Levellers

Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) Rejects Military Commissions & Indefinite Detentions

In a letter to Pres. Obama, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) of the Senate Judiciary Committee expressed support for the closing of the Gitmo gulag, and appreciation for the Obama administration’s continued rejection of torture and the many Bush admin. erosions of the rule of law.  However, Feingold rejected the use of even modified military commissions (Feingold and Obama both voted against the Military Commissions Act of 2006) and promised senate judiciary hearings as to whether the Obama modifications brought these tribunals within the rule of law. (Feingold sees no reason why normal federal courts or military courts cannot try all the detainees or terrorism suspects.  Neither do I.)

Feingold also challenges the Obama administration’s claim that a few Gitmo detainees cannot be tried or released.  Feingold alleges that the very concept of indefinite detention (or preventive detention) without trial is “almost certainly unconstitutional.”  I agree. 

I’m glad to see the Congress (at least in the form of Sen. Feingold) reassert itself as a separate and equal part of government.  And the only cure for the Obama administration’s move toward the right (in the face of pressure from Cheney and co.) is to give pressure from the left.  But  this still falls short of the need for the D.o.J. appointing a special prosecutor to investigate and try all involved in Bush-era war crimes (or any war crimes since the change of administrations).

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May 25, 2009 Posted by | civil liberties, criminal justice, human rights., torture | 4 Comments

Urge CT Gov. Rell to Sign Death Penalty Abolition

Breaking silence for breaking news!  Will death penalty abolition regain momentum?  In 2007,  New Jersey became the first state to legislatively repeal the death penalty since 1976 (NY’s state Supreme Court had struck its dp down as violating the state constitution).  Early this year, New Mexico became the second and several other states had dp abolition bills in process.  It looked as if the movement to abolish the death penalty was gaining real momentum.  But the bill for abolition in Maryland was amended to keep the death penalty but require a higher level proof than in murder cases where the death penalty is not on the table.  In Kansas, the Senate voted for further study and the session ended.  In Montana, the bill was tabled and thus defeated for this session.  In New Hampshire, after the governor promised to veto abolition, it was modified in a fashion similar to Maryland.

Then, last month, it seemed like the best possibility for another victory for abolitionism this year was defeated in Colorado.  Colorado’s bill would have taken money save from abolishing the death penalty and used it to solve cold case murders.  It passed the state House by 1 vote and failed in the state Senate also by one vote.  At least for this year, death penalty abolition seemed to have run aground.

Now, unexpectedly, it may have new momentum.  The state of Connecticut has a death penalty statute, but has never actually executed someone in 48 years.  It has never been part of the “death belt” in this nation.  But Gov. Jodi Rell (R-CT), a former prosecutor (who never graduated university and has only honorary degrees), has always supported the death penalty, claiming that some crimes are so heinous as to deserve death.  In her term, CT had its first execution since 1960 in 2005. Given that opposition, it seemed unlikely that CT’s legislature would repeal the death penalty.  Surprises do happen. 

On 13 May, the CT state House passed a bill repealing the death penalty 90-56.  And yesterday, the CT Senate passed abolition, 19-17.  Neither legislative body has enough votes for abolition to override a veto by Gov. Rell and her public comments since yesterday do not sound like she wants to sign it into law. 

CALL Gov. Rell at 1-800-406-1527 or, in CT, 860-566-4840.  Or email her office at governor.rell@ct.gov and urge her to sign this repeal into law. (Be polite.) READERS FROM CONNECTICUT ARE ESPECIALLY URGED TO CONTACT HER AND URGE HER TO SIGN ABOLITION INTO LAW.  Gov. Rell is an Episcopalian and the Episcopal Church has long been opposed to capital punishment.

P.S.  I should say that Gov. Rell is from the dwindling moderate wing of the Republican party.  She is pro-life, but supported civil unions for same-sex marriage.  She instituted a statewide cap and trade system to reduce global warming and streamlined social security disability claims.  She is a major proponent of campaign finance reform and has been known widely for her clean campaigns. She was considered for John McCain’s running mate last year, but his staff thought her too moderate for the GOP base.  She, a Republican, has huge approval ratings in the very Demcratic state of CT.  So, she is no fanatic, but a person of both faith and reason.

May 22, 2009 Posted by | death penalty | 8 Comments

Moratorium

There will be no activity on this blog for at least a week.  I need to fight depression again–and an urge to take my family and flee to a country that actually respects human rights.  If I write more, I will rant.

May 20, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Senate Dems Refuse Money to Close Gitmo

It’s hard to tell if this move is, as CBS News asserts, Democrats folding to rightwing pressure, or is an attempt to force Obama to put forth an actual PLAN to close Gitmo before approving any funding.  If the former, this should be greeted with horror and the left should besiege the Senate.  If the latter, we should  praise the Senate and besiege the WH to quit farting around and close the Gitmo gulag already. 

Maybe we should do both.  Obama’s exec order still has Gitmo set to be closed by the end of the year, with some detainees tried, some released who should never have been there, and others moved to other prisons while awaiting trial and/or release.  But he could close the thing tomorrow, if he wanted.  I’m not sure what funds are needed to shutter this gulag.

UPDATE:  Well, now we know. This is NOT Good News.  Spineless Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (R-NV) has adopted rightwing talking points on terrorism.  This is a huge setback–at a time when polling is showing that the majority of Americans trust Obama and the Democrats on national security (the first time in decades). The Dems could use that new confidence to chart a new course–not behave like Republicans. This is very bad news.  Time to let Reid and the Senate know how we feel!

REID: I’m saying that the United States Senate, Democrats and Republicans, do not want terrorists to be released in the United States. That’s very clear.

QUESTION: No one’s talking about releasing them. We’re talking about putting them in prison somewhere in the United States.

REID: Can’t put them in prison unless you release them.

QUESTION: Sir, are you going to clarify that a little bit? …

REID: I can’t make it any more clear than the statement I have given to you. We will never allow terrorists to be released in the United States.

Later, Reid repeated that he would not support Guantanamo detainees being transferred to U.S prisons:

QUESTION: But Senator, Senator, it’s not that you’re not being clear when you say you don’t want them released. But could you say — would you be all right with them being transferred to an American prison?

REID: Not in the United States.

My comment: Now we’re more cowardly as a nation than in WWII? We held thousands of captured Nazis, Italian soldiers, and Japanese soldiers throughout the nation all through the war.  And why can’t we have CONVICTED terrorists in American prisons?  We held those who did the first World Trade Center bombings in American prisons–no problems.   We have mass murderers, mobsters, serial killers in all of our American prisons. What makes terrorists so unique?  Reid:  You’re now as much of a coward as Boehner, McConnell, Cheney and all the other GOP cowards who believe that fear of terrorism justifies an American gulag.  THIS MUST NOT STAND.

Here is Senator Reid’s email page.  And here is his phone number:  (202) 224-3542  Let Reid know that we, the American people, want this gulag closed, this site of American shame.  Let Reid know that if he can’t be a DEMOCRATIC leader, he should turn over his gavel to another, stronger, Democratic Senator—Schumer of NY or Durbin of IL or Feingold of WI or even Boxer of CA (though I’d rather see her win reelection first).

May 19, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Senate Passes New Credit Card Regulation

By 90-5, the U.S. Senate has passed a new Credit Card Holder’s Bill of Rights.  It’s tougher than the House version, but still waits too long (9 months!) t0 take effect!  Could we stop seeing credit cards marketed to children through “Hello Kitty” websites?  Could we stop seeing people who pay ON TIME, EVERY MONTH, have their rates raised from 7-20% for no reason other than the banks’ desire to make up investment losses on the banks of consumers (who already kept them solvent through taxpayer bailouts)?

Is this the end of credit card practices that amount to legal loan-sharking, practices that would get a mob boss a long prison sentence?  I certainly hope so.

90-5. Very bi-partisan.  Did Congress put the American people ahead of their corporate contributors for once? Amazing.

May 19, 2009 Posted by | economic justice | 1 Comment

Update: Hersh Walks Back “Cheney Death Squads” Story

I had previously reported veteran investigative reporter’s Seymour Hersh’s claim that high-ranking intelligence officers told him off the record that former VP Dick Cheney ran “assassination rings” out of his office.  The story was that Hersh expected some of these sources to speak on the record, even before Congress or the Dept. of Justice, now that administrations have changed. Now, Hersh is walking this story back, claiming that bloggers and other reporters have distorted what he said.  Thanks to commenters for pointing out this walk-back to me.

Cheney, by his own admission, is guilty of enough crimes (though he refuses to acknowledge that they were crimes) that I feel no need to add ficticious crimes to his record.  My apologies for passing on a story that could not be verified, although I did source it as a claim and not an established fact.  Hersh’s repudiation is in strong contrast to what it seemed he said earlier and I have no way to reconcile the two statements.

May 19, 2009 Posted by | assassination | 5 Comments

Why Torture is ALWAYS Wrong

Bob Cornwall, Disciples of Christ  Pastor, church historian, and blogger at Ponderings on a Faith Journey, has an excellent case for refusing EVER to morally sanction torture or any torture-lite euphomisms like “harsh interrogation.”  Here it is.

May 18, 2009 Posted by | torture | 10 Comments

Olbermann Takes Down Perry on Secession

Gov. Rick  “Goodhair” Perry (R-TX) of Texas is once more talking about Texas seceding from the United States (only a few weeks after requesting all that Tamiflu from the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT in the form of the Centers for Disease Control).  If the Obama administration were really the “oppressive” dictatorship that Perry claims, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents would already be visiting Perry about this since talk of secession meets dictionary definitions of “inciting to sedition,” carrying a 20 year sentence. 

Keith Olbermann let’s Perry have it about the stupidity of secession. If it DIDN’T cause a civil war and the other 49 states let Texas go, it would cost TEXAS billions–Keith lost track after $500 billion.  The transcript should be highlighted in the op-eds of every Texas newspaper to put a stop to all this talk of secession.

Think, Texans, and then write your newspapers, state legislators, and governor–and talk to GOP family members and friends.  I have family in Texas. I know the idea of Texas as an independent country (as it was for about 5 years) is highly romantic and appeals to Texans’ sense of independence and uniqueness.  But it is stupid.  These days, it costs MUCH to start up a modern republic.

Texans’ taxes would AT LEAST triple overnight as they had to get their own postal service, health services, army, navy, equivalent of the FBI, DEA, ATF (unless Perry plans to expand the Texas Rangers to handle it all).

The 1 billion in Pell Grants to educate people at Texas universities last year–gone.

Ft. Hood: Gone.  Maybe relocated to Arizona.

NASA: which employs over 200,000 in Houston DIRECTLY–gone. I’m sure Michigan would love those high tech jobs rebuilding Detroit.

The National Parks in Texas: Would have to be purchased from the U.S. at a fair-market price (we could pay some bills with that!) and the tourist $ for those parks (including the Alamo) would drop because of the Americans who would now need to get VISAs and passports to visit Texas.

All the revenue from the Dallas Cowboys as “America’s team:” Gone when the national networks no longer broadcast their games and they need passports to play anyone else in the NFL. 

No more hurricane relief from FEMA.  No more federal help with border security.

There would be no federal education dollars for Texas public schools.

Also, all demographics indicate that by 2020 Latinos will outnumber Anglos in TX. With the complete disaster of the years prior to that as the new “Republic of Texas,” maybe the new Latino majority will vote to join back to Mexico as the state of Tejas. (Of course, Tejas could be so messed up by then that Mejico would be reluctant to take  it back!)

Please Texans, we love your barbecue and Tex-Mex food. We love your music and rodeos.  We love Texans.  But no more talk of secession, okay? And no more polls showing that a majority of Texas Republicans think this is a good idea.  And shut Perry up!

May 16, 2009 Posted by | U.S. politics | 12 Comments

Verdict: Obama is Weak on Human Rights and Civil Liberties

I have really been trying to give this administration a break. It is facing unprecedented challenges.  And we are only 5 months along.  But I have been around long enough to see progressive sold down the river by Democrats many times. So, the night of the election, even as I was celebrating and crying, a voice in the back of my head kept whispering, “So, do you think he will last longer than Bill Clinton before selling us out to the corporations and the military industrial complex?”

I want a well-functioning economy with economic justice.  I want a balanced ecology.  I want much. But I voted for Obama as someone who taught Constitutinal Law at the University of Chicago. I voted for “Change I Could Believe In” from the Bush era of shredding the constitution, ignoring international law, denying civil liberties and trashing human rights.  Obama began well:  Appointing good attorneys to the DoJ (the most progressive of which,  Dawn Johnsen, is still being held up by the Senate because she is supposedly a “radical”); ordering the closing of Gitmo (too slowly); cancelling the military commissions; cancelling torture; ended the “black sites”–i.e., secret CIA prisons overseas.

But since then, things have been more muddled.  There is far too much continuity between the Bush era and the Obama era on human rights and civil liberties.

  • The “state secrets” defense is still used by the Obama admin. to try to get lawsuits dismissed.  Obama says this needs to be “modified.” I think Congress needs to modify it BY LAW.
  • While we are no longer doing “extraordinary rendition” (kidnapping) and sending terrorist SUSPECTS to secret prisons in nations which torture, we are still practicing a form of “rendition,” the standards and legality of which are unclear because this is not transparent.
  • While Gitmo is being closed, the Obama administration is using Bush claims about the legality of “indefinite detention without trial” for detainees held at the prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.
  • I give high marks to the Obama administration for its continued declassification of the torture paper trail of the Bush era. We need to know just how bad things have been.  But his reversal on disclosure of the latest batch of photos of torture (which will probably leak anyway) is hugely wrongheaded. Now the photos will come out not as a nation trying to do the right thing and break with the policies of the past, but as a leak in a cover up.
  • Obama is restarting the military commissions with some modifcations. That’s really BAD.  The modifications are designed to make the commissions less like star chambers (no evidence derived from torture, restrictions on hearsay evidence, prisoners get to choose their attorneys), but they still fall far short of international standards of justice.  Obama voted against the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and he campaigned on getting rid of them–not modifying them. This is a major flip-flop on a campaign promise.
  • The Obama administration, through its attorney general, continues to be opposed to any trials for torturers or for those who authorized them.
  • Obama still supports the warrantless wiretapping of Americans instituted by the Bushies (and retroactively legalized by Congress) even though tons of new evidence shows that it targetted journalists, peace activists, eavesdropped on the pillow talk between soldiers and their stateside sweeties, etc.–NOT just limited to intercepting calls to and from al Qaeda.
  • Obama has kept Bush’s “faith based” outreach programs and other violations of church-state separation.

The struggle for justice, human rights, and civil liberties will continue.  But we now know that we do not have a reliable ally in Obama–just an untrustworthy on-again/off-again ally.

Here’s hoping and praying that by the end of 4 years, my complaint here looks very premature and overblown–but I’m not holding my breath.

May 16, 2009 Posted by | civil liberties, human rights. | 16 Comments

NH Gov Seeks Way Forward on Marriage Equality/Religious Liberty

New Hampshire’s legislature has become the latest to enact legislation permitting same-sex civil marriages, after language changes that would protect the religious liberty of churches, synagogues, etc. which believe that participation would violate their deepest convictions.  Gov. John Lynch (D-NH) is set to veto this legislation because he believes the religious liberty protections are not enough.  But in a surprise move that should elate both GLBT rights advocates and champions of religious liberty, Gov. Lynch today decided not to veto the bill outright.  Rather, meeting with leaders of the legislature, he sent the bill back with  proposed amendment that, if adopted, he will sign into law.

This could be the way forward in the struggle for marriage equality.  I have been confident that the religious liberty concerns could be worked out, but doing so in advance avoids needless court cases in our already litigious society.  If it works,  NH’s law could be a model for other states where support for marriage equality is strong, but so are religious liberty concerns:  New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and even California.  When this inevitably reaches the federal level,  through the legislative repeal of the “Defense of Marriage Act” or through the courts or both, the NH “Lynch solution” may provide wisdom there, too. 

Below is the full text of Gov. Lynch’s speech, today, and the language he wants the NH law to include:

“The gay marriage debate in New Hampshire has been filled with passion and emotion on all sides.

“My personal views on the subject of marriage have been shaped by my own experience, tradition and upbringing. But as Governor of New Hampshire, I recognize that I have a responsibility to consider this issue through a broader lens.

“In the past weeks and months, I have spoken with lawmakers, religious leaders and citizens. My office has received thousands of phone calls, letters and emails. I have studied our current marriage and civil union laws, the laws of other states, the bills recently passed by the legislature and our history and traditions.

“Two years ago, we passed civil unions legislation here in New Hampshire. That law gave same-sex couples in civil unions the same rights and protections as marriage. And in typical New Hampshire fashion, the people of this state embraced civil unions and agreed we needed to continue our tradition of opposing discrimination.

“At its core, HB 436 simply changes the term ‘civil union’ to ‘civil marriage.’ Given the cultural, historical and religious significance of the word marriage, this is a meaningful change.

“I have heard, and I understand, the very real feelings of same-sex couples that a separate system is not an equal system. That a civil law that differentiates between their committed relationships and those of heterosexual couples undermines both their dignity and the legitimacy of their families.

“I have also heard, and I understand, the concerns of our citizens who have equally deep feelings and genuine religious beliefs about marriage. They fear that this legislation would interfere with the ability of religious groups to freely practice their faiths.

“Throughout history, our society’s views of civil rights have constantly evolved and expanded. New Hampshire’s great tradition has always been to come down on the side of individual liberties and protections.

“That is what I believe we must do today.

“But following that tradition means we must act to protect both the liberty of same-sex couples and religious liberty. In their current form, I do not believe these bills accomplish those goals.

“The Legislature took an important step by clearly differentiating between civil and religious marriage, and protecting religious groups from having to participate in marriage ceremonies that violate their fundamental religious beliefs.

“But the role of marriage in many faiths extends beyond the actual marriage ceremony.

“I have examined the laws of other states, including Vermont and Connecticut, which have recently passed same-sex marriage laws. Both go further in protecting religious institutions than the current New Hampshire legislation.

“This morning, I met with House and Senate leaders, and the sponsors of this legislation, and gave them language that will provide additional protections to religious institutions.

“This new language will provide the strongest and clearest protections for religious institutions and associations, and for the individuals working with such institutions.
It will make clear that they cannot be forced to act in ways that violate their deeply held religious principles.

“If the legislature passes this language, I will sign the same-sex marriage bill into law. If the legislature doesn’t pass these provisions, I will veto it.

“We can and must treat both same-sex couples and people of certain religious traditions with respect and dignity.

“I believe this proposed language will accomplish both of these goals and I urge the legislature to pass it.”

Attached is the language Gov. Lynch has proposed for the same Sex legislation.

# # #

I. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a religious organization, association, or society, or any individual who is managed, directed, or supervised by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association or society, shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges to an individual if such request for such services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges is related to the solemnization of a marriage, the celebration of a marriage, or the promotion of marriage through religious counseling, programs, courses, retreats, or housing designated for married individuals, and such solemnization, celebration, or promotion of marriage is in violation of their religious beliefs and faith. Any refusal to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges in accordance with this section shall not create any civil claim or cause of action or result in any state action to penalize or withhold benefits from such religious organization, association or society, or any individual who is managed, directed, or supervised by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association or society.

II. The marriage laws of this state shall not be construed to affect the ability of a fraternal benefit society to determine the admission of members pursuant to RSA 418:5, and shall not require a fraternal benefit society that has been established and is operating for charitable and educational purposes and which is operated, supervised or controlled by or in connection with a religious organization to provide insurance benefits to any person if to do so would violate the fraternal benefit society’s free exercise of religion as guaranteed by the first amendment of the Constitution of the United States and part 1, article 5 of the Constitution of New Hampshire

III. Nothing in this chapter shall be deemed or construed to limit the protections and exemptions provided to religious organizations under RSA § 354-A:18.

IV. Repeal. RSA 457-A, relative to civil unions, is repealed effective January 1, 2011, except that no new civil unions shall be established after January 1, 2010.

May 14, 2009 Posted by | church-state separation, civil liberties, GLBT issues, human rights., religious liberty | 2 Comments