<\body> Stories in America: June 2006

Friday, June 30, 2006

Must See Documentary: The War Tapes

The War Tapes, a documentary that shows the Iraq war thorugh the eyes of soldiers, opens today in selected cities. I saw it a few nights ago and highly recommend it. The filmmakers gave cameras to five soldiers from the New Hampshire National Guard and were lucky enough to receive 1,100 hours of footage from three men with very different opinions and backgrounds. Because soldiers, not journalists, were interviewing their fellow soldiers, the footage is very real and very raw. It'll make you realize just how disconnected the majority of Americans are from the reality on the ground:
"I think if we can get people in to see the film, I think it's going to change the way people see the war," said Staff Sgt. Zack Bazzi, a soldier in the film, in a telephone interview from Washington. "There's a huge gap between the people who are fighting this war and the people who are at home. I think this will be eye-opening for people who have been watching the war at home on TV. It's not the same.

"Part of the reason is the media. A reporter can be with us, use all the lingo, try to be our buddy," Bazzi continued. "But still, we look at them and say, 'You're the media.'"
As the San Francisco Chronicle points out, this film can't be tagged as having a liberal or conservative bent. In fact, the filmmakers said they tried to steer clear of bringing their political perspective to the film:
"This isn't a Michael Moore film, and it isn't a recruiting film," says Ward Carroll, editor of Military.com and a 20-year Navy veteran who saw the film. "How can you quarrel with it? It shows the good and the bad. It's sincere."

The film shows how partisan politics gets fuzzy in foxholes: Soldiers who voted Republican complain about guarding trucks for Halliburton Co., and a Democratic-voting soldier who reads the Nation re-enlists.
The pro-war talking heads who've never been to Iraq (outside the Green Zone) or served in the military should be required to see this documentary. I'd say the same for anti-war talking heads who've never been, but those who get national exposure in the traditional media are few and far between.

The film opens today in Berkeley, CA, Boston, MA, Concord, NY, San Francisco and Washington, DC.

Justice in New Orleans?

From Think Progress:
15 years. The sentence handed out to three Louisianans convicted of looting liquor from a grocery store six days after Hurricane Katrina. Meanwhile, two men convicted this week of bribing a federal official to falsify Katrina contracting documents received one year in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Do You Trust Electronic Voting Machines?

The Brennan Center for Justice is out with an extensive study focusing on the (in)security of electronic voting systems. Its key findings:
All three voting systems have significant security and reliability vulnerabilities, which pose a real danger to the integrity of national,state,and local elections.

The most troubling vulnerabilities of each system can be substantially reme-diedif proper countermeasures are implemented at the state and local level.

Few jurisdictions have implemented any of the key countermeasures that could make the least difficult attacks against voting systems much more diffi-cult to execute successfully.
Check out this interview with Lawrence Norden, associates counsel with the Brennan Center from today's Democracy Now:
AMY GOODMAN: Your major findings are shocking. Go through them.

LAWRENCE NORDEN: Well, first of all, we did find that there are serious vulnerabilities in electronic voting machines. What we also found, importantly, was that there are relatively simple and straightforward ways to make those systems substantially more secure, to remedy the vulnerabilities that we found that we were most concerned about, but that unfortunately right now very few jurisdictions have those remedies in place.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, explain the vulnerabilities and also the different voting systems, different companies that produce them, in terms of what you found with each of them, if at possible.

LAWRENCE NORDEN: Sure. Something that was different about, I think, this report, as opposed to previous reports on electronic voting machines that have come out, is that we weren't looking at specific anecdotes or focusing on one particular vendor. What we were doing is looking at all of the major electronic voting systems. This is a new architecture. Something like 50% of Americans are voting on new machines over the past few years, and they require new security measures.

So one of the systems that many people will be using across the country are what are called optical scan machines. These are machines where you fill in a ballot, as you might fill in in an SAT exam, and you then scan that ballot electronically. It’s read electronically, and the vote total is electronically recorded in the machine. And the other machine that many people are familiar with are the touch screens, the DREs. And these are like ATM machines or computer screens that a voter presses directly onto the machine to record her vote. Again, stored electronically. In some cases these have paper trails, where voters can check to see that their vote was recorded correctly. In other cases there are no paper records.

What we found is that in all cases, for all of these systems, there are enough points of vulnerability, there is enough access, that somebody could insert a software-type program and reach enough machines, so that they could potentially change the votes on the machines, shut down the machines, do other things like this. Now, again, I want to emphasize that there are things that can be done to prevent this to make this much more difficult.

Kuwaiti Women Vote for the First Time

Kuwaiti women went to the polls today for the very first time, making Saudi Arabia the only Arab country that doesn't alow women to vote:
"It takes a lot of guts in this male-dominated society to stand in front of parliament in an orange T-shirt, holding a huge banner asking for the right to vote," said Ashwaq al-Mudaf, 33, a civil engineer. "Our society was not used to that kind of behavior.

Voters make the sign of victory as they await their turns to cast their votes in Kuwait June 29, 2006. (Stephanie McGehee/Reuters)

Rola Dashti economist and a candidate running for a seat in Kuwait's parliament talks to voters at a polling station in Kuwait June 29, 2006. Kuwaitis voted for a new parliament on Thursday with women running and casting ballots for the first time in a national poll in the Gulf Arab state. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra(KUWAIT)

Nabeela Al Anjari an economist and a candidate running for a seat in Kuwait's parliament smiles as she arrives at a polling station in Kuwait June 29, 2006. Kuwaitis voted for a new parliament on Thursday with women running and casting ballots for the first time in a national poll in the Gulf Arab state. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra (KUWAIT)

Fatma al-Muteiri, scion of an ancient bedouin tribe and candidate in Kuwait's parliamentary elections, stands outside a polling station in Riqqa. Kuwaiti women have turned out in force to vote for the first time in parliamentary elections in the oil-rich Gulf state after a heated campaign focused on electoral reform and corruption. (AFP/Awad Awad)

Supporters of Kuwaiti candidates, running for a seat in Kuwaiti parliament, walk to the polling booths in Kuwait June 29, 2006. Kuwaitis voted for a new parliament on Thursday with women running and casting ballots for the first time in a national poll in the Gulf Arab state. REUTERS/Stephanie McGehee (KUWAIT)

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Reaching Out to the African American Community

Whenever I approached a young African American at the Juneteenth festival in San Francisco, I always heard the same thing: "I don't vote because politicians don't care about our communities. They have no idea what goes on here and they don't care." It was almost impossible to get an interview with a young person in their 20s.

Dijaida, a 34-year old mason, says young people hesitate to share their opinions because they don't trust outsiders. Dijaida never misses an election.

What issues are important to you?

The presidency, the governor, stuff that goes on in the city. I'm interested in a lot of things. Education is very important.

Do you affiliate with a political party?

I'm a Democrat.

What message would you send to politicians? What can they do to reach out to communities that have low voter turnout?

They need to come to the communities, especially this community. They always go to the high rise hotels. They need to do more outreach here and talk to the people.

Do you feel like the progressive community does enough to reach out to your neighborhood and African American neighborhoods in general?

No, the progressive community is mainly white. Minorities feel like no one cares, so they don't vote. They don't think it's important. You keep pushing them to vote and come out and talk to them and they'll begin to trust you. The problem is, they don't trust many people. Politicians need to come to this community. The people who live here believe it's us against them and if no one comes out to educate them, they'll always feel that way.

Where do you get your news?

I read the newspaper everyday and watch TV news.

Do you get any of your news from the Internet?


Do you ever visit political websites?


Valerie, 44, is a teacher's aide. She hasn't voted since 1996.

Do you affiliate with a political party?

I'm a Democrat, but I don't see the results of what the politicians are doing.

Last time I voted was when Clinton was in. I liked him a lot. I loved Kerry, too. Where is he? What happened?

Did you vote in this last election?

No, I didn't see anything that was interesting.

What issues are you interested in?

Childcare, jobs for the youth and crime. There's so much crime on the street. What are they doing about this? Kids are being shot at community centers. I'm fed up. We need more police. There are too many drive bys.

Where do you get your news?

From the newspaper and the community. Everybody talks in the community.

Do you use the Internet?

I just got an email address.

What message would you send to the Democrats?

Get rid of the crime, so my child can play on the sidewalk. Do something about healthcare. Arnold took my medicare. The food programs are also being cut. There are no jobs here. It's not right.

Women need to be empowered because we're the ones raising our kids. The men aren't. They're in jail and drunk half the time. I don't have anything against them, but it's hard to find a real man around here.

I've met a few women here who voted for Bush because they're against abortion and gay marriage.

I'm definitely against abortion and gay marriage, but that's between you and the lord. Please practice safe sex.

So you don't think they should be political issues?


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Q&A with Former Democrat Who No Longer Votes

I met Brenda, a 50-something former Democrat at last week's Juneteenth festival in San Francisco. Corruption is clearly turning people who were once politically active into non-voters. Because of Brenda's belief that Jesus Christ will return and solve all of our problems, there is nothing activists or politicans can do to convince her to vote again. I met several Republicans on my road trip who said they don't care about the state of the environment, education, healthcare, etc... because they too believe Jesus Christ will soon return. The difference is, they tend to vote.

Do you vote?

No. I no longer believe in the system. My government is God's government. If you look at history, you'll see that things are getting worse. They're not getting better. I don't care how many people vote. Nothing is changing. I used to vote. I used to campaign. I used to put flyers on doors. I used to register people to vote. After I saw all the corruption and lies, I said no more.

Do you think you can make a difference at the local level? San Francisco has the highest minimum wage in the country because the voters passed the proposition. Does that matter?

But that's not my concern. I'm gonna keep going back to what I said before. When Jesus Christ comes back and changes everything, people will not be sick, they will not be homeless, they will not have to worry about medical benefits. Everything will be perfect.

Politician make promises, but they really can't keep them because of the simple fact that they are beholden to lobbyists and people who have contributed to their campaign.

I believe in a new system and that system is Jehovah's system because he is the only person that can change the hunger, the crime and the disappointments.

And when is that going to happen?

Only God knows.

When you were voting, were you a Democrat or a Republican?

I was a Democrat.


Because I felt that that party looked out for the common person: someone who is struggling and working hard. But everything is so totally corrupt. It doesn't matter who's in office. It's just not for me anymore.

Will you ever vote again?

There is no way I'm ever voting again. My trust is in a higher power.

Do you still keep up with issues?

No. I hardly ever watch television news because it saddens and depresses me, but I know what's going on because I hear people talk about different issues.

What would you tell Democrats who say, 'We need you. Our country is a mess and we need you back.'

I would tell them that they need to start studying their bible. We need them to focus on spiritual issues. Once that's taken care of, things will be better. This time is gonna go by so quickly. I'm in my 50s and I'm working on myself and my spiritual needs and I feel so much better.

The Truth About Minimum Wage

Rep. Louise Slaughter, Democrat from New York, posted the following facts on minimum wage on Daily Kos:

*Because Republicans are blocking the minimum wage, families are struggling to make ends meet. A full-time minimum wage worker in 2006 earns only $10,712 - which is $5,888 less than the $16,600 needed to lift a family of three out of poverty. Due to Republican inaction, the minimum wage is at its lowest level in more than 50 years, when adjusted for inflation. [EPI, 6/06]

*About 6.6 million workers would see their paycheck grow from a minimum wage increase - the vast majority (71 percent) of whom are adults. And 44 percent of them work full time and many are responsible for more than half of their family's income. This would include 1.6 million who are parents with children under the age of 18, so that 3.1 million children would benefit. Another 8.2 million workers would likely get a pay raise with an increase in the minimum wage. [EPI, 6/06]

*A fair increase is long overdue. No one who works full-time should have to live in poverty. Since 1997, 20 states and D.C. have enacted minimum wage rates above the $5.15 Federal level.

*A minimum wage increase has not had negative economic impact. In the four years after the last increase, the economy enjoyed its strongest growth in over three decades, adding nearly 11 million new jobs. In fact, small business employment between 1997 and 2003 grew more in states with a higher minimum wage than in Federal minimum wage states (9.4 percent versus 6.6 percent). [Center for American Progress and Policy Matters Ohio, 5/2006] More than 500 economists agree that an increase would improve the well-being of American families without adverse effects.

*Despite rising health care, college and energy costs, the minimum wage has been frozen for nearly nine years. (In 1996, Congress raised the minimum wage over several years from $4.25 to $5.15 in September 1997.) Except for the 1980s, this has been the longest period in which Congress has refused to increase the minimum wage. If today's minimum wage had the same value it did at its highest point (1968), it would be $9.05 - nearly $4.00 more than the current level.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Must See Video: Democratic Hearing on Faulty Pre-War Intelligence

Think Progress has the video of an exchange between Rep. Walter Jones, Republican from North Carolina and Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell at today's hearing to examine faulty pre-war Iraq intelligence. Rep. Jones was the *only* Republican to attend the hearing. Perhaps the media should start asking Republicans why they're so afraid of debates rather than focus on the Democrats who can't agree on one Iraq policy. Since when, in a Democratic society, do we celebrate people who blindly follow and criticize people who disagree? Who's in charge? And who got us into this mess in the first place?
Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), who previously disavowed his vote for the war, attended the hearing and asked the panelists why a small number of individuals in the administration “had more influence...than the professionals.” Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, said he only needed three words.
Watch the video here.

Conversations with Black Voters (And Non-Voters)

Many of you found this blog after learning about my six-month road trip through the so-called "red states," where I interviewed people about why they vote the way they do. The goal of the trip was to steer clear of politicians and talking heads and focus on talking to real people about a variety of issues. I still feel the media, both traditional and alternative, ignore the voices of average people. Many journalists and authors have a tendency to write long diatribes about the Bush administration and its horrible policies, but they rarely quote real people. On March 20, 2006, Newsweek's Howard Fineman and Evan Thomas wrote a piece called "The GOP's Abortion Anxiety," but they didn't include comments from pro-choice Republican voters who are actually leaving the party. Finding them isn't that difficult.

From now until the November election, I will feature interviews with a variety of people about a wide range of issues. Because I'm working on my book about my "red state" experience, I can't travel too far from the Bay Area, but I will make a point of interviewing a diverse group of people. I also plan to podcast the interviews. Conducting these interviews isn't always easy, especially when I encounter someone who is pro-war, anti-choice, anti-gay, etc...but I believe they will help the left figure out where to focus their efforts and how to shape their message.

Last weekend, I interviewed a number of people at Juneteenth, the largest gathering of African-Americans in northern California:
San Francisco Juneteenth has taken on even more importance because the traditional black neighborhoods in the Western Addition and Bayview/Hunters Point have lost population due to the increased ability of blacks to live throughout the region due to rising incomes, redevelopment which displaced some residents and businesses and an influx of new residents into those communities. San Francisco Juneteenth is the one constant which dates back to the days when the Western Addition covered 120 consecutive blocks of 100 percent African-American households.
My first interview is with Ericka, a 32-year-old San Francisco resident who says she always votes. Democrats should pay close attention to her last comment about poverty.

What issues are important to you?

Issues concerning education and abortion. African American voting rights. Family and marriage. I believe marriage is between a man and a woman.

So you're against gay marriage?

Yes. It's my biblical beliefs and it tears down the basis of the family.

Do you vote for Democrats or Republicans?

I was a Democrat. Now I don't agree with a lot of what they support. I'm still registered as a Democrat, but I'm voting more with the Republican Party.


Because the value system is totally different with Democrats. They're more liberal. They're for abortion, which obviously is the murder of a baby. And they support gay marriage which is breaking down families. Since my values have changed, my voting habits have changed.

Did you vote for Bush in 2004?

Yes I did.

Do you think abortion and gay marriage should be political issues?

Definitely. I don't appreciate the fact that they're trying to teach kids that homosexuality is ok. It has to become political because how else can we stand against it?

You mentioned education earlier. What about issues like education and healthcare? Do you have health insurance?


What do you do for a living?

I'm an entrepreneur. I sell children's clothing.

The Republicans are often criticized for using gay marriage and abortion to get you to vote for them. Meantime, they refuse to raise minimum wage or work to make healthcare more affordable and accessible.

I don't vote according to party. I vote according to each individual issue. I don't care if they don't give me healthcare. I'll never support abortion. I have two children and in the past, I've had an abortion and I've asked for forgiveness for that. I don't think that should be ok for a 17-year-old.

Do you think the government should have made that choice for you?


Where does it stop in terms of the government telling you what you can and cannot do with your body?

It's not about the government telling you what to do. We vote. This is a democratic society. We vote for these measures.

Once the baby is born, should the government stay involved? If you're going to ban abortion, we're going to have a lot more unwanted children in this country. Who's going to take care of those kids? Who's going to pay for their healthcare and education?

The bible says there will always be poor people.

So gay marriage and abortion are your top issues and Republican policies on the economy and the poor don't matter?

I've lived in this community all my life under Democrats and Republicans. My neighbors have been living in poverty for years and nothing ever changes.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Happy Gay Pride Weekend

It's Gay Pride weekend here in San Francisco. Parties, films, comedy, live music, street theatre and marches are taking place over the next two days. It's nice to live in a city that respects and celebrates gays.

The grand marshal at tomorrow's big march will be Elliot Blackstone, a retired 81-year-old sergeant, who in the 1960s befriended the transgender community in the Tenderloin and helped advance the GLBT movement:
"They hated me. They thought it was wrong for a policeman to associate with these faggots," Blackstone said at his home in Pacifica. "But they needed help, so I helped."

Blackstone worked with what were then called "homophile" organizations, such as the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis, to end police entrapment of gay men in public bathrooms. He trained police recruits on how to handle the community by bringing in gays, lesbians and transgender people to talk about their lives.

Friday, June 23, 2006

All Democratic Women Senators on CNN This Sunday

All nine Democratic women Senators were on Larry King Live earlier this week. While they didn't talk about choice issues, it was so refreshing to hear smart politicians talk about real issues. They weren't scripted, didn't use sound bites and spoke frankly about how difficult it is to work with this administration and create any sort of change. Television could be so powerful and informative if we got rid of the sound bites, bickering and bullshit. I know, dream on...

The show will be repeated this Sunday at 6:00 pm PST. Unfortunately, these women receive little press and when they do, you usually hear nothing more than a sound bite.

Check out a portion of the show here and the Democratic Women for Change site.

Urge CNN to continue airing informative shows like this.

Bush Supports Birth Control for "Responsible Adults"

A year after a White House spokesman was asked whether Bush supports birth control, and more than 300 days after New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney and 19 colleagues asked the same question in a letter (they wrote five letters in total), we finally have an answer from John Agwunobi, assistant secretary for health. In a letter to Rep. Maloney, he writes:
This Administration supports the availability of safe and effective products and services to assist responsible adults in making decisions about preventing or delaying conception. The Department of Health and Human Services faithfully executes laws establishing Federal programs to to provide contraception and family planning services. The Title X Family Planning Program and Medicaid are each significant providers of family planning services.

Additionally, this Administration strongly supports teaching abstinence to young people as the only 100 percent effective means of preventing pregnancy, HIV, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
I'm not quite sure how he defines "responsible adults?" Would an 18-year-old qualify? Would I (a single thirty-something) qualify? What about a single mom who just lost her job?

Now that Bush is apparently pro-birth control, Rep. Maloney is asking him to reverse the anti-birth control actions of his administration. In a letter sent to Bush yesterday, she wrote:
Although you say you support access to birth control for responsible adults, I am concerned that your administration's seemingly politically-driven policies are impeding access for this very group in number of ways:

1. In January of 2005, the Justice Department distributed .the first-ever guidelines for the treatment of sexual assault survivors. The 141-page document provides step-by-step medical treatment guidelines for sexual assault patients, including
guidance on sexually transmitted infections, but no information on emergency contraception. News reports published at the time indicated that information about emergency contraception was included in earlier versions of the guidelines, but
was subsequently eliminated. Including this information in the guidelines would provide sexual assault survivors access to an important form of birth control that could help prevent unintended pregnancies and avoid abortions.

2. Since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agreed to review an application to make Plan B available over-the-counter in June 2003, the agency has gone to unprecedented lengths to avoid issuing a decision. Most recently, it denied a petition by 60 family planning and health groups to allow sales of the Plan B contraceptive without a prescription. Your political appointees at FDA have put on hold, indefinitely, the decision on whether to make Plan B available over-the-counter, claiming to fear an increase in teenage sexual activity- despite studies showing that availability of emergency contraception does not result in an increase in teenage pregnancy, sexual activity or sexually transmitted diseases. This unscientific, political decision is preventing responsible adults from accessing this important form of birth control and is having a serious impact on peoples' lives, as documented in a recent Washington Post article entitled " FVhat Happens When There Is No Plan B" (June 6,2006) (enclosed).

3. Pharmacists around the country are refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control pills including emergency contraception. As you know, emergency contraception is a time-sensitive drug and works best if taken soon after unprotected sex. By the time a woman contacts a medical provider and obtains a prescription for emergency contraception, she may have only a few hours to obtain and take the drug. By refusing to fill the prescription, pharmacists may prevent women from taking the drug at this crucial time. In addition, 30% of women practicing contraception use the birth control pill. Pharmacists who refuse to fill these prescriptions seriously hinder these women's ability to prevent unintended pregnancy. Your failure to intervene on behalf of American women is troubling and is having serious consequences.

Since you have stated that you support access to birth control, I write to ask that your policies reflect your position. Therefore, I would like to know the following:

1) Will you urge the Department of Justice to incorporate information about emergency contraception in the guidelines for -the treatment of sexual assault survivors?
2) Will you remove political barriers to the scientific process at the FDA and urge the agency to make a decision on the application to sell Plan B over-the-counter?
3) Will you intervene on behalf of American women and work to stop pharmacists from preventing access to birth control pills, including emergency contraception?
Let's hope it doesn't take another year to receive a response.

To thank Rep. Maloney for pressing this issue, call: 202.225.7944

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Thank You Lt. Ehren Watada For Refusing an Illegal War

U.S. Army First Lieutenant Ehren Watada, 28,reported to duty at 2:00 this morning and became the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse orders to go to Iraq.

"It is my conclusion as an officer of the Armed Forces that the war in Iraq is not only morally wrong but a horrible breach of American law. Although I have tried to resign out of protest, I am forced to participate in a war that is manifestly illegal. As the order to take part in an illegal act is ultimately unlawful as well, I must as an officer of honor and integrity refuse that order," said Watada on June 7.

Watada is now restricted to the McChord Air Force Base and has been ordered to refrain from communication with non-military personnel.

Lt. Watada's mother, Carolyn Ho, who flew in from Honolulu, Hawaii to support her son, said today, "My son's decision to refrain from deploying to Iraq comes through much soul searching. It is an act of patriotism. It is a statement to all Americans, to men and women in uniform, that they need not remain silent out of fear, that that they have the power to turn the tide of history: to stop the destruction of a country and the killing of untold numbers of innocent men, women, and children. It is a message that states unequivocally that blindly following orders is no longer an option. My son, Lt. Watada's stance is clear. He will stay the course. I urge you to join him in this effort."

On June 27, a national day of action in support of Lt. Watada will take place in dozens of US cities, including: Ft. Lewis, WA; Tacoma, WA; Honolulu, HI; Charlotte, NC; Cleveland, OH; Harrisburg, PA; San Francisco, CA; Oklahoma City, OK; Atlanta, GA; Corvallis, OR; Medford, OR; New York City, NY; and Pittsburgh, PA.

CEOs Make 262 Times More Than Average Workers

As Republicans once again refuse to raise the $5.15 minimum wage, the Economic Policy Institute is out with a new study that found CEOs made 262 times the pay of an average worker in 2005. Just 30 years ago, CEOs made 24 times more than average workers.
In fact, a CEO earned more in one workday than an average worker earned in 52 weeks, said the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

The typical worker's compensation averaged just under $42,000 for the year, while the average CEO brought home almost $11 million, EPI said.

In recent years, compensation has been a hot issue with shareholders who have been bombarded with news stories about chief executives who are given multimillion dollar bonus and pay packages even if shares have declined.

For example, the chief executives of 11 of the largest companies were awarded a total of $865 million in pay in the last two years, even as they presided over a total loss of $640 billion in shareholder value, a recent study from governance firm the Corporate Library, found.
Survival of the fittest.

Where Do Republicans Stand on Abortion?

This November, South Dakotans will send a strong message to the rest of the country after they vote on the nation's most restrictive state abortion ban, which offers no exceptions for rape and incest.

Politicians on Capitol Hill will be watching this vote closely, especially the forty-six Senators who have a zero percent rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America and a 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee. All 46 are Republican and with the exception of Sens. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, they are all men.

I recently placed two rounds of phone calls asking each of those 46 Senator two questions: Do you favor overturning Roe v. Wade? If so, do you support exceptions for rape and incest?

Once I mentioned the words "abortion" and "rape," Senate staffers either transferred me to voicemail or said, "I'll have to look into that." I have yet to receive any answers.

So far, only three Republican Senators have publicly gone on record stating their positions on the law. Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas told Newsweek he would have signed it. "Rape and incest are horrible crimes, but why punish the innocent child?"

Sen. George Allen of Virginia has said if a similar bill landed on his desk when he was governor, he would have vetoed it. Sen. John McCain of Arizona has said he supports banning abortion with exceptions to protect the life of the mother and in cases of rape or incest.

If South Dakota voters approve the ban, a young girl who is raped by a male relative will be forced to carry the child to term. Similar laws are under consideration in Alabama, Oklahoma, Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, Tennessee and West Virginia. The Ohio ban goes even further by making it a crime to accompany a woman to a clinic that provides abortions in another state.

Efforts to outlaw abortion in Kentucky and Mississippi were defeated on March 25 and March 27 respectively.

And that's just the beginning. More than 850 choice-related state bills have been introduced or carried over in the first two months of the 2006 legislative session, according to Planned Parenthood. These include laws to restrict funding to family planning clinics and allow pharmacists to refuse to dispense contraception. Not only are anti-choicers going after abortion, they're also targeting birth control.

What's in store for America's women if these laws continue to pass?

Look at Africa, where this year alone, more than four million women will face serious injuries as a result of abortions performed by unskilled people under unsanitary conditions, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Nearly 30,000 women will die. That's almost 90 per day.

"These preventable deaths and illness represent not only a major public health crisis, but also a social injustice and violation of women's human rights and dignity," said a WHO report on abortion.

Like South Dakota, abortion is illegal in most African countries, with an exception to save a woman's life. At a March meeting in Addis Ababa, more than 150 health experts and politicians from 16 African countries called for relaxed abortion laws and greater access to birth control and sex education to prevent further deaths and injuries from unsafe abortions.

Over the past 10 years, 15 countries around the world, including Nepal and Burkina Faso, have relaxed their abortions laws. After South Africa legalized abortion without any restrictions in 1997, the country saw a drastic drop in abortion deaths, from 425 per year to less than 20.

Only five countries, including the United States and Poland, have restricted access to abortion.

Governments can outlaw abortion, but if a South Dakotan or Kenyan woman wants to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, she will do whatever it takes, even if it means risking her life.

If this is the future anti-abortion lawmakers want for American women, they should be pressured to say so.

Republicans Kill Minimum Wage Increase Again

For the ninth time since 1997, the Republicans have refused to raise the minimum wage, which has been stuck at $5.15 an hour for almost a decade.

Check out this map of minimum wage rates at the state level. The majority of the states that tend to vote Democrat have higher wages than the federal $5.15 wage. Here in San Francisco, wages are $8.50, the highest in the country. And guess what? Businesses didn't close and workers didn't lose their jobs. The Republicans love to say that a wage increase will result in job losses. That simply isn't true.

Meantime, Republican House members gave themselves a $3,300 raise increasing their salaries to $168,500. The two percent cost-of-living raise is their seventh straight raise.

The raise would also apply to Cheney (God knows he needs it) -- who is president of the Senate -- congressional leaders and Supreme Court justices.

This year, Cheney, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Chief Justice John Roberts receive $212,100. Associate justices receive $203,000.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Underreported Realities in New Orleans: Suicides, Teacher Firings and Public Housing Demolitions

As Bush travels the country raising $27 million for his fellow compassionate conservatives in one night, the people of New Orleans continue to suffer beyond comprehension. Suicide rates are higher than they've ever been, all of the city's public school teachers have been fired and over 5,000 public housing units are about to be demolished.

*According to an article in today's New York Times, New Orleans is experiencing a near epidemic of depression and post-traumatic stress disorders, leading to a suicide rate that state and local officials say is close to triple what it was before Hurricane Katrina struck 10 months ago:
Sgt. Ben Glaudi, the commander of the Police Department's Mobile Crisis Unit here, spends much of each workday on this city's flood-ravaged streets trying to persuade people not to kill themselves.

Last Tuesday in the French Quarter, Sergeant Glaudi's small staff was challenged by a man who strode straight into the roaring currents of the Mississippi River, hoping to drown. As the water threatened to suck him under, the man used the last of his strength to fight the rescuers, refusing to be saved.

"He said he'd lost everything and didn't want to live anymore," Sergeant Glaudi said.

The man was counseled by the crisis unit after being pulled from the river against his will. Others have not been so lucky.

"These things come at me fast and furious," Sergeant Glaudi said. "People are just not able to handle the situation here."

*Yesterday, Democracy Now! featured an interview with Joe DeRose of the United Teachers of New Orleans about the firing of 7,500 public school teachers and employees. Have you heard about this? Control of many of the city schools has been given to private charter organizations. Last week, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced $24 million in federal aid to Louisiana for development of private charter schools:
Every teacher in New Orleans was fired. There weren't 7,500. There was 7,500 school employees, everybody from cafeteria workers, truck drivers and custodians to teachers, and there were about 4,000 teachers. Solid middle class employees, career professionals who had dedicated their careers to helping try to educate the children in one of the neediest cities in the country, a city with one of the highest poverty rates, as everybody saw in the days immediately following Katrina.

They were treated with utter disrespect. There was no notification that they would be fired until one day in October, when the school board called a press conference, notified us about an hour before that they were going to have such a conference. Therefore, most people found out that they were being terminated on the 5:00 news. Those who didn't have TVs or weren't still living in the city found out in the newspaper the next morning or by phone calls from friends and relatives who were in touch with the media.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what happened through this year? And what percentage of the public schools? Are we talking over 90% of the schools are African American?

JOE DeROSE: Yes, it's probably closer to 95%. And we also have a class division within the city, where many African Americans of means, middle class African Americans, were able to send their children to or chose to send their children to Catholic schools. So New Orleans public schools were left with really the most most impoverished students, and they were also in the buildings with terrible conditions, a school system that was not really adequately supported. There was not enough money. Nobody has ever determined how much money is needed to properly educate children in the state of Louisiana, for one, and certainly not in the city of New Orleans.

If people had seen before Katrina the conditions of these schools, they would have been appalled. In fact, there was a group of people from the great city schools who came in in October to evaluate the damage caused by Katrina, and because these people were experienced and because they were visiting schools mostly on the un-flooded West Bank of New Orleans, they could tell the difference between hurricane damage and previously existing damage. And they were astonished at the conditions that the city provided for its public school students.

*Bill Quigly, human rights lawyer and professor at Loyola University New Orleans School of Law, writes passionately about the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's announcement to demolish over five thousand public housing apartments:
HUD's demolition plans leave thousands of families with no hope of returning to New Orleans where rental housing is scarce and costly. In New Orleans, public housing was occupied by women, mostly working, their children as well as the elderly and disabled.

To these mothers and children, HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson said: "Any New Orleans voucher recipient or public housing resident will be welcomed home."

Exactly how people will be welcomed home, HUD did not say.

How can thousands of low-income working families come home if HUD has fenced off their apartments, put metal shutters over their windows and doors and are now planning to demolish their homes?

As in the face of any injustice, there is resistance.

NAACP civil rights attorney Tracie Washington promised a legal challenge and told HUD, "You cannot go forward and we will not allow you to go forward."

Most importantly, displaced residents of public housing and their allies have set up a tent city survivors village outside the fenced off 1300 empty apartments on St. Bernard Avenue in New Orleans.

If the authorities do not open up the apartments by July 4, they pledge to go through the fences and liberate their homes directly. The group, the United Front for Affordable Housing, is committed to resisting HUD's efforts to bulldoze their apartments "by any means necessary."

If the government told you that they were going to bulldoze where you live, and deny you the right to return to your home, would you join them?
The Times and Democracy Now should be commended for their continued coverage of what's happening in New Orleans. Where are the rest of the media?

Army Appoints a Colonel to Investigate Sex Abuse Allegations

The Army has appointed a colonel to investigate Spec. Suzanne Swift's allegations that three sergeants in her chain of command propositioned her for sex almost from the moment her unit left for Iraq, according to the Seattle P-I. Swift was raped by her immediate supervisor in Iraq, who is now a private contractor, according to her lawyer, Larry Hildes:
Swift's mother, Sara Rich, and her lawyer, Larry Hildes, who spoke at a news conference on her behalf at University Lutheran Church in Seattle on Tuesday, called the outside investigator a positive development.

"It's a very good sign they are doing this, investigating the chain of command and her abuses," said Hilde, of Bellingham, a member of the National Lawyer's Guild task force on military law.

Mental pressures on Swift remained a concern, however, Rich said.

"She has military sexual trauma" stemming from the alleged sex crimes, Rich said, "on top of being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder" from serving in the war zone from March 2004 to February 2005.

"I want her to have the health and treatment she deserves, and I want her to have an honorable discharge" with full medical and veterans benefits, Rich said.

"My daughter was seeing a psychologist in Eugene every week. She needs that person there so she doesn't have to be retelling everything and reliving it to a new psychologist," Rich said.

"What is happening now is retraumatizing her again," Rich said. "I want her released to convalesce."
Unfortunately, most women don't report sexual harassment and rape in the military because they fear they not only will be ostracized, but that no one will believe them. Suzanne Swift is not alone. Hopefully her actions will give others the courage to speak out:
A 2005 special report by The Sacramento Bee shed light on the plight of military women. The report cited Defense Department figures showing that from August 2002 to October 2004, 118 cases of sexual assault on military personnel had been reported in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan. During that same span, the non-profit Miles Foundation says it was contacted by 258 people who say they were victims of assault in the combat theater, The Bee said.

Also, the paper cited a Department of Veterans Affairs study that found nearly three out of four military women who said they had been assaulted did not tell their commanding officer.

The volume of women who have faced sexual harassment short of assault is believed to be vast -- and poorly documented.

"We've opened a can of worms," says Swift's mother, Sara Rich. "Women in the military are suffering."

Recent Quotes from the Liberal Media (Suckers)

Don't you just love honest "journalists?"

Here's an exchange between Howard Kurtz and CBS News contributor Gloria Borger on CNN's Reliable Sources:

KURTZ: Gloria Borger, are journalists suckers for this kind of secret trip to Baghdad stuff? I mean, Bush was there less than six hours but got an avalanche of mostly positive coverage.

BORGER: I think we are suckers. Particularly if you're the one who gets to go on the pool, Howie, and gets to travel with the president on a secret trip to Baghdad. We do like these secret trips.

Believe it or not, we kind of like to be surprised, but I think if you're a bureau chief in Washington, you may be asking, "Gee, why didn't we have more information?" And when you ask that question, the answer you always get from the White House is, "Because this has to be shrouded in secrecy because this is a matter of presidential security. So we can't tell you more about this in advance." So you know you're being used, but in a way you kind of like it because it's good pictures.

Here's an exchange between Nancy McLaughlin of the Greensboro News & Record and Condoleeza Rice:

QUESTION: We love you here in Greensboro. I just wanted to say that with my time.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, thank you. Really nice to meet you. Thank you. Want to take a picture together?

QUESTION: Yeah, sure.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

South Dakota Voters Will Decide

The South Dakota Secretary of State has approved the signatures gathered by the state's Campaign for Healthy Families. The state's restrictive abortion ban, which offers no exceptions for rape or incest, will be on the ballot in November:
"We are very pleased that the Secretary of State certified our petitions. Now South Dakota voters can vote no and repeal the extreme abortion ban in November," said Jan Nicolay, Co-Chair of the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families. "We will encourage all South Dakotans to join us in repealing this extreme law that has embroiled our state in controversy and threatens our government with million dollar lawsuits," Nicolay continued.

On Tuesday, May 30, the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families filed over 38,000 signatures with the Secretary of State seeking the repeal of the extreme abortion ban. The Healthy Families Campaign received incredible grassroots support across South Dakota, receiving more than twice the number of signatures necessary to qualify for the November ballot.

South Dakotans who believe the abortion ban is too extreme can repeal it by voting "NO" on Referred Law 6.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Ex-Bush Supporter Asks: Why Wasn't My Son Properly Equipped in Iraq?

The Washington Post Magazine ran a lengthy piece in yesterday's magazine about the pro-war Hart family, whose son John wasn't provided the proper armor to avoid major injuries and in this case, death. This should be required reading for everyone who claims to "support the troops." As the House (most members have never served in war) passes a measure supporting the troops, the very troops they claim to support are without the proper gear and families are being completely destroyed in the process.

And what about the conservative pro-war talking heads? Will they do their patriotic duty by publicizing this very important story?

Like so many pro-war families, Brian, John's father, began to question the war during phone conversations:
Don't believe spinmeisters on TV, Brian recalls his son saying; the Iraqi insurgency is real and building. John and his buddies in Charlie Company of the 508th Infantry Regiment of the 173rd Airborne Brigade were patrolling ever longer distances in thin-skinned Humvees suited for hauling cargo, not for carrying soldiers under fire.
In previous calls, John told his father he'd been issued body armor with plates to small to shield his chest and a broken rifle.

John and Pfc. Chris Williams were sent to hunt for rocket-lobbers in Kirkuk on October 18, 2003:
"I'm like, uh, why are they sending us?" Williams recalls. "We were returning kitchen equipment. We were not combat-effective . . . You are going to investigate a rocket attack. So you know they have rockets. Why send guys in a rickety Humvee to chase guys who have rockets?"

Williams didn't ask his questions aloud. "I was a private," recalls Williams, now a clerk at a Blockbuster Video in Washington state. "I wasn't supposed to ask questions."
After their son's death, the Hart's continued to support the war. Then Brian began asking questions and seeking the truth:
He flew to Washington two days before John's funeral at Arlington to question the soldier escorting his son's body home -- Chris Williams, who'd been riding next to John during the fatal ambush. Williams told him that the bullet that killed Bernstein went right through the thin metal skin of the unarmored Humvee and that the vehicle had not even a simple gun shield for John to take cover behind when he returned fire.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) was planning to attend John's November 4 funeral. Brian contacted his office and asked if he and Kennedy could meet before the service to talk. Some of Brian's relatives were aghast. Brian grew up in a family of fundamentalist Christians who vote Republican. At the University of Texas, Brian was president of the campus Republicans. Now some of his Texas relatives warned Brian not to be seen with Kennedy, he recalls. Brian didn't care. To get answers, he needed allies. He even called John Kerry's presidential campaign; but nobody called back, he says. Kerry did send an aide to John's funeral.
Brian eventually learned that the Bush administration flat out lied about the money it was spending on the war and equipment to properly protect the troops. He eventually began speaking out against the war and was alienated by his pro-war Republican relatives in Texas. This quote says it all:

"There's virtually no communication anymore," he says, choking up as he speaks. "The president says one thing, and I am telling them that's not the truth. It's unresolvable."

Enron's Jeffrey Skilling Ate Caterpillars and Worms on Long Hiking Trip

An AP article about former Enron President Jeffrey Skilling contemplating suicide is pretty straight forward until you get to the part about Skilling spending two weeks in the Utah wilderness, hiking 30 miles a day:
During that time, he ate caterpillars and worms.
The piece goes on to discuss Skilling's long prison term. What? The former president of Enron spent two weeks hiking 30 miles a day, ate caterpillars and worms and all we get is one sentence?? Did the reporter throw in that line to throw off readers? Why didn't he/she elaborate?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Father's Day Reflections on a Son Lost

This was written by Michael Berg, father of Nick Berg, the man who was brutally beheaded in Iraq on May 7, 2004. Michael Berg is running for Congress in Delaware.
Of all of the holidays a grieving father can be confronted with after the death of his child, Father's Day is for me the most difficult.

My son Nick died in Iraq on May 7, 2004. He is buried next to my father, who had died just a year and a half before. That is not the way it's supposed to be.

I'm supposed to go somewhere between my father and my son in the graveyard. Nearby are my proud immigrant grandparents, who died first. That is the way it is supposed to be.

There is a lot else going on that is not the way it is supposed to be. Our leaders are not supposed to lie to us. Yet because George Bush and company told us to beware of weapons of mass destruction and the so-called Iraqi involvement in 9/11, my son lost his life, as did at least 150,000 others on both sides whose loved ones are now grieving.

Though I doubted our president's words, I did too little too late.

Nick was an independent contractor, not associated with Halliburton, Bechtel, Lockheed Martin or the U.S. military. Nick was arrested by the U.S. military without reason and then illegally detained for 13 days. While he was in custody, the revelations of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal became public. These revelations ignited the resistance in Iraq and made it impossible for Nick to get home alive.

Once released, Nick was swiftly murdered _ on videotape, by a hooded man now believed to have been Abu Musab al-Zarqawi _ in retaliation for the atrocities alleged to have been committed at the Abu Ghraib prison: murders, rapes and torture of Iraqi citizens. The president's contribution was to order then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales to rewrite definitions of torture essentially ordering these sins, and he did so with impunity. Though Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says he took responsibility for the resulting atrocities, no consequences were imposed on him, but they were on my son and everyone who loved him. This is not the way it's supposed to be.

When Nick did arrive home, it was to the military mortuary at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, a base from which I and all other loved ones of the invisible deceased are barred. This is not the way it's supposed to be, either.

We learn more and more of the truth of what is happening in Iraq every day. We learn what is happening to America and our allies as a result of the voters of these United States electing the wrong men and women: unjustifiable wars, the undermining of vital social programs, willful neglect of the maintenance of the infrastructure of our nation, and dangerous "ignorance" of global warming that could result in unprecedented disaster. This is the legacy of these leaders. Neither of the two largest political parties in this country is doing anything to make things the way they are supposed be.

This spring, I joined many others _ both conservatives and liberals _ in taking the first steps to put things right. I had the honor of being the first person to sign the Voters Pledge for Peace, which states: "I will not vote for or support any candidate for Congress or President who does not make a speedy end to the war in Iraq, and preventing any future war of aggression, a public position in his or her campaign."

I believe that Zarqawi was a human being, too, and if his father is alive, I'm sure that the grief and the pain he feels is every bit as devastating as the grief and pain I feel for my son. I want to make sure that no more fathers suffer the loss of their son or daughter in Iraq or a future illegal war of aggression. My contribution this Father's Day is to urge all those who oppose the military occupation of Iraq and do not want to see future wars of choice to sign the Voters Pledge at www.VotersForPeace.US. Nearly 50,000 people have already signed and many of the major organizations in the antiwar movement have endorsed it.

Together we can change the path of the United States so that all fathers and mothers can face the future with pride that we did our part to move our great country back toward the way it's supposed to be.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Six Senators Who Voted for U.S. Troop Pullout from Iraq

Six senators are listening to their constituents:
In a move Democrats criticized as gamesmanship, Senate Republicans brought up the withdrawal measure and quickly dispatched it -- for now -- on a 93-6 vote.

The proposal would have allowed "only forces that are critical to completing the mission of standing up Iraqi security forces" to remain in Iraq in 2007.
Barbara Boxer of California
Robert Byrd of West Virginia
Russ Feingold of Wisconsin
Tom Harkin of Iowa
Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts
John Kerry of Massachusetts

New Bush Policy Adviser Supports Jailing Doctors For Performing Abortions

Since I'm trying to enjoy the sunny day, I'll leave this one to Raw Story:
On a PBS program aired this weekend and taped in April, new Bush domestic policy adviser Karl Zinsmeister told the host that he would personally support doctors being jailed for performing abortions, RAW STORY has discovered.

Zinsmeister, President George W. Bush's newly appointed chief Domestic Policy Advisor, gave the interview prior to his White House appointment. Zinsmeister was appointed May 24.

Asked if he would "feel comfortable putting a doctor in jail for performing a procedure that a woman wants?" Zinsmeister said, "sure," while noting that he supported some limitations in cases of rape or incest.

The relevant transcript follows.

BEN WATTENBERG: Do you want to have laws that prevent people from having abortions?

KARL ZINSMEISTER: You know, personally I would vote in favor of that.

WATTENBERG: So you would feel comfortable putting a doctor in jail for performing a procedure that a woman wants? And not just on-demand, but it could be rape, incest, life of the mother.

ZINSMEISTER: Sure. No, again, I have a definition that had some exceptions for rape and incest where there could be real psychological damage to the mother. But yeah, Ben, I mean, you know, if a Ghanan immigrant wants to have a clitorectomy done by a doctor on his daughter, I would also send him to jail for that. There are places we have to draw lines and I don't pretend to, you know, have the only answer in this area. I understand that's a contentious area but I think the larger point that you have to have some boundaries is an important one. And my own preference is not to have these rules and these laws
that externally oppress people, but instead incorporate these inside people, to have them decide for themselves that they would rather get married than have children without being married; to have them decide for themselves that they'd rather put their child up for adoption rather than have an abortion. You do that in a slow organic process by encouraging and teaching and leading people to try to make more socially constructive choices, and religion is a very important tool for doing that. It's, for instance, we know it's one of the best ways to get off of drugs; it's one of the best ways, one of the only ways that's had any affect [sic] in getting people form [sic] becoming repeat criminals when they get out of prison. You can't coerce this, you can't press people. It has to be sincere.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Tide is Changing: Military Personnel Are Refusing to Fight in Iraq

First Lt. Ehren Watada, the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse to deply to Iraq with his "Stryker Brigade" later this month, held a press conference on June 7 in which he stated his reasons for speaking out rather than applying for conscientious objector status. Since going public with his decision, the First United Methodist Church of Tacoma, Washington has declared itself a sanctuary for servicemen and women who also refuse to go to war:
"Our initiative was because of Lieutenant Watada's gesture and a clear sense that we have, as a reconciling congregation, deeply involved in justice issues throughout the city, that any war, particularly this one, is inconsistent with Christian teachings," the Rev. Monty Smith said Wednesday night.
Watch Lt. Watada's speech here:
My name is Ehren Watada. I am a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army and I have served for 3 years.

It is my duty as a commissioned officer of the United States Army to speak out against grave injustices. My moral and legal obligation is to the Constitution and not those who would issue unlawful orders. I stand before you today because it is my job to serve and protect those soldiers, the American people, and innocent Iraqis with no voice.

It is my conclusion as an officer of the Armed Forces that the war in Iraq is not only morally wrong but a horrible breach of American law. Although I have tried to resign out of protest, I am forced to participate in a war that is manifestly illegal. As the order to take part in an illegal act is ultimately unlawful as well, I must as an officer of honor and integrity refuse that order.

The war in Iraq violates our democratic system of checks and balances. It usurps international treaties and conventions that by virtue of the Constitution become American law. The wholesale slaughter and mistreatment of the Iraqi people with only limited accountability is not only a terrible moral injustice, but a contradiction to the Army's own Law of Land Warfare. My participation would make me party to war crimes.

Normally, those in the military have allowed others to speak for them and act on their behalf. That time has come to an end. I have appealed to my commanders to see the larger issues of our actions. But justice has not been forthcoming. My oath of office is to protect and defend America's laws and its people. By refusing unlawful orders for an illegal war, I fulfill that oath today.

Thank you.
Monica Benderman is the wife of Sgt. Kevin Benderman, who is currently in a military prison. At a recent Congressional briefing about conscientious objection, she stated: "My husband went to war. He saw mass graves filled with dead bodies of old people, women and children. He watched dogs feeding on their bodies. ... When he returned home, my husband and I wrote publicly about our feelings for this and all war. ... My husband took the course available to him and filed a Conscientious Objector application. His command, in an effort to punish him for his humanity, and because they could not do so for the public comments that he and I had made, chose to disregard his application, and ... found a way to put him in prison. ... My husband violated no regulations. His command violated many. The command's flagrant disregard for military regulations and laws of humanity sent my husband to jail as a prisoner of conscience."

Ann Wright is a retired Army Colonel and former State Department diplomat. After 16 years in the diplomatic corps, she resigned in May 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq. She said today: "I was in the military for 29 years and what many soldiers are doing today is just extraordinary. When I resigned from the diplomatic corps, there were no ill effects on me other than quitting a job. But many of these soldiers are risking a great deal for their principles."

Can You Name the Ten Commandments?

Stephen Colbert, thank you again for making this is a great Friday. From Crooks and Liars:
Colbert was priceless last night. His guest was Republican Congressman Lynn Westmoreland and I guess he never heard of The Colbert Report before. He will now.

Colbert: You have not introduced a single piece of legislation since you entered Congress.

Westmoreland: That's correct.

Colbert: This has been called a do nothing Congress. Is it safe to say you're the do nothingest?

Westmoreland: I, I, ..Well there's one other do nothiner. I don't know who that is, but they're a Democrat.

Colbert: What can we get rid of to balance the budget?

Westmoreland: The Dept. of Education.

Colbert: What are the Ten Commandments?

Westmoreland: You mean all of them?--Um... Don't murder. Don't lie. Don't steal Um... I can't name them all. emailer Ruth asks: Does this guy deserve a $3,300 pay raise?

The guy co-sponsors a bill about the Ten Commandments and doesn't even know them. Priceless.

(h/t Vincent)

emailer Ruth asks: Does this guy deserve a $3,300 pay raise?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Bush's Desperate Attempt to Amend the Constitution

In this week's New Yorker, Hendrik Hertzberg makes many excellent points about Bush's pathetic attempt to amend the constitution to say marriage is between a man and a woman. As those of us who read know, Bush could care less about gay marriage, just as he could care less about abortion, but he has to kiss up to the right-wing Christian portion of his base in order to win in November. The current issue of Newsweek quotes one of Bush's friends saying, "I don't think he gives a shit about it."

Reporters who cover this issue and Democrats who will be forced to comment on it as the November election nears should keep these facts in mind:
In the past forty years, the definition of marriage has indeed been changed, not by any homosexual master plan but by an epidemic of heterosexual divorce. Marriage is a social good--Bush is certainly right about that--but it has become a disposable good. The causes of divorce are manifold, and they do not include gay marriage. (The state with the nation's lowest divorce rate, Massachusetts, is also the only state where gay marriage is legal.) The day after the Senate vote, USA Today reported that "the number of active-duty soldiers getting divorced has been rising sharply with deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq." The divorce rate among Army enlisted personnel since 2003, the year of the invasion of Iraq, is up twenty-eight per cent. For officers the increase is seventy-eight per cent. Perhaps this, rather than the imaginary threat of same-sex marriage, is something that the President should look into.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Sexually Harassed Soldier's Mom Speaks Out

The story about 21-year-old Suzanne Swift, the female soldier who was arrested in Eugene, Oregon for refusing to return to Iraq, is getting a lot of attention. On Monday, Suzanne's mother, Sara Rich, told OR Public Broadcasting that her daughter dealt with constant sexual harassment; today, truthout.org is running a letter Sara wrote called, "Fear for My Daughter."

Please spread far and wide:
It started out with being scared for her life when she signed up for the military. She assured me that she was promised she would not go to Iraq. I was not as trusting.

She was sent to Iraq right out of her basic training. While she was packing, we cried, as she assured me she would be okay. One of her sergeants assured me, "Don't worry, ma'am, we'll take good care of your daughter." I desperately hoped that I could trust him to watch over her. I later found out he was one the first predators to try to have sex with her and make her "his private."

She spent a long year in Iraq. I feared for her safety every waking minute. She frequently called me crying, telling me very little of the horror she was witnessing - only telling me it was hard. She told me that almost all of the other soldiers were sexually harassing her and that many of her sergeants and lieutenants were really pressuring her and making her life miserable for rejecting them. Calls from her often ended with "Oh, there goes gun fire - gotta go mom, love you."

When she returned from Iraq, she was much more quiet and anxious than when she left. I offered to get her help, but she refused. She told me that if she opened that can of worms she would not be able to function as a human being. I asked her if she wanted to deal with the horrible sexual harassment charges against so many of her fellow soldiers. She said, no mom, it would only make my life even more of a living hell. Then she finally blew the whistle on one of her superiors for sexually harassing her, and she was treated like a pariah, while he was moved to a different unit and promoted. She put her head down and worked as a Military Police officer on Ft. Lewis. She was always shocked by the number of domestic violence calls she went out on. The fear of a mother of a peace officer was there, but at least I could call her and knew she was safe. We knew that she was going to be re-deployed to Iraq sometime after the mandatory 18 months' stabilization time is over. So, we were looking at November of 2006 for a second re-deployment. Our hearts were heavy at the thought.

She came home for a visit and couldn't face me to tell me she was going back to Iraq much sooner than expected. My fear was skyrocketing. I asked, how can they do that, you will have only had 11 months of stabilization time? She told me that she refused to sign the paper waiving her rights to 18 months. She was told that her life would be hell in a shit hole if she refused to sign. They screamed in her face and intimidated her to the point that she would shake when she told the story. Our family prepared. She was packed, ready to re-deploy, keys in hand. She said, "I can't do this, Mom, I can't go back there." We shifted into action to protect our daughter.

We networked with everyone imaginable. We knew that we would rather see her in jail than spending another minute in Iraq. We hired an attorney with experience in these kinds of military matters. And Suzanne went into hiding.

Now here we are, facing what we knew was a real possibility. Suzanne is in jail and waiting to be taken up to Ft. Lewis, and I am really scared. The military treated her horribly when she was a soldier, I can only imagine what they will do to her as a prisoner. She is a brave young woman and my hero. But there is only just so much stress an Iraq war veteran can handle.

My fear for my daughter is real. My hope for and belief in my daughter and what she is doing is strong and unshakable. I truly believe she saved her own life with her courage. It is to be hoped that by telling her story and standing strong she can encourage others in the military to stand up, speak out, and refuse to participate in this illegal and immoral war.

Thanks to you all. I knew this was going to happen eventually, so I had my ducks in a serious row. Today I had a press conference, a vigil, at the jail where Suzanne is, and I spoke to 10 different radio shows, some nationally syndicated, three TV stations, 3 newspapers and had a million calls.

I only got to talk to Suzanne for one short minute in which we were both were crying so hard we could not talk.

They are transporting Suzanne tomorrow in the early morning to Ft. Lewis and returning her to her unit. We are planning to be at the jail at 7:45 - 9:00 a.m. to see if we can catch a a glimpse of her as she leaves the jail to show her that we are here for her.

Letters of Support Needed

Please write to Lt. Colonel Switzer, Ft. Lewis, Washington, to ask that Spc. Suzanne Swift receive a medical discharge or an honorable discharge from the Army due to her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. After writing the letter, please fax a copy to:

Senator Gordon Smith
Federal Building
211 East 7th Avenue, Room 202
Eugene, OR 97401
Phone: 541.465.6750
Fax: 541.465.6808

Senator Ron Wyden
151 West 7th Avenue
Suite 435
Eugene, OR 97401
(541) 431-0229

Congressman Peter DeFazio
151 West 7th, Suite 400
Eugene, OR 97401
Phone: (541) 465-6732

Senator Patty Murray
950 Pacific Avenue, Ste. 650
Tacoma, Washington 98402
Phone: (253) 572-3636
Fax: (253) 572-9892

If there is no fax number, you can email them. Let me know if you send a letter and if you get a response.

If you want to donate to Suzanne's legal or medical fund, please contact me at formydaughtersuzanne@yahoo.com.

Thanks so much from Suzanne and her family. We appreciate your love and passion. This is so important for us to do - not only to end the war, but to defend women who are in the military.


Sara Rich, M.S.W.

GOP's Messaging Memo for Iraq Debate

This is from Think Progress:
On Thursday, the House of Representatives will hold a debate on the Iraq war. Media reports say Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) "hopes to match the serious, dignified tone of deliberation that preceded the Gulf war, in 1991."

ThinkProgress has obtained a "Confidential Messaging Memo" from Boehner instructing his caucus to conduct a very different kind of deliberation. Here's a quick summary:

1. Exploit 9/11. The two page memo mentions 9/11 seven times. It describes debating Iraq in the context of 9/11 as "imperative."

2. Attack opponents ad hominem. The memo describes those who opposes President Bush's policies in Iraq as "sheepish," "weak," and "prone to waver endlessly."

3. Create a false choice. The memo says the decision is between supporting President Bush's policies and hoping terrorist threats will "fade away on their own."

You can read the confidential memo for yourself HERE.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Female Soldier Who Refuses to Return to Iraq Arrested: "She Was Propositioned to Have Sex Daily"

Here's another outcome of the war that gets little to no attention. Think about it. Tens of thousands of men are serving their second or third years in Iraq. They haven't had sex in a very long time and are most likely experiencing major depression and anxiety, so they take it out on the women in their units. This is a report from Oregon Public Broadcasting:
Eugene Police jailed US Army service woman Specialist Suzanne Swift Sunday night at the request of the military. As Kristian Foden-Vencil reports, Swift has been absent without leave since last year when she refused to return to Iraq.

Swift, who's 21, served her first tour in Iraq in 2004.

She was a Military Police Officer in Karbala. She drove a Humvee during combat patrols and was repeatedly shot at, according to her mother, Sarah Rich. She says her daughter was about to leave for her second tour when she broke down and said she simply couldn't -- because of the war itself and the way she was treated.

Sarah Rich: "She was belittled, she was called names daily. She was called fat. She was propositioned to have sex daily and if she refused she was treated like a dog and if she accepted she was treated like a dog."

Military Police from Fort Lewis are scheduled to collect Swift Tuesday and return her to her unit.

The unit is expected to leave for a third tour of duty in 2007.
So the military police plan to return Swift to her unit and send her back to Iraq even though they know she's not mentally or emotionally capable? Based on what her mother said, Swift may have given in to sexual advances. Was she raped? Will there be an investigation? This country is woefully unprepared for the impacts this war is having on female soldiers who not only are fighting on the front lines, but are also subject to verbal and sexual abuse.

Operation Iraqi Freedom Continues

"I've come to not only look you in the eye. I've also come to tell you that when America gives its word, it keeps its word."
-Bush told Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki during a five-hour visit to Baghdad today.

A man at the scene holds up the body of a small child said to have died during a U.S.-led raid near Baqouba in Iraq, Monday, June 12, 2006. According to the U.S. military the raid was staged in the area where terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed and the targeted terrorists had ties to senior al-Qaida leaders across Iraq. The U.S. military said coalition forces had killed seven terrorists and two children, whilst local residents accused the Americans of targeting civilians. (AP Photo)

Iraqi women mourn as they sit near stains of blood at the site where a car bomb exploded in Kirkuk. At least 32 people have been killed in Iraq, including 18 in five car bomb attacks in the oil city of Kirkuk, after warnings by Al-Qaeda of vengeance for the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. (AFP/Marwan Ibrahim)

Iraqi women mourn as they sit near stains of blood at the site where a car bomb exploded in Kirkuk. At least 32 people have been killed in Iraq, including 18 in five car bomb attacks in the oil city of Kirkuk, after warnings by Al-Qaeda of vengeance for the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. (AFP/Marwan Ibrahim)

The mother of one of the victims is comforted by her brother at the hospital in Kirkuk, after a series of explosions struck the oil rich city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq on Tuesday, June 13, 2006 killing at least 16 people. (AP Photo/Yahya Ahmed)

A man grimaces while holding his injured head as he walks away from the scene of one of the six coordinated bomb attacks in the oil city of Kirkuk, about 250 km (155 miles) north of Baghdad, June 13, 2006. (Slahaldeen Rasheed/Reuters)

Monday, June 12, 2006

Women in Prison

Since 1997, the number of women in prison has increased by a whopping 757 percent. Women are the fastest growing segment of the prison system, surpassing men in all 50 states.

Over the past 15 years, the number of women prisoners in California doubled to approximately 11,681. Last year alone, the number was up by eight percent.

The majority of those women have survived domestic violence and 80 percent are mothers. Because 1 in 10 of the state's female inmates is pregnant, a new baby is born in prison on an almost daily basis.

The population of mothers in prison has drastically increased since the 80s, largely due to tougher sentencing for nonviolent drug crimes. Because the number of women having babies in prison is also increasing, California officials are preparing to open the state's first prison nursery. Shouldn't this be causing us to question what this says about us as a society? Do we really want children being raised behind bars?

It's time to have a discussion about why so many women and mothers are behind bars in the first place, and recognize the fact that female prisoners have different needs than male prisoners. It's highly unlikely than any politician will honestly tackle this issue during an election year for fear of being labeled "soft on crime."

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Women in the Media

As you watch, listen and read the news today and this week, think about these statistics:

When W was first selected, the media watchers Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting looked at who appeared on the evening news on ABC, CBS and NBC. Ninety-two percent of all U.S. sources interviewed were white, 85 percent were male, and where party affiliation was identifiable, 75 percent were Republican.

Those numbers haven't changed much. According to the Freedom Forum Media Studies Center, on the three main U.S. broadcast networks, 87 percent of "expert" sound bytes are provided by men.

On the Sunday talk shows, it's worse. The ratio of male to female guests is 9 to 1. After 9/11, the frequency of women guests on those shows dropped an additional 39 percent, according to the White House Project.

The picture isn't as bleak when it comes to women in management. Women currently hold 35.5 percent of newsroom supervisory positions, according to the American Society of Newspaper Editors. That's slightly better than 33 percent in 1999. Overall, women make up 37.7 percent of the newsroom.

And then there are magazines. A great website, womentk.com, tracks the ratio of male to female writers in national general interest magazines, including The Atlantic, Harper's, The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair. The ratio of male to female bylines in those magazines is 1,037 to 355. That's 1,037 male writers and 355 female writers.

Because so many of you have probably gotten used to seeing so many men on television, it's important to point out that on cable television, the only women who have their own shows are Paula Zahn, (extreme fluff), Nancy Grace, Rita Cosby and Greta Van Susteren. Grace, Cosby and Van Susteren spend their valuable airtime on murders, kidnappings, lengthy court cases about murders and other sensational stories.

The media is still a man's world and the lefty press isn't any better than the mainstream. Why is this important? Because women and men come to the table with very different life experiences and views than men. When I started out in radio, I was the only female on an all-male staff. The only stories about women's issues came from me. The only stories about how a merger would impact people, rather than pocketbooks, came from me. It's not that the men didn't care about these issues -- it's that they didn't think about them. And that's why it's important to fight for and encourage more women to get into management. At the end of the day, that's where the ultimate decisions are made.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

What's Happening in Afghanistan?

Bush's Bubble:
"People all over the world are watching the experience here in Afghanistan. I hope the people of Afghanistan understand that democracy takes hold. We like stories of young girls going to school for the first time so they can realise their potential. We appreciate the free press. We are enthralled when we see an entrepreuneurial class grow up where people are able to grow up and realise their dreams."
-Bush, speaking in Kabul on March 1, 2006

The worst three weeks of violence since the fall of the Taliban have left more than 500 people dead, the U.S.-led coalition said Saturday.

Fighting on Saturday killed six insurgents and three police, officials said. Late Friday, a top Afghan intelligence agent narrowly survived a bomb attack on his convoy that killed three other people near the capital, Kabul.

Much of the recent Taliban fighting is believed funded by the country's $2.8 billion trade in opium and heroin — about 90 percent of the world's supply.

The daily violence has raised fears of a Taliban resurgence almost five years after the Islamic extremists were driven out by a U.S.-led invasion for harboring al-Qaida.

He Wanted to Go to Iraq

Check out this post by Stephen Elliott, a writer who wanted to go to Baghdad:
I wanted to go to Iraq at the end of this month, frustrated by the lack of available information on the conflict. I contacted friends who have been there. I wanted to know how much I would have to raise. George Packer at the New Yorker told me, "It's extremely hard to do these days, for security reasons. You need a safe place to stay--the few free-lancers still in Baghdad mostly stay at the Hamra hotel--and a reliable team of driver, translator, and guard. A month would probably run you upwards of $5000 plus airfare. But the dangers are extreme and I'd be very cautious about going at all unless you feel you have good enough contacts in Baghdad to make sure you stay safe. Sorry to be discouraging but even the pros are starting to pull out."

Another, a contributor to Harpers wrote, "I know what you're envisioning can be (and probably has been) done, but I would strongly caution you. There are still a lot of kidnappings. Just getting from the airport to the green zone, if you're not embedded and don't have someone to pick you up, can cost thousands of dollars. For one ride! Hotels in the green zone are super expensive, and always full, so there, too, you may have trouble. Again, not trying to be a wet blanket, but with the sectarian violence out of control, I'm not sure how many Iraqis in Baghdad would even be willing to sit down and talk extensively with an American journalist they don't know."

There are still those that question why we never hear good news out of Iraq. The first and obvious answer is because there isn't any. But beyond that we've created a situation so awful that even the professional journalists are leaving, and the freelancers, who might uncover the more interesting aspects of the occupation, can't even get from the airport to the green zone. The diplomats are sleeping in crates, aren't allowed outside, and aren't supposed to talk to the press. And my source in country tells me things are ten times worse than anyone is saying. Most people can't even find out that much.

Bush's Brain

I finally got around to seeing Bush's Brain the other night, a documentary about Karl Rove's dirty tricks. That's an understatement. What a ruthless, heartless individual. A number of Rove's former Republican classmates and colleagues discuss his rise to power, along with John McCain's former communications people who were sideswiped by the most brutal whisper campaigns in the history of presidential attacks. Highly recommended.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Iraq for Sale: The Trailer

Robert Greenwald just posted the trailer for his upcoming documentary about private contractors, Iraq for Sale. Greenwald's films, including Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price and Uncovered: The War on Iraq are so effective because they aren't lefty rants. Greenwald and his team take to the streets to interview people we rarely hear from or see in the national media -- people who have been directly impacted by this war.

Here are a few facts about the military-industrial complex and contracts:

*Forty-nine percent of your taxes go to the military industrial complex.

*The military's share of the income tax dollar has risen by 20 percent since 2000, while the share of spending has dropped for job training (-21 percent), environment (-19 percent), housing (-7 percent) and veterans' benefits (-2 percent), according to the National Priorities Project, a non-partisan, non-profit research group.

*Classified military spending has reached its highest level since 1988, near the end of the Cold War, a new independent analysis has found. Classified, or "black," programs now appear to account for about $30.1 billion, or 19 percent, of the acquisition money the Defense Department is requesting for fiscal year 2007, according to Steven M. Kosiak, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, an independent policy-research organization. The figure is more than double the amount the Pentagon requested in 1995, when classified military acquisition spending reached a post-Cold War low.

*The biggest windfall in the invasion of Iraq has most certainly gone to the oil services and logistics company Halliburton . The company, which was formerly run by Vice President Dick Cheney, had revenue of over $8 billion in contracts in Iraq in 2003 alone. And while Halliburton's dealings in Iraq have been dogged everywhere by scandal - including now a criminal investigation into overcharging by Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root for gas shipped into Iraq - Vice President Cheney manages to be doing quite well from the deal. He owns $433,000 unexercised Halliburton stock options worth more than $10 million dollars.
Source: CorpWatch

*Lockheed Martin is the world's #1 military contractor, responsible for the U-2 and SR-71 spy planes, F-16, F/A-22 fighter jet, and Javelin missiles. They've also made millions through insider trading, falsifying accounts, and bribing officials. According to the Arms Trade Resource Center, Lockheed Martin gets $105 from each U.S. taxpayer and $228 from each U.S. household. In 2002 the company was effectively taxed at 7.7% compared to an average tax rate for individuals of 21-33%.

In late 2001 the company was awarded the world's largest weapons contract ever, a $200 billion deal to build the Joint Strike Fighter, a "next-generation" combat jet that eventually will replace aircraft used by the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. In the last few years the SEC has investigated Lockheed for insider trading and falsifying their accounts.

Lockheed Martin did not win the contract on force of personality alone, or fighter plane design. During the calendar year 2000, Lockheed Martin spent more than $9.8 million lobbying members of Congress and the Clinton administration, more than double the $4.2 million the company spent during 1999. Among the company's newest lobbyists: Haley Barbour, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee. During the 1999-2000 election cycle, Lockheed Martin contributed just over $2.7 million in soft money, PAC and individual contributions to federal candidates and parties. More than two-thirds of that money went to Republicans. Lockheed Martin spends more on lobbying Congress than any of its competitors, spending a whopping $9.7 million in 2002. Only General Electric and Philip Morris reported more lobbying expenses. And in the 2004 election cycle, Lockheed contributed more than $1.9 million.
Source: CorpWatch

*Today the victors of modern wars no longer rape and pillage as their predecessors did, instead they make extraordinary profits by giving contracts to their favorite companies to rebuild what they have destroyed and then hand the bill to local taxpayers to pay. For example, within days of the American occupation of Iraq, Bechtel of San Francisco, California, was hired to repair the power system, telephone exchanges and hospitals, weeks after multi-billionaire Riley Bechtel, the principal shareholder, was sworn in as a member of President Bush's Export Council to advise the government on how to create markets for American companies overseas.
Source: CorpWatch