< /head > Colorado Coalition for Human Rights: July 2006

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Attacks Escalate Conflict in the Middle East

From the New York Times:

An Israeli air raid on the southern Lebanese town of Qana killed dozens of civilians today, many of them children, marking the bloodiest day of this conflict and putting enormous pressure on Israel and the United States to move rapidly toward a cease-fire.
Israel said the Qana strike was aimed at
Hezbollah fighters firing rockets into Israel from the area, but the attack caused a residential apartment building to collapse, crushing Lebanese civilians who were spending the night in the basement, where they believed they were safe.
According to hospital and morgue officials in Qana, there were 28 confirmed dead, 20 of them children. Some officials put the death toll higher, with the Lebanese prime minister, Fouad Siniora, saying there were more than 50 people killed and news agencies saying the toll was at least 57.
Residents said as many as 60 people were inside the building, most of them unaccounted for.
Whatever the actual toll, the deaths in Qana set off a chain reaction, with protests in Beirut against the United States, Israel, the
United Nations and moderate Arab countries. Hezbollah and the Palestinian group Hamas vowed revenge. There were condemnations worldwide of the Israeli tactics in this war against the radical Shia militia group, which set off the hostilities by a raid into Israel across the international border, and new calls for an immediate end to the fighting.
Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice canceled a planned trip to Beirut and decided to return to Washington on Monday to work out a speedy resolution to the conflict that could be brought before the United Nations this week.

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Minimum Wage Hike Passed By House

From the Washington Post:

The House last night voted to boost the minimum wage for the first time in nearly a decade while also permanently slashing the estate tax, a coupling that GOP leaders calculated might garner enough Senate support to become law. House lawmakers also approved the biggest overhaul of the nation's pension laws in 30 years...Democrats were incensed that the GOP leadership would couple the minimum wage hike, the first increase since 1997, with an estate tax cut that would reduce federal revenue by $268 billion over the next decade, to the overwhelming benefit of the country's richest families.

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Las Vegas Makes It Illegal to Feed Homeless in Parks

From the New York Times:

Las Vegas, whose homeless population has doubled in the past decade to about 12,000 people in and around the city, joins several other cities across the country that have adopted or considered ordinances limiting the distribution of charitable meals in parks. Most have restricted the time and place of such handouts, hoping to discourage homeless people from congregating and, in the view of officials, ruining efforts to beautify downtowns and neighborhoods.

But the Las Vegas ordinance is believed to be the first to explicitly make it an offense to feed “the indigent.”

The ordinance does not apply to the famous Las Vegas Strip, which lies mostly in unincorporated Clark County, but it demonstrates both the growing pains the city has endured as tourism has boomed, and the steps Las Vegas is taking to regulate where entrenched populations of homeless people can gather. And eat.

“The government here doesn’t care about anybody,” said one homeless woman, Linda Norman, 55, taking a bottle of water and already perspiring in morning heat approaching 100 degrees at Huntridge Circle Park, a manicured, well-watered three-acre patch of green in a residential area near downtown. “We just want to eat.”

Las Vegas officials said the ordinance was not aimed at casual handouts from good Samaritans. Instead, they said it would be enforced against people like Ms. Sacco, whose regular offerings, they said, have lured the homeless to parks and have led to complaints by residents about crime, public drunkenness and litter.

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

Administration Works to Draft Legislation to shield Some from War Crimes Prosecution

From the Washington Post:

Detainee Abuse Charges Feared
Shield Sought From '96 War Crimes Act

By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 28, 2006; A01

An obscure law approved by a Republican-controlled Congress a decade ago has made the Bush administration nervous that officials and troops involved in handling detainee matters might be accused of committing war crimes, and prosecuted at some point in U.S. courts.

Senior officials have responded by drafting legislation that would grant U.S. personnel involved in the terrorism fight new protections against prosecution for past violations of the War Crimes Act of 1996. That law criminalizes violations of the Geneva Conventions governing conduct in war and threatens the death penalty if U.S.-held detainees die in custody from abusive treatment.

In light of a recent Supreme Court ruling that the international Conventions apply to the treatment of detainees in the terrorism fight, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has spoken privately with Republican lawmakers about the need for such "protections," according to someone who heard his remarks last week.

Gonzales told the lawmakers that a shield is needed for actions taken by U.S. personnel under a 2002 presidential order, which the Supreme Court declared illegal, and under Justice Department legal opinions that have been withdrawn under fire, the source said. A spokeswoman for Gonzales, Tasia Scolinos, declined to comment on Gonzales's remarks.

The Justice Department's top legal adviser, Steven G. Bradbury, separately testified two weeks ago that Congress must give new "definition and certainty" to captors' risk of prosecution for coercive interrogations that fall short of outright torture.

Language in the administration's draft, which Bradbury helped prepare in concert with civilian officials at the Defense Department, seeks to protect U.S. personnel by ruling out detainee lawsuits to enforce Geneva protections and by incorporating language making U.S. enforcement of the War Crimes Act subject to U.S. -- not foreign -- understandings of what the Conventions require.

The aim, Justice Department lawyers say, is also to take advantage of U.S. legal precedents that limit sanctions to conduct that "shocks the conscience." This phrase allows some consideration by courts of the context in which abusive treatment occurs, such as an urgent need for information, the lawyers say -- even though the Geneva prohibitions are absolute.

The Supreme Court, in contrast, has repeatedly said that foreign interpretations of international treaties such as the Geneva Conventions should at least be considered by U.S. courts.

Some human rights groups and independent experts say they oppose undermining the reach of the War Crimes Act, arguing that it deters government misconduct. They say any step back from the Geneva Conventions could provoke mistreatment of captured U.S. military personnel. They also contend that Bush administration anxieties about prosecutions are overblown and should not be used to gain congressional approval for rough interrogations.

"The military has lived with" the Geneva Conventions provisions "for 50 years and applied them to every conflict, even against irregular forces. Why are we suddenly afraid now about the vagueness of its terms?" asked Tom Malinowski, director of the Washington office of Human Rights Watch.

Since the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, hundreds of service members deployed to Iraq have been accused by the Army of mistreating detainees, and at least 35 detainees have died in military or CIA custody, according to a tally kept by Human Rights First. The military has asserted these were all aberrant acts by troops ignoring their orders.

Defense attorneys for many of those accused of involvement have alleged that their clients were pursuing policies of rough treatment set by officials in Washington. That claim is amplified in a 53-page Human Rights Watch report this week that quoted interrogators at three bases in Iraq as saying that abuse was part of regular, authorized procedures. But this argument has yet to gain traction in a military court, where U.S. policy requires that active-duty service members be tried for any maltreatment.

The War Crimes Act, in contrast, affords access to civilian courts for abuse perpetrated by former service members and by civilians. The government has not filed any charges under the law.

The law's legislative sponsor is one of the House's most conservative members, Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr. (R-N.C.). He proposed it after a chance meeting with a retired Navy pilot who had spent six years in the notorious "Hanoi Hilton," a Vietnamese prison camp. The conversation left Jones angry about Washington's inability to prosecute the pilot's abusers.

Jones's legislation for the first time imposed criminal penalties in the United States for breaches of the Geneva Conventions, which protect detainees anywhere. The Defense Department's deputy general counsel at the time declared at the sole hearing on it in 1996 -- attended by just two lawmakers -- that "we fully support the purposes of the bill," and urged its expansion to cover a wider range of war crimes. The Republican-controlled House passed the bill by voice vote, and the Senate approved it by unanimous consent.

The law initially criminalized grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions but was amended without a hearing the following year to include violations of Common Article 3, the minimum standard requiring that all detainees be treated "humanely." The article bars murder, mutilation, cruel treatment, torture and "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment." It applies to any abuse involving U.S. military personnel or "nationals."

Jones and other advocates intended the law for use against future abusers of captured U.S. troops in countries such as Bosnia, El Salvador and Somalia, but the Pentagon supported making its provisions applicable to U.S. personnel because doing so set a high standard for others to follow. Mary DeRosa, a legal adviser at the National Security Council from 1997 to 2001, said the threat of sanctions in U.S. courts in fact helped deter senior officials from approving some questionable actions. She said the law is not an impediment in the terrorism fight.

Since September 2001, however, Bush administration officials have considered the law a potential threat to U.S. personnel involved in interrogations. While serving as White House legal counsel in 2002, Gonzales helped prepare a Jan. 25 draft memo to Bush -- written in large part by David Addington, then Vice President Cheney's legal counsel and now Cheney's chief of staff -- in which he cited the threat of prosecution under the act as a reason to declare that detainees captured in Afghanistan were not eligible for Geneva Conventions protections.

"It is difficult," Gonzales said in the memo, "to predict the motives of prosecutors and independent counsels who may in the future decide to bring unwarranted charges." He also argued for the flexibility to pursue various interrogation methods and said that only a presidential order exempting detainees from Geneva protections "would provide a solid defense to any future prosecution." That month, Bush approved an order exempting those captured in Afghanistan from these protections.

But the Supreme Court's ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld effectively made Bush's order illegal when it affirmed that all detainees held by the United States are protected by Common Article 3. The court's decision caught the administration unprepared, at first, for questions about how its policy would change.

On July 7, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England signed a memorandum ordering all military departments to certify that their actions in the fight with al-Qaeda comply with Article 3. Several officials said the memo, which was reviewed by military lawyers, was provoked by the renewed threat of prosecution under the War Crimes Act.

England's memo was not sent to other agencies for review. Two White House officials heavily involved in past policymaking on detainee treatment matters, counsel Harriet Miers and Addington, told friends later that they had not been briefed before its release and were unhappy about its language, according to an informed source. Bradbury and Gonzales have since drafted legislation to repair what they consider the defects of the War Crimes Act and the ambiguities of Common Article 3.

Several officials said the administration's main concerns are Article 3's prohibitions against "outrages upon personal dignity" and humiliating or degrading treatment. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters on July 12 that he supported clearing up ambiguities so that military personnel are not "charged with wrongdoing when in fact they were not engaged in wrongdoing."

Several advocates and experts nonetheless said the legal liability of administration officials for past interrogations is probably small. "I think these guys did unauthorized stuff, they violated the War Crimes Act, and they should be prosecuted," said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based group that has provided lawyers for detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Ratner said authorized interrogation techniques such as stress positions, temperature extremes and sleep deprivation are "clearly outlawed" under Common Article 3. But he added that prosecutions are improbable because the Justice Department -- which has consistently asserted that such rough interrogations are legal -- is unlikely to bring them. U.S. officials could argue in any event, Ratner said, that they were following policies they believed to be legal, and "a judge would most likely say that is a decent defense."

Some officials at the Pentagon share the view that illegal actions have been taken. Alberto J. Mora, the Navy's general counsel from 2001 until the end of last year, warned the Pentagon's general counsel twice that some approved interrogation methods violated "domestic and international legal norms" and that a federal court might eventually find responsibility "along the entire length of the chain of command," according to a 2004 memo by Mora that recounted the warnings. The memo was first obtained by the New Yorker magazine.

At a July 13 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Air Force's top military lawyer, Maj. Gen. Jack L. Rives, affirmed that "some of the techniques that have been authorized and used in the past have violated Common Article 3" of the Geneva Conventions. The top military lawyers for the Army, Navy and Marine Corps, who were seated next to Rives, said they agreed.

Researchers Julie Tate and Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Click here to access this article online.

--Tom Hayes

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Chicago Law Sets Minimum Wage for Big Retailers

From the New York Times:

Brushing aside warnings from Wal-Mart, the City Council approved an ordinance Wednesday that makes Chicago the biggest city in the nation to require big-box retailers to pay a ''living wage.''

''It's trying to get the largest companies in America to pay decent wages,'' said Alderman Toni Preckwinkle.

The ordinance passed 35-14 after three hours of impassioned debate.

The measure requires mega-retailers with over $1 billion in annual sales and stores of at least 90,000 square feet to pay workers at least $10 an hour in wages plus $3 in fringe benefits by mid-2010. The current minimum wage in Illinois is $6.50 an hour and the federal minimum is $5.15.

Click here to read the article.

--Tom Hayes

Bush Administration Pursuing Detainee Legislation

From the Washington Post:

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Wednesday the administration is pursuing legislation that would authorize the same military tribunals the Supreme Court last month called illegal.

In an interview on C-SPAN, Gonzales confirmed the administration had drafted a proposal that would allow indefinite detention of suspected terrorists. The draft is now being circulated among military lawyers for comment.

"There may be instances where it is impractical to bring someone to trial within 120 days or a short period of time," Gonzales said.

Gonzales also confirmed the administration was considering a system that would allow reliable hearsay evidence when prosecuting terror suspects. Defendants also would be barred from their own trials if it necessary to protect national security.

Click here
to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Medical Education in Cuba and in the United States

In today's edition of the the Washington Post has an interesting article about American students studying medicine in Cuba. While the article itself is very interesting, one bit of information caught my eye when comparing the cost of Cuba education (free) with that of the U.S.:

The United States once had a successful program similar to the one being offered by Cuba: The National Health Service Corps Scholarship Program offered thousands of Americans free tuition and expenses in return for later practicing in areas that needed more doctors. Minorities relied heavily on the program: In 1980, one of every four black medical students had a corps scholarship.

But the Reagan administration began slashing the program each budget year. In 1981, the corps offered 6,159 scholarships. In 1982, the number was cut to 2,449. Last year, the corps awarded 90 new scholarships.

Click here to read the article.

--Tom Hayes

A Good Resource on Human Rights Issues

I received an email from Human Rights Tools, which is an interesting website with tons of information about human rights related topics. The most interesting part that I have found while exploring so far is the section Human Rights Headlines. This section has news releases from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, etc. So far it looks like a pretty good website, so check it out.

--Tom Hayes

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

More on Bush's Veto of Stem Cell Legislation

I found an interesting resource while looking for more articles on Bush's first veto. The Washington Post has a good special report section that has lots of articles and graphics dealing with the issue. One of the most interesting articles is entitled, "Long Fight Has Slowed Progress on Stem Cells." I also think its interesting that the American public supports such legislation by wide margins as a New York Times article explains:

As baby boomers have aged, demanding the best medical treatments for themselves and their elderly parents, the public clamor for stem cell research has grown more intense. According to the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan polling organization that tracks the issue, roughly two-thirds of all Democrats and independents favor embryonic stem cell research, while nearly half of all Republicans do.

--Tom Hayes

Bush to use First Veto on Stem Cell Legislation

From the Washington Post:

The Senate voted to lift restrictions on federally funded human embryonic stem cell research yesterday, setting the table for President Bush's first veto and producing an emotional campaign issue that Democrats believe will help them this fall.

Senators voted 63 to 37 to approve a House-passed bill that would pour millions of dollars into a field of medical research that is promising -- but also controversial because it requires destroying human embryos to extract the cells. Bush announced in his first nationally televised address, on Aug. 9, 2001, that he would ban government funding for research using embryonic stem cell colonies created after that date, and he has vowed to cast his first presidential veto to block the legislation rescinding his executive order.

Click here to read the article.

--Tom Hayes

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A Proportional Response by Israel?

The New York Times has an article about the debate over Israel's response and whether it is proportional or not. The article begins:

The asymmetry in the reported death tolls is marked and growing: some 230 Lebanese dead, most of them civilians, to 25 Israeli dead, 13 of them civilians. In Gaza, one Israel soldier has died from his own armyÂ’s fire, and 103 Palestinians have been killed, 70 percent of them militants. The cold figures, combined with Israeli air attacks on civilian infrastructure like power plants, electricity transformers, airports, bridges, highways and government buildings, have led to accusations by France and the European Union, echoed by some nongovernmental organizations, that Israel is guilty of ‚“disproportionate use of force” in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon and of ‚“collective punishment” of the civilian populations.

Israel's foreign minister has argued that his country's response is in fact proportional because the regional threat posed from terrorists is great. However, this argument seems dubious, as Israel is collectively punishing civilian populations in both Gaza and Lebanon, which are not threatening in any way. In addition, Israel's response has created an estimated 500,000 refugees in the region, which is also substantial. Just because a country is under threat does not give it the right to kill or punish civilian populations, at least if the concept of human rights mean anything.

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Presidential Power Worldwide

In today's edition of the New York Times Magazine there is an interesting article about presidential power worldwide and how the office of the presidency might inherently lead to autocratic tendencies. The article entitled, "The Time of the Presidents" by GARY ROSEN is definitly worth reading. Here's a portion of the article:

Were he still around, what would Peter the Great make of the Group of 8 summit meeting being held this weekend in his imperial capital? Would he find any kindred autocratic spirits among the leaders of the industrialized world as they confer in the grand palaces of St. Petersburg? For critics of George W. Bush and his expansive view of presidential power, the question answers itself, and Jacques Chirac certainly wins points for hauteur. But compared to other presidents making headlines lately (leaders chosen, more or less, by their own people) Bush and Chirac have been models of executive self-restraint.

Vladimir Putin, whose role as host of the G-8 summit meeting has been controversial in itself, continues to centralize control and quash dissent in Russia. Outside the G-8, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela rails against American hegemony while turning the legislature and courts into appendages of his rule. Then there is Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an Islamist demagogue whose nuclear ambitions and apocalyptic rhetoric have traumatized the West and given newfound power to his lay office. Around the world, the imperial presidency appears to be alive and well.

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Israel Continues Attack on Lebanon, Other Nations Could be Drawn into Conflict

The situation in the Middle East seems to worsen by the day as a recent New York Times article reports:

Israeli warplanes pounded roads in the south, destroying bridges and arteries, dividing large parts of the country from each other.

Warplanes also bombed roads in the north and east, cutting off some of the last remaining routes out of Lebanon and striking closer to the border with Syria. The Israeli military said the strikes were a further warning to Syria, which supports both Hezbollah and Hamas, though no Syrian sites were hit. Three civilians were reported killed in one of the strikes, on the main highway between Beirut and Damascus.

Some 30 Lebanese were killed in various attacks through the day. Over the past four days, more than 85 Lebanese have died, most of them civilians, and more than 200 have been wounded, according to Lebanese officials. Hezbollah rockets have killed four Israeli civilians and wounded more than 150 since the barrage began Wednesday.

Despite talks at the United Nations, the Group of 8 leaders meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, and the Arab League session in Cairo, there were no signs of diplomatic progress. President Bush took his toughest line yet with Syria and Hezbollah during a joint appearance with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir V. Putin, in a suburb outside St. Petersburg, where they were preparing for the Group of 8 meeting. In a break from his past statements, he did not call upon Israel to show restraint.

What is most disturbing to me is the blatant disregard for human rights that people have when they defend either side in this conflict. Yes, the Palestinians have legitimate grievances against Israel due to the years of occupation, but that does not justify attacking innocent civilians in Israel. Yes, Israel has a right to defend itself and its citizens from terrorist attacks, but that does not give them the right to collectively punish innocent civilians (which is further detailed in past posts). If human rights mean anything, then the killing or punishment of innocent civilians ANYWHERE and at ANYTIME should be deplored, whether it is carried out by terrorists or a state government. Anything less is pure hypocrisy.

For updated information check out the BBC's Middle East Crisis in Depth

--Tom Hayes

Israel, Yet Again, Engages in Collective Punishment

In its recent invasions of Lebanon and Gaza, Israel once again has showed how willing it is to disregard morality and collectively punish thousands of innocent people. Israel certainly has a right to defend itself (i.e. targeted strikes against Gaza militants and Hezbollah guerillas are morally justifiable), but what right does Israel have to:

1) Punish all of Gaza's residents with sleep depriving sonic boom? Several press reports have detailed the Israel Defense Force's use of sonic booms over the last two weeks to terrorize the civilian population in Gaza. I would like to know the utility such an action has in fighting terrorism.

2) Bomb Gaza's only power plant? According to the New York Times, "after the damage to the power plant, most Gazans get only six hours of electricity a day, at unpredictable times, so refrigeration of food becomes a problem. So does water supply, because many Gazans use electric pumps to get their water, and there are similar problems with sewage treatment." What crime have these Gazans committed that warrants such punishment?

3) Keep 4,000 people, some of them needing urgent medical attention, waiting in stifling heat to enter their own country? According to the New York Times, "two more Palestinians died Tuesday on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing while waiting in the heat to cross back into Gaza. According to Egyptian officials speaking to news agencies, two teenagers died: a boy, 18, from heatstroke and a girl, 19, who had recently undergone surgery in Egypt. The Rafah crossing has been closed for two weeks, and some 4,000 people are waiting there, according to the United Nations. The Red Cross said 578 of those waiting were “urgent humanitarian cases.” Israel has offered to let them into Gaza through a different crossing, Kerem Shalom, which means going through Israel. But the Palestinian Authority has refused, saying there is an international agreement allowing direct travel between Gaza and Egypt."

4) Destroy homes and force evacuations? According to the New York Times, "Like many of the people here [in Gaza], mostly poor farmers, the Edbarys have heeded the Israeli call to evacuate their homes to escape the fighting and are sleeping in United Nations schools in nearby Rafah...the Israeli incursion into the airport and its neighborhood, with tanks and armored bulldozers and artillery, destroyed some of the narrow roads and made it difficult if not impossible for farmers to get to their fields or to bring in food."

5) Kill innocent civilians? According to Reuters, "Israel killed at least 34 civilians on Saturday, including 15 children, in air strikes meant to punish Lebanon for letting Hezbollah guerrillas menace the Jewish state's northern border...An Israeli missile incinerated a van in southern Lebanon, killing 20 people, among them 15 children, in the deadliest single attack of the campaign launched by Israel after Hezbollah captured two of its soldiers and killed eight on Wednesday.Police said the van was carrying two families fleeing the village of Marwaheen after Israeli loudspeaker warnings to leave their homes. Many of the bodies were charred and broken.Other raids on north, east and south Lebanon killed 14 people and wounded 37, security sources said.At least 103 people, all but four of them civilians, have been killed in Israel's four-day-old assault, which has choked Lebanon's economy and prompted tourists and foreigners to flee."

All of the above actions by Israel are clear evidence that the county is engaged in a disproportionate response to any attacks on its soil. The rockets fired by Gaza militants and Hezbollah have not injured or killed nearly as many innocent Israelis in recent weeks or recent years. In fact, four Israeli civilians have been killed by Hezbollah bombs this week, and, according to the New York Times, "Palestinians in Gaza fired several thousand mortar shells and rockets from 2001 to 2005, killing 12 Israelis — 8 of them in Israel and 4 in Gaza, the Israeli military said…Since the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, the Palestinians have fired about 700 rockets at southern Israel, causing injuries and damage, but no deaths."

Israel’s obvious intention is to punish the civilian population in Gaza and Lebanon, apparently in the hope that they will cease to support militants in their country. This intention is made clear by Israel's actions: recent press reports have noted how Israel has broadcast messages in Gaza over load speakers that asked Gazans if their punishment was worth electing Hamas. Apparently the Israeli government has learned nothing since it came into existence -- that is, for fifty years Israel has used an iron fist to deal with its hostile neighbors and for fifty years they have seen terrorism and resentment against it grow, not subside. It is time for Israel to try a new approach and allow UN peacekeepers in the region. With U.S. backing, they have consistently rejected peacekeepers in the region; it makes one wonder whether they really want peace at all.


Union Rights in Colombia

Below is an important ediotiral, published by the New York Times, that covers a subject that doesn't recieve much press in the United States: The gross abuse of union and worker rights in Colombia.

A Dangerous Job in Colombia
New York Times

Published: July 12, 2006

With President Álvaro Uribe of Colombia at his side at the White House last month, President Bush promised action, soon, on a bilateral trade agreement. We strongly support free trade, but before an agreement can be completed, Americans need reassurance that Mr. Uribe’s government will do more to protect workers’ rights, instead of standing aside as union leaders are systematically killed.
In the last 20 years, according to a recent report by the Solidarity Center of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., some 4,000 labor union organizers, leaders and activists have been assassinated. Human rights groups use lower numbers, but still in the thousands — far more than anywhere else in the world. The government has investigated fewer than 400 cases, and has produced just five convictions.
Mr. Uribe’s government asserts that the murders are simply part of a larger picture of decades of civil war and drug-trafficking. That ignores a clear pattern of threats, deaths and disappearances targeting vocal worker leaders — many of them teachers — often while they are organizing or negotiating with management. The number of murders decreased to 70 last year, according to a Colombian monitor; the government puts the number at 40. That may say more about intimidation that has stopped union activity or sent leaders into hiding than about government action.
Having just won a second term, Mr. Uribe is now in a position to do more about this problem. His conservative and law-and-order profile makes him a darling of Washington. Colombia’s government has received extraordinary American support: $4 billion since 2000, mostly for military and counternarcotics use.
Colombia wants to further cement the special relationship with a free trade agreement. It can begin by treating workers’ rights as human rights.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


Friday, July 14, 2006

The Ethics of Global Meat Production

The following article is interesting not just for the information about what is in our food, but also because of how the animals are treated before they are killed.

Published on Wednesday, July 12, 2006 by the Guardian / UK
Meat Production Today Is Not Just Inhumane, It's InefficientBeaks seared off with hot blades; pregnant sows with barely room to take a step. And the scale of suffering is set to soar
by Peter Singer

Global meat consumption is predicted to double by 2020. Yet in Europe and North America there is growing concern about the ethics of the way meat and eggs are produced. The consumption of veal has fallen sharply since it became widely known that, to produce so-called "white" - actually pale pink - veal, newborn calves are separated from their mothers, deliberately made anaemic, denied roughage and kept in stalls so narrow that they cannot walk or turn around.
In Europe mad cow disease shocked many people, not only because it shattered beef's image as a safe and healthy food, but also because they learned that the disease was caused by feeding cattle the brains and nerve tissue of sheep. People who naively believed that cows ate grass discovered that beef cattle may be fed anything from corn to fish meal, chicken litter (complete with chicken droppings) and slaughterhouse waste.
Concern about how we treat farm animals is far from being limited to the small percentage of people who are vegetarians or even vegans - eating no animal products at all. Despite strong ethical arguments for vegetarianism, it is not yet a mainstream position. More common is the view that we are justified in eating meat, as long as the animals have a decent life before they are killed.
The problem, as Jim Mason and I describe in our recent book, is that industrial agriculture denies animals even a minimally decent life. Tens of billions of chickens produced today never go outdoors. They are bred to have voracious appetites and gain weight as fast as possible, then reared in sheds that can hold more than 20,000 birds. The level of ammonia in the air from their accumulated droppings stings the eyes and hurts the lungs. Slaughtered at only 45 days old, their immature bones can hardly bear the weight of their bodies. Some collapse and, unable to reach food or water, soon die, their fate irrelevant to the economics of the enterprise as a whole.
Conditions are, if anything, even worse for laying hens crammed into wire cages so small that even if there were just one per cage she would be unable to stretch her wings. But there are usually at least four hens per cage, and often more. Under such crowded conditions, the more dominant, aggressive birds are likely to peck to death the weaker hens in the cage. To prevent this, producers sear off all birds' beaks with a hot blade. A hen's beak is full of nerve tissue - it is, after all, her principal means of relating to her environment - but no anaesthetic or analgesic is used to relieve the pain.
Pigs may be the most intelligent and sensitive of the animals that we commonly eat. When foraging in a rural village they can exercise that intelligence and explore their varied environment. Before they give birth, sows use straw or leaves and twigs to build a comfortable, safe nest in which to nurse their litter.
But in today's factory farms pregnant sows are kept in crates so narrow that they cannot turn around, or even walk more than a step forward or backward. They lie on bare concrete without straw or any other form of bedding. The piglets are taken from the sow as soon as possible, so that she can be made pregnant again, but they never leave the shed until they are taken to slaughter.
Defenders of these production methods argue that they are a regrettable but necessary response to a growing population's demand for food. On the contrary, when we confine animals in factory farms we have to grow food for them. The animals burn up most of that food's energy just to breathe and keep their bodies warm, so we end up with a small fraction - usually no more than one-third and sometimes as little as one-tenth - of the food value that we feed them. By contrast, cows grazing on pasture eat food that we cannot digest, which means that they add to the amount of food available to us.
It is tragic that countries such as China and India, as they become more prosperous, are copying western methods and putting animals in huge industrial farms. If this continues, the result will be animal suffering on an even greater scale than now exists in the west, as well as more environmental damage and a rise in heart disease and cancers of the digestive system. It will also be grossly inefficient. As consumers, we have the power - and the moral obligation - to refuse to support farming methods that are cruel to animals and bad for us.

Peter Singer is professor of bioethics at Princeton University and the author, with Jim Mason, of "The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter"

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

--Tom Hayes

How Global Warming Could Effect Africa

From the Independent via the Common Dreams News Center an article by Andrew Grice about how global warming could devastate Africa. As the article begins:

Climate change could have a devastating impact on Africa, wiping out all the benefits from the measures to help the continent agreed by the world's richest nations last year.
The warning will be issued by the British Government today when it announces plans to bring poor countries into the next round of international discussions to combat global warming.
The serious threat posed to the developing world will be highlighted when Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State for International Development, publishes his first White Paper setting out his department's strategy. It will warn that people in poor nations, while producing much lower carbon emissions than rich countries, could be the biggest victims of climate change.
They will have to cope with more droughts, more extreme temperatures and sudden and intense rainfall causing greater food insecurity, loss of income, higher death rates and more diseases. Research by the department to assess the impact on Africa by 2050, taking account of poverty forecasts, suggests that southern Africa and the Sahel, the Great Lakes areas and the coastal zones of eastern and western Africa will be particularly at risk.

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

Thursday, July 13, 2006

White House Pushes Congress to Curb Detainee Rights

From the New York Times:

A day after saying that terror suspects had a right to protections under the Geneva Conventions, the Bush administration said Wednesday that it wanted Congress to pass legislation that would limit the rights granted to detainees.

The earlier statement had been widely interpreted as a retreat, but testimony to Congress by administration lawyers on Wednesday made clear that the picture was more complicated.

The administration has now abandoned its four-year-old claim that members of Al Qaeda are not protected under the Geneva Conventions, acknowledging that a Supreme Court ruling two weeks ago established as a matter of law that they are. Still, administration lawyers urged Congress to pass legislation that would narrowly define the rights granted to detainees under a provision of the Geneva Conventions known as Common Article Three, which guarantees legal rights “recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.”

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

Israel attacks Lebanon after troops seized

From the Rocky Mountain News via the AP wire report:

Israel widened its offensive against Hezbollah guerrillas on Thursday, targeting Beirut's international airport and blasting southern Lebanon for a second day, police and airport officials said. At least 22 civilians were reported killed in the south, local media said.

Warplanes struck the runways of the country's only international airport early Thursday during Israel's ongoing air and sea assault against Lebanon, which began a day earlier after Hezbollah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid. The airport was later closed, forcing flights to be diverted to nearby Cyprus, officials said...

At least 23 Palestinians were killed in Gaza on Wednesday. And an Israeli airstrike early Thursday destroyed the building housing the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Foreign Ministry. Palestinian medics said 13 people in the neighborhood, including six children, were injured, mainly from flying glass and debris.

The Gaza crisis began June 25 when Palestinian militants dug a tunnel out of the coastal strip and attacked an army position inside Israel, seizing Cpl. Gilad Shalit and demanding the release of 1,500 prisoners held by Israel. Although Israel has made prisoner exchanges in the past, Olmert ruled out any negotiations for Shalit's return, saying that would only encourage more kidnappings.

Instead, Israel unleashed an offensive against Gaza, sending in troops, firing artillery and carrying out airstrikes on militant targets in an effort to force the Palestinians to free Shalit.

In an attempt to assassinate top Hamas fugitives Wednesday, Israel dropped a quarter-ton bomb on a home in Gaza City, killing a couple and seven of their children, ages 4-18. Hamas said its leaders escaped harm, but militants took over the intensive care unit of a hospital, barring reporters.

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Detainees to Get Protections Under Geneva Conventions

From the Washington Post:

The Bush administration, in an apparent policy reversal sparked by a recent Supreme Court ruling, said today it will extend the guarantees of humane treatment specified by the Geneva Conventions to detainees in the war-on-terror.

In a memo released by the Pentagon this morning, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, citing the Supreme Court's decision, ordered all Pentagon personnel to "adhere to these standards" and to "promptly review" all policies and practices "to ensure that they comply with the standards" of the Geneva Convention's Common Article 3.

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

The Fight Over Presidential Power

Michael Isikoff and Stuart Taylor Jr. of Newsweek have an interesting article about the fight within the Bush administration between hardliners and others regarding the legality of the treatement of captured terrorists as well as thier detention status. As the authors write:

After seeing a Justice Department memo arguing that Qaeda and Taliban prisoners did not even deserve basic protections under the Geneva Conventions, they warned that the administration was inviting an enormous backlash, both from U.S. courts and foreign allies. It would also, they feared, jeopardize President George W. Bush's plans to try such prisoners in specially created military courts. "Even those terrorists captured in Afghanistan ... are entitled to the fundamental humane treatment standards of ... the Geneva Conventions," William Howard Taft IV, the State Department legal counselor and Bowker's boss, wrote in a Jan. 23, 2002, memo obtained by NEWSWEEK. In particular, Taft argued, the United States has always followed one provision of the Geneva Conventions—known as Common Article 3—which "provides the minimal standards" of treatment that even "terrorists captured in Afghanistan" deserve. But the complaints went unheeded. The hard-liners forcefully argued that in wartime, the president had virtually unlimited powers to defend the nation. They may come to wish they'd listened a little more closely to the warnings. In a ruling late last month, the Supreme Court came down squarely on the side of the dissenters.

Click here
to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Minority Party Representation in the United States

The Baltimore Sun has an interesting op-ed by consumer advocate and former Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader. I have pasted the article below for those interested.

Break down barriers to minority parties

By Ralph NaderJuly 9, 2006

In no other Western democracy do third-party or independent candidates confront more obstacles and exclusions from contributing to a competitive democratic process than in the United States. These include both legal obstacles and an abject lack of media coverage.
Legal impediments include ballot access barriers, such as requiring huge numbers of verified signatures subject to arbitrary challenges by state officials, as well as a winner-take-all system without the benefit of instant runoff voting or proportional representation.
The Green Party in Germany became part of the parliament and, later, the governing coalition because, by law, any party that receives more than 5 percent of the vote receives a proportional number of legislators in parliament. Thus, minority views are represented in the legislative process.
But in the United States, the rigid Republican and Democratic duopoly - a veritable two-party elected dictatorship - has rigged the rules against its competitors.
Instead of one federal standard for federal office-seekers, there are different state standards set by the 50 states and the District of Columbia. This is understandable for state elections, but it presents expensive and arduous barriers for a third party running federal candidates for congressional offices and the presidency.
In North Carolina, for example, state law required third-party presidential candidates to submit 100,532 verified names of voters to get on the ballot. Because of legibility, address changes and arbitrarily declared deficiencies, candidates are advised to submit twice that number. And that is just one state.
It is not easy to get on the candidates' forums. If minor-party candidates do get on, the major candidates do not show up - as has been the case with the senatorial race in Maryland.
The overwhelming dominance of one-party congressional districts through partisan redistricting exacerbates the position of the minor-party candidates.
In 2004, as in 2002, only five out of 435 incumbents in the U.S. House of Representatives were defeated - the lowest in U.S. history. Absent significant competition from the other major party in district after district, the voters lose interest and resign themselves to yet another coronation of the incumbent representative.
It was not always this way.
In the 19th century, it was much easier for third parties to get on the ballot. Over and over, a plethora of smaller parties and their candidates challenged the major parties by pioneering major reforms that we now take for granted.
There were parties that advocated for the abolition of slavery before the Civil War and parties that championed for the right of women to vote. There were parties that fought for many reforms for workers, including the 40-hour workweek and a living wage. There were parties that demanded federal regulation of the giant corporations and monopolies and urged the graduated income tax and health and safety protections.
None of the smaller parties ever won a presidential election. Yet many of their agendas were adopted later by one or both of the major parties, based on the smaller parties' groundbreaking agitation and educational campaigns.
Ballot access and other barriers became much more difficult during the first half of the 20th century. These restrictions on third parties and independent campaigns largely remain on the books, with regular additional accretions legislated by both major parties. They do not welcome small electoral starts.
When the news media unquestionably tolerate this increasingly converging and commonly financed Republican and Democratic duopoly, all of these anti-competitive, dreary, fat-cat-indentured political traditions become more entrenched.
Unfortunately for the citizenry and the media, that now happens almost all the time.
In Maryland, lawyer Kevin Zeese, a national authority on the drug war and an accomplished practitioner of democracy, is running for the U.S. Senate. He has been endorsed by the Green Party, the Libertarian Party and the Populist Party. This is the first time in history that these parties have recognized many common goals and nominated one candidate, a story in itself.
Mr. Zeese's informed agenda differs significantly from those of the two major parties' front-runners, Democratic Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin and Republican Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele. (Mr. Zeese was the chief researcher and press person on my 2004 presidential campaign.)
He receives very little press as he travels throughout Maryland. After all, only one of the two major candidates is going to win, right? Foregone conclusion, right? Self-fulfilling prophecy, right?
These are mindsets that no open democracy can ever embrace. For down that road is stagnation, complacency, corruption and the stifling of any public expectation for renewal. Imagine if nature did not allow seeds to sprout or if laws allowed major businesses to block small entrepreneurs from emerging.
It is the news media's job to cover what is important, what is credible and new, not just a horse race that is now powerful, redundant, too similar and scripted day after day.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

--Tom Hayes

The Worsening Situation in Darfur

Nicholas Kristof, once again, writes a stinging op-ed in the New York Times about the genocide occurring in Darfur. Below is his article in full:

July 9, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist
When Genocide Worsens
A genocide by its nature would seem to be the rock bottom of human behavior. But in Darfur, we see a genocide that is growing worse.
The Darfur Peace Agreement, signed on May 5, signaled a ray of hope in a desperate land. But on the ground, its deadlines are not being met, security is deteriorating, and the violence is rippling from Sudan ever wider into both Chad and the Central African Republic.
One measure of how awful the situation has become in eastern Chad is that at least 15,000 villagers have fled ... into Darfur!
In one broad swath of the Chad border region, the only Westerners brave enough (and crazy enough) to stay are French doctors with Doctors Without Borders. Hats off to them.
In just the last six months, aid groups in eastern Chad have lost 26 vehicles to armed hijackers. A Spanish woman working for Unicef was shot and nearly killed in May when her vehicle was stolen — and the car was later spotted in Sudan, sailing through government checkpoints. This insecurity puts relief agencies in a terrible situation, for they don't want to risk having their aid workers murdered or raped, and yet if they pull out many thousands of Darfuris will die.
"We cannot play with the lives of our own staff beyond a certain limit," frets Jan Egeland, an under secretary general of the United Nations, adding, "Our people in the field are increasingly desperate."
"I think we're headed toward total chaos," he said. "Will we have collapse in nine days, nine weeks, nine months? I don't know. But the situation is unsustainable."
One problem is that provisions of the Darfur Peace Agreement aren't actually being carried out so far — and in the meantime it has inflamed tensions among the African tribes that have been victimized by the genocide. The Fur tribe, one of the biggest in Darfur ("Darfur" means "Homeland of the Fur"), has mostly opposed the deal, and so there has been fighting between Fur and men of the Zaghawa tribe, whose top commander signed the agreement.
"There is a significant risk that the Darfur Peace Agreement will collapse," the U.N. special envoy for Sudan, Jan Pronk, wrote in his blog. "The agreement does not resonate with the people of Darfur. ... It is not yet dead, but severely paralyzed."
Meanwhile, Sudan is as adamant as ever that it will never accept United Nations peacekeepers, and the international community isn't prepared to push back hard.
The two most important Bush administration officials on Darfur, Robert Zoellick and Michael Gerson (who has been the conscience of the White House), have both announced their resignations, so there is a vacuum in Washington as well. President Bush should address this vacuum by appointing a top-level envoy for the crisis. Mr. President, how about calling in James Baker, or else Colin Powell?
In talking to experts about Darfur over the last three years, I usually have encountered both optimists and pessimists. These days, I just can't find an optimist. The range of opinion is between those who think the crisis will deteriorate slowly and those who think the situation will disintegrate so precipitously that soon 100,000 people will be dying each month, unless the peace agreement can somehow be revived.
There are specific measures I can suggest. We need to amplify (though not reopen) the peace agreement to bring the Fur in, and we need to ensure that its deadlines are met. We need a U.N.-led or French-led protection force in eastern Chad. We need to bolster the African Union force in Darfur immediately and push harder for Sudan to admit U.N. peacekeepers. We need a no-fly zone. We need to press Europeans to become more involved and to remind Arabs that the slaughter of several hundred thousand Muslims in Darfur is every bit as worthy of protest as cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
But most of all, we must put genocide squarely on the international agenda. One lesson of history is that world leaders always prefer to ignore a genocide, but when forced to face the horrors — as in Bosnia or Kosovo — they figure out ways of responding. The most acute need is not for policies but for political will.
So here's a suggestion: Let's charter a few cargo planes to carry the corpses of hundreds of new victims from Darfur and Chad to the U.N. The butchered victims of Darfur could lie in state as a memorial to global indifference — and as a spur to become serious about the first genocide of the 21st century.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

--Tom Hayes

Israel's Recent Gaza Attack

Israel's recent actions into the Gaza strip show that their "pullout" from the area means nothing, as they re-invade the Palestinian territories as they see fit. As Israel's military operations in Gaza are said to be in response to the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier by terrorists, the military's actions are instead resulting in collectivized terror against an innocent Palestinian population. While the actions of Palestinian terrorists cannot be justified, in turn, Israeli military responses against civilian populations also cannot be excused. As a recent New York Times article reports:

Mr. Olmert, whose air force has already bombed Gaza's bridges, crippled its only power plant, shelled the Palestinian prime minister's office here and subjected all 1.4 million Gaza residents to night after night of sleep-depriving sonic booms, said he had ordered the military and government "to do everything in order to bring Gilad back home."

These actions, represent a blatant disregard for human rights, which everyone should be concerned about. Please post comments below, as disagreements are welcome.

--Tom Hayes

Friday, July 07, 2006

President Bush, Signing Statements, and Executive Power

In the San Diego Union Tribune there is a good op-ed arguing against President Bush's use of "signing statements," which as the Boston Globe reports are:

...official documents in which a president lays out his legal interpretation of a bill for the federal bureaucracy to follow when implementing the new law. The statements are recorded in the federal register. In his signing statements, Bush has repeatedly asserted that the Constitution gives him the right to ignore numerous sections of the bills -- sometimes including provisions that were the subject of negotiations with Congress in order to get lawmakers to pass the bill. He has appended such statements to more than one of every 10 bills he has signed. (The rest of this article can be found by clicking here).

The Op-ed, titled "The Threat of Bush's Signing Statements argues that the President, once again, has overstepped his authority while attempting to expand the power of the executive branch as the article states:

This use of presidential signing statements seems to us clearly to violate the Constitution. Article I of our founding document gives Congress, not the president, the power to make the laws. Article II requires the president to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. The Constitution also gives the president the authority to veto laws that he finds objectionable. And if he does, the Constitution states that Congress may either “override” the veto, in which case it becomes law, or it may sustain it, and the bill will fail.

By signing a particular bill into law and then issuing a signing statement that declares that he will not give effect to it, or to a provision of it, the president effectively circumvents these constitutional requirements, as well as displaces the courts as the final expositor of the Constitution.

The broad use of signing statements is not an aberration for the Bush administration. Indeed, this White House has advocated and pursued the most executive-centered conception of American constitutional democracy in contemporary history. Its reading of the inherent powers of the presidency, especially on matters of national security, has gone largely unchallenged by a supine Congress and a deferential judiciary.

Click here to read the full op-ed.

--Tom Hayes

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Prisoners as a Labor Force in Louisiana

From a human rights standpoint, how prisoners are treated matters greatly, even though they are put behind bars for punishment. How a country treats its prisoners reflects greatly on how much people in that country value the idea that all human beings have basic rights. Yesterday the New York Times had an article that I found quite disturbing. The article titled, "With Jobs to do, Louisiana Parish Turns to Inmates." I thought this article was disturbing for many reasons, one is that the sheriffs use the inmates to gain popularity come election time and in addition, use the inmates labor to enrich themselves! While the whole article is worth reading (a link is provided at the bottom of this post) here are a few sections from the article that explain Louisiana's practice of using prison inmates as a cheap, and often free labor force:

Many people here in East Carroll Parish, as Louisiana counties are known, say they could not get by without their inmates, who make up more than 10 percent of its population and most of its labor force. They are dirt-cheap, sometimes free, always compliant, ever-ready and disposable...

National prison experts say that only Louisiana allows citizens to use inmate labor on such a widespread scale, under the supervision of local sheriffs. The state has the nation's highest incarceration rate, and East Carroll Parish, a forlorn jurisdiction of 8,700 people along the Mississippi River in the remote northeastern corner of Louisiana, has one of the highest rates in the state.

As a result, it is here that the nation's culture of incarceration achieves a kind of ultimate synthesis with the local economy. The prison system converts a substantial segment of the population into a commodity that is in desperately short supply — cheap labor — and local-jail inmates are integrated into every aspect of economic and social life.

The practice is both an odd vestige of the abusive convict-lease system that began in the South around Reconstruction, and an outgrowth of Louisiana's penchant for stuffing state inmates into parish jails — far more than in any other state. Nowhere else would sheriffs have so many inmates readily at hand, creating a potent political tool come election time, and one that keeps them popular in between.

Sometimes the men get paid — minimum wage, for instance, working for Mr. Brown. But by the time the sheriff takes his cut, which includes board, travel expenses and clothes, they wind up with considerably less than half of that, inmates say.

The rules are loose and give the sheriffs broad discretion. State law dictates only which inmates may go out into the world (mostly those nearing the end of their sentences) and how much the authorities get to keep of an inmate's wages, rather than the type of work he can perform. There is little in the state rules to limit the potential for a sheriff to use his inmate flock to curry favor or to reap personal benefit.

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

New AIDS Pill to Treat People in Poor Countries

From the New York Times:

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first 3-in-1 antiretroviral pill for use by the American-sponsored plan for AIDS treatment, something that the White House's acting global AIDS coordinator said yesterday should greatly improve treatment for AIDS patients in poor countries.

Although it is not yet clear how much money it will save, having patients take only one pill twice a day "should facilitate better therapies and better adherence," said the coordinator, Dr. Mark R. Dybul.

The agency posted the approval of the drug on its Web site on Friday evening. It approved the 3-in-1 pill, made by an Indian generic drug company, for patients in countries helped by the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

Under that plan, the United States is now the largest provider of antiretroviral drugs in the world, paying for treatment for 561,000 patients in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.

The Global Fund for AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis, the second-largest provider, pays for about 541,000 patients, Dr. Dybul said, although there is some overlap in countries where both agencies work. (The United States also pays one-third of the Global Fund's budget.)

The new pill, made by Aurobindo Pharma of Hyderabad, India, combines three common first-line drugs, AZT, 3TC and NVP, which are also known as zidovudine, lamivudine and nevirapine and sold in the United States as Retrovir, Epivir and Viramune.

Dr. Dybul said he was also pleased that the new pill did not contain D4T, also known as stavudine and Zerit, which is another common first-line drug, but somewhat more toxic than the others.

In poor countries, where it is harder to do frequent blood and liver tests, toxicity can be harder to control.

The plan Dr. Dybul runs, known as Pepfar, was created after President Bush's announcement in his 2003 State of the Union address that he would spend $15 billion over five years to fight AIDS.

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Vote Tally Continues in Mexico

From the Washington Post:

Mexico began a marathon review of vote tallies Wednesday to determine whether conservative candidate Felipe Calderon really won the tight presidential race, while his leftist challenger insisted he was victorious and denounced what he called widespread irregularities.

A preliminary count showed Calderon, of President Vicente Fox's conservative National Action Party, ahead by just 1 percentage point. Charismatic leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is demanding a recount of every ballot, saying he plans to prove he defeated Calderon.

"The political stability of the country hangs in the balance," he said Wednesday.

Federal Electoral Institute President Luis Carlos Ugalde said late Tuesday that 2.6 million votes were not included in the preliminary count because of "inconsistencies," such as poor handwriting or extraneous marks on the tally sheets attached outside each ballot box. Lopez Obrador had initially said those 2.6 million were "missing."

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Minimum Wage in the United States

The following Op-Ed appeared in the July 3 edition of the New York Times, it is about the minimum wage and is definitly worth reading:

July 3, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist

Working for a Pittance

"We can no longer stand by and regularly give ourselves a pay increase while denying a minimum wage increase to the hardworking men and women across this nation."

— Hillary Rodham Clinton, to her fellow senators.

The federal minimum wage, currently $5.15 an hour, was last raised in 1997. Since then, its purchasing power has deteriorated by 20 percent. Analysts at the Economic Policy Institute and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities jointly crunched the numbers and determined that, after adjusting for inflation, the value of the minimum wage is at its lowest level since 1955.

For those who don't remember, Eisenhower was president in 1955, the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn, and Barack Obama hadn't even been born.

If you're making the minimum wage, you're hurting. If Congress and the president don't raise the minimum wage by Dec. 2, it will have remained unchanged for the longest stretch since it was established in 1938. (The longest period previously was from January 1981 to April 1990 — a span that saw the entire Reagan administration come and go.)

Senate Republicans recently blocked a Democratic bill, sponsored by Senator Edward Kennedy, that would have raised the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour over the next two years. Jared Bernstein, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, noted that while Republicans in Congress are standing like a stone wall against this modest increase in the poverty-level wage, "they are working as hard as they can to repeal the estate tax."

"That," he said, "is just vicious class warfare."

The most important pay increases for most members of Congress are their own, and they are diligent in that regard. Senator Clinton, in a floor speech supporting the minimum-wage hike, said, "During the past nine years, we've raised our own pay by $31,600."

Mrs. Clinton has introduced a bill that, in addition to raising the minimum wage to $7.25, would link Congressional pay raises to hikes in the minimum wage. Under the bill, the minimum wage would be increased automatically by the same percentage as any increase in Congressional pay.

Polls have shown that Americans overwhelmingly favor an increase in the minimum wage. But the low-income workers who would benefit from such an increase are not part of the natural G.O.P. constituency. Thus, the stonewall.

A separate study by the Economic Policy Institute found that in 2005, with the pay of top corporate executives up sharply, and with the minimum wage falling further and further behind inflation, "an average chief executive officer was paid 821 times as much as a minimum wage earner."

That C.E.O., according to the study, "earns more before lunchtime on the very first day of work in the year than a minimum wage worker earns all year."

"The reality," said Senator Clinton, "is that a full time job that pays the minimum wage just doesn't provide enough money to support a family today. We have to acknowledge that fact and do something about it. As a country, we cannot accept that a single mother with two children who works 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year earns $10,700 a year — let me say this again: $10,700 a year. That is almost $6,000 below the federal poverty line for a family of three."

During the 1950's and 60's, the minimum wage was roughly 50 percent of the average wage of nonsupervisory workers. It has now fallen to 31 percent — less than a third — of that average.

As the Economic Policy Institute and the Center on Budget pointed out in their study: "Each year that Congress fails to raise the wage floor, its purchasing power erodes. The fact that the minimum wage has remained the same for nearly nine years means that its real value has declined considerably over that period. As inflation has accelerated recently due to higher energy costs, the real value of the minimum wage has fallen faster."

There is no justification — none — for condemning the nation's lowest-paid workers to this continuing slide into ever deeper economic distress. "No one who works for a living should have to live in poverty," said Senator Kennedy.

It's very telling that in the most prosperous nation in the world, that kind of comment actually sounds radical. We have a very long way to go.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

--Tom Hayes


(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)