28 May 2010

Specter missed vote on financial regulation, but made sure Dems had it covered

In Pennsylvania's primary election last week, Senator Arlen Specter ("D"-PA) lost his reelection bid to Joe Sestak. And, since then, I've wondered how Specter, always a maverick, will finish out his Senatorial legacy.

So then I looked through his recent voting record and wasn't happy with what I saw: The Senatorial record shows that Specter was a "No Vote" ("NV") on some key legislation in the days following his loss in the primary -- including the financial regulation bill.

I wondered if this was his response to losing the primary. I wondered if this meant that he was going to be a lame duck in more than one sense of the two words.

But I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. So I called his DC office and spoke with one of his people. What I heard on the phone made me feel better.

The staff member explained that Specter had spent most of election week at home in Pennsylvania. But he pointed out that before he did so, Specter ensured that the Dems would have the 60 votes needed to pass the financial reform and had voted for cloture on the bill.

With that in mind, I will forgive those NVs.

But I will be keeping an eye on him for the rest of his term.

27 May 2010

What can we expect from lame duck Specter?

Now that he has lost his reelection bid in the primary election, Senator Arlen Specter ("D"-PA) is technically a lame duck. And some of his constituents are wondering what to expect from him during the remainder of his final term on Capitol Hill.

During most of his three decades in the U.S. Senate, Specter was a moderate Republican and a maverick. Unlike most of the Republicans in the Senate today, he was comfortable working across party lines. Therefore, I was particularly disappointed when he turned around and supported some of the George W. Bush administration's most egregious policies.

Then, last year, Specter moved across the aisle and became a Democrat for political reasons.

So Specter can perhaps best be described as unpredictable.

And I'm going assume that he will remain so.

He was, is, and will continue to be more of a maverick than John McCain could ever hope to be. And I respect him for that, if not for some of his misguided votes.

26 May 2010

Glass ceiling shattered at Baltimore Sun

Last week, after 23 years at The Baltimore Sun, Mary J. Corey was promoted to Senior Vice President and Director of Content.

She is the first woman in the Sun's history to lead its newsroom.

Congratulations, Ms. Corey, and best wishes for your continued success.

25 May 2010

Supreme Court to decide on another evidentiary death row case

Good news for those of us who care about justice:

On Monday, May 24, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider Texas death row inmate Hank Skinner's request for DNA testing that could clear him of the three murders for which he was convicted.

According to the Associated Press, the lower courts sided with the prosecutors who "argued Skinner wasn't entitled to testing of evidence that wasn't analyzed before his 1995 trial."

So just because of bad timing, and/or prior mishandling of the evidence, the lower courts thought it would be OK to risk the possibility of executing an innocent man. Where's the justice in that?!

Skinner's case will be argued during the Supreme Court's fall term.

I am (cautiously) optimistic about this case because of a similar Supreme Court ruling last August in the case of Troy Davis, who sits on Georgia's death row. In the Davis case, the Supremes ordered that new evidence, which lower courts refused to test and enter into the case, be reviewed in federal court. Davis's evidentiary hearing has been scheduled for June 23.

Stay tuned for updates on both cases.

Fingers crossed for justice.

24 May 2010

Pope condemns gay marriage but covers up pedophilia

During a recent visit to Portugal, Pope Benedict XVI called same-sex marriage one of the most "insidious and dangerous" threats facing the world today, reported the Associated Press.

Two consenting adults of the same sex having their love legally recognized is, to this pontiff, apparently a greater threat than al-Qaeda, global warming, genocide, world hunger, and Iranian nuclear weapons -- or at least it's right up there with them.

Yep, those gentle, loving gay couples are going to destroy the world!

Of course, this is the same pope who spent years covering up cases of clergy sex abuse in the Catholic Church. It became a trend. And it's all about the PR, not about the sins.

Back in 2001, when we still knew him as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he issued a secret edict to all Catholic bishops, which was later leaked by the British press. In it, Ratzinger ordered that "the church's investigations into child sex abuse claims be carried out in secret," and asserted "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. It's all about the PR, not about the sins.

The following year, he had the nerve and arrogance to discount the crisis and try to shift the blame, referring to media coverage of clergy sex abuse as a plot to discredit the Church. Again, it's all about the PR, not about the sins.

Priests who molested children were not disciplined, fired, and turned over to the appropriate legal authorities. Instead, they were transferred to other parishes, where they were free to molest a whole new crop of young people. Victims were told to remain silent under threat of excommunication or hellfire. You see, it's all about the PR, not about the sins.

And, while the pope now speaks out against the molestations in the wake of new scandals that have erupted throughout Europe, it's much too little, much too late. It's just lip service, and talk is cheap. Obviously, it's all about the PR, not about the sins.

The fact remains that, for all those years, this so-called "holy" man tolerated and enabled clergy sex abuse with impunity. And countless young people have suffered, and continue to suffer, as the pain of molestation tends to haunt its victims for life.

Is that not a far greater sin than recognizing the bond of a loving couple, which is what same-sex marriage is all about?

Of course, just as the Church doesn't let facts, logic, or reason get in the way of its dogma, its leaders are not going to let facts, logic, or reason get in the way of their PR. And they're not going to let love and compassion (which, I believe, are what Jesus was all about) get in the way of their own distorted view of morality.

So I guess it's OK to molest young boys as long as you don't try to marry them.

Because it's all about the PR, not about the sins.

21 May 2010

Philly votes down soda tax; strange priorities

I am baffled.

Yesterday, Philadelphia City Council refused to approve a small tax on sugary soft drinks which contribute to obesity, diabetes, and other unhealthy conditions. So, without that tax revenue, the mayor might have to cut some city workers.

However, I'll bet that many of the folks who oppose the soda tax are perfectly willing to spend money on bottled water when they could get water for free from the tap. After all, I see bottled water flying off the shelves whenever I visit a supermarket or convenience store in the area. And, to make it more ridiculous, bottled water is less regulated -- and therefore possibly lower quality -- than tap water.

Strange priorities.

20 May 2010

A step forward in juvenile justice (but another step needed)

On May 17, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juveniles convicted of non-homicide crimes may not be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The majority decided that a life sentence without parole for these juvenile offenders would violate the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

I couldn't agree more.

Everyone does stupid things when they are young. Most of us don't commit serious crimes as juveniles, but we do crazy things that we would not do as adults, because we are immature and still have a lot to learn about right and wrong, actions and consequences, and self control.

Our growing years are for learning these things, before we become hardened adults and more set in our ways.

The Justice Policy Institute (JPI) agrees. JPI's executive director, Tracy Velazquez, issued the following statement in response to the ruling:
"We are pleased that the Court ruled in favor of fairer treatment of youth and realized the proven potential that young people have for rehabilitation as they mature into adulthood.

"The research on adolescent brain development clearly shows that youth are different from adults and should be treated differently under the law. Sentencing youth to life without parole is truly 'cruel and unusual punishment,' and is far outside the norms in almost every state as well as internationally.

"The Supreme Court was right to recognize that refusing to consider parole for a person locked up since they were a teenager benefits no one."
While this is a positive step forward in the juvenile justice system, I wish it went a bit farther and also banned life sentences without parole in murder cases. Again, young people can be truly rehabilitated. It is wrong to label them as entirely hopeless.

By the way, Justices Thomas, Scalia, and Alito disagreed with the majority's decision. Justice Roberts "endorsed only a case-by-case approach," reported the New York Times.

19 May 2010

Sestak beat Specter in primary; now the big race begins

In yesterday's primary election, Democrats here in Pennsylvania chose Congressman Joe Sestak over incumbent Arlen Specter to run against Republican Pat Toomey in the race for U.S. Senate.

For a while, I had wondered if Specter might have a better chance of beating Toomey in November. I thought that Specter, as a moderate and a bit of a maverick himself, might appeal more to independents and moderates of both parties than the more progressive Sestak. But, when I got to my polling place, I ended up voting based on conscience rather than strategy. And my conscience would not let me vote for Specter, a longtime Republican who switched parties last year for strategic reasons, and who had voted for some of George W. Bush's most egregious policies.

So now we have the fairly progressive Sestak running against the very conservative Pat Toomey in this important race. It's like a local microcosm in the current political climate that has become so polarized nationwide.

It's going to be an interesting race.

18 May 2010

Specter vs. Sestak: My dilemma

Today I will vote in the primary elections here in Pennsylvania. Despite the fact that we're electing a new governor this year, 99 percent of the media attention has been focused on the race for U.S. Senator.

Incumbent Arlen Specter, a longtime Republican who recently turned Democrat, is being challenged by Congressman Joe Sestak. And the decision is not as easy as it might appear for this liberal/progressive voter.

President Obama and some other leading Democrats are supporting Specter. That's allegedly part of the deal for Specter's party switch which gave Obama's agenda a 60th Senate vote.

But the left-leaning Philadelphia Inquirer has also endorsed Specter with some compelling arguments in his favor. Ditto the Philadelphia Daily News, for which I used to be a contributing columnist. And several big labor unions support Specter.

While Sestak appears to be more progressive in general, he unfortunately supports our ongoing occupation of Afghanistan, which Specter opposes. And Specter has sponsored a number of important human-rights-related bills that I have lobbied for through the years on behalf of Amnesty International.

Hence my dilemma.

Specter and Sestak are running neck-and-neck in the polls, which show that they have an equal chance of beating Republican Pat Toomey in November -- or not.

So I keep asking myself things like:

• Does Sestak have the name recognition statewide -- or could he by November -- to beat Toomey?

• Assuming not, despite some of the good things that Specter has done, could I really vote for him today, given that he had voted for so many of George W. Bush's misguided policies?

Some say that Toomey is too conservative to win in November. But we have to remember that this is the same state that kept reelecting ultra-conservative Rick Santorum for so long.

So there is so much riding on this primary.

And, as I write this, I am still deciding -- sort of. My gut is screaming "Sestak!"

May the best man win -- today and in November.

17 May 2010

BP needs a new logo

I used to think that BP was rare among oil companies, because its ads expressed a concern for the environment, and the company was allegedly also working on alternative energy sources. I believed the PR and fell for the green-and-sunny-looking logo. After all, BP's website talks about how the company is invested in the development of wind, solar, and hydrogen energy, biofuels, and carbon capture and storage.

But then my bubble burst.

In the wake of the Gulf Coast oil spill, my research into BP showed me its true colors. And its true colors aren't so sunny. The only green thing BP really seems to care about is money, not the earth or its inhabitants (unless, of course, you inhabit the board room).

It seems that this oil spill was both predictable and preventable -- if only BP had cared.

It seems that a safety device was available for $500,000 which could have prevented the oil disaster. This acoustic switch would trigger an underwater valve to shut down a well in case of a blowout, like the one that recently happened in the Gulf. BP, however, decided that $500,000 was too much to spend on safety, despite the fact that its 2009 profits totaled some $14 billion. So BP spent its money instead on working with Dick Cheney to block regulations that would have required the use of this and other safety precautions.

And it doesn't end there. BP turns out to have a long and solid history of forgoing safety in favor of profits.

For instance, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board determined that a 2005 explosion at BP's Texas City refinery that killed 15 workers happened because a "combination of cost-cutting, production, and failure to invest [in precautions] caused a progressive deterioration of safety at the refinery."

There you go. This $14-billion-per-year company doesn't care about its workers. This $14-billion-per-year company doesn't really care about the planet. This $14-billion-per-year company doesn't care what kind of environmental legacy it leaves behind for the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of its executives and directors (never mind the rest of us). It seems to care only about short-term profits from year to year. The company's directors, after all, will likely be dead before the worst effects of climate change become reality. So it's invisible despite the lip service.

If BP wants to keep its logo green, it will need to ditch the sunny motif and go with a currency theme, for truth in advertising.

Better yet, superimpose the image of a blackened, oil-covered duck onto the green and yellow sunburst.

Or, best of all, learn a lesson, give up on dinosaur oil, and shift all the company's resources into alternative energy development going forward.

Only then will the existing logo still work. But I shall not hold my breath.

14 May 2010

I don't care if Scalia is gay

So why is everyone so preoccupied with what Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan might or might not be doing in the privacy of her bedroom, and with whom?

First of all, the Daily Beast has reported that Kagan's friends say that she is not gay. But why did the question arise in the first place?

Is it because she is a single woman? If that's the case, why wasn't sexual orientation an issue during Condi Rice's confirmation hearing?

If Kagan's sexual orientation (imagined or otherwise) remains an issue, then we would need to be fair and explore the sexual orientation of every future Supreme Court nominee. No exceptions. After all, a lot of married men turn out to be gay. (Hi, Ted Haggard! Hi, Larry Craig!)

But shouldn't we focus instead on the important stuff, like a nominee's judicial philosophy?

Oh, right. Judicial philosophy isn't the stuff the sells the tabloids or interests the Fox News audience.

13 May 2010

Busting the tax myth

I keep hearing Republicans and other conservatives complain about the Democrats "always" raising their taxes. In fact, the tea party movement held scores of events around the country on tax day, April 15.

Funny, then, that a USA Today report has found that "Americans paid their lowest level of taxes last year since Harry Truman's presidency."

That's right. The they've paid less in taxes during the Obama administration than they paid during either Bush administration or their sacred Reagan administration.

And don't tell me that the tea partiers are upset about spending, since George W. Bush wasted no time turning Bill Clinton's record surplus into a record deficit. Where were the tea partiers then?

So now why exactly are they protesting?

The real reasons are not so easy to say out loud, are they?

12 May 2010

Since when is beauty a Supreme Court requirement?

I've noticed a lot of people on the right -- usually in the comments sections of blogs and political news sites -- viciously criticizing U.S. Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, not on her professional qualifications, but rather on her appearance.

Some examples:

• From "joe r" at a CNN blog:
"what on god's green earth is that ugly blob? Is that a man or a woman?"
• From "gringott" at the Daily Caller site:
"At least she only ties Ginsburg for ugly."
• From "Oldexpat" at the Free Republic:
"So now we will have two fat ugly female supreme court justices. What kind of example will they set for our young women?"
And these few examples are just the tip of the iceberg.

Since when is physical beauty a requirement for a Supreme Court justice?

And why then is Scalia (who is no Brad Pitt) allowed on the bench?

Rhetorical questions, of course. But apparently not for some.

Of course, ad hominem attacks are the last (and sometimes only) refuge of those who are unable to argue the real issues. And the character of anyone who resorts to such attacks is surely far uglier than anyone a president could nominate.

11 May 2010

Who are the real radical activist judges?

President Obama has selected Solicitor General Elena Kagan as his nominee to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

And the right-wing mouthpieces have already begun their latest Chicken Little act in response, labeling the rather moderate Kagan a "radical" and an "activist". They would do the same no matter whom Obama selected. It's not about a fair and reasonable discussion of the issues, it's about using fear to score political points. You know, the usual.

Their panic is so ironic when you consider the kind of radical judicial activism that marked the recent ruling giving corporations the unlimited right to buy and sell elected officials.

That decision, which threatens the very core of our democracy, came from the conservative side of the Supreme Court. Where was the right-wing outrage there?

Apparently, an opinion is "radical" and a judge is "activist" only if they don't agree wholeheartedly with the right-wing neocon agenda.

And that kind of expectation, I contend, is pretty radical in itself.

10 May 2010

50 years of frightened white men, today the tea parties

Conservative American white men are terribly afraid these days. And rightly so.

They are finally starting to lose their power.

First of all, May 9, 2010, marked the 50th anniversary of the birth control pill. On that date in 1960, the pill was approved for use in the U.S. by the Federal Drug Administration. And American women finally had control over our reproductive lives.

It was a turning point, to be sure.

Before the pill was available, a sexually active woman almost always faced the risk of pregnancy. And, prior to Roe v. Wade, a pregnant woman was forced to bear the child with or without the baby's father's financial or emotional support, or else seek a dangerous and illegal back-alley abortion.

For the men, however, there were no official consequences. And they got used to that.

Sowing their wild oats was what men were expected to do. If a woman did the same, she was labeled a slut and allegedly deserved the consequences.

These days, even in the 21st century, women who enjoy sex are still labeled as sluts by men (and even some women) who fear female sexual power. But the joke is now on the men who disrespect their female counterparts, because those men are looking more and more foolish in their whining as they lose more and more of their power in government, in business, and in the bedroom.

After all, we now have our third female U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who was also a serious candidate for President of this country.

And we now have our first female Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, who is next in line for the Presidency after President Obama and Vice President Biden.

In the business world, statistics for the period from 1997 through 2006 showed that women-owned businesses grew at nearly twice the rate of all U.S. firms (42.3% vs. 23.3%).

The misogynistic right can't stand it. And so they resort to kindergarten-style sexist commentary, and sometimes bullying tactics.

Like the men who shouted, "Iron my shirt!" at a Hillary Clinton campaign rally in 2008.

Like the House Republicans who preach that Speaker Pelosi should be put "in her place".

To these guys, I guess, a woman's place is still in the kitchen -- barefoot and pregnant, as they used to phrase it back in the day.

And I cringe when I think that this may be what they think is appropriate for their own daughters. Fortunately, however, their daughters today have choices and will hopefully be more open-minded about them. (I hold up the beautiful and open-minded Meghan McCain as a powerful example of conservative offspring gone modern.)

Meanwhile, it gets even worse for the bigoted and insecure American white man. After all, the 1960s also marked the height of the civil rights movement.

And so, not only are women a growing majority in the white man's sacred political and business worlds, but people of color are also closing in.

We now have a dark-skinned U.S. President.

And statistics show that the non-white population in the U.S. is slowly but surely edging its way into a demographic majority.

So I contend that the rise of the right-wing tea party movement is no coincidence. It's a reaction to the changes of the past 50 years -- and the changes yet to come -- that threaten the status quo -- i.e., the social and political superiority of the white man in America.

And they will do all they can to fight it. And it will continue to get uglier and uglier.

But, fortunately for the cause of fairness and equality for all of humanity (not just white males), it is only a matter of time until they are outnumbered.

I can't wait.

07 May 2010

Change of date for Troy Davis evidentiary hearing (now 6/23)

I recently wrote that an evidentiary hearing had been scheduled for June 30 in the Georgia death row case of Troy Davis.

FYI, that date has changed.

Due to schedule conflicts of counsel on both sides, the hearing has been moved up a week to June 23 at 10:00 am.

I have marked my calendar accordingly. Please stay tuned for updates as the case progresses.

This is literally a matter of life and death.


Troy 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.

Unfortunately, the Georgia officials didn't want to be bothered with having to review the new evidence that could prove Davis's innocence. They just wanted to kill him and get the whole case out of the way.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court had a different opinion, and ordered that the evidence be reviewed in federal court. Hopefully that will be done right, starting on June 23.

06 May 2010

Hey, Phillies fans: Tasers are no joke

On May 3, during a home game of the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team, a 17-year-old fan jumped out of the stands and ran around the outfield. A policeman stopped him with a taser.

I've been hearing a lot of Phillies fans joking and laughing about the taser incident. But, while the incident may seem amusing in a cartoonish kind of way, tasers are no joke. They are deadly weapons.

And so some are rightly questioning the cop's judgment in using a taser on that unarmed kid in the ballpark. It certainly seems like an excessive use of force, given that the kid was waving a towel, not a gun. He was no danger to anyone, he was just stupidly making a spectacle of himself. How does that justify tasing him?

According to Amnesty International, since June 2001, more than 351 individuals have died in the U.S. after being shocked by police tasers. While some of those people may have had underlying medical conditions that were triggered or worsened with the taser shock and which ultimately caused their death (as TASER International, Inc., likes to suggest), I don't see that as a reason to downplay the risks of taser use. Rather, I see it as a reason to further limit their use and practice extra caution.

As for the incident at the ballpark, the cop and the kid should both be very, very grateful that the latter wasn't seriously injured -- or worse.

I hope they will both learn a lesson from this.

But, knowing human nature, I will not count on it.

05 May 2010

In statewide boycotts, who really suffers?

Several people and organizations are pushing for a boycott of Arizona, to protest that state's draconian new anti-immigration law.

While I strongly oppose Arizona's new law, I am uncomfortable with the idea of boycotting the entire state. I felt the same way last November when there was a buzz about boycotting the state of Maine after voters there passed a referendum to repeal a short-lived law that had legalized same-sex marriage.

My discomfort comes from thinking about whom such a boycott would really affect. And it's not the folks in the statehouse.

If organizations moved their conventions out of Arizona, and families diverted their vacations from the Grand Canyon to Yellowstone instead, the economic hit could be considerable. And, while that's the whole point of a boycott, the people who would suffer the most have nothing to do with the state's immigration policies. The people who would suffer the most are the workers. Hotel and restaurant staff would likely be downsized due to reduced demand for hospitality services during a boycott. Local transportation workers and retailers would suffer as well.

Similarly, if people were to stop purchasing products made or grown in Arizona, would it not disproportionately harm the factory workers, farmers, and other innocent bystanders who had no hand in writing or passing that law, but who stand to suffer if their products stop selling?

Do these "little people" not matter? Are they to be written off as "collateral damage" in an effort to make a bigger point?

Would our energy not be better spent in pushing for ways to overturn the offensive new law and make Arizona a warmer and more reasonable place for residents and visitors alike?

04 May 2010

Fun with racist xenophobic cowards

The more controversial a topic I write about from my left-wing perspective, the more hate mail I get from the right.

A few days ago, the Philadelphia inquirer published a letter I had submitted in response to an editorial condemning Arizona's draconian new anti-immigration law.

My letter said this:
I agree with your editorial suggestion that "the person who looks the least like an illegal immigrant might actually be one" ("Arizona gets it wrong," Wednesday). But bigots don't like to let facts or logic get in the way of their xenophobia.

White immigrants weren't the reason a border fence between Arizona and Mexico was built. 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 brown people.

We have to ask ourselves where the hysteria is coming from. Is it really about illegal immigration, or is it about the fact that the Hispanic population in the United States is growing at a much faster rate than the European American population? Fear drives a lot of knee-jerk policies.
I allowed the Inquirer to publish my email address with the letter. And so, as expected, the hate mail has been pouring in from the right.

Below I present my favorite example (so far), along with my response. I don't usually respond to the hate mail I receive, but sometimes I cannot resist.

Xenophobe via email: "Your logic seems contrived. The brown immigrants are flowing in (sic) our country like a fierce river, while other white immigrants are trickling in like a leaky faucet. You need to grow a brain, or become more independent minded. My guess is the later (sic)."

My simple reply: "Thank you, sir, for proving my point."

03 May 2010

Kevorkian vs. death panels: There is a huge difference

He's back: Dr. Jack Kevorkian, aka "Dr. Death" -- advocate for euthanasia and assisted suicide, or what many of us see as the right of terminally ill patients to choose a quick and dignified death over a painful, lingering one.

On April 24, HBO premiered its original film You Don't Know Jack, starring Al Pacino as Dr. Kevorkian and Susan Sarandon as the head of a local chapter of the Hemlock Society, an advocacy organization for end-of-life choices. And I've been hearing follow-up conversations in all kinds of places, from the hair salon to the supermarket checkout line.

Some are likening Kevorkian's services to the imaginary death panels that Sarah Palin warned us about. I heard one right-winger speculate jokingly that Obama might want to appoint Jack Kevorkian as his Surgeon General for ObamaCare. While amusing, his comment was far from credible.

Dr. Kevorkian's services were not designed to save insurance companies or the medical industry money. His services were meant to relieve the unbearable suffering of the terminally ill. Despite the theatrics that surrounded Kevorkian's work, assisted suicide is a serious issue that continues to impact the lives of dying adults and their families, as well as others who believe in the right of the terminally ill to die with dignity on their own terms.

As of this writing, Oregon, Washington, and Montana are the only states in the U.S. where physician-assisted suicide is legally available for terminally ill patients. It is also legal in a small handful of European nations. Everywhere else, the terminally ill are forced to endure sometimes horrific pain at the end of life, or end their misery with a plastic bag, a noose, or other undignified means. And those sad, desperate acts will continue as long as so-called "pro-life" factions keep fighting attempts to widen the acceptance of physician-assisted suicide and provide more people with the power to choose a good death over a horrible, slow, painful one.

What it boils down to is this: While life is precious and should not be thrown away lightly, modern medical science cannot yet provide adequate pain control for all dying patients, even in the best hospices.

While physicians are sworn to do no harm, is it not harmful to force a dying patient to suffer a slow, lingering death against his or her will, perhaps kept alive artificially with respirators and feeding tubes?

When a pet becomes ill to the point where it is near death and suffering uncontrollably, a veterinarian will not think twice before recommending that the pet be euthanized, to put the animal out of its misery.

So why do we treat our dying pets with more mercy than we treat our dying people?

I have to agree with Derek Humphry, founder of the Hemlock Society (now known as Compassion and Choices) and author of the controversial suicide manual Final Exit, who said: "Surely the right to die in a manner and at a time one's own choosing is the ultimate civil liberty."

And the key word here is choosing.

No death panels, just respect for the rational end-of-life wishes of the suffering.

No death panels, just compassion.

No death panels, just a choice.