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Expanding the Discussion of Race to the Nation's Indigenous Peoples

The Gates arrest and its aftermath proves that the discussion of race and its impact on life in the United States continues to stir emotion. The discussion is nonetheless important. It's too easy for members of one racial or ethnic group to ignore or remain ignorant of the perceptions commonly held by members of other races and ethnicities.

Too rarely does the discussion include the nation's indigenous peoples. Brenda Golden provides this brief account of the injustices Native Americans have endured from the days of conquest to the present. She reminds us that the native leaders who resisted conquest or mistreatment "were branded an enemy and thrown in prison if not killed in battle."

Many of these leaders were imprisoned for long periods of time; Geronimo died a prisoner of the US at Fort Sill, Oklahoma on February 17, 1909.

This reminder is particularly timely given that Leonard Peltier's "first full parole hearing in 15 years" was held today. The results should be known in about three weeks. [more ... including a new addendum to the original post]

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Lamar Smith: Deport 'Em All

The New York Times reports that the Obama administration is "vastly expanding" a Bush administration initiative "to identify and deport illegal immigrants held in local jails." A pilot program in Harris County, Texas has been expanded to scores of additional counties "with an eye toward establishing it nationwide by late 2012."

One might think the program would please Rep. Lamar Smith, the super-genius who equates illegal immigrants with "terrorist weapons," but Smith fears that focusing deportation efforts on individuals who committed crimes creates "a de facto amnesty" for undocumented workers who, after entering the country, live peacefully, support their families, pay their taxes, and obey the nation's laws. This is the super-genius' preferred solution:

“We can prevent many of these crimes by deporting illegal immigrants before they have committed them, instead of waiting until after the fact,” he said, echoing the views of many hard-liners.

We could prevent a whole lot more crimes by locking up all the Republicans before they commit them. What do you think of that idea, Rep. Smith? [more...]

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Whose Principle?

On "Face the Nation" today, Mitch McConnell said that Republicans could filibuster Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation vote if they decide to oppose the president's Supreme Court nominee. On May 19, 2005, the very same Mitch McConnell said this:

Because of the unprecedented obstruction of our Democratic colleagues, the Republican conference intends to restore the principle that, regardless of party, any President’s judicial nominees, after full debate, deserve a simple up-or-down vote.

McConnell argues that the filibuster is an acceptable alternative because Democrats established that precedent. It's all so clear now. Republican "principles" are meant for Democrats to follow, not Republicans.

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A Question of Priorities: Future Soldiers or Today's Veterans

Combine The Terminator with Robocop, throw in a little Iron Man, top it off with "The Million Dollar Man," and you get this guy: the soldier of tomorrow (if tomorrow arrives in 2030 or so).

As a soldier enters a crowded marketplace, sensors mounted on his helmet automatically scan faces in the crowd, identifying a known insurgent; a cursor in the heads-up display highlights the target and cues the weapon, which can be set to stun or kill; a simple voice command unlocks the trigger.

Given the nation's experience with Pentagon procurement, it's fair to predict that the futuristic weaponry won't work while the advanced body armor will give way to a butter knife. More troubling is the notion that future soldiers will be "enhanced with prosthetics" and fed "smart drugs." The Pentagon should put those ideas aside until it enhances its ability to provide mental health care to veterans. [more ...]

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Dobson Surrenders

James Dobson, in a farewell speech to the Focus on the Family staff, said:

“We are awash in evil and the battle is still to be waged. We are right now in the most discouraging period of that long conflict. Humanly speaking, we can say we have lost all those battles.”

Whether Dobson is capable of "humanly speaking" is questionable. The man who adamantly opposed the right of women to control their own bodies, of families to make their own end-of-life decisions, of patients to benefit from stem cell research, of gays to enjoy equal rights, and of Harry Potter fans to enjoy their books, is no fan of human rights.

Perhaps the one positive aspect of George Bush's presidency is an unintended consequence: a liberal victory (albeit incomplete) in the culture wars. [more ...]

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Ryan Moats Meets an Insensitive Officer in Dallas

NFL running back Ryan Moats just wanted to get his wife to the hospital before her mother died. You can't blame him for rolling through a red light. You can blame the officer who pulled him over outside the ER, ignored his pleas (and those of hospital staff), threatened to screw him over, and took his time writing a ticket.

His mother in law passed away while the offer forced Moats to remain in his car as he checked for outstanding warrants.

Dallas police officials apologized after confirming that the scene was captured on the squad car's video camera. Too little, too late for Moats and his wife.

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Alzheimer's in the Spotlight

5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer's. Someone develops the disease every 70 seconds. In 40 years, it will be every 33 seconds. The numbers are grim.

It's now the sixth-leading cause of death for people nationwide, surpassing diabetes. Among people over 65, it's the fifth-leading cause of death. And while deaths from heart disease, stroke and breast and prostate cancers dropped from 2000 to 2006, the number of deaths from Alzheimer's grew by 47.1 percent.

An array of prominent Americans testified on Capital Hill yesterday, all with a personal link to the disease, including Maria Shriver, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, former Senator Bob Kerry and Newt Gingrich.

Nightline did a special on it last night...Terry Moran, whose mother and grandmother died of the disease, had his DNA tested to see if he has the gene. [More...]

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Mentally Disabled Residents Forced to Fight

It's interesting that people who want to exercise authority over others (in careers like law enforcement and corrections) are often the wrong people to entrust with that kind of power. Case in point: Corpus Christi State School employees who forced "mentally disabled residents into late-night prize fights."

Authorities say vivid video footage captured on cellphone cameras shows staffers goading young mentally disabled male residents of the institution into physical altercations, then shoving them at each other until fights ensued.

How could one employee, much less a group of them, be so twisted as to tolerate this abusive behavior? Here's one explanation:

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Undocumented Workers Cleaned Chertoff's Home

Most people could care less if the landscaping or house cleaning firm they hire employs undocumented workers. But most people aren't in charge of Homeland Security.

Every few weeks for nearly four years, the Secret Service screened the IDs of employees for a Maryland cleaning company before they entered the house of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, the nation's top immigration official. The company's owner says the workers sailed through the checks -- although some of them turned out to be illegal immigrants.

The owner of the cleaning firm is understandably grumpy that the IDs were good enough for the Secret Service but not for ICE, which fined the company more than $20,000 for neglecting "to check identification and work documents and fill out required I-9 verification forms." [more ...]

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Montana Judge Okays Doctor-Assisted Suicide

A judge in Montana has ruled doctor-assisted end of life choices are legal.

In her ruling, Judge McCarter wrote that “the Montana constitutional rights of individual privacy and human dignity” give a mentally competent person who is terminally ill the right to “die with dignity.”

The ruling said that those patients had the right to obtain self-administered medications to hasten death if they found their suffering to be unbearable, and that physicians could prescribe such medication without fear of prosecution.

It's hard to fathom anyone would challenge such a basic human right, but the state is expected to appeal.

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Renewing the Nation's Commitment to Labor Law

It turns out that arresting half the workforce at Iowa's Agriprocessors, Inc. for crimes related to their status as undocumented aliens wasn't good for Agriprocessors or, more importantly, for the town of Postville in which the kosher meatpacking plant is located. Agriprocessors has filed for bankruptcy.

The workforce arrests weren't Agriprocessors' only problem. Serious labor law violations, including the employment of underage workers, resulted in thousands of misdemeanor charges against the company, its owner and its top manager. The company's former CEO was arrested last week on federal charges of conspiring to harbor illegal immigrants. Consumers (Jeralyn among them) stopped buying Agriprocessors' products after the plant's working conditions and child labor violations were publicized.

Still, it's difficult for a company to stay in business when half its workforce is suddenly hauled off to jail (not to mention the devastating consequences to the workers and their families). [more ...]

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Is Pro Bono Work 'Anti-Social'?

Speaking to a gathering of the Federalist Society (where he was preaching to the choir), Judge Dennis Jacobs, chief judge of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, told the crowd that pro bono work is an anti-social activity. He particularly dislikes pro bono work for environmental causes, which he considers "legal activism."

"No public good is good for everybody," Jacobs said.

Perhaps Judge Jacobs meant to distinguish the helping hands that lawyers lend to the indigent in divorce and domestic abuse cases, landlord-tenant disputes, social security disability and veterans benefits cases, and all the other kinds of legal work that help individuals rather than the broader public. Even if that's so, it's shocking to think that a federal judge would disparage pro bono representation in lawsuits against the government. Making the government obey the law isn't an invitation to judicial "activism."

Helping society for free, rather than corporate clients for a healthy hourly rate, isn't anti-social. It's in the finest tradition of the bar to use the judicial system to help improve lives. Lawyers who do so should be praised, not scolded.

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Action Alert : Biogen Denying Cancer Drug to Fred Baron

Remember Fred Baron, the financier in the midst of the John Edwards-Rielle Hunter story?

He was diagnosed last week with multiple myeloma and given a week to live. There's a drug, Tsyabri, that's an exact match for him and the FDA has okayed it and requests have been made by Lance Armstrong, Bill Clinton, John Kerry and others to provide it and the CEO of Biotech is refusing.

Read his son's letter (Andrew is the founder of Rocketboom)and do what you can to add to the pressure. The drug is readily available, it's just not prescribed for myeloma.

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Alternative Economic Stimulus Plans

I don't like the economic stimulus plans of either the Government or the candidates. With the October 15 deadline for filing our 2007 tax returns a few days away, I've been focused on tax issues. Here's what I would propose for next year.

  • Something similar to the donation boxes for social causes on our tax returns, whereby we could specify an amount up to $10,000 of the taxes we are paying and fill in details of our credit card accounts, and the government would send that amount to the credit card companies and our debt would be reduced. This would give the credit card companies money so they could extend more credit and give consumers more money to spend.
  • A moratorium on credit card interest for 180 days. The moratorium on home foreclosures is a great idea for those whose homes are at risk, but it does nothing for renters or homeowners who are current on their mortgages. It's only fair to give everyone a break.


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Creating a Green Collar Work Force: Include Our Inmates

The Green Collar Economy is activist and political advisor Van Jones' new book. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. wrote the forward

The premise: We can solve both our economic crises and our environmental problems with one solution: creation of green collar jobs, a green collar work force and a green economy.

Jones says we cannot drill and burn our way out of our energy and environmental problems. Here's what we can do to solve the crisis, and at the same time, address our declining economy, poverty and inequality. [More...]

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