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Paid Sick Days and Family Values

After raising the minimum wage, economic justice priority number two for the Democratic congress should be mandating paid sick days for all workers. Aside from a simple issue of fairness (just because someone has a low-wage job doesn't mean they should have to work sick or not get a chance to care for sick kids), there's pretty good data suggesting that sick workers hurt more than they help. They drag down productivity and spread illness among their co-workers. The New York Times gives a good run-down of the issue today, with the predictable opposition from the US Chamber of Commerce and other business lobbyists. The business owners argue that there's "no such thing as a free lunch" and that the legislation would amount to a regulatory tax and an "unfunded mandate."

It's true mandating sick days will cost employers something, but it shouldn't have any kind of differential effect. That is, since the law will be universal, any business' competitors will be paying roughly the same (proportional) amount. And the sector where the legislation is likely to have the largest impact is in the service industry, which unlike manufacturing isn't subject to the same competitive pressures from globalization to reduce labor costs or outsource. Also, as noted, there's a significant cost to the existing regime in which sick workers come into work. a cost that could conceiveably be higher (or not much less) than the cost of paying sick workers to stay home.

From the political perspective, sick days are exactly the kind of broadly popular, progressive measure for economic justice that the Democrats should be prioritizing. Will it pass? The spokesperson for the Chamber of Commerce seems confident it will face a filibuster from Republicans in the Senate. Which is why it would seem the perfect kind of issue for evangelicals to flex their political muscle on. There's been a lot of noise recently about evangelicals broadening their political focus to include issues other than abortion and the gays. They could use sick days to show that it's not just talk. Caring for your sick kid is a family issue. Mandating sick days is a policy that is parent and family friendly in every sense of the word. The US Conference of Catholic bishops is supporting the legislation. Will the National Association of Evangelicals step up to the plate?

Biking with Rumsfeld

Last week, someone slipped New York Times reporters Michael R. Gordon and David S. Cloud the secret memo finished by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld just two days before he "resigned." It was the last in a flurry of famed Rumsfeldian "snowflakes" that have fluttered down upon the Pentagon these past years. This one, though, was "submitted" to the White House and clearly meant for the President's eyes. In it, the Secretary of Defense offered a veritable laundry list of possible policy adjustments in Iraq, adding up to what, according to Gordon and Cloud, is both an acknowledgement of failure and "a major course correction."

Think of this last zany, only semi-coherent Rumsfeldian document--part of Washington's grim ongoing silly season over Iraq--as Rumsfeld's last stand. In it, he quite literally cycles (as in bicycles) back to the origins of the Bush administration's shredded Iraq policy. It is, in a pathetic sense, that policy stripped bare.

Here are just three last-stand aspects of the memo that have been largely or totally overlooked in most reporting:

1. "Begin modest withdrawals of U.S. and Coalition forces (start ‘taking our hand off the bicycle seat'), so Iraqis know they have to pull up their socks, step up and take responsibility for their country."

From the early, carefree, "stuff happens" period of the occupation comes the wonderfully patronizing image embedded in this mixed metaphor of a passage--though I suppose Iraqis perched on bike seats could indeed have crumpled socks. The image of the Iraqi (child) learning how to ride the bike of democracy--or whatever--with the American (parent) looming behind, hand steadying the seat, was already not just a neocolonial, but a neocon classic by the time the President used it back in May 2004. (In fact, in an even more infantilizing fashion, he spoke of taking the "training wheels" off the Iraqi bike.)

Many others in the administration proudly used it as well. Rumsfeld in his rococo fashion elaborated wildly on the image in a speech to U.S. troops that same year:

"Getting Iraq straightened out… was like teaching a kid to ride a bike: ‘They're learning, and you're running down the street holding on to the back of the seat. You know that if you take your hand off they could fall, so you take a finger off and then two fingers, and pretty soon you're just barely touching it. You can't know when you're running down the street how many steps you're going to have to take. We can't know that, but we're off to a good start.'"

And now, long after kids stopped riding bikes in Iraq and started ending up dead in ditches, our nearly former Defense Secretary just couldn't help cycling back to the good old days.

2. "Conduct an accelerated draw-down of U.S. bases. We have already reduced from 110 to 55 bases. Plan to get down to 10 to 15 bases by April 2007, and to 5 bases by July 2007."

Talk about cycling back to the beginning, Rumsfeld's "major course correction" takes us right to the original basing plans the Pentagon had on entering Iraq. As the New York Times reported in a front-page piece on April 19, 2003 (and then no one, including reporters at the Times, paid much attention to again), the Pentagon entered Iraq with plans already on the drawing board to build four major bases well beyond urban areas. These were to be permanent in all but name and, from them, the Bush administration planned to nail down the oil heartlands of the planet (while making up for the loss--thanks to Osama bin Laden's efforts--of our bases in Saudi Arabia).

Now, here we are, over three and a half catastrophic years later, back to those four bases (built to the tune of multibillions of American taxpayer dollars) plus one--undoubtedly the former Camp Victory, the huge American base that grew up on the edge of Baghdad International Airport (as well, of course, as the new, almost finished billion-dollar U.S. embassy with its "staff" of thousands inside Baghdad's Green Zone).

3. "Aggressively beef up the Iraqi MOD [Ministry of Defense] and MOI [Ministry of the Interior], and other Iraqi ministries critical to the success of the ISF [Iraqi Security Forces]--the Iraqi Ministries of Finance, Planning, Health, Criminal Justice, Prisons, etc.--by reaching out to U.S. military retirees and Reserve/National Guard volunteers (i.e., give up on trying to get other USG Departments to do it.)"

This mad suggestion, hardly noticed by anyone, cycles us back to the attitude with which Bush & Co. first entered Iraq. Iraqi sovereignty? Who ever heard of it? Just do what you want. Flood any ministry with a bunch of U.S. military retirees, all of whom can have their heavy hands on untold Iraqi bureaucratic bike seats. This is an idea just about as brilliant as every other one initiated by this administration in Iraq.

And why do I have a sneaking suspicion that all those "U.S. military retirees" and other "volunteers" might just not rush to offer their services to Iraq's death-squad infiltrated Ministries of the Interior and Defense? If you biked around that corner without those training wheels--and some body armor--I suspect you'd be likely to find yourself in the Baghdad morgue in no time at all.

In this way was Rumsfeld's last stand remarkably like his first pedal. If only, after September 11, 2001, someone had left the training wheels on when the Bush administration went pedaling off on its merry, shock-and-awe way.

The Republican Who Blocked Bolton

Lincoln Chafee is cleaning out the Senate office he has occupied since 1999, when he was appointed to complete the term of his late father. The last of what he refers to as the "traditional Republicans," the Rhode Island senator was guided by something rare in our politics: a conscience.

He was the only Republican senator to oppose authorizing President Bush to take the country to war in Iraq, he has been the only Republican senator to vote in favor of measures endorsing the setting of a timeline for withdrawal from that quagmire, he was the was the only Republican senator to vote in favor of reinstating the top federal tax rate of 39.6 percent on the richest Americans, he was the only Republican senator to speak up for gay marriage rights. And, of course, he was the only Republican senator to announce that he was not voting for the reelection of George W. Bush in 2004.

Yet, when all was said and done, the fact that he was a Republican proved to be too much of a burden for Rhode Island voters to bear. Rhode Islanders liked the Chafee family and their old-school New England Republicanism, but they could not take responsibility for handing control of the Senate to the president's party. And, by defeating Chafee, they gave the chamber to the Democrats.

But Chafee has remained the conscience of the Republican-controlled Senate to the last.

His final contribution to the Republic came in his decision to deny Republicans on the Senate's Foreign Relations committee the final vote that was needed to send the name of United Nations ambassador John Bolton – who has served by virtue of a presidential "recess appointment" -- to the full Senate for confirmation. Bolton, a brutish extremist known for his disdain of the UN in particular and international cooperation in general, might have gained Senate confirmation had it not been for Chafee's stubborn refusal to cast what could well have been his last Senate vote for the nominee of a Republican president.

Had he wanted an ambassadorship or some other favor from the White House, the soon-to-be unemployed Chafee would almost certainly have secured it by backing Bolton. With that backing, a united Republican caucus might have been able to bluster and bargain its way to a confirmation for the man who has come to symbolize the Bush administration's rejection of diplomacy.

Instead, Chafee recognized that he had a duty to respect the will of the American people, as expressed in the results of the November election. "The American people have spoken out against the president's agenda on a number of fronts," the senator explained, "and presumably one of those is on foreign policy."

On Monday, when Bolton announced that he was resigning his post and giving up his quest for Senate confirmation, Chafee's work was done.Bush responded bitterly to the resignation, blaming "a handful of United States Senators who prevented Ambassador Bolton from receiving the up or down vote he deserved in the Senate."

"They chose to obstruct his confirmation, even though he enjoys majority support in the Senate, and even though their tactics will disrupt our diplomatic work at a sensitive and important time," Bush said. "This stubborn obstructionism ill serves our country."

In fact, it was the honorable service of one conscientious senator who chose his duty to his country over partisanship that played a pivotal role in blocking Bolton. That senator understood that, while Bolton might have enjoyed majority support in the Republican Senate of 2006 he would not have majority support in the Democratic Senate of 2007. And this rare Republican senator chose to respond to the mandate of the American people rather than the cajoling of a lame-duck Republican president.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism has been hailed by author Gore Vidal as "essential reading for patriots." David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, says: "With The Genius of Impeachment, John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so."

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

Got Vote?

There are nearly 600,000 citizens in the District of Columbia – more residents than in Wyoming and nearly as many as in six other states with populations under one million.

Yet the people of the District have no voting representation in Congress.

They pay the second highest per capita federal income taxes but have no say in how those revenues are used. No matter the issue – the war, healthcare, energy policy – DC residents have no vote through which to impact decision-making.

Consider the War in Iraq: according to the National Priorities Project, DC residents have funded it to the tune of $1.6 billion and have lost three soldiers with fifteen more wounded.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee said this year that the lack of representation is a human-rights violation. But a bipartisan bill – the DC Voting Rights Act – would right this wrong.

The legislation would give the District a voting member in the House and add an additional seat for largely Republican Utah (which was less than 1000 people short of meriting an added seat, according to the 2000 Census). The bipartisan bill was approved 29-4 last spring by the House Committee on Government Reform. In September – at a hearing of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution – scholars and lawmakers expressed unanimous consent that denying DC residents a vote in Congress must be corrected. Finally, today, the Utah legislature is expected to approve a redistricting map that further clears the way for the bill's approval.

This lame-duck Congress has an opportunity to finish the job, but in a discouraging sign on Sunday the bill did not appear on the released floor schedule for the session. Tomorrow, DC Vote will hold its Congress Day to lobby members on the legislation. If you can't attend the event in person, take a moment to contact your representative.

In 1893 Frederick Douglass stated, "Regarding their political rights, residents of the nation's capital are not really citizens but practically aliens in their own country." Certainly in the 21st century our democracy should be sufficiently robust to guarantee that no citizen is taxed without voting representation in Congress.

Pinochet Death Watch

Who's going to definitively catch former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet first? The slow, grinding wheels of earthly justice or the swift ruthlessness of the Grim Reaper?

Just as the latest criminal case against the 91 year-old former general was about to be heard one more time in the Santiago courts on Monday, Pinochet suffered an acute heart attack. He was immediately hospitalized and submitted to emergency surgery. Last rites have been given.

As the case with much of his life, even his possible impending death has been shrouded with deception. Doctors have contradicted the version offered by Pinochet's son, Marco Antonio, that he was given a bypass. Attending physicians say it was, instead, an angioplasty. Similar reports say that the former dictator's life still hangs in the balance and that the next 24-48 hours will be crucial to his survival.

Pinochet's hospitalization required a temporary lifting of the house arrest he has been under. Pinochet was indicted just last week for the murder of two of former President Salvador Allende's bodyguards. This was the fifth indictment on human rights charges made against the general who presided over a military dictatorship from 1973 to 1990. More than 3100 people were killed by Pinochet's regime, and tens of thousands of others were tortured. Pinochet is also facing charges related to tax evasion for millions of dollars of unaccounted income -- thought by experts to be the product of covert arms or drug sales.

On two previous occasions, Pinochet's health has allowed him to escape impending trial. His current hospitalization will most likely short-circuit any future possibility of his taking the stand. But it seems almost as likely that this episode will also take his life.

On his 91st birthday only ten days ago, Pinochet issued a statement that broadly accepted responsibilities for the abuses during his tenure. But the statement also justified his imposition of dictatorship: "Today, near the end of my days, I want to say that I harbor no rancor against anybody, that I love my fatherland above all and that I take political responsibility for everything that was done which had no other goal than making Chile greater and avoiding its disintegration," he said in the statement.

The center-left Chilean civilian government has limited itself to saying that it is "prepared" for Pinochet's imminent death. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet was evasive when asked if the former dictator would be afforded a state funeral.

Human rights activists are dismayed that Pinochet might expire before he is formally judged guilty by a Chilean court. Egregious human rights violations were missing from the Chilean political agenda until Pinochet's surprise 1998 arrest in London jump-started the debate. A crusading and now retired Judge Juan Guzman Tapia broke open the political taboos and initiated charges against the general.

The succeeding legal probes of Pinochet kept the human rights issue alive in Chile and several top military officers have been indicted. Some of the human rights activists now fear that if Pinochet dies, interest in the lingering and unresolved investigations will succumb with him. Here's to General Pinochet! A long life!

Nancy Pelosi and Impeachment

This coming Tuesday, in San Francisco, the official canvass of the results of the November 7 election must be completed and those results will be certified.

On that day, this will be formal confirmation of the intentions of the voters of San Francisco.

Two of those intentions will be of particular, if conflicting, significance.

First, the voters will have reelected their representative to the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, who in January will become the Speaker of the House.

Second, the voters will have joined the citizens of several dozen other communities across the country in formally requesting that their congressional representatives take the necessary steps to impeach President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

"We call upon the United States House of Representatives to initiate an investigation into High Crimes and Misdemeanors committed by President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney and to submit Articles of Impeachment to the United States Senate," declares Proposition J, a measure that was endorsed by almost 6O percent of the city's electorate.

With the certification of the results, it becomes the policy of San Francisco that its congressional representatives should "immediately invoke every available legal mechanism to effect the impeachment and removal from office of President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney for High Crimes and Misdemeanors under Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution of the United States of America."

Pelosi is not taking the hint. In fact, she contintues to say, when asked, that "impeachment is off the table."

It is of course, Pelosi's right to refuse to implement the official policy of the city that elects her. No law, nor pattern of practice, requires members of Congress to actually represent the views of their constituents.

But in coming days, as activists across the country raise the issue of impeachment at rallies and forums nationwide, Pelosi may want to take a few minutes to review the official position of the community that has sent her to Congress.

That position states:

It is the Policy of the people of the City and County of San Francisco to call for the impeachment of President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney for violating the public trust and for knowingly harming the United States of America, the State of California, and the City and County of San Francisco.

On November 2, 2004, the people of San Francisco passed Proposition N, asking the Federal government to "take immediate steps to end the U.S. occupation of Iraq and bring our troops safely home now," citing President Bush's lies to the American people in making the case for war in Iraq.

President George W. Bush abused his power by authorizing the National Security Agency and various other agencies within the intelligence community to conduct electronic surveillance outside of the statutes Congress prescribed as the exclusive means for such surveillance and concealed the existence of this unlawful program from Congress, the press, and the public.

President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney abused their power by arbitrarily detaining citizens and non-citizens indefinitely inside and outside of the United States, without due process, without charges and with limited - if any - access to counsel or courts. They have failed to faithfully execute the laws of the United States by allowing torture and failing to investigate and prosecute high-level officials responsible for torture.

President George W. Bush disregarded his Presidential duty when he and his appointed head of Federal Emergency Management Agency failed to quickly and adequately respond to a major disaster on United States soil, Hurricane Katrina, which killed at least 1,383 people in the Gulf Coast Region and left over 78,000 people homeless, and is guilty of gross incompetence or reckless indifference to his obligation to execute the laws faithfully.

President George W. Bush arrogated excessive power to the executive branch in violation of the basic constitutional principle of the separation of powers.

On February 28, 2006, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution calling for a "full investigation, impeachment or resignation of President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney."

We call upon the United States House of Representatives to initiate an investigation into High Crimes and Misdemeanors committed by President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney and to submit Articles of Impeachment to the United States Senate.

We call on the United States Senate, after trying any Impeachment, to remove President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney from office.

We call upon the Legislature of the State of California to transmit charges supporting impeachment of President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney to the United States House of Representatives.

We generally call on our elected federal and state representatives to immediately invoke every available legal mechanism to effect the impeachment and removal from office of President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney for High Crimes and Misdemeanors under Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution of the United States of America.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal, Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into the intentions of the founders and embraced by activists for its groundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability. After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone political writer Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "John Nichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, The Genius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less with the particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and instead combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

Make It a Mandate for Peace

Peace and social justice groups have formed a new Mandate for Peace coalition to pressure incoming Democratic majorities in the House and Senate to use the power they will assume in January to promote the rapid withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.

The coalition is a muscular one, comprised of more than three dozen national and regional organizations with strong track records on an array of issues. It takes in antiwar activist groups such as After Downing Street, Code Pink and Peace Action; internationalist groups such as Foreign Policy in Focus and Global Exchange; veterans groups such as Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace; religious groups such as American Muslim Voice, Jewish Voice for Peace, the Network of Spriritual Progressives and Pax Christi USA; civil rights groups such as the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and the Women of Color Resource Center; and political groups such as True Majority, the Bankbone Project and Progressive Democrats of America.

The coalition is supporting legislation proposed by US Representative Jim McGovern, D-Massachusetts, to cut off funding for the war. The McGovern bill, HR 4232, seeks to prohibit the further use of Defense Department funds to deploy United States Armed Forces to Iraq. Funds could be used to pay for the safe and orderly withdrawal of all troops; consultations with other governments, NATO and the UN regarding international forces; and financial assistance and equipment to either Iraqi security forces and/or international forces.

Support for the McGovern measure is growing rapidly. Almost all of its 18 co-sponsors (Arizona's Raul Grijalva; California's Sam Farr, Barbara Lee, Pete Stark, Maxine Waters and Lynn Woolsey; Illinois's Jan Schakowsky; Massachusetts's Barney Frank; Michigan's John Conyers and Carolyn Kilpatrick; New Jersey's Donald Payne; New York's Jose Serrano, Edolphus Towns and Nydia Velazquez; Ohio's Dennis Kucinich; Pennsylvania's Chaka Fattah; and Washington's Jim McDermott) have added their support in recent weeks.

As such, HR 4232 now represents the closest thing to an exit strategy currently being entertained by members of Congress.

Unfortunately, HR 4232 is off the radar for most members--even those elected on antiwar platforms. To put this serious alternative to the Bush Administration's stay-the-course position and the expected alter-the-course position of the Baker-Hamilton commission on the radar, supporters of the Mandate for Peace coalition will be flooding Congress with calls today, as part of a grassroots intervention on the eve of a planned meeting Tuesday of House Democrats to discuss Iraq policy and the release Wednesday of the much-anticipated report of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group.

There will be more than enough inside-the-Beltway pressure on House Democrats to embrace the tepid proposals of the Baker-Hamilton commission as the only alternative to White House intransigence. The Mandate for Peace coalition wants to counter that pressure with a grassroots message that says: "The Constitution gives Congress the power to end this war by cutting off the funding, as well as the power to investigate the war's justifications and to impeach its architects. Let Congress know that forgetting the message of the November 7 elections is an option that we're taking off the table!"

The coalition is urging Americans to call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 today to deliver an antiwar message to members of the House and Senate. (To get direct phone and fax numbers for your Representatives, visit www.usalone.com.)

The November 7 elections sent an antiwar signal, as confirmed not merely by Democratic victories but by exit polling and post-election surveys. It was a mandate for peace. Every new member of the House and Senate who was elected--from Ohio Senator-elect Sherrod Brown to Minnesota Representative-elect Keith Ellison to Montana Senator-elect Jon Tester to Wisconsin Representative-elect Steve Kagen--ran and won by taking more clearly antiwar positions than their Republican foes. Predictably, the mandate of the people is under assault by the Washington establishment. It's time for the American people to repeat their message--loudly--at the start of a week when members of Congress are going to need to be reminded that they were sent to Washington not to better manage an illegal and immoral war but to end it.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism has been hailed by author Gore Vidal as "essential reading for patriots." David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, says: "With The Genius of Impeachment, John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so."

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

Malachi Ritscher R. I. P.

The Iraq war has produced too many tragedies to count. And in the spectrum of them, from innocent children killed by errant fire, cluster bombs or car bombs, to American soldiers cut down in the prime of their lives, the story of Malachi Ritscher may not rank particularly high. Nonetheless, it struck me to the core. An avant-garde jazz enthusiast and peace activist in Chicago, Ritscher killed himself earlier this month. With an American flag draped over his head, and a sign that read "Thou Shalt Not Kill. As Ye Sow So Shall Ye Reap.Your Taxes Buy Bombs and Bullets," he lit himself on fire.

Until the Chicago Reader's Michael Miner pointed out Ritscher's death in a column last week, the local media had by-and-large ignored the story. In some senses it's easy to understand why: there's a fear that covering suicides like these can influence others and inspire copycats. But I think the real reason is that an act like this so violates our own conscience, so shames us or saddens us that it simply doesn't make for good copy. Here is an excerpt from Ritscher's suicide note. It shows a potent mix of moral seriousness, mental instablity, and a disquieting contemplation of murder:

When I hear about our young men and women who are sent off to war in the name of God and Country, and who give up their lives for no rational cause at all, my heart is crushed. What has happened to my country? we have become worse than the imagined enemy - killing civilians and calling it 'collateral damage', torturing and trampling human rights inside and outside our own borders, violating our own Constitution whenever it seems convenient, lying and stealing right and left, more concerned with sports on television and ring-tones on cell-phones than the future of the world.... half the population is taking medication because they cannot face the daily stress of living in the richest nation in the world.

I too love God and Country, and feel called upon to serve. I can only hope my sacrifice is worth more than those brave lives thrown away when we attacked an Arab nation under the deception of 'Weapons of Mass Destruction'. Our interference completely destroyed that country, and destabilized the entire region. Everyone who pays taxes has blood on their hands.

I have had one previous opportunity to serve my country in a meaningful way - at 8:05 one morning in 2002 I passed Donald Rumsfeld on Delaware Avenue and I was acutely aware that slashing his throat would spare the lives of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people. I had a knife clenched in my hand, and there were no bodyguards visible; to my deep shame I hesitated, and the moment was past.

...

Many people will think that I should not be able to choose the time and manner of my own death. My position is that I only get one death, I want it to be a good one...Here is the statement I want to make: if I am required to pay for your barbaric war, I choose not to live in your world. I refuse to finance the mass murder of innocent civilians, who did nothing to threaten our country. I will not participate in your charade - my conscience will not allow me to be a part of your crusade. There might be some who say "it's a coward's way out" - that opinion is so idiotic that it requires no response. From my point of view, I am opening a new door.

Estranged from his son and ex-wife, it appears that Malachi Ritscher was suffering from mental illness when he killed himself.

But what is war if not collective madness?

New Leadership in AIDS Fight

"This year, on World AIDS Day, we are reminded of the rapidly rising rate of HIV/AIDS and its devastating impact on communities around the world. The global AIDS epidemic has claimed the lives of more than 25 million people, and 40 million people are currently living with HIV. Despite recent advances in HIV/AIDS treatment, more resources must be devoted to addressing the disproportionate impact of AIDS, particularly in the developing world. Africa has been particularly plagued by devastating HIV/AIDS infection rates... It has become clear that we can only defeat the epidemic by aggressively pursuing a combination of efforts, including broader access to good and affordable health care, prevention education, and increasing the number of health care workers in impoverished nations. We must work together to address this global epidemic in order to prevent future cases of HIV/AIDS and improve the quality of life and lifespan for those people living with HIV/AIDS."

Russ Feingold,World AIDS Day, 2006

What may turn out to be the most important recent development in the global fight against HIV/AIDS will go little noted on this World AIDS Day. But a shift that takes place as a result of the November 7 election could be hugely significant in the years to come for the struggle to stop the spread of the disease and to begin to adequately treat it.

When Democrats take charge of the Congress in January, U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, will become the chairman of the Africa Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

No member of the Senate has taken the need to respond to the HIV/AIDS crisis more seriously than Feingold. And as chairman of the committee charged with examining and encouraging U.S. relations with the region of the world most ravaged by the disease, he will finally be in a position to address the essential issues of a complicated and demanding geopolitical struggle.

Feingold understands that the fight against devastating diseases such as AIDS must never be seen in isolation from broader struggles to combat poverty, violence and terrorism. Helping the poorest countries in the world to deal with the devastation caused by the disease is about more than charity or human kindness. Feingold knows that it is an essential step in stabilizing a continent where a hearts-and-minds struggle between Western values and those of radical religious fundamentalism plays out on a daily basis.

The statistics are stark. More than 40 million people are infected with HIV, according to the United Nations. More than 26 million of those infected are adults and children living in Africa, the majority of them in sub-Saharan Africa. Approximately 2.4 million African adults and children died of the disease in 2005.

"I have seen firsthand while traveling in Africa the devastating toll that HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases are taking on the people of this continent," Feingold said. "A pandemic of this magnitude - which threatens human health, social cohesion, political stability and economic productivity - demands a meaningful international response."

Feingold has played an essential role in forging that meaningful response. He has been a regular visitor to Africa - traveling there most recently just last week - and he has used those visits to highlight the often forgotten AIDS issues.

In the Senate, Feingold has worked across partisan lines as a co-chairman, with outgoing Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., of the Center for Strategic and International Studies Task Force on HIV/AIDS to develop bipartisan approaches to eliminate, prevent and treat the pandemic of global HIV/AIDS.

On this World AIDS Day, when the focus of activists is on accountability issues in an effort to assure that promises of international aid and support are delivered upon, remember that Feingold has led the congressional battle on this front.

Last year, the senator helped guide into law a measure designed to direct the coordinator of U.S. activities to combat global HIV/AIDS to publicly report the amount of funding used for generic and name brand anti-retroviral drugs; the price paid per unit of each drug; and the vendor from which the drugs were purchased.

It is thanks to Feingold's work that the U.S. government is now in a position to track the use of U.S. funding for international HIV/AIDS, and that citizens will be informed about how and where money is being spent.

That's not the end of the work that must be done on accountability, and it is certainly not the end of the work that needs to be done to put the United States in a proper leadership role for the global fight against HIV/AIDS. But it is an indication that one of the most significant results of the reshuffling of congressional control is that the right man is now in the right place to make that fight the priority it must be.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism has been hailed by author Gore Vidal as "essential reading for patriots." David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, says: "With The Genius of Impeachment, John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so."

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com