Monthly Archives: April, 2006

Laffey: Distancing Himself, While He Collects the Checks

This creates a bit of an awkward situation, no? Our right-wing Republican Senate candidate, Steve Laffey, is trying to distance himself from a supporter who sent a potentially illegal letter to his employees asking them to aid Laffey’s Senate campaign, while at the same time this supporter is hosting a fundraiser for Laffey tomorrow night. From the Journal:

PROVIDENCE – - Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey yesterday distanced himself from a letter a supporter wrote to his employees asking them to aid Laffey’s Senate campaign.

The letter, written on American Labor Services, Inc., letterhead by its president, asks workers to help register Hispanic citizens to vote in the Republican primary. It could violate laws that prohibit corporations from telling hourly workers which candidates to support, according to former and current Federal Elections Commission officials.

“We had no idea about this letter,” said Nachama Soloveichik, spokeswoman for Laffey’s campaign. “Had he asked us, we would have told him, ‘Don’t do this. Please don’t do this.’ We encourage him to take whatever steps needed to fix this.”

The letter, written last week by Vincent Indeglia, president of the Providence employment agency, criticizes Laffey’s opponents for their positions on immigration and asks employees to turn over names and contact information of every U.S. citizen they know. Indeglia said he left 50 to 100 copies on the desk where as many as 200 workers pick up their paychecks on Fridays.

Laffey is running in the Republican primary against incumbent Sen. Lincoln Chafee.

Federal election law prohibits corporations from expressly advocating a candidate’s election or defeat, said FEC spokesman George Smaragdis and Craig Engle, a Republican attorney who worked at the FEC for 10 years.

Indeglia, 42, of Narragansett, said in a phone interview that he is holding a fundraiser for Laffey on Wednesday, but did not consult Laffey or his campaign about the letter. He also said he did not know it could violate the law.

“I’m very sorry if this in any way hurts the guy,” he said.

Indeglia’s letter said he supports allowing illegal workers to stay in the U.S. Spokespeople for the candidates mentioned in the letter said Indeglia did not accurately express their views on the issue.

The letter said Chafee and Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democratic candidate, want to deport illegal immigrants and make it harder for legal immigrants to become citizens, while Laffey supports allowing people to become legal residents and citizens if they choose.

However, Chafee and Whitehouse support legislation that would give illegal immigrants a chance at citizenship if they paid a fine and met other conditions. Laffey wants to secure the nation’s border with Mexico, crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants and create a strict guest worker policy.

One wonders if this letter-writing is the only thing that Mr. Indeglia is “unaware” of in terms of corporate legality. Perhaps before owning a corporation with 200 employees, he should have gone over those pesky things called federal regulations.

And what does this mean? “The letter… criticizes Laffey’s opponents for their positions on immigration and asks employees to turn over names and contact information of every U.S. citizen they know.” Why is this company President asking his employees for the “names and contact information of every U.S. citizen they know?” I wish the Journal had asked him more about that.

UPDATE: The Projo followed up with a second article on this today. In it, Laffey calls Mr. Indeglia’s behavior an “honest mistake.” Excuse me, but violating federal election laws as a corporate executive is a little more serious than an “honest mistake.” Trying to control the voting practices of people who are your subordinates and whose jobs you hold in your hands is more than an honest mistake. It is, in my opinion, a serious abuse of power which should be corrected by law enforcement.

Also in the Projo article, Mr. Indeglia continues to offer his great sympathy and apologies — no, not to his employees, whose sense of liberty as voters he may have irreparably harmed, who may now feel intimidated into voting for Laffey and who may believe that they should turn over the names and contact information of “every U.S. citizen they know” in order to build a voter list for their boss. No, the victims of his malfeasance do not get any offers of sympathy or apology. Mr. Indeglia only has sympathy for one person — Steve Laffey, his multimillion-dollar friend.

Episcopal Church Plans to Address Racism

This story from Spero Forum describes how the Episcopal church is planning to recognize its involvement in racism through slavery:

The June triennial gathering of the Episcopal Church will be asked to consider resolutions concerning slavery and racial reconciliation; studying the “complicity” of the church in the institution of slavery and how “recompense” can be made to its victims; and the endorsement of restorative justice as a “fresh means” of achieving “wholeness” in the church.

Resolution A123, proposed by the National Concerns Committee of the church’s Executive Council, declares that the institution of slavery in the United States and “anywhere else in the world” was and is a sin. It would have the church acknowledge and express regret for its support of slavery and for supporting “de jure and de facto segregation and discrimination” for years after slavery’s abolition. The resolution also asks the Presiding Bishop to call for a “Day of Repentance and Reconciliation” and to organize a service to be held that day at Washington National Cathedral.

[...]

The anti-racism committee suggested that the upcoming Public Broadcasting Service documentary, “Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North” by Katrina Browne, is an example of “the type of truth-telling and facing the painful sins of the past that needs to be undertaken in every part of the church where people of a different color, language, religion, or national origin have been excluded.”

“Traces” tells the story of Browne’s New England ancestors, the DeWolfs, who were the largest slave-trading family in US history and a prominent part of the Episcopal Church in Rhode Island. Excerpts from the film were shown to the Executive Council during its March meeting in Philadelphia. During that meeting the council passed a resolution (NAC 045) urging the convention planners “to make every effort to show the film . . . to the entire convention.” More information about the film is available at tracesofthetrade.org.

As an Episcopalian (and yes, I really am planning to go back to church regularly, or at least semi-regularly soon!) this is interesting news. I have not seen this level of acknowledgment of racism from a large organized Christian church before — not from the Catholic church, not from any of the other protestant denominations.

Also of interest on the topic of Episcopal church happenings, this week’s New Yorker has an article called “A Church Asunder” by Peter J. Boyer, which centers on the controversy of the recent election of a gay bishop. An interview with Boyer about the article is available here.

Averting Genocide

There are few words that possess both the magnitude and the ugliness of genocide. Similar to its paler cousin, terrorism, it is not a word to be uttered lightly or recklessly. And, when perchance it is spoken, it ought demand attention and action. Strangely, though, such is not always the case, as evidenced by the fairly limited international response to the ongoing atrocities occurring in the Sudanese region of Darfur, where—by many estimates—more than 400,000 people have been killed and millions more displaced. It is a tragedy of almost unimaginable scope and horror, a tragedy to which we cannot remain disinterested bystanders. As Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, who recently won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on Darfur, said in an op-ed piece last November entitled A Tolerable Genocide, “the essential starting point is outrage: a recognition that countering genocide must be a global priority.� He went on to say:

“It’s true that a few hundred thousand deaths in Darfur—a good guess of the toll so far—might not amount to much in a world where two million a year die of malaria. But there is something special about genocide. When humans deliberately wipe out others because of their tribe or skin color, when babies succumb not to diarrhea but to bayonets and bonfires, that is not just one more tragedy. It is a monstrosity that demands a response from other humans. We demean our own humanity, and that of the victims, when we avert our eyes.â€?

Consider the photograph above, taken by Brian Steidle, a former U.S. Marine who served as a member of the African Union team monitoring the conflict in Darfur. The man in the photo—or perhaps he is just a boy—was killed in a helicopter gunship attack. Many would naturally wish to avert their eyes from this horrific image. Consider other images, as seen through Steidle’s eyes: “men castrated and left to bleed to death, huts set on fire with people locked inside, children with their faces smashed in, men with their ears cut off and eyes plucked out, and the corpses of people who had been executed with gunshots to the head.� Imagine, if you dare, hundreds of thousand of such images.

However strong may be the desire to avert one’s eyes, the need to avert genocide and other such atrocities must be stronger. On April 30, in Washington, DC, there will be a Rally To Stop Genocide sponsored by the Save Darfur Coalition, which describes itself as “an alliance of over 100 faith-based, humanitarian and human rights organizations.� (Click here for more information on the rally.) If you cannot attend, MoveOn is recruiting “virtual marchers� who are willing to declare their support for the cause. (Click here to do so.) Similarly, you can visit the website, Million Voices For Darfur, and sign an e-postcard that will be forwarded to President Bush. Please consider taking action in any way that you can. I also encourage you to check out some of the links below (and above) which may further enlighten you on the crisis in Darfur. Thank you.

On Our Watch – A Documentary About Genocide In Darfur. A 10 minute video produced by Refugees International.

Q & A: Crisis In Darfur. Questions and answers on the issue, from the organization, Human Rights Watch.

What To Do About Darfur? A recent article by Amitabh Pal, published in The Progressive.

Whitehouse on Gay Rights/ Warwick Community Dinner

Edge has an interview/profile of Whitehouse. In it, he talks about The Knights of Columbus refusing to rent him a hall because of his positions on gay rights and abortion:

He said he was “bemused” by the flap. “I’m not aware of other instances in which the Knights of Columbus has looked at the views of a political candidate and used them as a litmus test for whether or not they let the candidate use the space. I suspect as candidates around the state begin to use [K of C] halls for political events you’ll find that a bunch of other situations will also emerge in which [they are] in effect being forced to take positions on certain issues. …You’ll see candidates–even those who have used the facilities in the past–less willing to do so. So it could become kind of an early barometer of where candidates stand on positions where they have been very vague.”

Whitehouse added that he cannot recall ever before during three statewide campaigns for public office being denied use of a location for an event or appearance because of his views.

Also regarding the Whitehouse campaign, a free community dinner for Warwick is scheduled for this Wednesday evening. Here are the details:

U.S. Senate Candidate Sheldon Whitehouse Hosts Community Dinner for Residents of West Warwick, Coventry, East Greenwich, West Greenwich, and surrounding areas

WHEN: Wednesday, April 26, 6:30 p.m.

WHERE: Portuguese Society Hall, 11 Ventura Street, West Warwick

Spawn Of The Decider

The Huffington Post currently features an amusing and toe-tapping parody of the Beatles’ hit, I Am The Walrus, called “I’m The Decider (Koo-Koo-Ka-Choo).â€? The subject of the parody is, of course, not the Fab Four but our infamous Commander-in-Chief, George The Decider Bush. Click here to check it out. For a somewhat more serious look on the same topic (and on the same website), click here for a short video on the tragic consequences of Bush’s decisions.

Never Too Old

Disorderly Grandmother Heads To Court

“I could not, at any age, be content to take my place by the fireside and simply look on.� Though these words are attributed to the great social activist Eleanor Roosevelt, they could easily serve as the motto for the Granny Peace Brigade. If you have not heard of this dynamic group of elders, allow me to introduce you:

Anti-war grandmothers in U.S. court

A group of women who call themselves the “Granny Peace Brigade� have gone on trial in New York for their protest against the Iraq war. The women, aged between 50 and 91, were charged with disorderly conduct after demonstrating outside a military recruitment center. Their supporters outside the courthouse included leading anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, whose son died in Iraq. The 18 women, many of whom are grandmothers, have pleaded not guilty. “Coming to this damn court is nothing compared to what is happening to people in Iraq,� said Marie Runyon, aged 91 and the oldest member of the group.

None of the women has grandchildren serving in the US military. But Joe Wile, co-founder of the group, said that was beside the point. “We’re here for a larger purpose,� said the 74-year-old. “We feel extremely heartbroken for all the young kids, American and Iraqi, who are dying in this war.�

The women were arrested on October 17 last year after they protested outside a US military recruitment center in Times Square, New York. They had wanted to enlist, but found the door locked and sat down in front of the building. Prosecutors say this prevented people from entering or leaving the center and obstructed pedestrian traffic. They also say the women refused to disperse as ordered. The women have been charged on two counts of disorderly conduct.

Noted civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel is defending the women in court. “We should be praising these grandmothers, not prosecuting them,� Mr Siegel said. He told the court that the women had not broken any laws and that their protest was “respectful, orderly, justified and patriotic.�

Were I wearing a hat at the moment, I would gratefully doff it to these fine patriots, who are not only demonstrating against an unnecessary war but also demonstrating that political activism knows no age constraints. Their actions uniquely manage to defy both convention and authority. I can only hope that I am equally as active—politically and physically—in my golden years. For additional coverage on the granny-power movement, I refer you to a recent article by Kristen Lombardi in the Village Voice entitled “Grandmothers of Invention� and to the organization, Grandmothers for Peace International. You go, girls.

P.S. Are you reading this, Mom?

The Buzz On Science And Ideology

Although, earlier this week, President Bush boldly declared himself to be The Decider, the disturbing reality is that he is The Ignorer, a decidedly incurious man subject to selective amnesia of the intellect. When the facts don’t jibe with our not-so-humble leader’s beliefs or wishes, he simply ignores them. The policies of the Bush administration are a testament to this mindset, and in no area is that truer than the sciences. The latest example of such is the FDA’s outright dismissal of the medical benefits of marijuana, as reported by Gardiner Harris of the New York Times:

The Food and Drug Administration said Thursday that “no sound scientific studies� supported the medical use of marijuana, contradicting a 1999 review by a panel of highly regarded scientists. The announcement inserts the health agency into yet another fierce political fight.

Susan Bro, an agency spokeswoman, said Thursday’s statement resulted from a past combined review by federal drug enforcement, regulatory and research agencies that concluded “smoked marijuana has no currently accepted or proven medical use in the United States and is not an approved medical treatment….â€?

Eleven states have legalized medicinal use of marijuana, but the Drug Enforcement Administration and the director of national drug control policy, John P. Walters, have opposed those laws.

A Supreme Court decision last year allowed the federal government to arrest anyone using marijuana, even for medical purposes and even in states that have legalized its use….

The Food and Drug Administration statement directly contradicts a 1999 review by the Institute of Medicine, a part of the National Academy of Sciences, the nation’s most prestigious scientific advisory agency. That review found marijuana to be “moderately well suited for particular conditions, such as chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and AIDS wasting….â€?

Some scientists and legislators said the agency’s statement about marijuana demonstrated that politics had trumped science. “Unfortunately, this is yet another example of the F.D.A. making pronouncements that seem to be driven more by ideology than by science,� said Dr. Jerry Avorn, a medical professor at Harvard Medical School.

Representative Maurice D. Hinchey, a New York Democrat who has sponsored legislation to allow medicinal uses of marijuana, said the statement reflected the influence of the Drug Enforcement Administration, which he said had long pressured the F.D.A. to help in its fight against marijuana….

Opponents of efforts to legalize marijuana for medicinal uses suggest that marijuana is a so-called gateway drug that often leads users to try more dangerous drugs and to addiction. But the Institute of Medicine report concluded there was no evidence that marijuana acted as a gateway to harder drugs. And it said there was no evidence that medical use of marijuana would increase its use among the general population. [full text]

While the buzzkills at the FDA were dispensing their statement, Rolling Stone magazine was publishing a thought-provoking article by Sean Wilentz, a professor of American studies at Princeton University, that examines whether George W. Bush is The Worst President In History. While many facets of Mr. Bush and his administration are touched upon in the article, what caught my eye was what Wilentz had to say about the overarching faith of this president (and his core constituency) and how such has influenced policy with regard to the sciences:

The one noncorporate constituency to which Bush has consistently deferred is the Christian right, both in his selections for the federal bench and in his implications that he bases his policies on premillennialist, prophetic Christian doctrine. Previous presidents have regularly invoked the Almighty. McKinley is supposed to have fallen to his knees, seeking divine guidance about whether to take control of the Philippines in 1898, although the story may be apocryphal. But no president before Bush has allowed the press to disclose, through a close friend, his startling belief that he was ordained by God to lead the country. The White House’s sectarian positions — over stem-cell research, the teaching of pseudoscientific “intelligent design,â€? global population control, the Terri Schiavo spectacle and more — have led some to conclude that Bush has promoted the transformation of the GOP into what former Republican strategist Kevin Phillips calls “the first religious party in U.S. history.â€?

Bush’s faith-based conception of his mission, which stands above and beyond reasoned inquiry, jibes well with his administration’s pro-business dogma on global warming and other urgent environmental issues. While forcing federally funded agencies to remove from their Web sites scientific information about reproductive health and the effectiveness of condoms in combating HIV/AIDS, and while peremptorily overruling staff scientists at the Food and Drug Administration on making emergency contraception available over the counter, Bush officials have censored and suppressed research findings they don’t like by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Agriculture. Far from being the conservative he said he was, Bush has blazed a radical new path as the first American president in history who is outwardly hostile to science — dedicated, as a distinguished, bipartisan panel of educators and scientists (including forty-nine Nobel laureates) has declared, to “the distortion of scientific knowledge for partisan political ends.â€? [full text]

If it all weren’t so dangerous and distressing, it would almost be laughable. But there’s nothing funny about this sort of ignorance. There’s nothing remotely amusing about Bush and his dopey band of ideologues revving up the ol’ Wayback Machine so as to send us careening back into the Dark Ages. Personally, my idea of getting stoned does not involve a hail of jagged rocks. Talk about a buzzkill!

Savetheinternet.com: Keep the Playing Field Level

This is a cause that we little websites need to be on board with: net neutrality. Without it, the big-money players on the internet could easily squeeze out access to little websites like this one. Here’s a statement from savetheinternet.com, a new coalition formed to advocate for net neutrality so that websites of every stripe and political persuasion will continue to be accessible online:

Congress is pushing a law that would abandon Network Neutrality, the Internet’s First Amendment. Network neutrality prevents companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast from deciding which Web sites work the best — based on who pays them the most. Your local library shouldn’t have to outbid Barnes & Noble for the right to have its Web site open quickly on your computer.

Net Neutrality allows everyone to compete on a level playing field and is the reason that the Internet is a force for economic innovation, civic participation and free speech. If the public doesn’t speak up now, Congress will cave to a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign by telephone and cable companies that want to decide what you do, where you go, and what you watch online.

This isn’t just speculation — we’ve already seen what happens elsewhere when the Internet’s gatekeepers get too much control. Last year, Canada’s version of AT&T — Telus— blocked their Internet customers from visiting a Web site sympathetic to workers with whom Telus was negotiating. And Shaw, a major Canadian cable TV company, charges an extra $10 a month to subscribers who dare to use a competing Internet telephone service.

Congress thinks they can sell out and the public will never know. The SavetheInternet.Com Coalition is proving them wrong.

I urge anyone who cares about the internet to join this coalition.

USA Today: Will Your Pension Be There?

USA Today published an editorial recently regarding pension legislation which could make matters worse for the average American counting on a pension. Here’s the editorial:

Will your pension be there? Congress may raise risk

The Bush administration has been pushing for years to shore up the nation’s increasingly shaky private pension systems. As Vice President Cheney put it at a Washington conference in March, “If you put in your hours, and do your part … your promised pension will be there for you when you retire.”
Or will it?

Congress now appears poised to deliver just the opposite, giving companies new leeway to fake their pension math. More pensioners would be placed at risk. Chances that taxpayers will be stuck with a huge bill would rise significantly.

Both groups already are at risk. Traditional pensions offered by private employers, known as defined-benefit plans, are underfunded by more than $450 billion — an eleven-fold increase in just five years.

At the same time, the government-sponsored pension insurance system, designed to protect workers whose company’s plans go belly up, is running a $23 billion deficit — about $200 for every household in the country.

To fix the problems, Bush asked Congress to produce a simple guarantee that any company pension is adequately funded and its financial status clear for all to see.

So what has Congress done?

The plans on the table — one passed by each chamber — are pockmarked with sweetheart deals for those with political pull.

Companies would be given more time to cover pension shortfalls, more flexibility to lowball estimates of how much they will owe workers and, in some cases, even to assume that their employees will die younger than will the population at large.

As a result, the government’s Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. projects that, instead of making the pension system stronger, the two plans before negotiators in the Senate and House of Representatives would lower corporate contributions to the already underfunded system by $140 billion to $160 billion over the next three years.

Among the dozens of deals obtained by various industries, corporations or groups:

• Airlines could get 20 years — nearly three times as long as other employers get — to eliminate the funding gaps in their pension plans. Moreover, they would be allowed to use peculiarly optimistic assumptions about investment returns in calculating how much they have to contribute.

• A formula for requiring employers to disclose any serious shortfall in their pension funds would be wholly inadequate. Had it been in effect, about half the companies that have ever defaulted on their pensions might never have had to give any warning of trouble.

• Wall Street financial service companies would get authorization to handle bigger amounts of retirement money, even in unregulated and volatile hedge funds, with fewer restrictions.

• Smithfield Foods, which has substantial operations in Ohio, would receive a unique exemption from having to comply with new rules until 2014, thanks to Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio.

Of course, each special interest has a plausible-sounding argument as to why it deserves special treatment: the ongoing financial woes of airlines and automakers, the free-market genius of Wall Street, Smithfield’s bailout of another company’s bankrupt pension plan, and so on.

But by caving in to so many of these pleadings, lawmakers are making the prospects for pension security worse. If President Bush still wants to protect pensions, he’ll have to start by exercising his first veto.

Charles W. Sanders, candidate for US Congress in Ohio, is doing a letter-writing action to legislators to demand real pension reform. You can participate in the action here.

Combat PTSD and Military Bloggers: Resources Online

Carl Sheeler reminded me of a topic I have been meaning to post on for some time: combat PTSD. More specifically, I would like to direct you to an excellent weblog dedicated solely to the topic: it is called PTSD Combat Weblog. The author’s bio tells you where she is coming from:

Ilona is an independent Illinois-based online writer and researcher. After reading of a decorated soldier’s lost battle with PTSD in 2005 (he killed himself shortly after returning home from Iraq), she decided to pursue the under-reported topic.

Ilona’s blog is an example of how blogs are culling and providing information in ways that are unprecented in their helpfulness. Her blog has amassed and organized information on PTSD recovery, social activism, and personal accounts, among other topics. She also has a great sidebar of helplines for veterans and resources for dealing with PTSD.

On a different angle regarding our troops, David alerted me to this article on blogs by active military. The article contains links to several of the most popular military blogs. This is another way in which blogs are changing the way the world communicates. This is a complex issue for the military, since wartime activity is frequently supposed to be classified. But some of these blogs may be helping raise awareness, both within the military and with the general public, about reality from the frontlines.

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