27 January 2011

GOP hypocrisy on spending and debt

Republicans have been whining like babies over government spending and debt. The GOP response to Tuesday's State of the Union Address emphasized those things as well.

But I ask them this:

Where were these fiscal watchdogs when George W. Bush launched that unnecessary and unprovoked war on Iraq, and kept it going, to the tune of some $700 billion (and counting)?

And where were these fiscal watchdogs when George W. Bush was busy turning Bill Clinton's record surplus into a record deficit?

I don't recall the same kind of complaining back then.

The only difference I can see is this: Now there is a Democrat in the White House.

26 January 2011

Amnesty speaks out on Bradley Manning's prison conditions

Since last May, Private First Class Bradley Manning has been held in a 6-foot by 12-foot prison cell at the Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia. He is accused of being the source of the classified U.S. government documents that Wikileaks has been sharing with the world, but he still awaits his day in military court.

The prison conditions, as described by Manning's attorney, David E. Coombs, seem to me like cruel and unusual punishment -- especially when you consider that he is not dangerous and has not yet been convicted of any crime.

Manning is in solitary confinement. He cannot keep any personal items in his cell. And he is not even allowed to exercise in his small quarters.

Now the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International is taking on Manning's case. Last week, Amnesty wrote to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, calling for the restrictions on Bradley Manning to be reviewed.

Susan Lee, Amnesty's Program Director for the Americas issued the following statement:
"We are concerned that the conditions inflicted on Bradley Manning are unnecessarily severe and amount to inhumane treatment by the US authorities.

"Manning has not been convicted of any offense, but military authorities appear to be using all available means to punish him while in detention. This undermines the United States' commitment to the principle of the presumption of innocence.


"The repressive conditions imposed on Manning breach the US's obligations to treat detainees with humanity and dignity.

"We are also concerned that isolation and prolonged cellular confinement, which evidence shows can cause psychological impairment, may undermine Bradley Manning's ability to defend himself."
>> Read more on this case from Amnesty International.

>> Read the letter to Secretary Gates. (PDF)

25 January 2011

Two GOP responses to tonight's State of the Union

There is typically one official Republican response to a State of the Union Address by a Democratic president. Tonight, that will come from Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

This year, however, there will be a second, unofficial response, as Rep. Michele Bachmann plans to share her own two cents from a tea party perspective. Bachmann's speech will be streamed live at www.TeaPartyExpress.org.

I don't think I will watch it.

24 January 2011

Why Illinois governor should sign death penalty abolition bill

On January 11, the Illinois state legislature passed a bill abolishing the death penalty in that state. The bill was then sent to Governor Pat Quinn's desk. Whether or not he will sign it into law, however, is still uncertain.

According to the Chicago Tribune, "Quinn said he supports 'capital punishment when applied carefully and fairly,' but also backs the 10-year-old moratorium on executions." (Former Governor George Ryan had declared a moratorium on the death penalty in 2000.)

There are numerous reasons why Governor Quinn should sign the death penalty abolition bill.

The first reason arises from Quinn's own words, as quoted above: that he supports execution "when applied carefully and fairly." Human nature being what it is, there is no way to guarantee that the death penalty is applied carefully and fairly. In fact, there is too much proof that the opposite is the case.

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. According to Amnesty International, "FBI data shows that all 14 states without capital punishment in 2008 had homicide rates at or below the national rate."

Also, execution is irreversible, which is a huge 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 were not 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."

For those of you who follow the Christian faith, consider the commandment that "Thou shalt not kill." That commandment bears no caveat indicating that it's acceptable to kill a killer.

Clearly, the death penalty does not represent justice. It represents revenge -- sometimes misdirected revenge.

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

Shouldn't the State of Illinois be above it?

I hope Governor Quinn will ultimately agree.

21 January 2011

Are t-shirts more dangerous than guns?

In a recent email to supporters, and also on its website, the National Rifle Association (NRA) criticized the prospect of more gun control in the wake of the recent shooting in Arizona that wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killed and wounded several others.

They mentioned a proposed regulation that would ban possession of firearms within 1,000 feet of the President, Vice President, Members of Congress, or federal judges.

Their response: "[I]t would impose extraordinary burdens on honest gun owners."

Yes, according to the NRA, it would be an "extraordinary burden" -- extraordinary! -- to have to keep a short distance from a high-level elected official when you're packing heat.

In discussing this with a friend, he made a very interesting point: He reminded me of a 2004 incident in which three school teachers in Oregon were threatened with arrest and thrown out of a political rally featuring President George W. Bush because they were wearing t-shirts bearing the slogan "Protect Our Civil Liberties."

Think about it: People can get threatened with arrest and banned from a public event for wearing a t-shirt that someone doesn't like. But the NRA thinks you should be able to carry a loaded gun there (as long as you're not wearing some goddamned lefty slogan).

20 January 2011

As expected, House GOP votes against sick people

The Republicans in the House of Representatives just couldn't wait to show the world how much they love the health insurance companies -- and how much they resent sick people.

So yesterday, as expected, they voted 245-189 to repeal the entire health care reform law that Congress passed (and Obama signed) last year. Shamefully, three House Democrats joined the Republicans in voting for a repeal.

It is very unlikely that the repeal will get past the Senate or the President's desk, but they have threatened in that case to start hacking away at it piece by piece.

So what does this tell us about the 242 Republicans and 3 Democrats who voted for the repeal?

It tells us that they want the insurance companies to again be able to discontinue your coverage when you get sick and really need it.

It tells us that they want the insurance companies to again be able to refuse coverage based on pre-existing conditions.

It tells us that they think non-rich Americans should again risk financial devastation in the event of a major illness or injury.

Et cetera.

This is apparently the highest priority of the Republican members of the House.

And, sadly, this is who the American people voted for last November.

>> See how your Representative voted.

19 January 2011

Second most dangerous city lays off half of its cops

Effective yesterday, the city of Camden, New Jersey, laid off half of its police force and about one-third of its firefighters.

This is the same Camden that was ranked as the second most dangerous city in the U.S. by CQ Press, based on 2009 data.

It had been ranked first on that list for the previous two years.

With half of its police force gone, will Camden return to the number-one spot?

And why did this have to happen?

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, it's because "[t]he city is struggling with a $26.5 million budget gap, the result of a long decline in Camden's property tax base and Gov. Christie's decision to cut state aid, which made up more than 80 percent of Camden's budget last year."

That is the same Gov. Christie - a Republican - who gave huge tax breaks to New Jerseyans making more than $400,000 per year.

In Christie's world, apparently, it's only important to keep the wealthy constituents rich and happy.

The less fortunate residents of Camden will just have to fend for themselves, deal with the city's high crime rate themselves, and put out their own fires.

18 January 2011

Ed Rendell leaves office with mixed signals on death penalty

In his final week as Governor of Pennsylvania, Democrat Ed Rendell sent some mixed signals regarding the death penalty in this commonwealth.

First, on a positive note, Rendell noted on January 14 that there are flaws in the capital punishment process. However, being a death penalty proponent, he seemed more concerned about the time it takes for capital cases to work their way through the court system than the actual justice-related issues that worry death penalty opponents, such as the very real possibility of wrongful convictions.

Nevertheless, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Rendell "called on the General Assembly either to streamline the process or do away with capital punishment."

To me it seems like too little too late. And the "streamlining" part of it concerns me.

First of all, in 2003, when Rendell was new in his Governor role, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's Committee on Racial and Gender Bias in the Justice System called for an immediate moratorium on executions, citing "strong indications that Pennsylvania's capital justice system does not operate in an even-handed manner." In fact, research showed that that black defendants in Philadelphia were four times more likely to receive the death penalty than non-blacks charged with similar crimes.

Armed with the proof of racism in the system and the Supreme Court Committee's recommendation, countless concerned citizens petitioned the governor to implement a moratorium. But Rendell seemingly ignored it all. Some attributed that to the fact that as a former Philadelphia District Attorney, Rendell himself had convicted many of the Commonwealth's death row prisoners.

Then, to add insult to injury (or vice-versa), Rendell signed six death warrants on January 14 of this year, the same day that he questioned the system, with one foot out the Governor's office door.

In other words, one of his last acts in office was to issue orders to kill six people under a broken system that he concurrently criticized.

Rendell had eight years to fix the system if he really wanted to. Now he will be leaving it in the hands of his Republican successor, Tom Corbett, who, according to a spokesperson quoted by the Associated Press, believes that "[t]here's nothing you can do about it."

Nothing you can do about it?!

Tell that to the six exonerees who have been released from Pennsylvania's death row since 1973, who may have been dead today if the authorities in charge also believed that "there's nothing you can do about it."

And tell the six exonerees that the process should have been "streamlined", where streamlining could have deprived them of the opportunity to prove their innocence.

Where lives hang in the balance, shouldn't true justice matter more than expediency?

17 January 2011

What MLK would see today

I am writing this on the third Monday of January - Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the U.S. It is a day set aside each year to honor the birth, life, and legacy of the great civil rights leader.

And, on this day, I wonder how the Reverend Dr. King would feel about today's American politics if he were still alive.

Surely he would be delighted by the fact that an African-American family now occupies the White House. This is something I didn't think I'd see even in my own lifetime.

But surely, too, he would see the backlash.

He would see the racism on display at tea party gatherings, with signs sporting slogans such as:

"Obama's Plan White Slavery"


"Obama-nomics: Monkey See, Monkey Spend!"


"Obama - What you Talkin' about Willis! Spend My Money?"


"Stand Idle While Some Kenyan Tries To Destroy America? Wap!! I Don't Think So!!! Homey Don't Play Dat!!!"

He would hear Glenn Beck of Fox News accuse President Obama of being a reverse racist with "a deep-seated hatred for white people" - despite the inconvenient little detail that Obama's own beloved mother was white.

He would hear right-wing blowhard Rush Limbaugh say things like:

"[I]n Obama's America, the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering."


"How do you get promoted in a Barack Obama administration? By hating white people or even saying you do."


"[T]hey're finally hearing me. 'He's an angry black guy.' I do believe that about the president. I do believe he's angry. I think his wife is angry."

Dr. King would hear Limbaugh entertaining his radio listeners with a tune called "Barack The Magic Negro".

He would see the rampant xenophobia exposed by Arizona's draconian new immigration law, nicknamed the "Show Your Papers" law.

He would see even more rampant xenophobia at play in that same state with the recent prohibition of ethnic studies classes in Arizona schools.

He would see the rampant xenophobia exposed by the protests against a proposed Islamic Community Center in lower Manhattan.

And he would hear the right-wing ignorati refer to the president as "Barack HUSSEIN Obama", always with a strong emphasis on the Muslim-sounding middle name.

Every step forward for racial justice is to be commended, like the election of President Obama. But clearly we still have a lot of work to do before people will truly be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

And surely Dr. King would want us to keep fighting the good fight.

Someday, I believe, we shall overcome.

14 January 2011

Ms. Magazine names Pelosi most effective Speaker ever

Although Ms. Magazine is all about the fight for women's equality, I don't think they would give a special honor to a woman just because she achieved a high political office -- unless she performed the job well. (Example: I do not recall seeing similar accolades for former Secretary of State Condi Rice.)

Nevertheless, I'm sure the right will fire a great deal of ridicule and resentment at the fact that the magazine has named Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi as the "Most Effective Speaker [of the House] Ever." This distinction will be the focus of the magazine's Winter 2001 issue, out on newsstands January 25.

In announcing the honor, Ms. listed "a few of her most impressive accomplishments" as follows:

1. More significant new public policy passed than any Speaker in the last 50 years, including:
     • Health-care reform
     • Financial reform
     • Ethics reform
     • $787 billion stimulus package
     • Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal
     • Student aid
     • The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act
     • SCHIP (which extended health coverage to 11 million children)
     • A minimum wage increase

2. 300+ additional pieces of legislation that were stalled in the Senate

3. Unprecedented party unity in voting

Congratulations to Congresswoman Pelosi on this well-deserved recognition.

13 January 2011

When justice costs a kidney

On January 7, two sisters, Jamie and Gladys Scott, were released from a Mississippi prison where they had been serving life sentences an $11 robbery that occurred in 1994.

Yes, life in prison for stealing $11 when they were young adults. No one was harmed during the robbery. And the sisters had no prior criminal record. But still they got life sentences. Harsh.

A number of civil rights activists and groups had adopted the case and petitioned for years for their sentences to be commuted. Last week, the hard work paid off -- but with a condition that I find rather bizarre.

As AOL News described it, "The sisters' life sentences were suspended by [Republican governor Haley Barbour] with the unusual condition that one sister donate her kidney to the other, who is sick and needs a transplant."

While I hope that the transplant will go well, I know from a friend's recent kidney transplant that it's not a simple thing. The donor's kidney must be a good match. The donor must pass a battery of physical tests to ensure that she is in good enough health to donate a kidney. And, of course, she must be willing. (For the record, as AOL notes, "Gladys had already agreed to donate one of her kidneys to Jamie when Barbour included the stipulation as part of their release.")

Sharing a kidney seems like the sisterly thing to do. But forcing a live organ donation as a condition of release from a draconian prison sentence seems to me like blackmail, not justice.

12 January 2011

Anti-gay group calls Loughner a leftist

In a recent email to supporters, Peter LaBarbera, president of the right-wing homophobic group Americans For Truth About Homosexuality (AFTAH), wrote: "Well, folks, we're just a little over a week into the new year and already left-wing activists are equating conservatives and Tea Partiers with "hate," and even blaming them for murderous acts by leftist kooks."

By "leftist kooks", he is apparently referring to Jared Lee Loughner, the suspect in the recent Tucson shooting of Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and several others.

I find it curious that these righties are calling Loughner a "leftist", since his Wikipedia entry indicates that he is adamantly opposed to reproductive choice. And, of course, he is apparently comfortable with guns.

In fact, per the Wikipedia info, it appears that his political views are a mish-mash of right, left, and just plain weird.

Defensively pointing fingers at the left for its criticism of violent talk from right will do nothing to address the underlying causes of gun violence in this country. But AFTAH apparently doesn't care about that.

AFTAH apparently just wants to smear the left at any opportunity, because (gasp!) we tolerate homosexuality.

11 January 2011

Threats and consequences

Three days later, I'm still shocked at the recent shooting in Arizona of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and several other people at a public meet-and-greet event. And I'm creeped out by the fact that Rep. Giffords was included on on Sarah ("RELOAD!") Palin's "rifle-sight" map which pinpointed - in crosshairs - the locations of Democrats labeled "the problem" for which a "solution" was sought.

Coincidence or not, the violent right-wing rhetoric that has been growing over the past two years needs to stop lest copycats be inspired.

I'm all for freedom of speech, but with freedom comes responsibility. And words can have serious consequences.

It's been reported that Palin quickly scrubbed the crosshairs map from her website after the shooting incident. In doing so, she missed a golden opportunity to admit that it was a mistake and call for an end to all the gun metaphors. That would have been true leadership as opposed to self-serving denial.

And I'm still waiting for former Senate candidate Sharron Angle of Nevada to use this opportunity to revoke her campaign calls for "Second Amendment remedies" to solve political problems. But I shall not hold my breath.

Nor shall I hold my breath waiting for Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and their cohorts to stop inciting the psychos via the right-wing airwaves. I guess there's just too much money to be made by spewing their extreme and dangerous hate talk. And that's the bottom line that they really care about.

10 January 2011

Gitmo is staying open, no matter what the cost

January 11, 2011, marks the ninth anniversary of the arrival of the first prisoners at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. That's the same Guantanamo prison that Barack Obama promised to close in his first year as president. But Gitmo won't be closing any time soon. Congress has seen to that. And so has Obama.

Just before Christmas, Congress passed a defense spending bill that specifically prohibits the use of defense funding to establish an alternative prison in the United States or to transfer Gitmo detainees to the U.S. And, on January 7, President Obama signed it into law.

There had been reports that some of Obama's advisors were pushing for him to issue a signing statement rejecting the Guantanamo-related provisions in the bill as intrusions on his constitutional authority. But the statement that Obama did issue amounted to little more than toothless rhetoric, criticizing the provisions and merely promising to "work with the Congress" to mitigate their effects.

And so, at this point, there is no foreseeable end to Gitmo's legacy of prisoner abuse and unfair military kangaroo court trials.

According to Human Rights Watch, this act of Congress will severely undermine U.S. efforts to fight terrorism. Tom Malinowski, the group's Washington director, explains: "The Senate vote banning the transfer of Guantanamo detainees is a reckless and irresponsible affront to the rule of law and efforts to protect the US from terrorism," said Malinowski. "By hindering the prosecution of Guantanamo detainees in federal court, Congress has denied the president the only legally sustainable and globally legitimate means to incarcerate terrorists."

From a practical perspective, Malinowski pointed out, "The congressional ban effectively prevents the president from bringing to trial those charged with the murder of thousands of Americans nearly 10 years ago... [D]etainees are now just going to sit in Guantanamo indefinitely, and as evidence grows stale, prosecution down the road is only going to become more difficult."

Obama's own Attorney General Eric Holder strongly opposed this Congressional measure. Josh Gerstein explains at Politico.com: "In a letter to the Senate leadership dated December 9, 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder warned that this provision would 'set a dangerous precedent with serious implications for the impartial administration of justice.' The Attorney General further stated that, by restricting the discretion of the executive branch to prosecute terrorists in Article III courts, Congress would 'tie the hands of the President and his national security advisers' and would be 'taking away one of our most potent weapons in the fight against terrorism.'"

Elisa Massimino, President and CEO of Human Rights First, pointed out that by keeping the detainees at Guantanamo and subjecting them to the questionable military commissions, the terrorists are winning, in a way: "The victims of 9/11 and the American public deserve to see justice done, and the best way to achieve that is by prosecuting these men in a credible criminal justice system where the focus will be on their culpability, not on the legitimacy or fairness of the proceedings. Moving these cases out of military commissions and into the federal courts [would be] smart counter-terrorism strategy. It treats the perpetrators as the criminals they are and deprives them of the warrior status they crave. This is an important distinction and [would] help thwart their ability to recruit others to their cause."

But it seems as though Congress doesn't care about practicalities in the "war on terror". They just seem to want to look tough, no matter what the cost.

And Obama just seems to want to make the other side happy, no matter what the cost.

07 January 2011

With new explosions, more racist assumptions?

Yesterday, incendiary devices went off in two government buildings in Maryland. Fortunately, there were no life-threatening injuries.

When I heard about these incidents, it occurred to me that a lot of people probably immediately suspected that Islamic terrorists were to blame.

I think it is every bit as likely - indeed, perhaps more likely - that this was the work of some deranged white guy.

But, of course, Fox News doesn't program its viewers to be suspicious of people who look like Timothy McVeigh or Ted Kaczynski.

06 January 2011

More proof that Congress doesn't represent the people

The ink was barely dry on Congress's extension last month of the Bush-era tax cuts for billionaires when a new 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll was released on January 3 showing that 81% of Americans think the rich should pay more taxes.

Though the GOP was the driving force behind that tax gift to the rich, the Dems (led by President Obama) are also to blame for taking the bait and compromising too quickly instead of playing hardball.

Congress clearly cares less about We The (little) People than they do about their rich corporate donors.

And that attitude is likely to continue, and perhaps worsen, now that We The (little) People have inexplicably given the GOP even more seats in the Senate and a majority in the House.

I guess the voters get what they deserve.

But I didn't vote for this.

And I don't think this is what our Founding Fathers had in mind for Democracy.

In fact, Thomas Jefferson himself once said, "I hope we shall crush ... in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country."

Today, Jefferson is surely spinning in his grave.

05 January 2011

Prop 8 hung up on important technicality

Last month, the Ninth Circuit Circuit of Appeals in San Francisco heard arguments on the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage in that state.

Now the case is hung up on a technicality.

Yesterday, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, the circuit court "asked the state Supreme Court ... to answer a legal question that may determine the outcome of the case - whether a ballot measure's sponsors can defend it in court when state officials refuse to do so."

You see, the State of California chose not to appeal the lower court's ruling that Prop 8 - a state law - was unconstitutional. So Prop 8's fate, at least at this court level, may likely rest on whether or not the bigots who supported it (i.e., a religious coalition called Protect Marriage) have the legal standing to defend it in the higher court despite the state's refusal to do so.

Per the Chronicle, "The state court now must decide whether to answer the question and has no deadline for doing so."

Stay tuned, with fingers crossed for equality.

04 January 2011

The GOP wants you sick, dead, and bankrupt

... unless you're a rich corporate donor.

Why else would House Republican leaders be so eager to repeal Obama's health care reform that they've already scheduled a vote for next week?

And if/when a full repeal fails to get past the Senate or the President's desk, they will start hacking away at it piece by piece.

Many of the new health care provisions haven't even taken effect yet, and some won't kick in for a number of years. But the GOP would like to kill the provisions that are already in effect and perform a pre-term abortion on all the other provisions.

A repeal of health care reform could mean that the insurance companies would again be able to discontinue your coverage when you get sick and really need it.

A repeal of health care reform could mean that the insurance companies would again be able to refuse coverage based on pre-existing conditions.

A repeal of health care reform could mean reopening the Medicare donut hole that makes it difficult for some seniors to afford their medications.

A repeal of health care reform could mean that non-rich Americans would again risk financial devastation in the event of a major illness or injury.

Et cetera.

I think former Representative Alan Grayson (R-FL) summed it up best with his own description of the Republican health care plan: "Don't get sick; and if you do get sick, die quickly."

This is what the Republicans want to spend their time on.

And, sadly, this is who the American people voted for two months ago.

Go figure.

03 January 2011

Thank you, Nancy Pelosi

The new Congress starts work this week, with a new Speaker of the House of Representatives - Republican John Boehner.

I want to take this opportunity to thank outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her four years of fine leadership. She stood firmly for progressive values, tough yet always poised and personable. Unlike her replacement, we rarely saw her cry.

I was thrilled when she was sworn in as the first woman Speaker of the House, but her tenure has amounted to so much more than just that one shattered glass ceiling.

Nancy Pelosi was the strong grandmother protecting her children. And we were all her children.

I have no doubt that she will continue to fight for our best interests in her new role as House Democratic Leader.

In the meantime, I send her my heartfelt gratitude for all she has done so far.

01 January 2011

10 great progressive moments of 2010

2010 was a wild ride.

The year had its share of low points for progressives, like the reelection defeats of Senator Russ Feingold and Representative Alan Grayson, the scrapping of a single-payer health care option, Arizona's xenophobic new laws, and the extension of tax breaks for zillionaires.

But the year also had some high points.

Here are my 10 favorites political moments of 2010, in chronological order:

1. February 24 - General Motors announced that it would discontinue production of the gas-guzzling Hummer. The planet is grateful.

2. March 23 - President Obama signed the health care reform bill into law. It's far from perfect, but far better than nothing.

3. 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. Every child deserves a chance at redemption.

4. August 4 - Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that California's Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot initiative which outlawed same-sex marriage in that state, is unconstitutional. There is still a long court battle ahead, but each positive step is worth celebrating.

5. August 7 - Elena Kagan was sworn in as U.S. Supreme Court Justice. For the first time in history, the highest court in the land has three women justices serving concurrently.

6. September 14 - Iran released American hiker Sarah Shourd. Hopefully her two companions, still imprisoned, will join her in 2011.

7. November 02 - Christine ("I Am Not A Witch") O'Donnell lost the Senate race in Delaware to Democrat Chris Coons, and Sharron ("Second Amendment Remedies") Angle lost in Nevada to incumbent Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Maybe there really is a God.

8. November 13 - Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was freed after spending almost 15 of the last 21 years either in prison or under house arrest. Often called the new Mandela, she is a symbol of courage and an inspiration to so many of us in the fight for human rights.

9. December 18 - Congress repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", which had prevented gays and lesbians from serving openly in the U.S. military. We're all a little more equal now.

10. December 22 - The U.S. Senate ratified the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). We're all a little bit safer.

Happy New Year to all, with cautious hopes for more progress in 2011.