<\body> Stories in America: December 2005

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year

2005 Victories

Not only does the liberal media ignore positive news coming out of Iraq, they also ignore positive news at home. The Nation's Katrina Vanden Heuvel has compiled a list of this year's sweet victories:

Electoral Reform

Portland, Oregon becomes the first city in the country to approve full public financing of elections.

Connecticut passes the strongest campaign finance reform bill in the country, banning contributions from lobbyists and state contractors. Additionally, the legislation creates a publicly funded election system encompassing all statewide races, including House and Senate seats (also a first).

Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

Maine becomes the sixth and final New England state to outlaw discrimination against homosexuals in employment, housing, credit, public accommodations, and education.

Residents of Topeka, Kansas rejected Fred "Got Hates Fags" Phelps' attempt to overturn the city's ordinance banning discrimination of gays in municipal hiring. And in the city council primary, Phelps' granddaughter and fellow anti-gay activist, Jael Phelps, lost big to Topeka's first and only openly gay council member, Tiffany Muller.

Iowa's Governor Tom Vilsack restored voting rights to thousands of Iowans, reversing an unjust state law that imposes lifetime disenfranchisement for anyone convicted of a felony. Reform was badly needed in Iowa, where, despite the state's two percent black population, 25 percent of those affected by the disenfranchisement law were African-American--the highest percentage in the country. In March, Nebraska also overturned its lifetime disenfranchisement law for convicted felons, and currently only four states--Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia--continue to uphold this absurdly punitive law.

Montana became the fifth state to officially condemn the USA Patriot Act. Joining Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, and Vermont--not to mention more than 375 local governments--Montana's state legislature passed the strongest statewide resolution against the Patriot Act yet.

Environment and Health

California's Safe Cosmetics Bill is signed into law. The bill--which requires manufacturers to disclose to the California's Department of Health Services any product ingredients linked to cancer, mutations, or birth defects--is the first of its kind in America.

Six new Democratic governors--Rod Blagojevich (IL), Jim Doyle (WI), Christine Gregoire (WA), Ted Kulongoski (OR), Janet Napolitano (AZ), and Brian Schweitzer (MT)--joined an earlier three--Jennifer Granholm (MI), Ed Rendel (PA), and Bill Richardson (NM)--in embracing the Apollo Alliance's goal of achieving sustainable American energy independence within a decade.

Colorado passes the Renewable Energy Initiative. A precedent-setting victory for renewable energy, the bill requires the state's largest electric companies to increase their use of renewable sources such as wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, and small hydro from less than two percent today to 10 percent by 2015. Amendment 37 is expected to save Coloradans $236 million by 2025, create 2,000 jobs, and significantly reduce gas prices in the state.

New York City agrees to issue taxi medallions for hybrid cars, the latest in a string of victories for the "Green Fleets" movement. Earlier, legislators in Charlotte, NC voted to hybridize the city's municipal fleet, and Denver, Seattle, and Madison have also made strides in converting their fleets to green.

Labor and Economic Rights

Vermont, New Jersey, Hawaii, Connecticut, Minnesota, and Wisconsin vote to raise state minimum wages. Meanwhile, the national minimum wage has remained stagnant for nine years, the second longest period in U.S. history.

In California, an Alameda County judge ordered uniform giant Cintas to pay 219 workers more than $1 million of back wages in what is being hailed as a landmark decision. Paul Sonn of NYU's Brennan Center for Justice, called it "the first large scale enforcement effort involving a large group of workers in a class action suit."

Students at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. and Washington University of St. Louis stage protests and convince administrators to provide a living wage for university employees.

After a massive three-year boycott against Taco Bell, Yum Brands Inc.--the world's largest fast-food corporation and the chain's parent company--agrees to improve working conditions for its tomato pickers in Florida, increasing their wages by paying an extra penny per pound of tomatoes picked.

Maryland passes the Fair Share Health Care Act, requiring Wal-Mart and other large companies in the state to provide health benefits for employees. Throughout the year, Wal-Mart Watch and Wake Up Wal-Mart--who helped get the bill passed--wage a tireless campaign to reform Wal-Mart, forcing the retail behemoth into P.R. crisis mode.

Antiwar & Peace Movement

Chicago's City Council votes 29 to 9 to become the largest US city to pass the "Bring Them Home Now" resolution. The Windy City joins Philadelphia, San Francisco, Sacramento and more than fifty other municipalities that have called for withdrawal.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus--comprised of the strongest anti-war voices in Washington--gets in gear, hiring Hill veteran Bill Gould as its first full-time staffer.

The United Methodist Church and the Union for Reform Judaism pass resolutions calling for withdrawal.

Bush Conspires Against Voters on New Year's Eve

To think that people actually believed the current president when he said he was going to be a "uniter." From an editorial in the New York Times:

President Bush has announced four nominees for the Federal Election Commission, moving to keep the policing of campaign abuses firmly in the hands of party wheel horses. The timing of the announcement - the president waited until the Senate had gone home - is likely to allow the nominees to avoid the full hearing and confirmation process needed to evaluate them properly.

The most objectionable nominee is Hans von Spakovsky, a former Republican county chairman in Georgia and a political appointee at the Justice Department. He is reported to have been involved in the maneuvering to overrule the career specialists who warned that the Texas gerrymandering orchestrated by Representative Tom DeLay violated minority voting rights. Senators need the opportunity to delve into that, as well as reports of Mr. von Spakovsky's involvement in such voting rights abuses as the purging of voter rolls in Florida in the 2000 elections.

The need for a clean broom at the six-member election panel becomes clearer with each new round of decisions favoring big-money politics over the voters. But the newly nominated majority promises no improvement. In fact, the slate would mean an end to the service of Scott Thomas, the one incumbent praised for his independence by Senator John McCain, who has campaigned for a clean, hack-free Federal Election Commission.

Both parties suggested candidates; the Democrats include a union lawyer and a trusted political associate of the Senate minority leader, Harry Reid. By endorsing them, the president has finally shown his commitment to bipartisanship in the worst of ways: by installing another undistinguished group of factotums to referee the democratic process.

Friday, December 30, 2005

A Year Ago

The New York Times' Paul Krugman brings those of us with short memory spans back to the beginning of 2005. He saved the best for last:
A year ago, everyone expected President Bush to get his way on Social Security. Pundits warned Democrats that they were making a big political mistake by opposing plans to divert payroll taxes into private accounts.

A year ago, Mr. Bush made many Americans feel safe, because they believed that he would be decisive and effective in an emergency. But Mr. Bush was apparently oblivious to the first major domestic emergency since 9/11. According to Newsweek, aides to Mr. Bush finally decided, days after Hurricane Katrina struck, that they had to show him a DVD of TV newscasts to get him to appreciate the seriousness of the situation.

A year ago, hardly anyone outside Washington had heard of Jack Abramoff, and Tom DeLay's position as House majority leader seemed unassailable.

A year ago, Dick Cheney, who repeatedly cited discredited evidence linking Saddam to 9/11, and promised that invading Americans would be welcomed as liberators - although he hadn't yet declared that the Iraq insurgency was in its "last throes" - was widely admired for his "gravitas."

A year ago, it was clear that before the Iraq war, the administration suppressed information suggesting that Iraq was not, in fact, trying to build nuclear weapons. Yet few people in Washington or in the news media were willing to say that the nation was deliberately misled into war until polls showed that most Americans already believed it.

A year ago, Mr. Bush hadn't yet openly reneged on Scott McClellan's 2003 pledge that "if anyone in this administration was involved" in the leaking of Valerie Plame's identity, that person "would no longer be in this administration." Of course, some suspect that Mr. Bush has always known who was involved.

A year ago, we didn't know that Mr. Bush was lying, or at least being deceptive, when he said at an April 2004 event promoting the Patriot Act that "a wiretap requires a court order. ...When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so. It's important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution."

A year ago, most Americans thought Mr. Bush was honest.

A year ago, we didn't know for sure that almost all the politicians and pundits who thundered, during the Lewinsky affair, that even the president isn't above the law have changed their minds. But now we know when it comes to presidents who break the law, it's O.K. if you're a Republican.

Brokeback Mountain 2

In Theaters November 2006
From uggabugga:

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Corporate Corruption

The Corporate Crime Reporter is out with a new report detailing 34 crime without conviction deals between the government and major corporations:
Federal and state prosecutors are increasingly offering major corporations - including Adelphia, Computer Associates, KPMG, Merrill Lynch, Monsanto, Sears, Shell, WorldCom/MCI - special deals - known as deferred prosecution or non prosecution agreements.

Under these agreements, prosecutors agree not to criminally prosecute the corporation to conviction in exchange for cooperation against culpable executives, implementation of corporate monitors, and fines.

"It used to be that major corporations caught committing serious crimes would be brought to justice - convicted of a crime and sentenced," said Russell Mokhiber, editor of Corporate Crime Reporter. "No longer."

Now, under a policy implemented by the Department of Justice since 2003, major corporations caught committing serious crimes are not convicted of a crime and sentenced.

In fact, no major corporation caught engaging in accounting or securities fraud has been convicted since the Arthur Andersen conviction in June 2002.

The report finds that prosecutors have entered into twice as many non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements with major American corporations in the last four years (23 agreements between 2002 to 2005) than they have in the previous ten years (11 agreements between 1992 to 2001).

The report profiles thirty-four cases where prosecutors -- confronted with solid evidence of corporate criminal wrongdoing -- have chosen instead to enter into a non-prosecution agreement or a deferred prosecution agreement with the corporation.

Mokhiber was on Democracy Now this morning, predicting that 2006 will be the year of corporate corruption, for both corporations and politicians.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Al Franken Visits the Troops

Just a week after Drudge highlighted an article about celebrities refusing to entertain the troops, Al Franken is spending the holidays in the Middle East with the USO entertaining the troops.

Franken's visit, his third so far, has received hardly any coverage. If O'Reilly or Limbaugh took the trip, the "liberal media" would be all over it.

The only story I could find about Franken's visit is from Army Public Affairs:
Tour participants included comedian Al Franken; actress Traylor Howard; Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders Misty Cleveland and Lynlee Allen; hip-hop band Soul Jahz; and country singers Keni Thomas, Craig Morgan and Mark Wills.

The USO celebrities also toured other areas of military operations. Franken was especially moved by a hospital visit he made while on the tour.

"I liked going to the hospital in the Green Zone because I'm very interested in some of the lives that have been saved," Franken said. "It amazes me how quickly (medical personnel) respond and seeing the medical techniques they apply."

Franken said he is very happy to be part of the USO and the show is just one way to say thank you.

"We did meet and greets at Abu Ghraib, but we ended up doing an impromptu show for those Soldiers, Marines and Airmen," Franken said. "The tour has been great; I have a great group of people I am traveling with and it's always good to see our Soldiers. It is always fun, moving, gratifying and humbling."

The USO is in need of phone cards. To donate, visit USO Operation Phone Home.

Top News Stories for Women in 2005

Ms. Magazine is out with the top news stories affecting women in 2005. They include setbacks, advances and cultural milestones:

MOST SIGNIFICANT: Sandra Day O'Connor resigns from the Supreme Court, leaving a vacancy and likely a shift in direction of the court threatening to narrow women's rights.

MOST OUTRAGEOUS REJECTION OF SCIENCE: FDA controversy: stalls once again on Plan B - flying in the face of scientific decision making.

MOST HONORABLE RESIGNATION: FDA Director of Women's Health, Dr. Susan Wood resigns in protest. Her replacement is a male veterinarian until women's groups roar in protest. FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford resigns shortly thereafter in a cloud of mystery. Meanwhile, women lack over-the-counter access to a safe and reliable form of emergency contraception.

MOST NOTABLE ASCENTS: Women reach new leadership heights globally as women Presidents or Prime Ministers are elected in two countries - in Liberia and Germany - with Michelle Bachelet front-runner for Chile's January 15th Presidential runoff. Simultaneously, Japan decides a woman can become heir to the throne.

MOST LIKELY TO SAVE LIVES: Congress reauthorizes the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

MOST IMPORTANT FOR WOMEN OVER 65: Bush's plan to privatize Social Security, a move that would undermine the economic security for millions of American women, fails in part because of the outcry from women.

MOST SHAMEFUL: The Bush Administration for the fourth year in a row refuses to release congressionally-appropriated funding to UNFPA, United Nations Population Fund. Now totaling $136 million, these lost funds could have been used to save the lives of women, repair obstetric fistulas, prevent maternal mortality and illnesses.

MOST LIKELY TO EVOKE GRATEFUL MEMORIES: The women's and civil rights movements lose four great women leaders: Shirley Chisholm, Molly Yard, C. DeLores Tucker and Rosa Parks.

MOST ENDANGERED: Access to birth control. With pharmacists denying access in the U.S. and the Bush Administration' s move to increase funds for abstinence in international and domestic policies at the expense of more effective prevention of teen pregnancies and HIV/AIDS.

Monday, December 26, 2005

American Christmas Trees: Made in China

Santa's elves have left the North Pole for atheist mainland China, where they make 70 percent of the world's Christmas ornaments, tinsel, artificial trees and other decorations. According to the China General Administration of customs, China exported more than $1 billion worth of Christmas products in 2004. As is usually the case, the most telling line in the article is at the very end: "For the bulk of the toiling "elves" in southern China's factories, however, Santa Claus remains as alien as if he really were at the North Pole. Asked whether the company told its workers anything about the festival for which they spend their days and years producing baubles, Yan answers, "Christmas is not a big traditional festival here and we don't celebrate it. Our workers are mostly middle-aged women who don't need to know anything about it."
Even the White House now celebrates a "Made in China" Christmas. In 2003, seven of the trees adorning the US president's residence were manufactured in China. In fact more than two-thirds of the world's artificial Christmas trees are made in the single city of Shenzhen.

According to Xinhua, China's official news agency, more than 7,000 farmers living in Xiaoguanzhuang town in Jiangsu province
collectively manufactured some 100 million Christmas decorations for export in 2004, earning close to $48.3 million. The town now has 45 large businesses and more than 400 processing workshops producing angels, trees and reindeer.

Hotels, restaurants and shop fronts across the flashier Chinese cities are thus bedecked in wreaths and glittering Christmas trees. Usually surly salespersons in supermarkets are transformed into sexy Santa's helpers in red and white. He of Yiwu Festival Gifts says that while 10 years ago, most people in Yiwu would have been hard pressed to even say what Christmas was, today's youngsters celebrate the festival by decorating their houses and exchanging presents.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Happy Holidays

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Year of Republican Values

Media Matters is out with the most outrageous statements of 2005. Jon Stewart thanks them all profusely for making his job so easy.

Pat Robertson: "If [Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez] thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it." [Christian Broadcasting Network's The 700 Club, 8/22/05]

Bill O'Reilly to San Francisco: "[I]f Al Qaeda comes in here and blows you up, we're not going to do anything about it. ... You want to blow up the Coit Tower? Go ahead." [Westwood One's The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly, 12/8/05]

Rush Limbaugh: "Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society." [The Rush Limbaugh Show, 8/12/05]

Rush Limbaugh on the kidnapping of peace activists in Iraq: "I'm telling you, folks, there's a part of me that likes this." [The Rush Limbaugh Show, 11/29/05]

Radio host Glenn Beck: "[Y]ou know it took me about a year to start hating the 9-11 victims' families? Took me about a year." [Premiere Radio Networks' The Glenn Beck Program, 9/9/05]

American Family Association president Tim Wildmon: Liberals "don't have the kind of family responsibilities most people have, and certainly not church responsibilities." [American Family Radio's Today's Issues, 5/11/05]

David Horowitz on Cindy Sheehan: "It's very hard to have respect for a woman who exploits the death of her own son and doesn't respect her own son's life. ... She portrays him as an idiot." [MSNBC's Connected: Coast to Coast, 8/16/05]

Pat Buchanan: "Our guys" in Iraq "have got every right to have good news put into the media and get to the people of Iraq, even if it's got to be planted or bought." [MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, 12/1/05]

Neal Boortz, suggesting that a victim of Hurricane Katrina housed in an Atlanta hotel consider prostitution: "I dare say she could walk out of that hotel and walk 100 yards in either direction on Fulton Industrial Boulevard here in Atlanta and have a job. What's that? Well, no, no, no. ... Well, you know what? [laughing] Now that you mention it ... [i]f that's the only way she can take care of herself, it sure beats the hell out of sucking off the taxpayers." [Cox Radio Syndication's The Neal Boortz Show, 10/24/05]

Focus on the Family founder and chairman James C. Dobson: Same-sex marriage would lead to "marriage between daddies and little girls ... between a man and his donkey." [Focus on the Family radio program, 10/6/05]

Iraq's Successful Elections

Other than video of purple fingers, the Iraq elections have become yesterday's news. News about spying didn't help...
Here's a report worth reading from CounterPunch writerPatrick Cockburn, who is in Baghdad:
The first results from the parliamentary election last week show that the country is dividing up between Shia, Sunni and Kurdish regions. The secular and nationalist candidate backed by the US and Britain was humiliatingly defeated.

The Shia religious coalition has won a total victory in Baghdad and the south of Iraq. The Sunni Arab parties who openly or covertly support armed resistance to the US are likely to win large majorities in Sunni provinces.

The election marks the final shipwreck of American and British hopes of establishing a pro-western secular democracy in a united Iraq. Islamic fundamentalist movements are ever more powerful in both the Sunni and Shia communities. "In two-and-a-half years Bush has succeeded in creating two new Talibans in Iraq," said Ghassan Attiyah, an Iraqi commentator.

The election was portrayed by President George W. Bush as a sign of success for US policies in Iraq, but in fact means the triumph of America's enemies inside and outside the country. Iran will be pleased that the Shia religious parties whom it has supported, often for decades, have become the strongest political force.

"People underestimate how religious Iraq has become," said one Iraqi observer. He added: "Iran is really a secular society with a religious leadership, but Iraq will be a religious society with a religious leadership." Already most girls leaving schools in Baghdad wear headscarves. Women's rights in cases of divorce and inheritance are being eroded.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Quote of the Year

"This has been a year of strong progress toward a freer, more peaceful world and a prosperous America. It's been a good year for the American people."
-The Current President, before heading to Camp David for Christmas

Do we live in the same country?

Budget Impact on Students

The budget bill makes it even more difficult for the poor and middle-class to afford college. Many students will have no choice but to join the military.
Under the bill, college students would pay higher interest rates on loans. Many banks will receive lower subsidies. And the Education Department will work with the Internal Revenue Service to ferret out students and parents who underreport incomes on financial aid applications. The budget bill is estimated to save $39.7 billion over the next five years. Student aid accounts for $12.7 billion of the savings, or 32 percent.

Republican negotiators said virtually all the cuts in student aid would be borne by banks and other lenders, an assertion sharply disputed by Democrats and college administrators, who said that two-thirds of the savings would be at the expense of students and their families.

Even as it makes those cuts, Congress is creating a new program for students from low-income families who are eligible for Pell grants. The amount of aid will not be based on financial need. To qualify, students would have to be United States citizens, have completed "a rigorous secondary school program of study" and be taking courses full time at a "degree-granting institution of higher education."

The student would have to maintain "a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.0." Juniors and seniors will be eligible only if they have declared a major in the physical or life sciences, computer science, mathematics, technology, engineering or a foreign language deemed critical to national security.

College and university groups, as well as most Democrats, opposed the overall bill.

"This is the biggest cut in the history of the federal student loan program," said David Ward, president of the American Council on Education, an umbrella group for public and private colleges and universities.

A lobbyist at the council, Becky H. Timmons, said, "Students will be paying higher interest rates than they are currently paying."

The rate would be fixed at 6.8 percent for students and 8.5 percent for parents. The current rates, which vary with market conditions, are several percentage points below those levels.

The new aid for freshmen and sophomores is known as academic competitiveness grants. Freshmen would be eligible for $750 grants, and sophomores for $1,300 grants. Juniors and seniors would be eligible for $4,000 a year in what Congress calls Smart grants. The name is an acronym for "science and mathematics access to retain talent."

The Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee, said the new support for math and science education would increase America's ability to compete in a global economy.

"China and India are generating scientists and engineers at a furious pace while America lags dangerously behind," Mr. Frist said.

The bill would not change the maximum Pell grant, which has been $4,050 for several years. President Bush had proposed a $100 increase. The bill would increase the maximum amount of subsidized loans, to $3,500 and $4,500 for first- and second-year students, from $2,625 and $3,500.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, said the math and science program would abandon the Pell grant principle that the neediest students should receive the most help.

"Under this proposal," Mr. Kennedy said, "a single mother who can attend college only part time because she has to work 40 hours a week to put food on the table will not be eligible for a penny in new grant aid."

All But Five Republicans Vote to Screw the Poor

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has assessed the effects the budget will have on low-and middle-income families and individuals. As many economists have pointed out, this budget does nothing to decrease the deficit. It merely pays for tax cuts for the wealthy.

Every Senate Democrat voted against these cuts; all but five Republicans voted for them: Susan M. Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, Gordon Smith of Oregon, Mike DeWine of Ohio and Lincoln D. Chafee of Rhode Island.
*Cuts in the conference agreement include: $16 billion over 10 years in increased Medicaid co-payments and premiums and benefit reductions; new federal mandates in the welfare area that would lead to a loss of an estimated 255,000 child care slots for low-income working families not receiving cash welfare assistance; and nearly $8 billion in lost child support collections over the next 10 years.

*Child Support Enforcement: The CBO estimates show that the conference report includes a $1.5 billion cut in federal funding for child support enforcement efforts over the next five years and a $4.9 billion cut over the next ten years. This is funding that states use to track down absent parents, establish legally enforceable child support orders, and collect and distribute child support owed to families. CBO has estimated that this loss in federal child support funding will result in $2.9 billion in child support going uncollected over the next five years and $8.4 billion going uncollected over the next ten years. These cuts are smaller than those in the House bill but will nevertheless take billions of dollars out of the pockets of mothers and children who are owed child support.

*Child Care: The conference report includes $1 billion in additional funding for child care, which is $7.4 billion less than CBO estimates to be the cost to states of meeting the new work requirements, and more than $11 billion less than what states will need both to meet the new work requirements and to ensure that their current child care programs for low-income working families that are not on TANF do not have to be scaled back as a result of the impact of inflation on child care costs. This means that the conference agreement effectively includes no new funding for states either to help meet the intensified work requirements that will be imposed upon them or to provide child care for children whose parents are now required to participate in work programs.

To come up with the funds to meet the new work requirements and provide child care for the children of mothers placed in these expanded work programs, many states will have little alternative but to scale back child care slots for working poor families not on welfare, and shift those slots to TANF families instead. As a result of the under-funding of child care in the conference agreement, we estimate that in 2010, some 255,000 fewer children in low-income working families not on TANF will receive child care assistance than received such assistance in 2004.

*Foster Care: The bill includes $343 million in net cuts in funding for the foster care program, including two cuts that will make it harder for some states to provide federally funded foster care benefits to certain relatives (often grandparents) who are raising children because their parents are unable to do so. This represents a cost-shift to these states, which will still need to provide assistance to these families to ensure that the children continue to be cared for. In some states, it also will represent a cut in the level of aid provided to these families.

*SSI: Under the conference agreement, poor individuals with disabilities who have waited months for the Social Security Administration to review and approve their applications for SSI (a common occurrence in SSI), and who consequently are owed more than three months of back benefits, would have to receive these benefits in installments that could stretch out over the course of a year. The first installment would include no more than three months of back benefits. By contrast, under current law, most such disabled individuals receive their back benefits in a single lump sum payment. Individuals owed more than 12 months' worth of benefits receive benefits in installments, but the first installment is equal to 12 months of benefits.

*No increase in drug manufacturer rebates. The Senate bill avoided harmful co-payment and premium increases and benefit reductions in part because it achieved much of its Medicaid savings by restraining the amounts that Medicaid pays for prescription drugs. To ensure that Medicaid gets the best prescription drug prices, the Senate bill increased the minimum rebates that drug manufacturers are required to pay the Medicaid program for drugs dispensed to Medicaid beneficiaries. The Senate bill also applied the rebates to drugs provided to Medicaid beneficiaries through managed care plans. The Senate drug rebate provisions produced Medicaid savings of $3.9 billion over five years and $10.5 billion over ten years, which helped the Senate reach its savings target without harming low-income beneficiaries.

In a victory for the powerful pharmaceutical industry, the conference agreement fails to include the Senate’s significant rebate provisions. The conference agreement includes only two minor provisions related to drug rebates already included in both the House-passed and Senate-passed bills; these provisions generate savings of only $220 million over five years and $720 million over ten years, or 2 percent of the gross Medicaid savings in the conference agreement.

*No elimination of the Medicare stabilization fund. The conference report also protects Medicare managed care plans. It drops a Senate provision that would have eliminated a wasteful $10 billion fund to encourage participation in Medicare by regional Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs). The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) — the official, independent advisory body to Congress on Medicare payment policy — recommended last summer in a nearly unanimous vote that this fund be eliminated because it is unnecessary and unwarranted and provides an unfair competitive advantage to PPOs over traditional Medicare fee-for-service and other managed care plans, such as Medicare HMOs. Nevertheless, the conference agreement leaves this fund fully intact, forgoing $5.4 billion in savings over five years (and twice that over ten years) contained in the Senate bill. The removal of this Senate provision likely was done at the behest of the managed care industry and the Administration, which threatened to veto the budget bill if the Senate provision was included in the final conference agreement.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Another Flawed "Media is Liberal" Report

Media Matters keeps track of lies, deception and spin so you don't have to:
News outlets including CNN cited a study of several major media outlets by a UCLA political scientist and a University of Missouri-Columbia economist purporting to "show a strong liberal bias." But the study employed a measure of "bias" so problematic that its findings are next to useless, and the authors -- both former fellows at conservative think tanks cited in the study to illustrate liberal bias -- seem unaware of the substantial scholarly work that exists on the topic.

In recent days, news outlets including CNN cited a study of several major media outlets, "A Measure of Media Bias" (pdf) by political scientist Timothy J. Groseclose of UCLA and economist Jeffrey D. Milyo of the University of Missouri-Columbia, purporting to demonstrate that America's news content has "a strong liberal bias." But the UCLA-led study employed a measure of "bias" so problematic that its findings are next to useless. In addition, the authors -- apparently new to media content analysis -- seem unaware of the substantial scholarly work that exists on the topic, yet they do cite a number of right-wing sources to provide support for their claims.

Given the study's conclusions (that the media is replete with liberal bias) and the study's failure to acknowledge its authors' conservative pedigree, it is not surprising that a number of conservative news outlets picked up the story, as did a few mainstream outlets. Conservative MSNBC host Tucker Carlson interviewed Milyo about the study on the December 19 edition of MSNBC's The Situation with Tucker Carlson. The study was also cited by anchor Jack Cafferty during the December 20 edition of CNN's The Situation Room; on the December 19 editions of Fox News' Fox & Friends and Special Report with Brit Hume; in a December 19 article in The Commercial Appeal of Memphis, Tennessee; and in a December 20 Investor's Business Daily editorial by Edward R. Stephanopoulos. CBS News' Public Eye weblog also featured a post about the study.

None of the outlets that reported on the study mentioned that the authors have previously received funding from the three premier conservative think tanks in the United States: the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI), The Heritage Foundation, and the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace.

Budget Fight Not Over

From the National Women's Law Center:

The bill was changed on the Senate floor due to a successful procedural challenge, a “Point of Order,” raised by Senate Budget Committee Ranking Member Kent Conrad (D-ND) to strip a few particular provisions from the bill that violated budget rules. The changes are minor--all of the devastating cuts to Medicaid, child support enforcement, and foster care, and harmful changes to Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and child care remain in the bill--but the House and Senate bills are sufficiently different to force a second vote in the House.

When will the House take up reconciliation again?

Republican leaders are scrambling to decide what to do: whether to call the House back into session this week or next, wait until their scheduled return on January 31, or call them back in early January.

Is there a chance to change the outcome from the first House vote?

YES. The vote in the House on December 19th was close, 212-206, and sixteen members of Congress missed the vote. In addition, members had only a few hours in the middle of the night to find out what was in the 774-page bill. As legislators, staff, and advocates have had time to look at the bill, more problems have become apparent. For example:

*Child Care/TANF: In renewing the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) programs, the bill imposes harmful new mandates that states meet a 50 percent work participation rate in their TANF program in order to avoid federal penalties, while providing woefully inadequate child care funds to help states meet these new mandates or maintain existing services. Indeed, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the cost to the states of meeting the work requirements is even higher than under the original House-passed bill! As a result, states will be under pressure to cut child care for low-income working families, impose tighter eligibility requirements for TANF and adopt stricter sanctioning policies--denying help to families who need it most. The final bill also imposes limits on the flexibility of states to develop their own policies for helping needy families using state funds--restrictions that were not in the original House bill.

*Medicaid: Low-income families will face increases in co-payments and premiums to access health care services and medications, leading many to forego needed care. In addition, states would be allowed to cut back on health care services for poor women, including family planning.

*Child Support: Federal funding for child support enforcement will be cut about $1.5 billion over the next five years. This is less than the $4.9 billion cut in the original House bill--but it still means that about $2.9 billion in child support owed to children will go uncollected over five years; about $8.4 billion in child support will be lost over ten years.

Reaction to Budget Cuts

"Sadly, as we complete this measure at Christmastime, it will indeed be the neediest members of our society who have to tighten their belts. Republicans have decided to leave tax giveaways for the wealthy under the Christmas tree, while leaving middle-class families out in the cold. Those with incomes over $1 million will receive an average of $32,000 in tax cuts. But those with incomes under $100,000 will receive an average of only $29. Bah humbug. Children and families struggling to pay for health care will be among those who are hurt the most. 46 million Americans lack health insurance, but this bill will increase costs and cut health benefits for millions of low-income families. It slashes Medicaid funding by $6.9 billion over the next five years, and $28.4 billion over 10 years."
-Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA)

"Children born with mental retardation, cerebral palsy, and related developmental disabilities will suffer without Medicaid's Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment (EPSDT) program, which can prevent and minimize disability through early, regular health screenings and treatments. In addition, new onerous work requirements for TANF recipients will force many parents of children with disabilities further into poverty. This Budget Reconciliation is unlike any other in Congress' history and shows a true callousness for our nation's poorest and most vulnerable populations. Passage of this law represents a huge set back for services and supports for our constituents and their families. They deserve better."
-Sue Swenson, executive director of The Arc of the United States and Stephen Bennett, president and CEO of United Cerebral Palsy, two of the nation's leading non-profit organizations advocating for people with disabilities

"This is a sad day in history for the 109th Congress and all American families. Instead of standing up for those who are most vulnerable, today Congress voted to protect the interests of the pharmaceutical and managed care industries. Throughout this entire debate AARP acknowledged the need to improve Medicaid. We tried hard to ensure a responsible policy that achieved the goals of preventing abuse, but still protected those who innocently helped grandchildren and or gave to charities. It is shameful that the final budget contains measures that penalize innocent people, threaten their ability to keep their homes, and shows a preference for protecting the powerful at the expense of millions of Americans."
-AARP CEO William D. Novelli

The American Pharmacists Association, (APhA) the first-established and largest national professional association representing 56,000 pharmacists, student pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, is extremely disappointed with changes to the Medicaid program contained in the budget conference report passed by the House Monday (Dec. 19) and the Senate today (Dec. 21). The cuts to pharmacy reimbursement will likely have a disastrous impact on the profession's ability to provide necessary care to Medicaid patients.
-The American Pharmacists Association

Cheney, Most Republicans Vote to Starve the Poor

The bad news is Cheney flew home to cast the deciding vote on the $40 billion budget-cutting bill.
Fearing a close vote, Cheney cut short his Middle East trip yesterday and flew back to Washington overnight after five Republican senators signaled they would vote against the measure, possibly leading to a 50-50 tie.

That turned out to be the case, as the five Republicans joined all 44 Democrats and one Democratic-leaning independent to oppose the hard-fought budget bill, which tackles the growth of entitlement programs such Medicaid and Medicare for the first time in nearly a decade.
You might want to call the compassionate conservatives who voted against this bill and wish them a Merry Christmas: Susan M. Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, Gordon Smith of Oregon, Mike DeWine of Ohio and Lincoln D. Chafee of Rhode Island.
The legislation would allow states to impose new fees on Medicaid recipients, cut federal child support enforcement funds, impose new work requirements on state welfare programs and squeeze student lenders.

According to budget experts, the bill would barely dent the federal deficit, cutting less than one-half of 1 percent from an estimated $14.3 trillion in federal spending over the next five years. Opponents said the poor would bear the brunt of the cuts -- especially to Medicaid, child support enforcement and foster care -- whereas original targets for belt-tightening, such as pharmaceutical companies and private insurers, largely escaped sanction.
The good news is the Dems blocked the a bid to allow oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The drilling provision is attached to the $453 billion defense budget for fiscal 2006, which passed the House Dec. 19. Democrats, with help from some Republicans, used a procedural tactic known as filibuster to block consideration of the bill.

The 56-44 vote fell 4 votes short of the three-fifths margin needed to cut off debate. Republicans have 55 seats in the 100-member Senate.

The defense budget has $97 billion for military benefits and pay that includes a 3.1 percent salary increase. Also approved was $123 billion for operations and maintenance, $76.5 billion for procurement and $72.1 billion for research.

Republicans said it was appropriate to add the drilling provision to this budget because cutting dependence on foreign oil amounts to a national security issue. Joe Lieberman, a Democrat from Connecticut, accused Republicans of trying to "intimidate" opponents.

"It was wrong at the 11th hour to try and attach this energy and environment matter to a bill whose purpose was to provide funding support for the American military at a time of war," Lieberman said.
Send this to those who say there's no difference between Democrats and Republicans.

Is Bush Against Birth Control?

The treasurer of Planned Parenthood, when it launched its first national fundraising campaign in 1947, was none other than Prescott Bush, father and grandfather of the two Bush presidents.
Prescott Bush won a Senate seat two years later, and his son George and daughter-in-law Barbara continued to support Planned Parenthood even after George's election to Congress from Texas. In fact, he was such an advocate for family planning that some House colleagues gave him the nickname "Rubbers."

But as he began to position himself for the White House within the increasingly conservative GOP, he gradually began to identify himself as averse to abortion -- first by opposing Medicare funding for abortion except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother, and ultimately by acceding to presidential nominee Ronald Reagan's demand that, as his vice presidential nominee, Bush embrace the GOP platform's call for a constitutional amendment against abortion.
Of course George W. supports birth control, but he'll never admit it.

From Bush V. Choice:
Is Bush opposed to birth control?

Amazingly, the President still hasn't answered this question.

38 members of Congress, led by Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), sent President Bush a letter asking him whether he is for or against birth control.

This is the fourth letter sent to Bush on the subject since White House Press Secretary Scott McLellan refused to answer this question earlier this year.

“I thought that in the 21st century, answering a straightforward question about birth control would be easy, but apparently it isn't for the Leader of the Free World," said Maloney. "I was hoping that the president would be able to answer whether or not he supports birth control in less than 165 days. Since we received no response, we have to ask again."

I wouldn't hold your breath for an answer. Sigh.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Congress Reauthorizes Violence Against Women Act

Some good news!
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed by both houses Saturday, authorizing almost $4 billion over the next five years, and now awaits the President's signature. The compromised version of VAWA was approved as part of the Justice Department budget, passing the Senate on Friday and the House on Saturday. The reauthorization broadens efforts to combat violence against women with more focus on prevention strategies, culturally specific services, and enhanced services for victims with disabilities, and it broadens services to include children and teenagers. The 2005 bill authorizes 21 percent more funding than the version passed in 2000.

Since the original 1994 legislation, states have passed more than 660 laws to protect individuals from domestic violence and sexual assault, significantly reducing domestic violence. Incidents of nonfatal domestic violence have dropped 50 percent from 1993 to 2001. Sexual assaults and rapes perpetrated against individuals 12 years old and older have also decreased by 50 percent in that same time period.
A few highlights:
For the first time ever, VAWA contains funding for programs that provide direct services to victims of sexual assault. In the past, federal legislation only addressed rape prevention and education. But the new Sexual Assault Services Act provides for counseling, rape kits, legal assistance and medical services for survivors.

Domestic violence victims are often evicted on account of their abusers' violence, so advocates worked with the real-estate lobby to include provisions that allow victims to break a lease if they're fleeing their abuser. In addition, VAWA prevents landlords from evicting tenants who call police to report abuse. The bill contains language that works for both victims and landlords, says Allison Randall of the National Network to End Domestic Violence. And for the significant number of victims who leave their abusers and find themselves homeless, VAWA expands transitional housing options and ensures victims' confidentiality within the homeless services system.
A few statements:

"I am overjoyed that House and Senate negotiators recognized the critical importance of this proposal for a very vulnerable population. The lives and safety of hundreds of thousands of women and children are at risk. This new law will ensure that HUD rules don't allow the identities and location of victims in domestic violence shelters to be exposed to those who want to assault or kill them."
-Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI)

"The passage of the Violence Against Women Act ensures that communities have the tools they need to intervene in and ultimately prevent violence in our homes. Congress has taken an important step forward in saving lives.”
-Lynn Rosenthal, President of the National Network to End Domestic Violence

"This second renewal of the Violence Against Women Act is proof positive of lawmakers' commitment to protect women in the U.S. While this country has made considerable strides toward combating abuse in the last decade, four women still die at the hands of their partners and 700 are raped or sexually assaulted each day. It is particularly gratifying to note the current legislative emphasis on early intervention, a critical component of saving lives."
-Dr. William F. Schulz, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA

Sponsor an Afghan Child

Remember Afghanistan? The country we bombed and then left in shambles to begin bombing Iraq? It rarely makes headlines, but things aren't going so well over there:
Suspected Taliban guerrillas dragged a teacher from a classroom of teenagers in southern Afghanistan and killed him at the school gate after he ignored their orders to stop teaching girls, police said on Friday.

The attack was carried out by two armed men who arrived at the secondary school in the Nad Ali district of Helmand province by motorcycle on Thursday, Helmand police chief Abdul Rahman Sabir told Reuters.

"They dragged the teacher from the classroom and shot him at the school gate," he said.

"He had received many warning letters from the Taliban to stop teaching, but he continued to to do so happily and honestly -- he liked to teach boys and girls," Sabir said.
A parliament was sworn in yesterday, but women's rights activists say it is dominated by warlords.
Women's activist turned politician Malali Joya on Tuesday picked up where she left off two years ago, condemning Afghanistan's warlords, some of who now sit with her in the Parliament that convened Monday after three decades.

On Monday she told reporters, "I see the future of this parliament as very dark because of the presence of warlords, drug lords and those whose hands are stained with the blood of the people they should be brought to justice."

Joya's accusations were echoed by a group of 20 candidates who blame their losses in the September polls on corruption and vote-rigging and who gathered as the parliament opened Monday. "The current parliamentarians are all smugglers, who made their way to parliament through using force," said failed contender Mohammad Anwar Sultani.

Parveen Durrani, a woman lawmaker from the Kuchi tribe, also underlined the need to develop close unity among parliamentarians, who she urged to join hands for the greater glory of the country, battered by decades of war.

Employment opportunities for youths, improved security and more facilities for women are immediate priorities for Afghanistan, she added, especially because there have been no visible change in the life of the common Afghan citizen despite the billions of dollars in assistance that poured into the country over the last four years.

Pajhwok reported Dec. 6 that violent crimes against women were on the rise in the southern Helmand and northern Kapisa provinces, including several cases of women having been thrashed to death by their husbands or other male relatives.

"Violence against women and girls is pervasive," concluded an Amnesty International report in May. "Afghan women and girls live with the risk of abduction and rape by armed individuals; forced marriage, being traded for settling disputes and debts; and they face daily discrimination from all segments of society as well as by state officials."

For most Afghan women, little has changed since the fundamentalist Taliban's ouster as part of the U.S.-led 'war on terror' in 2001. Literacy rates for women are an abysmal 14 percent compared to slightly more than 50 percent among men. Female life expectancy is a mere 45 years.
The Afghan people are in desperate need of assistance. The Revolutionary Association of the Women in Afghanistan is running a program that allows you to sponsor an Afghan child:
RAWA are helping to bring very poor and often homeless girls and boys off of the streets in Afghanistan and give them a chance for a brighter future. Their shelters are run like a family home; a local husband and wife care for the children and make sure they have a warm bed, warm and clean clothing, regular meals, and a place to call home. Your help will enable RAWA to further help the neediest of Afghan children, by providing them with an environment of love, tolerance and respect for others. Not only will you providing these children with a brighter future, you will helping to provide them with the skills they need help build a modern and peaceful Afghanistan.

You can sponsor a child today and communicate with that child via email on regular basis. CharityHelp International and Afghan Women's Mission has teamed with RAWA to bring low-cost commuication technology to each orphange and enable them to send messages including pictures to you via the internet. Sponsors can see where their money is being spent; orphans can see that someone cares about them and is interested in their well-being and future. Over time, we hope that you will develop a real realationship with your sponsored child.

It costs an average of $141 to bring a child from homelessness to warmth and shelter. Due to our low cost internet based operation, we are able to send $.92 out of every dollar directly to RAWA for your child's care including immunizations, medical check-ups, shelter, food, clothing, and education.

Liberal Media Strikes Again

Remember last week's budget protest in DC that was led by progressive Christian groups? The protest at which 115 people were arrested? Chances are, you didn't hear about it unless you get most of your news online:
A search of the Nexis "major newspapers" database -- which contains 87 newspapers -- turned up only 10 mentions of the event.

The House budget legislation would cut spending on social programs for the poor by $50 billion while sacrificing $94 billion in government revenue to extend tax cuts, more than three-quarters of which would go to the 14 percent of U.S. households making more than $100,000 a year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). As the San Francisco Chronicle reported on November 19, the spending reductions would include $14.3 billion in cuts to student loan programs, $11.4 billion in cuts to Medicaid, and $4.9 billion in cuts to child support enforcement. The measure would also cut off 220,000 people from receiving food stamps.

But the December 14 protest was largely ignored by the media. The Associated Press (AP) and Reuters both issued wire reports mentioning the arrests, and a search of the 87 newspapers in the Nexis major newspapers database from December 13-15 found only 10 mentions of the event. While The Washington Post ran a December 14 article that reported the upcoming protest in the context of contrasting conservative and liberal religious leaders' views on the proposed budget, the only follow-up report in the paper was a photograph of the arrests, published on December 15. The San Francisco Chronicle also ran an article on December 13, prior to the protest, but did not offer a follow-up article discussing the arrests. The New York Times included a one-sentence description of the protest and subsequent arrests in a December 15 article focusing on Republican plans to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling. The St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Minneapolis Star Tribune each ran, on December 15, brief mentions of the protests in articles about political strategies or legislation before the House and Senate, and The Denver Post published a column discussing the protest on December 15 by staff columnist Diane Carman. Also on December 15, the Chicago Tribune ran an article on the protest, and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram printed the AP wire story about the arrests. Internationally, the Toronto Star mentioned the protest in a December 15 article on Pentagon budget requests.

NBC's Nightly News was the only broadcast evening news program that reported on the event. Neither ABC nor CBS acknowledged the protest on their evening news broadcasts, nor did any of the three network morning news shows: Today (NBC), The Early Show (CBS), and Good Morning America (ABC). Further, no prime-time cable news show mentioned the event.
Damn that liberal media.

Exonerated After 17 Years on Death Row

This morning, Democracy Now! aired an interview with Harold Wilson, a man who was recently released from prison after spending 17 years on death row. He was convicted of three murders in 1989. In 1999, his death sentence was overturned due to ineffective counsel. However, his murder convictions were not - and he remained on death row. On October 31st, 2005, Wilson's final trial began and DNA evidence was presented for the first time. On November 15th, he was acquitted of all charges and set free with 65 cents, a bus token and the clothes on his back.
Wilson was originally prosecuted by former Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Jack McMahon. In 1997, the courts began examining Philadelphia's jury selection process after McMahon's role in a training tape was revealed. That year, District Attorney Lynne Abraham, who was in a tight re-election campaign with McMahon, released a training video showing McMahon instructing colleagues to keep poor blacks off juries saying they were less likely to convict.

In 2003 a trial court granted Wilson a new trial after it found that McMahon had used racial bias to eliminate black jurors.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
AMY GOODMAN: You used the law library?

HAROLD WILSON: I would stand up. We had to fight for the law library on death row.

AMY GOODMAN: The guards would have to take you there?

HAROLD WILSON: Yes, you had to be escorted. Any movement was -- you were subject to escort by two officers, and you were cuffed in the back, and it was to the discretion of the officers whether to cuff you in the back or cuff you in the front or use shackles and leg irons. Those were left to the discretion of the officer. But yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And how did the officers treat you as you were taken to the law library to build and challenge your case?

HAROLD WILSON: Well, most of them -- let's put it like this: They always appointed my escorts to be the most racist.
The interview will be repeated many times throughout the day. If you get a chance, check it out. At the end of the interivew, Harold says he wants to buy his mom a coat for Christmas. I'm sure he would appreciate a small donation or even an e-greeting:

Here's his contact info:
Harold C. Wilson
PO Box 19709
Philadelphia PA 19143

Monday, December 19, 2005

Unwanted Children

If the antis get their way, these numbers will only increase.
U.S. women of childbearing age who were surveyed in 2002 revealed that 14 percent of their recent births were unwanted at the time of conception, federal researchers said Monday.

In a similar 1995 survey, only 9 percent were unwanted at the time of conception.

At least one anti-abortion group said the numbers reflect a national "pro-life shift," while others who research reproductive health issues suggested it might mean less access to abortion.

The proportion of unwanted births at time of conceptions was highest among girls under 18 - 25.4 percent. It was lowest among women 30 to 44 - 10.4 percent.

The proportion was higher for black women (26.2 percent) than for Hispanics (16.8 percent) and whites (10.7 percent).

Here are some other highlights from the new federal report:

About 42 percent of women in 2002 said they never married, up from 38 percent in 1995.

About 50 percent of women in 2002 said they had lived with a man in a sexual relationship outside of marriage, up from 41 percent of women in the 1995 survey.
On my trip to the "red states" this summer, I met many people whose sole mission in life is to overturn Roe v. Wade. None of them have adopted and most refuse to take a position on the pill.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Drooling Over Bush's Speech

Another balanced Fox roundtable of 'experts' shared their insights following tonight's speech: Bill Kristol and Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard and Mort Kondracke of Roll Call. Three male Bush cheerleaders. Why do I torture myself?

Speaking of torture, I've been meaning to post Bill O'Reilly's interview with Donald Rumsfeld the other night. News Hounds has the transcript. I don't know how they do it:
O'REILLY: Why do you think the press coverage is so hostile to the Iraq effort?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I think it's always been so. In World War - in the Civil War they just vilified Abraham Lincoln. George Washington was almost fired a couple of times. Think of, think of World War II and Franklin Roosevelt. I was alive and, and he was vilified, Franklin Roosevelt. People ...

O'REILLY: Why? Is there a "why" behind the press' skepticism about armed conflict?

RUMSFELD: I don't know. I just know that there's nothing new about this. And, and Harry Truman was pounded over the Korean War and look at Lyndon Johnson on the Vietnam War. (irritated) This is what happens in a war. It's tough business and people die and our heart goes out to those wonderful people, but, by golly, if every time people started criticizing what's going on and, and, and you stopped doing what you were doing and didn't complete the task that's got to be completed over there, our country would be a totally different place and our way of life would be totally different.

[COMMENT: Exactly "how" our way of life would be totally different, Mr. Rumsfeld neglected to say. As usual, his remarks were like cotton candy. Sweet and transient.]

O'REILLY: Is Howard Dean using the conflict for political reasons?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I can'' climb into someone else's head. He's Chairman of the Democratic Party. I suppose when he gets up in the morning, what he decides to do is ...

O'REILLY: He says - he says you can't win the war.

RUMSFELD: Oh, that's utter nonsense. We can't lose the war over there! The only place you could lose it would be Washington, DC. They're not gonna lose battles over in Iraq! Our soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marine [sic] are doing an absolutely superb job ,,,

O'REILLY: My goodness ...

RUMSFELD: ... and they know it! And they're proud of what they're doing and they know it's noble work.

O'REILLY: Why doesn't Howard Dean know it?

RUMSFELD: Oh, goodness, I have enough trouble just doin' my job without tellin' ya' how he ought to do his job.

O'REILLY: I bet you'd like to tell him a few things, wouldn't ya'?

RUMSFELD: Well, not from this position. The President asked me not to get involved in politics, so I don't.
If this were a made for TV movie, Rumsfeld and O'Reilly would say good-night to all the patriots watching, grab hands and skip over to the White House for its annual Christmas party.

Kristof Takes on O'Reilly, the "Religious Hypocrite"

From Editor & Publisher:
It all started exactly one week ago when New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, taking note of Bill O'Reilly's focus on keeping the Christmas in Christmas, suggested that the Fox personality might honor the season better by exposing the continuing genocide in Darfur, which the TV host has allegedly "ignored." O'Reilly responded by denouncing Kristof as a "left-wing ideologue."

Today, in his column, Kristof replied in kind, while disclosing that he puts up a "Christmas" tree himself, not a "holiday" tree.

"Perhaps I'm particularly sensitive to religious hypocrites because I've spent a chunk of time abroad watching Muslim versions of Mr. O'Reilly - demagogic table-thumpers who exploit public religiosity as a cynical ploy to gain attention and money," Kristof explained. "And I always tell moderate Muslims that they need to stand up to blustery blowhards - so today, I'm taking my own advice."

Then he went on to call O'Reilly "a self-rightheous bully in the style of Father Coughlin or Joe McCarthy," suggesting that perhaps he was a leftwing plant meant to make conservatives look bad.

"So I have a challenge for Mr. O'Reilly: If you really want to defend traditional values, then come with me on a trip to Darfur," Kristof concluded. " I'll introduce you to mothers who have had their babies clubbed to death in front of them, to teenage girls who have been gang-raped and then mutilated - and to the government-armed thugs who do these things.

"You'll have to leave your studio, Bill. You'll encounter pure evil. If you're like me, you'll be scared. If you try to bully some of the goons in Darfur, they'll just hack your head off. But you'll also meet some genuine conservative Christians - aid workers who live the Gospel instead of sputtering about it - and you'll finally be using your talents for an important cause.

"So, Bill, what'll it be? Will you dare travel to a real war against Christmas values, in which the victims aren't offended shoppers but terrified children thrown on bonfires? I'm waiting to hear."

We're sure to hear something from O'Reilly this week--although it may not be what Kristof hopes to hear.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Christianity Today Reviews Brokeback Mountain

I'm looking forward to seeing this film. When I was in Montana in early October, I interviewed a man about hunting, guns and the environment. About an hour into our conversation, he revealed that he is gay and just came out to his wife and friends. Since coming out, he's met a number of gay ranchers and cowboys who are mostly in the closet. He's thinking about quitting his job as a conservationist to fight for gay rights. It was one of my favorite interviews. I think about him whenever I see a preview for or hear about Brokeback Mountain.

Christianity Today is running a preview about the movie, with this editor's note:
This film depicts a homosexual relationship, and includes a graphic sex scene between the two men. After much discussion, Christianity Today Movies has decided to review the film despite its controversial subject matter. It has been nominated for seven Golden Globe Awards and will certainly be an Oscar contender. The film is a hot topic of conversation around the nation, and we'd be remiss to simply ignore it. Part of our mission statement is "to inform and equip Christian moviegoers to make discerning choices" about what films you'll watch--or won't watch. And this review, just like all of our reviews, certainly accomplishes that. As for the 3-star rating, that is only in reference to the quality of the filmmaking, the acting, the cinematography, etc. It is not a "recommendation" to see the film, nor is it a rating of the "moral acceptability" of the subject matter.
Nor is it a recommendation not to see the film. Overall, it's a positive review. I wonder if the editors have received complaints. The Catholic News Service, after also posting a positive review, was pressured by LifeSite to change its rating from "L" for limited adult audience to "M" for morally offensive

Friday, December 16, 2005

Bush Spied On Me

Looking for a last minute gift? AMERICAblog has a few new shirts for sale.

From the NY Times:
Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.

Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible "dirty numbers" linked to Al Qaeda, the officials said. The agency, they said, still seeks warrants to monitor entirely domestic communications.

The previously undisclosed decision to permit some eavesdropping inside the country without court approval was a major shift in American intelligence-gathering practices, particularly for the National Security Agency, whose mission is to spy on communications abroad. As a result, some officials familiar with the continuing operation have questioned whether the surveillance has stretched, if not crossed, constitutional limits on legal searches.

"This is really a sea change," said a former senior official who specializes in national security law. "It's almost a mainstay of this country that the N.S.A. only does foreign searches."

Nearly a dozen current and former officials, who were granted anonymity because of the classified nature of the program, discussed it with reporters for The New York Times because of their concerns about the operation's legality and oversight.

Exploiting the Military to Drill for Oil in Alaska

Senator Ted Stevens, Republican from Alaska, has stooped to a new low by attaching a plan to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling to a bill to fund the nation's military defense. "I am just doing my utmost to do my job, which is to try and get [drilling] approved," Stevens said Thursday.
The oil beneath the refuge will not make this country any less dependent on foreign oil. It won't lower fuel prices or pay for Katrina relief. In fact, no amount of oil drilling on the Alaska North Slope will change the fact that the Trans Alaska Pipeline System is set by industry to operate at a maximum of 1 million barrels of oil a day, regardless of how much oil is found. Oil companies operating in Alaska already have at least 30 years of oil supply lined up without drilling in the Arctic refuge.

However, the issue of Arctic drilling has become so freighted with politics that the facts no longer seem to matter.

Now Arctic drilling has been thrown in with the defense bill and the emotionally charged matter of supporting American troops at a time of war. It does not belong there, something that ought to be obvious to all but the most cynical members of Congress.
This morning, Operation Truth Executive Director and Iraq veteran Paul Rieckhoff responded to the Senator's desperate attempt.
"Any move to insert a controversial Arctic drilling measure in the FY2006 Defense Appropriations bill is an action is that is clearly, unmistakably, and patently anti-Troop. Lest the Senate leadership forget, we are at war on two major fronts - Iraq and Afghanistan - where many of our Servicemembers are making the ultimate sacrifice everyday. If the proper is held up in Congress because of this legislative game, more will be put at risk than necessary.

I served in Iraq and talk with hundreds of people still in the field and those who have returned home. I am putting the Leadership on notice - holding up money for our Troops will do more to hurt morale than any debate over the course of the war ever could. If any Senator delays the Military appropriations bill by supporting the insertion of non-germane, controversial amendments, they have absolutely no right to ever claim to 'Support the Troops' again.

We must show we are not losing focus on supporting the Troops. As the latest Republican Party ad says, 'Our country is at war; our soldiers are watching. And our enemies are, too.'"
A Senate debate is expected to begin as early as Saturday. Many Republicans also say the Arctic drilling measure does not belong in a military appropriations bill.
A group was drafting a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) saying that senators "ought not to exploit... the well-being of our troops" to advance the drilling measure.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a drilling opponent, said he wasn't sure how he would vote if the bill included the drilling measure.

"That's the dilemma," McCain said in an interview. "I think it's disgraceful I have to be put in that position."

Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), another drilling opponent, said that adding the measure to the military appropriations bill would make the vote "very uncomfortable for me."
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Democrat from Nevada, said he would filibuster the bill if it includes the oil provision. "The defense appropriations bill -- the bill to take care of the fighting men and women of the United States -- is being held up because they can't figure out a way to grovel and satisfy the oil companies."

Women's Rights in Iraq & Other (Depressing) News


Women Legislators' Reviews Mixed in Iraq - AP
Mariam al-Rayes still remembers the words of a skeptical colleague at law school. "You cannot work as a lawyer because people do not trust women lawyers," he told her many years ago. Since then, al-Rayes has successfully practiced law and gone on to become one of nearly 90 women in Iraq's current 275-member parliament, dominated by a coalition of Shiite religious parties to which she belongs. And she was hoping to keep her spot in the legislature, campaigning in Thursday's elections, but this time on a different ticket. Some women's rights activists argue that female legislators have little to show for their time in parliament. Harsher critics even accuse them of helping pass a constitution that the critics say undermines women's rights.

Reproductive Rights

The Destructive Strings of U.S. Aid - International Herald Tribune
Today, unfortunately, we are seeing a new wave of stigma against the very people who pioneered Uganda's struggle against AIDS. For the first time in years, it seems fashionable to say that people living with AIDS are "promiscuous" or "pro-sex." A beauty pageant that would have celebrated the dignity and beauty of women living with HIV/AIDS was recently canceled because politicians said that AIDS should not be glorified. In recent speec hes, President Museveni has said that condoms are only appropriate for "high risk" groups like prostitutes and truck drivers. What has brought about this change? For me, the culprit is U.S. backing of programs that focus on "abstinence-until-marriage."


Women just 6% of India's workforce - The Economic Times
thought women were getting a better deal at the workplace, think again. Women make up only 6% of India's workforce and the numbers get more skewed as you go up the corporate ladder. There are only 4% women at senior management levels and almost none in a leadership role. North India leads the way in this discrimination -- 1% senior management posts are held by women and none at the top. These facts were revealed in the first-of-its-kind study by the Confederation of Indian Industry on women empowerment in the workplace.

Russia urged to protect its women - UPI
Every hour a woman dies in Russia at the hands of a relative, a partner or a former partner, Amnesty International has said in a new report. The human rights watchdog called on Russian authorities Wednesday to take more effective steps to prevent domestic violence against women, The Moscow Times reported Thursday. The Interior Ministry's latest figures say that 9,000 women were killed by a partner or relative in 2003, mostly after a relationship ended.

Egypt's liberal women see veiled threat in Islamist rise - Middle East Times
The spectacular performance of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt's legislative polls has heightened fears of a clampdown on women's freedoms should the Islamist group ever come to power.

Malawi acts against child brides - BBC
The government of Malawi is considering raising the legal age of marriage in the country to 18 as a result of a growing number of cases of young girls being forced to marry much older men. The legal age of marriage in country is currently 15, but many man are illegally marrying girls as young as 11 or 12. As a result, the average age of marriage in Malawi is among the world's lowest, while the percentage of teenage mothers is among the world's highest.

SOMALIA: Primary attendance lowest in the world - IRIN
Only one out of every five children in Somalia is enrolled in primary school, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said in its State of the World's Children report for 2006. Somali children are further disadvantaged by disease, conflict and harsh environmental conditions, the agency added. "The net primary attendance ratio is lower than anywhere in the world, at just 12 percent for boys and 10 percent for girls," the report said. "Years of underinvestment have left Somalia lagging behind the rest of the developing world in education."

Bangladeshi women say no to the WTO - Reuters
Hundreds of poor rural women in Bangladesh descended on the capital Dhaka on December 7 to say 'no' to the WTO negotiations currently being held in Hong Kong. Supported by Christian Aid partner, UBINIG, women from the countryside carrying earthen pots and bamboo winnowers were joined in Dhaka by garment workers, professionals, artists, singers and housewives. The protestors called on governments to be more accountable to people when signing WTO agreements perceived by many in Bangladesh as being 'anti-people', but especially 'anti-women'.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Iraq Vets Running for Office

Nine Iraq veterans (eight are Demorats) from Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Texas, Maryland, and Minnesota are running for seats in the House of Representatives. In 1974, nearly 80 percent of all Congress members served in uniform; today, less than 30 percent have military experience.

Andrew Horne, who returned home from Iraq last spring after a seven-month stint, said he was entering the 3rd District race [in Kentucky] partly because of his dissatisfaction with Iraq policy.

"It became a realization that we are less safe than we were, not more safe," said Horne, a longtime political independent who recently joined the Democratic Party.

Horne, 44, a Louisville attorney, will be making his first bid for elective office. If he gains his party's nomination, Horne will face a well-financed, campaign-tested Republican incumbent in Northup, who defeated her last challenger by 22 percentage points in 2004.

Northup has been a staunch supporter of Bush's Iraq policy. Horne said she has "become nothing but a rubber stamp" for her fellow Republican.

Horne said members of Congress "take an oath to the country, not to the president."
Mother Jones has a great piece about Paul Hackett, a Marine who fought in Iraq and came close to beating Republican Jean Schmidt for a House seat in a conservative Ohio district.
The conservative Cincinnati Enquirer declared Hackett's showing "nothing short of astounding." U.S. Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) told the Columbus Dispatch, "The political situation for Republicans both in Washington and especially Ohio is just dreadful. I've never seen it so dire." To be sure, Hackett was helped by the fact that Ohio's Republicans have been in the midst of a full-scale meltdown; earlier this year the governor was forced to apologize for taking illegal gifts, and the state's senior senator, Mike DeWine--whom Hackett plans to challenge next year--has some of the lowest approval ratings of any U.S. senator.
Several candidates are also interviewed in a recent Boston Globe article:
Andrew Duck, 43, is runing in rural Maryland's Sixth District, a seat held by seven-term Republican Roscoe Bartlett. Describing himself as a Democrat who is opposed to abortion, the former Army intelligence officer still works at the Pentagon as a contractor.

"I am very proud I helped get rid of Saddam Hussein, but I am also embarrassed at how badly we have messed it up since then," he said in a recent interview in a pizza shop near the Pentagon.

''People say there wasn't a plan. I know there was a plan," Duck said. ''Our problem was we were told [by Pentagon leaders] we can't use it."

Duck, who served as an intelligence liaison officer between ground forces in Iraq, believes the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detainee prison camp is illegal and should be closed. But he said what ''broke the camel's back" was seeing firsthand the failure to provide adequate armor to protect US troops from insurgent attacks.
These races will be interesting to watch.

Online Pen Pals

During the holidays, I'm always hearing friends say they feel guilty for not finding time to volunteer. I just found a service that makes it easy to volunteer in your home and at your leisure. "Write a Senior Citizen" connects you with a senior who wants an email pen pal. You can search by keyword, country or birth year.

Here are a few:
Jean from the U.S.

Jean was born on September 30, 1939 in New Orleans, Louisiana and now lives in Saucier, Mississippi. Her favorite book is Vanishing Point and her favorite food is oyster poor boy. Hardi is her favorite movie and her dearest memory is of when she earned her license for hairdressing.

Jean has three children, five grandchildren and a dog. Her hobbies are ceramics, camping and bowling and she is very young at heart. Jean would like an American pen pal.

Anne from Kenya

Anne was born on November 30, 1946 in Kenya and now lives in Nairobi. She attended college and has traveled around East Africa. Her favorite book is The Bible and she likes to eat chicken burgers. James Bond movies are her favorites and memories of when she first dated are her dearest.

Anne has four children and one dog, called Mom. She likes to read, dance, listen to music and swim and would appreciate pen friends from all over the world.

Ali M. from Pakistan

Ali was born on August 5, 1938 in Lucknow, India and now lives in Karachi, Pakistan. He speaks Urdu and attended engineering school. He has traveled all over Europe, china, the United States and Mexico and his favorite book is The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. His favorite food is sausage and his favorite movie is Mutiny on the Bounty. Memories of his first trip to Europe are his dearest.

Ali has two sons, one four-year-old granddaughter, one three-year-old grandson, birds, dogs, and parrots. His hobbies are gardening, birds and pen pals. Ali has been having pen pals throughout his life and is interested in many things as hobbies. His dearest wish is to improve the quality of life of people.

I love reading the lines about their favorite foods.

Not surprisingly, the Middle East is barely represented. Still, it's a great way to get to know someone in a country or state you don't know much about or would like to visit in the future. And you might improve our reputation overseas!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Katrina's Worst Casualty, Crimes in Darfur


Woman sues polygamist Mormon sect - AP
A woman on Tuesday sued a fundamentalist Mormon church and its fugitive polygamist leader, claiming he forced her as a young teenager to marry a much oldlder man.

Older Women Were and Are Katrina's Worst Casualty - Women's eNews
While the media did a good job focusing national concern on race and class in Katrina coverage, Margaret Morganroth Gullette decries a failure to focus on the main casualties of the disaster: elderly women.

Reproductive Rights

3 Dallas area clinics for women set to close - AP
As many as 11,000 women in Dallas County could lose access to postpartum care and birth control next year with the closure of three neighborhood clinics, doctors from UT Southwestern Medical Center say. The doctors, who are running the program for Parkland Memorial Hospital, blamed an almost 25 percent cut in federal funding distributed by the state next year - a loss totaling $1.7 million. "Our worst-case scenario was that the state would cut 20 percent of our funding," said Dr. Steve Bloom, UT Southwestern's interim director of obstetrics and gynecology. "It's a sad day for family planning in Dallas."


Millions of children ''invisible'': UNICEF - Reuters
Millions of the world's neediest children are not even a blip on the radar of their own governments because there is no record of their birth, the United Nation's Children's Fund UNICEF said on Wednesday. In its annual State of the World's Children report "Excluded and Invisible," UNICEF said one-third of the estimated 150 million children born worldwide each year were not registered -- and the number was growing. Children not registered at birth may never officially exist, making it easy for governments to ignore them and for traffickers to make them disappear without risk of retribution.

South Africa ready to ban 'degrading' virginity tests - Times Online
South Africa prides itself on being the continent’s most advanced nation, but again is about to outrage its many outspoken traditionalists by voting in parliament to ban the "degrading and demeaning" Zulu custom of virginity testing on girls aged under 16. Traditionalists vowed to continue the practice on girls, which involves inspection of genitalia, usually on the sidelines of big cultural festivals. Parliament, which outraged traditionalists when it voted in favour of same-sex marriages this month, is to debate a Children's Bill this week which would ban the practice for girls under 16. Consent must be given for girls over 16. The bill, drawn up to protect children from abuse, has already been diluted because of objections by traditional leaders.

Three times as many women as men died in tsunami: report - AFP
Three times as many women as men died in the vast tsunami that struck about a dozen Asian countries just after Christmas last year, a report by the Global Fund for Women said.

Cuba 'bars women from prize trip' - BBC
Cuban women activists say they are being stopped from going to Europe to collect a human rights prize.

U.N. Prosecutor Gathering Evidence of Darfur Crimes - AllAfrica.com
Evidence gathered by investigators for the International Criminal Court (ICC) presents a picture of "particularly grave events involving high numbers of killings, mass rapes and other forms of extremely serious gender violence" in the Darfur region of Sudan that shows someone commanded and controlled the operations, the court's chief prosecutor says.

War is over but Ivorians are still paying the price - Guardian
A plank studded with rusty nails lies across the road as the Medecins sans Frontieres car enters rebel territory after passing a UN checkpoint. Two young men in fatigues step out of the shade as we stop in front of this makeshift roadblock. Each gestures, using both hands as if to pull a bag over his head. After repeating this baffling movement several times, one comes up to the car window and says in French: "Give us condoms." The mime is explained, but I am surprised by the demand. "It happens all the time," says the MSF nurse sitting behind me. She politely tells the soldiers they can go to any MSF clinic for condoms. It is MSF policy never to give anything out at roadblocks.

Christian Right: Poverty is Not Our Issue

The Christian right's response to today's anti-budget action in DC:

Conservative Christian groups such as Focus on the Family say it is a matter of priorities, and their priorities are abortion, same-sex marriage and seating judges who will back their position against those practices.

"It's not a question of the poor not being important or that meeting their needs is not important," said Paul Hetrick, a spokesman for Focus on the Family, Dobson's influential, Colorado-based Christian organization. "But whether or not a baby is killed in the seventh or eighth month of pregnancy, that is less important than help for the poor? We would respectfully disagree with that."

Of course, fight for that unborn baby and leave the poor mother to fend for herself once it's born.

115 Christians Arrested for Exposing Budget Hypocrisy

I guess Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson had other plans:
U.S. Capitol Police arrested 115 religious activists who were protesting a House Republican budget plan's cuts in social programs when they refused to clear the entrance to a congressional office building Wednesday.

"These are political choices being made that are hurting low-income people," said Jim Wallis, the event's organizer and founder of the Christian ministry group Sojourners. "Don't make them the brunt of your deficit reduction and fiscal responsibility."

Wallis called the House budget plan, which would produce $50 billion in savings over five years, "the real Christmas scandal," a reference to a campaign by some conservative Christian groups against the greeting "Happy holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."

Wallis, who was arrested, said the group had little complaint with a more modest Senate plan.

Outside in the frigid cold for several hours, more than 200 demonstrators sang religious and holiday songs, prayed aloud and chanted, "Stop the cuts." Those who were peacefully arrested and led away from the steps of the Cannon House Office Building faced booking and a $50 fine, said Sgt. Kimberly O'Brien, a Capitol Police spokeswoman.

Wallis refused to consider the vigil a partisan affair, saying the religious and political spectrum was widely represented. "The media seems to think only abortion and gay marriage are religious issues," Wallis said. "Poverty is a moral issue, it's a faith issue, it's a religious issue."

I wonder if Fox News will take a break from its "War on Christmas" to cover today's event.