ingenious ideas at the right time and are clever enough -- and work hard enough -- to sell those ideas successfully. (See Bill Gates.)

But then there are the lazy rich people.

George W. Bush didn't earn his wealth. He was born into money, and born into the connections that would continue to subsidize his whims.

In college, he was described as an average student. No real effort there.

During the Vietnam War, his father got him a cushy gig in the National Guard, so young George wouldn't have to do his duty and actually fight. And even then he went AWOL.

Then they gave him an oil company to run, called Arbusto Energy. But it failed, so he apparently wasn't too motivated there, either.

So he went into politics, was appointed to the U.S. Presidency by the Supreme Court, and spent eight years letting Dick Cheney and his other handlers drive this country into the ground just like that oil business.

From all appearances, it seems as though Bush was too lazy to put much of his own effort or ingenuity (if he had any) into any of these jobs. He just coasted along for the glory, and took more vacation days than any other president in U.S. history.

And that kid with the Jaguar was far too young to have likely earned it for himself.

You see, George, a lot of rich people are rich because they're lucky.

And a lot of poor people are poor simply because they're unlucky.

Like the sweatshop workers in Mexico and China who endure very hard 12- or 16-hour shifts for pennies per day.

And like the divorced mother of three whom you met at a town hall meeting in Omaha in 2005, who has to work three jobs to support her family. You beamed, and you called her situation "uniquely American" and "fantastic!"

These people are not lazy, George. They're not lazy, preppy boys. They work much harder than you ever will.

And, therefore, in my opinion, they deserve a lot more respect than you do.

16 October 2010

Thoughts on World Food Day 2010

Today, October 16, we observe World Food Day.

When Americans think about hunger, we tend to picture emaciated dark-skinned children in distant Third World countries. And, while the plight of those poor children on other continents should not be overlooked, we also need to face the fact that hunger is also a very serious problem right here in the richest nation on earth.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, some 17 million American children today -- more than one in five across the U.S. -- lack food security. Yes, one in five!

I see no excuse for this.

As long as the Republicans in Washington continue to fight any spending on social programs that can help the underprivileged to have a shot at the so-called "American Dream", things will not improve, and American children will continue to go to bed hungry.

It seems there are no more "compassionate conservatives" inside the beltway, despite all the token claims of Christianity.

And it angers me most that it's the poorest children in this country who have to suffer for all the selfish corporatist greed.

15 October 2010

Afghanistan as adventure?

I have a casual acquaintance with a young man who recently made a decision that floored me. This 20-something husband and father decided to give up his cushy corporate job to join the U.S. Army, knowing that he would surely be sent to Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are still dying at a rate of more than one per day.

I ran into him after I heard the news and before he left for the new gig. Determined not to preach, I simply said, "I hear you'll be leaving your job."

His face lit up and he excitedly said, "Yes! I'm joining the Army and going to Afghanistan! I need an adventure!" He was all smiles.

I could only wish him luck.

14 October 2010

My dream Congress

Yes, I even dream about politics. And, last night, I had a wonderful dream about Congress.

All members of the House of Representatives were like Alan Grayson, Anthony Weiner, Keith Ellison, and Dennis Kucinich.

All members of the Senate were like Bernie Sanders, Russ Feingold, and the late Teddy Kennedy.

All of a sudden, there was peace, love, tolerance, and social justice in the world.

Then I woke up and harsh reality set back in.

But I can still dream, in every sense of the word.

13 October 2010

O'Donnell-Coons debate tonight

Get the popcorn ready!

Tonight, Delaware's two candidates for U.S. Senate -- Christine "I'm Not A Witch" O'Donnell (R) and Chris Coons (D) -- will face off in a debate which will be broadcast live on CNN and C-SPAN. The fun begins at 7:30 pm.

I suspect this will be more entertaining than your average senatorial debate.

12 October 2010

SCOTUS to decide if Texas can execute a possibly innocent man

Tomorrow, October 13, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case of Texas death row prisoner Hank Skinner, who is petitioning on civil rights grounds for additional DNA testing that he says could prove his innocence in the 1993 triple murders for which he was convicted.

According to Mary A. Fischer at SCOTUSblog, Skinner's attorney at the original trial chose not to test some available evidence, fearing that it would further implicate his client. So the prosecution maintains that Skinner had his chance to use that evidence and blew it.

To me, that's not a good reason to risk executing an innocent person. Testing the DNA evidence can't hurt. I hope the Supreme Court will agree.

Stay tuned for updates.

>> For more information: hankskinner.org

11 October 2010

National Coming Out Day marred by teen suicides

Today, October 11, LGBT people around the U.S. and their allies are celebrating National Coming Out Day.

While it's still a good occasion to celebrate the liberating feeling of being true to who you really are, this year's celebration is marred by the recent wave of suicides by both LGBT and straight youth who had been bullied at school.

In September alone, seven teenagers committed suicide in the U.S. after being relentlessly bullied for being gay -- or accused of being gay. And these are just the ones we know about:

• Billy Lucas, 15, of Greensburg, IN (died September 9)

• Cody Barker, 17, of Schiocton, WI (died September 13)

• Tyler Clementi, 18, of Ridgewood, NJ (died September 22)

• Asher Brown, 13, of Cypress TX (died September 23)

• Seth Walsh, 13, of Tehachapi, CA (died September 28)

• Raymond Chase, 19, of Johnson & Wales University, Providence, RI (died September 29)

• Caleb Nolt, 14, of Fort Wayne, IN (died September 30)

They were accompanied out of this life by two other teen suicides whose sexual orientation I could not confirm:

• Harrison Chase Brown, 15, of Fort Collins, CO (died September 25)

• Felix Sacco, 17, of Saugus, MA (died September 29) - Probably straight, as he had recently broken up with a girlfriend.

Gay or straight, nobody deserves to be bullied to death.

May they rest in peace as they couldn't in this life.

10 October 2010

October 10: Take action for World Day Against the Death Penalty

October 10 is World Day Against the Death Penalty. And you can help save some lives with just a few clicks.

Why oppose the death penalty?

The reasons are many:

The death penalty is applied unevenly and unfairly, and minorities are victimized in the process. Studies in several states have shown that the death penalty is applied in a discriminatory, arbitrary, and uneven manner, and is used disproportionately against racial minorities and the poor. For example, a 1998 study of death sentences in Philadelphia found that African-American defendants were almost four times more likely to receive the death penalty than were people of other ethnic origins who committed similar crimes. Where is the justice here?

In addition to its biased application, the death penalty is demonstrably not a deterrent.

Also, it is irreversible, which is a problem given so many cases of death row inmates who have been exonerated after conviction, based on DNA or other evidence. (How many other innocent persons weren't lucky enough to be proven innocent prior to their executions? We know of at least a few.)

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

How you can help:

You can fight the execution machine with just a few clicks.

Amnesty International USA currently has several death-penalty-related actions online here

Citizen action sometimes makes a real difference.

09 October 2010

The real problem with Obama's religion

At a September town hall meeting in New Mexico, a citizen asked President Obama the question "Why are you a Christian?"

Obama replied that he is "a Christian by choice," noting that his family didn't regularly attend church. He explained that he became a Christian later in life "because the precepts of Jesus Christ spoke to me in terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead -- being my brothers’ and sisters’ keeper, treating others as they would treat me." Etc.

Some might see this as a defense against all the hysterical right-wing assertions that Obama is a "secret Muslim". I see it as an honest and reasonable answer to a question. But I question the validity of the question.

As I see it, the real problem with Obama's religion is that it is an issue at all.

It shouldn't matter whether Obama is a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Scientologist, or a Zoroastrian. (Here come more rumors now.)

And, while I am not a constitutional attorney, it seems to me that to question his religion is unconstitutional.

Contrary to the claims of the religious right, the United States of America was not founded as a Christian nation. Many of our most influential Founding Fathers -- including Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, James Madison, John Adams, and Thomas Paine -- were not Christians. And they knew from their experiences in England what kinds of problems can arise when religion and government are too closely related.

So they deliberately designed this nation to avoid the problems of theocracy. And here is why all the concerns about Obama's own religion are, in my view, unconstitutional: As most people are hopefully aware, the First Amendment contains a clause prohibiting Congress from making any law "respecting an establishment of religion." But, even more germane to the issue of religion and public office, our Founding Fathers wrote in Article 6, paragraph 3, of the U.S. Constitution that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

There it is in writing.

But it conveniently seems to escape so many on the right.

I suspect that much of the fuss about Obama's religion stems from fear which stems from ignorance. But we should not allow ourselves to be governed by fear and ignorance.

Sadly, however, as long as the media and the Powers That Be continue to allow religion to be a campaign issue, however unconstitutional that may be, we can only expect more of such scrutiny. And more intolerance. And more hate.

08 October 2010

Inspiration from a prisoner

Never let it be said that a criminal cannot be rehabilitated. Some turn their lives around and end up doing great things for other people. Stanley "Tookie" Williams is perhaps the most famous example. But the State of California executed him anyway.

Today I am inspired by Virginia prison inmate Cedric Dean. Unlike Williams, Dean is not on death row. But he is doing just as much to help young people avoid his fate.

Dean founded the organization S.A.V.E. ("Sons Against Violence Everywhere"), and has published six books, including "How to Stop Your Children From Going To Prison" and "How To Save Our Children From Crime, Drugs and Violence".

In addition, Dean writes frequent notes and essays of inspiration. I was particularly impressed by a note dated September 29, which was posted on his Facebook page.

With permission, I present the note below in its entirety (edited very slightly for grammatical consistency):

My young brothers and sisters:

I've been in prison altogether for more than 20 years of my life. I hope that this brief message will get you to think about your future and the future of America.

In Chicago, there were over 300 murders in the first nine months of 2010. 132 were youth just like you. (62% were gang related.) 31 school kids were killed, and 218 were shot during the 2009-2010 school year. What's happening in Chicago is occurring all over the United States. Additionally, over 200,000 youth enter the criminal justice system yearly - usually after dropping out of school. (Over 7,000 youth drop out of school daily).

The crisis of criminal conduct and violence has stained the fabric of our great nation. It has divided families and destroyed communities. It is obvious today that America is doomed unless you begin to take life more seriously. You are the future of this nation and the future of this world. Without you, there is no future. Without your great minds there will be no new inventions or creations.

So I am asking you today to restore the future of America by restoring the values of America. Values are the standards that you should live by - your beliefs and laws. Now is the time to move from the dim and depressing desert of destruction to the sunny pathway of decency. Now is the time to unlock the gates of opportunity for all of America's youth. Now is the time to save our country from the villains of violence and the demons of death.

You must strive to be better than others expect you to be in order to be someone in this world. You must strive to exceed your own expectations in order to have the things that you want in life. If you cannot change when circumstances demand it, how can you expect your life to change for the better? The day I am afraid to change for the better is the day that I am no longer fit to live.

The hearts, souls, and minds of each of you can rise. Power is not in violence. Power is in your ability to use your mind. The more you think, the more powerful you become.

Young men, there is a thing called respect. First, you must always respect yourself. You must always treat others the way you want to be treated. You should never disrespect women. Women delivered us into this world - without females, males wouldn't exist. The next time you disrespect a female, think about how you would feel if someone disrespected your own mother or grandmother. That's how others feel as well. Nowadays, instead of doing things to please females, males are doing things to please other males. THIS IS MY DOG! A dog is an animal, and as long as you act like a dog you will get treated like an animal. And wild animals stay chained up and confined.

In closing, I just want you to know that your failure is America's failure. You can be whatever you will if you give yourselves a chance. Always love yourselves and everyone else. In God's eyes we're all the same. I cannot save you, but you can save yourselves.

Cedric Dean - Someone who really cares about you.

Can anyone read that and not be inspired?

07 October 2010

9 years in Afghanistan: A tragic anniversary

Today, October 7, 2010, marks the 9th anniversary of George W. Bush's invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. And now it is Obama's war.

So what has it accomplished?

It has accomplished the deaths of 1,321 U.S. troops and countless innocent Afghan civilians.

And it has managed to eat up more than $352 billion U.S. taxpayer dollars (and counting).

Sure, the Taliban government was overthrown, but they're still fighting and terrorizing the Afghan countryside (as we pay them protection money). And their regime was replaced by the corrupt Karzai government, which is arguably not much of an improvement.

And Osama bin Laden is still on the loose.

What a horrible waste of time, money, human life, and human spirit!

06 October 2010

House fires and health care

In rural Tennessee last week, a house caught on fire. But the homeowner had failed to pay a required $75 fee for fire protection. So, when the firefighters arrived, they just stood there and watched the house burn to the ground.

According to a local TV report, "[t]he mayor said if homeowners don't pay, they're out of luck."

No "socialist" help-thy-neighbor stuff here!

But I think I prefer the "socialist" fire departments we have here in my area, where our tax dollars subsidize these critical services.

So what's the link to health care, you ask?

One of the best comments I've seen on this fire story was in response to a Michael Moore blog post on the subject on the Reader Supported News website.

The commenter, using the name "Phillip", shared the following good point:
"OK, so I'm guessing that Tea Baggers will think that these people 'brought it on themselves by refusing to pay for fire coverage'. But, what they will fail to notice is this is not much different from requiring people to carry health insurance (IF they can afford it). A significant distinction is that the reason people will be compelled to carry insurance is that NO ONE WILL EVER BE DENIED CARE!"
Ironically, I'm guessing that the people who are blaming the homeowner in this case are the same ones who are complaining about health care mandates.

05 October 2010

Per SCOTUS, govt can hide NSA spying on Gitmo attorneys

In this post-9/11 era, it seems that nothing is sacred anymore, not even the concept of attorney-client privilege.

On October 4, the U.S. Supreme Court said that it would not hear the case of Wilner v. National Security Agency (NSA) regarding disclosure of information related to any warrantless wiretapping of privileged attorney-client conversations regarding Guantanamo detainees.

According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, which brought the case along with other Gitmo attorneys, "[t]he lawsuit argued that the Executive Branch must disclose whether or not it has records related to the wiretapping of privileged attorney-client conversations without a warrant. Lawyers for the Guantanamo detainees fit the officially acknowledged profile of those subject to surveillance under the former administration’s program, and the Bush administration argued in the past that the Executive Branch has a right to target them."

Not only will the government not turn over any pertinent records (Freedom of Information Act be damned), it will not say whether any such records even exist!

This October 4 decision allows to stand a December 2009 ruling by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of government secrecy.

Land of the free, my ass. Big Brother just keeps growing bigger. And SCOTUS just keeps leaning more and more to the right. Coincidence?

>> Read more about Wilner v. NSA.

04 October 2010

What if Hillary were President?

Like many other progressive Democrats who are disappointed in President Obama's failure so far to bring about as much social change as we had hoped for, I've been pondering the alternatives.

If John McCain had won the White House, this country would surely be in far worse straits -- perhaps with even more war, even less corporate regulation, and an even worse economy. So obviously we are lucky that McCain did not win.

But what if Hillary Clinton had defeated Obama in the primaries and had gone on to win the White House? How would things be different if she were President?

I threw this question out to my Facebook and Twitter followers. It certainly wasn't a scientific survey. It was more like the preacher surveying the choir. But it led to some good discussions, albeit no real surprises.

The majority of respondents believe that things would be pretty much the same if Clinton were President. They see the Obama administration as a rerun of the Bill Clinton administration -- too centrist, too indulgent of big business, and too afraid of ruffling the feathers of the vast right-wing conspiracy.

Others reflected my own gut feeling that things might be a bit better for progressives today if Clinton had won. Throughout the first year of his presidency, we saw Obama still playing the community organizer -- making deals, being nice, and bending over backwards in hopes of engaging the Republicans in Congress who obviously only want him to fail. And that set a precedent, teaching the Republicans that they could walk all over Obama and, by extension, the Congressional Democrats.

What this country needs is a leader, not an organizer. The Chief of Staff (though obviously not this last one) can handle the organizing. We need a President who is strong and tough. And I think there's no doubt that Clinton is, in general, much stronger and tougher than Obama, and would have come across as such from day one.

Personalities aside, Clinton also knows how to play the Washington game. Obama is still learning. Right now we cannot afford so much on-the-job training.

Interestingly, no one responded with the opinion that things would be worse if Clinton were President. One person did point out that a Hillary Clinton presidency would bring out a lot of sexism, but that would simply have replaced the racism we've been seeing as a result of having an African American in the White House.

And that last point is perhaps the most telling.

The Republicans cannot win on the facts of the issues. And so Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and their cohorts in the conservative media use fear and emotion. And they're getting better and better at it.

Having an African American in the White House makes it easy for them to incite fear amongst the ignorant that people of color will take over this country.

Having a woman in the White House would have provided an equally easy opportunity to stir up the misogyny, as they have already been doing to some extent since Nancy Pelosi became Speaker of the House.

And Democratic politicians and candidates are no safer if they happen to be white males. Where the conservative pundits cannot use race or gender, they will use guns or gays or any other issue they can spin to incite fear of the real or imagined Democratic agenda.

As long as these right-wing scare tactics are accepted and tolerated, none of this will change, regardless of who occupies the White House.

So the final answer to my original question is that it probably doesn't matter.

And that is what we the people should really be afraid of.

01 October 2010

October 1 is World Vegetarian Day

Today, October 1, is World Vegetarian Day, the annual kick-off of Vegetarian Awareness Month.

I happen to be a vegetarian, and the benefits have been great. My grocery bill is much lower than it was when I bought meat, and I haven't had a sick day since 2002 (which was right about the time I gave up the fish and the occasional poultry and became a bona fide vegetarian).

It's also good for the environment. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, if every American ate one meat-free meal per week, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than 5 million cars off our roads.

So, on this World Vegetarian Day, I encourage readers to go without meat for a day, and maybe adopt a routine of Meatless Mondays each week, if not more often.

It's easier than you think. In fact, a lot of people probably already eat meatless meals regularly without realizing it -- pasta with veggies, a veggie pizza, a hummus and veggie sandwich, PB&J, etc.

If you miss the meat, try the fake meats that are now available in most supermarkets. Morningstar, for example, makes a great line of frozen products.

After a while, you won't miss the meat. And Mother Earth will thank you.