Monday, April 30, 2007

CCR and 75 Pro Bono Counsel For Guantanamo Detainees Meet With Members of Congress to Restore Legal Rights

Restore Habeas Corpus Day - May 1
Press Conference Details To Follow

WASHINGTON and NEW YORK - April 30 - On Tuesday, May 1, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and 75 attorneys from across the country will travel to Capitol Hill to lobby Congress to reverse provisions of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA) that deprived the federal courts of jurisdiction to hear habeas corpus claims by Guantánamo detainees. The MCA bars all non-U.S. citizens, including legal permanent residents, who have been deemed “enemy combatants” or are awaiting designation as “enemy combatants” from challenging the basis for their detention. The action comes on the heels of recent government attempts to severely limit attorneys’ access to their clients under a new proposed protective order.

“Our clients, like hundreds of others at Guantánamo, have been detained for over five years without a trial or a fair hearing. They have not been charged with any crime. Currently, they are held in cells where they spend 22 to 24 hours a day alone, and their mental health is deteriorating as they have less and less hope of ever seeing justice,” said Vincent Warren, Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents many of the detainees at Guantánamo and coordinates the work of nearly 500 pro bono attorneys.

Prior to the passage of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, the Supreme Court had found that detainees were entitled to pursue habeas corpus petitions in federal court. The lawyers, who are from private law firms and academia and are working with CCR on a pro bono basis, will ask members of Congress to pass legislation that will take out the MCA’s habeas-stripping provisions and will restore habeas rights and the application of the rule of law at Guantánamo.

May 1 is traditionally Law Day, and the attorneys believe it is an appropriate day to ask members of Congress to pass legislation restoring these rights and to act in accordance with the principles that have formed the bedrock of our democracy since the founding of the U.S. This year, Law Day will be Restore Habeas Corpus Day on Capitol Hill.

The group plans to hold a press briefing on Tuesday, May 1, on Capitol Hill, time and place to be determined: an updated advisory will be distributed later today.

Bush Has Gone AWOL

The following is a transcript of the Democratic Radio Address delivered by Lieutenant General William E. Odom,(pictured left) U.S. Army (Ret.) on Saturday April 28, 2007:

“Good morning, this is Lieutenant General William E. Odom, U.S. Army, retired.

“I am not now nor have I ever been a Democrat or a Republican. Thus, I do not speak for the Democratic Party. I speak for myself, as a non-partisan retired military officer who is a former Director of the National Security Agency. I do so because Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, asked me.

“In principle, I do not favor Congressional involvement in the execution of U.S. foreign and military policy. I have seen its perverse effects in many cases. The conflict in Iraq is different. Over the past couple of years, the President has let it proceed on automatic pilot, making no corrections in the face of accumulating evidence that his strategy is failing and cannot be rescued.

“Thus, he lets the United States fly further and further into trouble, squandering its influence, money, and blood, facilitating the gains of our enemies. The Congress is the only mechanism we have to fill this vacuum in command judgment.

“To put this in a simple army metaphor, the Commander-in-Chief seems to have gone AWOL, that is ‘absent without leave.’ He neither acts nor talks as though he is in charge. Rather, he engages in tit-for-tat games.

“Some in Congress on both sides of the aisle have responded with their own tits-for-tats. These kinds of games, however, are no longer helpful, much less amusing. They merely reflect the absence of effective leadership in a crisis. And we are in a crisis.

“Most Americans suspect that something is fundamentally wrong with the President’s management of the conflict in Iraq. And they are right.

“The challenge we face today is not how to win in Iraq; it is how to recover from a strategic mistake: invading Iraq in the first place. The war could never have served American interests.

“But it has served Iran’s interest by revenging Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran in the 1980s and enhancing Iran’s influence within Iraq. It has also served al Qaeda’s interests, providing a much better training ground than did Afghanistan, allowing it to build its ranks far above the levels and competence that otherwise would have been possible.

“We cannot ‘win’ a war that serves our enemies interests and not our own. Thus continuing to pursue the illusion of victory in Iraq makes no sense. We can now see that it never did.

“A wise commander in this situation normally revises his objectives and changes his strategy, not just marginally, but radically. Nothing less today will limit the death and destruction that the invasion of Iraq has unleashed.

“No effective new strategy can be devised for the United States until it begins withdrawing its forces from Iraq. Only that step will break the paralysis that now confronts us. Withdrawal is the pre-condition for winning support from countries in Europe that have stood aside and other major powers including India, China, Japan, Russia.

“It will also shock and change attitudes in Iran, Syria, and other countries on Iraq’s borders, making them far more likely to take seriously new U.S. approaches, not just to Iraq, but to restoring regional stability and heading off the spreading chaos that our war has caused.

“The bill that Congress approved this week, with bipartisan support, setting schedules for withdrawal, provides the President an opportunity to begin this kind of strategic shift, one that defines regional stability as the measure of victory, not some impossible outcome.

“I hope the President seizes this moment for a basic change in course and signs the bill the Congress has sent him. I will respect him greatly for such a rare act of courage, and so too, I suspect, will most Americans.

“This is retired General Odom. Thank you for listening.”

Sunday, April 29, 2007

German Federal Prosecutor's Office Dismisses Rumsfeld War Crime Case

Critics Call Move Political Capitulation to US Pressure

On April 27, 2007, Germany’s Federal Prosecutor announced she will not proceed with an investigation against Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (pictured left), Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former CIA Director George Tenet, and other high-ranking U.S. officials for torture and other war crimes committed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo.

The 400-page complaint was filed on November 14, 2006, by Berlin attorney Wolfgang Kaleck on behalf of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Republican Attorneys' Association (RAV), more than 40 other international and national human rights groups, 12 Iraqi citizens who were held in Abu Ghraib, and one Saudi citizen still held at Guantánamo.

Attorneys said they are contemplating an appeal of the decision as well as filing similar cases in other countries.

“Fundamentally, this is a political and not a legal decision,” said CCR President Michael Ratner. “We will continue to pursue Rumsfeld, Gonzales, and the others in the future – they should not feel they can travel outside the U.S. without risk. Our goal is no safe haven for torturers.”

Prominent jurists, scholars, and human rights experts from around the world had examined the complaint and found it sound. Many signed on in support.

The complaint states that because of the failure of authorities in the United States and Iraq to launch any independent investigation into the responsibility of high-level U.S. officials for torture despite a documented paper trail and government memos implicating them in direct as well as command responsibility for torture, and because the U.S. has refused to join the International Criminal Court, it is the legal obligation of states such as Germany to take up cases under their universal jurisdiction laws.

In her decision to not go forward with an investigation, Federal Prosecutor Monika Harms argued that the crimes were committed outside of Germany and the defendants neither reside in Germany, nor are they currently located in Germany, nor will they soon enter German territory. However, the German law of universal jurisdiction expressly states that it is a universal duty to fight torture and other serious crimes, no matter where they occur or what the nationality of the perpetrators and victims is.

“Since its passage in 2002, not one of the many cases brought under our fine law of universal jurisdiction has been pursued by the prosecutor’s office,” said German attorney Wolfgang Kaleck. “Is this law meant only to look good on the books but never to be invoked?” In the same time period, according to human rights activists, other countries including the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Spain, Denmark, and France have exercised universal jurisdiction and brought to justice perpetrators from countries such as Afghanistan, Mauretania, Argentina, Uganda, and more.

The prosecutor also stated that investigations would not have had a reasonable chance of succeeding, but in addition to providing extensive evidence in the form of publicly-available documents and government memos, attorneys had secured the cooperation of General Janis Karpinski, former commander of Abu Ghraib and other U.S.-run prisons in Iraq, as well as other witnesses and victims who were willing to travel to Germany to testify before the court in Karlsruhe or meet with prosecutors to help them determine how to proceed with the case.

An earlier version of the complaint was lodged in fall 2004. In dismissing that case in February 2005 in response to heavy official pressure from the U.S., the former federal prosecutor stated that there were no indications that the authorities and courts of the United States were refraining from holding officials accountable. Yet more than two years later, only low-ranking officials have ever been charged. Although U.S. military and civilian personnel have been implicated in hundreds of known instances of detainee abuse, internal displacement, torture, and death, very few have been prosecuted in the U.S. anywhere else.

“We will continue to work for justice for the victims of these crimes,” said a representative of FIDH. “Torturers are enemies of all humankind – they can be brought to justice anywhere.”

For copies of the complaint and other documents, visit

Friday, April 27, 2007

Number of Executions Worldwide Falls by More than 25 Percent, Reports Amnesty International

United States Still Among Top Six Executing Countries; Iraq Enters List at Number Four

WASHINGTON - April 27 - The number of executions worldwide fell from 2,148 in 2005 to 1,591 in 2006, a drop of more than 25 percent, Amnesty International (AI) revealed today in its annual report on global death penalty statistics.

In 2006, 91 percent of all known executions took place in China, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and the United States. AI recorded more than 1,000 executions in China in 2006, but figures on the use of the death penalty are a state secret in China and the true number is believed to be as high as 8,000. Iran executed at least 177 people, Pakistan at least 82, Iraq and Sudan each at least 65, and the United States 53.

In 1977, only 16 countries had abolished the death penalty for all crimes. In 2006, the Philippines became the latest country to join the 99 that have abolished the death penalty for all crimes. Many more, including South Korea, stand on the brink of abolition.

In Africa, only six countries carried out executions in 2006. Belarus is the only country that continues to use the death penalty in Europe. The United States is the only country in the Americas to have carried out any executions since 2003.

"2006 gave us cause to be optimistic about the prospect ultimately of global abolition," said Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA. "Around the world and here at home, there have been increasingly vocal calls to end the death penalty, and lawmakers are finally listening.

“However, it should be a continuing source of national shame that the United States remains on the list of the world's top executing countries. Amnesty International USA is doing its utmost to ensure that the United States is taken off the list of nations that retain the death penalty.”

In 2006, New Jersey became the first state to institute a legislatively mandated moratorium on executions. Earlier this year, a New Jersey commission studying the administration of the death penalty recommended abolition. Several states have placed a hold on executions because of legal challenges and concerns relating to the lethal injection process. In the 2007 session, there were serious attempts at abolition in five state legislatures.

“Lawmakers are finally realizing that the death penalty is an ineffective crime prevention measure that drains resources away from the community and does little to deter violent crime,” said Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn, director of Amnesty International USA's Program to Abolish the Death Penalty. “There is also a growing awareness of the racial bias, arbitrariness, and fallibility associated with the administration of the death penalty and many are seriously questioning the wisdom of retaining such a system.”

AI launched the 2007 edition of its annual global death penalty statistics at a press conference in Rome on Friday, April 27. The panel at the event included AI Secretary General Irene Khan.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Justice Department Wants Tighter Restrictions on Guantanamo Detainees Lawyers

The International Herald Tribune Reported Today that:

NEW YORK: The Justice Department has asked a U.S. appeals court to impose tighter restrictions on the hundreds of lawyers who represent detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and the request has become a central issue in a new legal battle over the administration's detention policies.

Saying that visits by civilian lawyers and attorney-client mail have caused "intractable problems and threats to security at Guantánamo," a Justice Department filing proposes new limits on the lawyers' contact with their clients and access to evidence in their cases that would replace more expansive rules that have governed them since they began visiting Guantánamo detainees in large numbers in 2004.

The filing says the lawyers have caused unrest among the detainees and have improperly served as a conduit to the news media, assertions that have drawn angry responses from some of the lawyers.

The dispute is the latest and perhaps the most significant clash over the role of lawyers for the detainees. "There is no right on the part of counsel to access to detained aliens on a secure military base in a foreign country," the Justice Department filing argued.

Under the proposal, filed this month in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the government would limit lawyers to three visits with an existing client at Guantánamo; there is now no limit. It would permit only a single visit with a detainee to have him authorize a lawyer to handle his case. And it would permit a team of intelligence officers and military lawyers not involved in a detainee's case to read mail sent to him by his lawyer.

The proposal would also reverse existing rules to permit government officials, on their own, to deny the lawyers access to secret evidence used by military panels to determine that their clients were enemy combatants.

Many of the lawyers say the restrictions would make it impossible to represent their clients, or even to convince wary detainees — in a single visit — that they were really lawyers, rather than interrogators.

Jonathan Hafetz of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, a lawyer who has helped to coordinate strategy for the detainees, said the government was trying to disrupt relationships between the lawyers and their clients and to stop the flow of public information about Guantánamo, which he described as a "legal black hole" before the courts permitted access for the lawyers in 2004.

"These rules," Hafetz said, "are an effort to restore Guantánamo to its prior status as a legal black hole."

The dispute comes in a case in which detainees are challenging decisions by military panels that they were properly held as enemy combatants. The Justice Department's proposed rules could apply to similar cases that lawyers say are likely to eventually involve as many as 300 of the roughly 385 detainees now held at Guantánamo.

Some of the detainees' lawyers say the Justice Department proposal is only the latest indication of a long effort to blunt their effectiveness, which they say was evident in statements of a senior Pentagon official early this year. The official, Charles Stimson, deputy assistant secretary for detainee affairs, resigned after he was criticized for suggesting that corporations should consider severing business ties with law firms that represented Guantánamo detainees.

Under the current rules, legal mail is inspected for contraband but is not read. The lawyers, who have security clearances, are presumed to be entitled to review classified evidence used against their clients.

There is no limit on the number of times lawyers can visit their clients. Some say that they have been to Guantánamo 10 or more times and that they have needed the time to work with clients who are often suspicious and withdrawn.

Justice Department officials would not comment on the proposal, which is scheduled to be the subject of a court hearing on May 15.

The filing used combative language, saying lawyers had been able to "cause unrest on the base" and mentioned hunger strikes, protests and disobedience. An affidavit by a navy lawyer at Guantánamo, Commander Patrick McCarthy, that accompanied the filing, said lawyers had gathered information from the detainees for news organizations. McCarthy also said the lawyers had provided detainees with accounts of events outside Guantánamo, like a speech at an Amnesty International conference and details of terrorist attacks.

"Such information," his affidavit said, "threatens the security of the camp, as it could incite violence among the detainees."

Several detainees' lawyers involved in some of the incidents denied that they had caused security problems. Neil Koslowe, a lawyer at Shearman & Sterling in Washington, called the assertion a "McCarthy-era charge" that was not supported by the evidence.

The complete story may be found here:

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

PBS to Offer Special Programming for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, May 1-May 31, 2007

ARLINGTON, Va., April 24 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, celebrated each May, PBS will present a special line-up of new and encore presentations that focus on Asians and Pacific Islanders. From a history of Asian-American actors in film and television (THE SLANTED SCREEN) to young Cambodian refugees facing separation from their families through deportation (INDEPENDENT LENS "Sentenced Home"); from Pacific Islander and Maori dancers (BLACK GRACE) to the power of art to heal one man's life (INDEPENDENT LENS "The Cats of Mikiritani"), PBS presents a wide range of exciting programs made by and about Asian Pacific Americans year-round.

Reflecting the diversity of ethnicities, experiences and regions with a breadth unlikely to be found anywhere else, these compelling programs examine the rich history, cultural contributions and absorbing heritage of Asian Pacific Americans.

New Programming


This anthology series showcases documentaries, and a small number of dramas, united by the creative freedom, artistic achievement and unflinching visions of their independent producers. Encompassing the full spectrum of film -- from history to drama to animation to shorts to social-issue films -- INDEPENDENT LENS allows audiences greater access to powerful and innovative programs. Terrence Howard hosts.

"The Cats of Mirikitani"
Tuesday, May 8, 2007, 10:30-11:30 p.m. ET

Eighty-year-old Jimmy Mirikitani has survived the trauma of internment camps, Hiroshima and homelessness by creating art. But when 9/11 threatens his life on the New York City streets and a local filmmaker brings him to her home, the two embark on a journey to confront Jimmy's painful past. This film is an intimate exploration of the lingering wounds of war and the healing powers of friendship and art. By Linda Hattendorf and Masahiro Yoshikawa.

"Sentenced Home"
Tuesday, May 15, 2007, 10:00-11:00 p.m. ET

Raised as Americans in inner-city projects near Seattle, three young Cambodian refugees each made a rash decision as a teenager that irrevocably shaped his destiny. Now facing deportation to Cambodia years later, they find themselves caught between a tragic past and an uncertain future by a system that doesn't offer any second chances. By Nicole Newnham and David Grabias.

Thursday, May 10, 2007, 10:00-11:00 p.m. ET

From silent film star Sessue Hayakawa to Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, Jeff Adachi's film explores the portrayals of Asian men in American cinema and television, chronicling the experiences of actors who have had to struggle against ethnic stereotyping and limiting roles. Through a parade of 50 film clips spanning a century, the film presents a critical examination of Hollywood's image-making machine. The program includes interviews with actors Mako, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, James Shigeta, Dustin Nguyen, Phillip Rhee, Will Yun Lee, Tzi Ma and Jason Scott Lee; comedian Bobby Lee; producer Terence Chang; casting director Heidi Levitt; writer Frank Chin; and directors Gene Cajayon, Justin Lin and Eric Byler and features a new song performed by the San Francisco rock-punk band Say Bok Gwai. Presenter: Center for Asian American Media.

Thursday, June 21, 2007, 10:00-11:00 p.m. ET

When Black Grace, a dance troupe of Pacific Islander and Maori men, first burst onto the New Zealand stage in 1995 they were a revelation. Fusing traditional Pacific and contemporary dance forms with athleticism and grace, they electrified audiences. Led by Artistic Director Neil Ieremia, Black Grace evolved from a crew of Neal's "mates" into one of New Zealand's national treasures and conquered the world's dance festivals, culminating with Jacob's Pillow in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts. This film follows Black Grace's journey from Cannon's Creek, a small town outside of Auckland, New Zealand, to the prestigious Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, the oldest one of its kind in North America. Presenter: Pacific Islanders in Communications (PIC).

May 2007 (check local listings)

KEEPERS OF THE FLAME chronicles the lives of three Hawaiian women who, more than any other 20th-century figures, helped to revive the flame of traditional Hawaiian culture. Historian and author Mary Kawena Pukui, dancer and chanter 'Iolani Luahine, and kumu hula and teacher Edith Kanaka'ole kept their culture alive in a time when things Hawaiian were under threat. They were instrumental in the Hawaiian renaissance. Producer: The Hawaiian Legacy Foundation. Presenter: Pacific Islanders in Communications (PIC).

May 2007 (check local listings)

Expatriates return to the tiny island nation of Tuvalu to find a place vastly different from the one they remember. As the locals and ex-pats struggle to cope with the dramatic effects of globalization on Tuvaluan culture, an even greater threat looms. Driven by global warming, a steadily rising sea level is stealing their precious land. TIME AND TIDE is a poetic and absorbing documentary about a land, its people and irreversible tragedy. Presenter: Pacific Islanders in Communications (PIC).

Encore Programming

May 2007 (check local listings)

This performance documentary reveals the cultural history and diversity of the Pacific Islands -- a vibrant and complex region encompassing 25,000 islands, spread over 10 million square miles of ocean, in which 30 million people speak hundreds of different languages and dialects -- through their "dance stories," which for nearly 50,000 years have been an expression of Pacific Islanders' origins, their journeys, their struggles and their very existence. The program views dance through the eyes of the people who practice it as an art form and as a way of life. Keisha Castle-Hughes, the young star of Whale Rider, narrates. Producer: KQED San Francisco. Presenter: Pacific Islanders in Communications (PIC).

INDEPENDENT LENS "Vietnam: The Next Generation"
May 2007 (check local listings)

Eight young Vietnamese -- some born in the final days of the Vietnam War, others in the war's tragic aftermath -- are entrepreneurs and street kids, farmers and students, artists and engineers. Together they embody the hopes, dreams and frustrations of a new Vietnam. Through their stories, this groundbreaking program takes an in-depth look at modern-day Vietnam, where communism and capitalism are going head-to-head. Producer: Sandra Northrop.

May 2007 (check local listings)

In World War II, more than 110,000 Japanese Americans were forced to leave their homes and relocate to military camps. This documentary tells the story of the 16,000 men, women and children who were sent to two camps in southeast Arkansas, one of the poorest and most racially segregated places in America. It also explores the reactions of the native Arkansans who watched in bewilderment as their tiny towns were overwhelmed by this influx of outsiders. With rare home movies of the camp and interviews with Japanese Americans and Arkansans who lived through these events, TIME OF FEAR is a tale of suspicion and fear, of resilience and of the deep scars left by America's long and unfinished struggle with race. Producer: Ambrica Productions.

May 2007 (check local listings)

Winner of the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the 2002 Hawaii International Film Festival, this film documents and honors the 7,000 men of the 1st and 2nd Filipino Infantry Regiments of the U.S. Army who fought in World War II. Even though they endured a racist prewar climate and weren't even considered U.S. citizens, Filipinos in America rallied to join the American war effort after the fateful bombing of Pearl Harbor. On January 2, 1942, President Roosevelt signed an executive order allowing Filipinos to join the U.S. Army and form a volunteer all-Filipino unit. These troops proved to be skilled fighters and an indispensable force in freeing the Philippines from the Japanese and, ultimately, in the winning of World War II. AN UNTOLD TRIUMPH imparts personal accounts of the men's contributions and sacrifices during the war. Lou Diamond Phillips narrates. Presenter: Center for Asian American Media.

Germany says Wolfowitz's credibility in doubt

BERLIN (AFP) - Germany believes the credibility of World Bank governor Paul Wolfowitz and the institution itself has been plunged into doubt by revelations that he arranged a hefty pay rise for his girlfriend.

"The credibility of Paul Wolfowitz and the World Bank have been thrown into doubt," a spokesman for German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul (pictured at left)told a regular government press conference.

Wieczorek-Zeul, who is also Germany's governor to the World Bank, said in the Financial Times Deutschland newspaper on Monday that it was "no longer acceptable" that Wolfowitz was refusing to resign.

"My conclusion is that Wolfowitz should do the bank a service and take the consequences himself. And the sooner, the better," she said.

Chief government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said Germany, and Chancellor Angela Merkel, had "full confidence that the World Bank would find a solution that corresponds to its high principles."

Wolfowitz has refused to resign over the revelations that he ordered a salary worth nearly 200,000 dollars for his bank employee girlfriend, Shaha Riza, in 2005.

But his future hangs in the balance after a crisis meeting of the bank's 24 executive directors on Friday to discuss the situation.

More than 40 senior former World Bank officials earlier Monday called for his immediate resignation.

The complete story may be found here:

Newport Beach, California Church rector resigns after confession

The Daily Pilot reported today that:

St. James Anglican Church in Newport Beach announced the resignation of head rector Rev. Praveen Bunyan on Monday, declaring in a written statement that he had confessed to inappropriate conduct toward a female adult parishioner.

"I have made a grave error in judgment and take full responsibility for what I have done," Bunyan said Monday by phone. "I have committed a serious indiscretion in my conduct with a female member of the congregation for which I am truly sorry and seek forgiveness from God, my family, my colleagues, staff members of the church and, importantly, the aggrieved individual."

After receiving information of the misconduct, the vestry, wardens and bishop led an investigation into the matter and accepted Bunyan's resignation last week. The church notified its 1,200-member congregation during Sunday's services.

Bunyan said he and his family have begun the process of healing and restoration, and he asked for the continued support of his friends, family and the community as they move forward.

Bunyan, who joined the congregation in January of 2003, led the church as it disassociated itself from the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and joined with the Anglican Province of Uganda, Diocese of Luweero in 2004.

The complete story may be found here:

Lethal injection method flawed as Execution Method: New Study

Probably Violates Constitutional Ban on Cruel and Unusual Punishment

The AP reported today that:

The drugs used to execute prisoners in the United States sometimes fail to work as planned, causing slow and painful deaths that probably violate constitutional bans on cruel and unusual punishment, a new medical review of dozens of executions concludes.

Even when administered properly, the three-drug lethal injection method appears to have caused some inmates to suffocate while they were conscious and unable to move, instead of having their hearts stopped while they were sedated, scientists said in a report published Monday by the online journal PLoS Medicine.

No scientific groups have ever validated that lethal injection is humane, the authors write. Medical ethics bar doctors and other health professionals from taking part in executions.

The study concluded that the typical "one-size-fits-all" doses of anesthetic do not take into account an inmate's weight and other key factors. Some inmates got too little, and in some cases, the anesthetic wore off before the execution was complete, the authors found.

"You wouldn't be able to use this protocol to kill a pig at the University of Miami" without more proof that it worked as intended, said Teresa Zimmers, a biologist there who led the study.

The journal's editors call for abolishing the death penalty, writing: "There is no humane way of forcibly killing someone."

Lethal injection has been adopted by 37 states as a cheaper and more humane alternative to electrocution, gas chambers and other execution methods.

But 11 states have suspended its use after opponents alleged it is ineffective and cruel. The issue came to a head last year in California, when a federal judge ordered that doctors assist in killing Michael Morales, convicted of raping and murdering a teenage girl. Doctors refused, and legal arguments continue in the case.

In 2005 alone, at least 2,148 people were killed by lethal injection in 22 countries, especially China, where fleets of mobile execution vans are used, the editors write, citing Amnesty International figures. Of the 53 executions in the United States in 2006, all but one were by lethal injection.

The complete story may be found here:

Viacom Admits Error -- Takes Steps to Protect Fair Use on YouTube, Brave New Films Dismiss Lawsuit Over Colbert Parody

Viacom Endorses Excerpting Video for "Creative, Newsworthy or Transformative Use"

San Francisco - Responding to Viacom's willingness to take steps to protect the free speech rights of those who post videos to YouTube and similar video sharing sites, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Stanford Law School's Fair Use Project (FUP) today dismissed a lawsuit filed on behalf of Civic Action and Brave New Films (BNF).

The lawsuit was filed in federal court last month, after a parody of "The Colbert Report" was removed from YouTube following a meritless copyright complaint by Viacom. The humorous video, called "Stop the Falsiness," was created by MoveOn and BNF using clips from the Comedy Central television series. It was a tongue-in-cheek commentary on Colbert's portrayal of the right-wing media and parodied MoveOn's own reputation for earnest political activism.

Viacom initially denied sending the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice that resulted in the removal of the video from YouTube, while saying it had no objection to "Stop the Falsiness." However, Viacom later conceded it was the source of the demand and admitted error in taking action against the parody.

In the course of discussions with EFF and FUP, Viacom described the steps it endorses for protecting fair use and free expression as it targets copyright infringement on Internet video sites. This includes: manual review of every video that is a potential DMCA takedown target, training reviewers to avoid issuing takedown requests for fair use, and publicly stating that it does not challenge use of Viacom materials that are "creative, newsworthy or transformative" and are "a limited excerpt for non commercial purposes."

Furthermore, in reaction to the MoveOn/BNF suit, Viacom moved the ball forward for Internet users' rights. In order to address any similarly erroneous takedown notices in the future, Viacom has agreed to set up a website and email "hotline," promising a review of any complaint within one business day and a reinstatement if the takedown request was in error.

In light of these disclosures and commitments -- designed to protect the fair use and free speech rights of Internet users who rely on video sharing sites like YouTube -- MoveOn and BNF have dismissed their claims against Viacom.

"If copyright owners are going to be sending hundreds of thousands of DMCA takedown notices, they also have a responsibility to protect the legitimate free speech rights of the citizen creators who rely on platforms like YouTube," said EFF Senior Intellectual Property Attorney Fred von Lohmann. "By choosing to respect newsworthy and transformative uses of their materials -- and establishing a simple process that lets improperly targeted users get their material back up quickly -- Viacom has taken important steps toward meeting that responsibility. We hope other media companies will follow Viacom's lead."

"This new endorsement of Internet users' rights is a victory for the little guy," said Eli Pariser, Executive Director of Civic Action. "Online sites like YouTube have revolutionized political expression and can give the little guy an audience of millions for a political point of view. A corporate powerhouse like Viacom must not be allowed to erase political content or muzzle political expression."

"Following these practices will not curb all DMCA copyright abuse," said EFF Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry. "But they are several much-needed steps in the right direction. If a major content owner like Viacom can recognize this, other content owners should be able to do the same."

Monday, April 23, 2007

Iraq: Televised 'confessions', torture and unfair trials underpin world's fourth highest executioner

Iraqi authorities are increasingly imposing the death penalty including after pretrial televised "confessions", uninvestigated allegations of torture and unfair trials, according to a new report from Amnesty International.

Iraq has now become the country with the fourth highest number of executions after China, Iran and Pakistan, with the execution of at least 65 people last year.

Since reinstatement of the death penalty in mid 2004, more than 270 people have been sentenced to death and at least a hundred people have been executed. The broadcast of televised "confessions" ceased in late 2005 but many of those who appeared continue to be held on death row or have been executed.

"The dramatic increase in use of this cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment represents a dangerous slide into the brutal errors of the past, particularly when so many executions have come after unfair trials, televised 'confessions' and uninvestigated allegations of torture," said Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme. "Despite official justifications of the death penalty as a deterrent, rising violence on Iraqi streets suggests that its reinstatement may simply have contributed to the brutalisation of Iraqi society."

The report, Unjust and unfair: the death penalty in Iraq, is based on Amnesty International's examination of hundreds of verdicts issued by the Central Criminal Court of Iraq (CCCI), as well as the testimonies of families of those convicted and their lawyers. It also includes a detailed analysis of Iraqi laws that undermine the right to a fair trial.

The report's main findings include:

* Insufficient or no investigation of allegations of torture despite frequent reliance on "confessions" made during detention to obtain convictions for capital offences;
* Pretrial televised "confessions" and the inclusion in court of evidence identifiying the accused from witnesses who have previously seen the confession;
* Inadequate access to defence lawyers and the intimidation of lawyers including death threats and attacks;
* Vague and overly broad definition of capital offences under Iraqi law including abductions that do not involve killing and damage to public property with the aim of undermining security or stability.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception as a violation of the right to life and as the ultimate form of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. At an international level, Iraq's restoration of the death penalty also represents a seriously retrograde development. At the beginning of 2007, no less than 128 countries had taken the momentous step of abolishing the death penalty in law or in practice with an average of more than three countries a year moving to abolition over the last decade.

"The shocking manner of Saddam Hussain's execution exposed the grotesque cruelty of the death penalty in Iraq, yet his was only one of at least 65 executions last year and the toll is continuing to mount," said Malcolm Smart. "Amnesty International calls on the Iraqi government to immediately establish a moratorium on executions, commute all pending death sentences and ensure that the most rigorous standards for fair trial are respected in all cases. Without such action, Iraq will continue to live under the brutal legacy of the past."

From 20 April, a copy of the report, Unjust and unfair: the death penalty in Iraq, will be available at:

Friday, April 20, 2007

World Publics Reject US Role as the World Leader

Majorities Still Want US to Do Its Share in Multilateral Efforts, Not Withdraw from International Affairs

A multinational poll finds that publics around the world reject the idea that the United States should play the role of preeminent world leader. Most publics say the United States plays the role of world policeman more than it should, fails to take their country’s interests into account and cannot be trusted to act responsibly.

But the survey also finds that majorities in most countries want the United States to participate in international efforts to address world problems. Views are divided about whether the United States should reduce the number of military bases it has overseas. Moreover, many publics think their country’s relations with the United States are improving.

Americans largely agree with the rest of the world: most do not think the United States should remain the world’s preeminent leader and prefer that it play a more cooperative role. They also believe United States plays the role of world policeman more than it should.

This is the fourth in a series of reports based on a worldwide poll about key international issues conducted by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and, in cooperation with polling organizations around the world. The larger study includes polls in China , India, the United States, Indonesia, Russia, France, Thailand, Ukraine, Poland, Iran, Mexico, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Argentina, Peru, Israel and Armenia—plus the Palestinian territories.

The publics polled represent about 56 percent of the world’s population. Not all questions were asked in all countries.

Steven Kull, editor of notes that this poll reinforces the conclusions of other recent global surveys, which have found that the United States’ image abroad is bad and growing worse. But he added that it goes further, exploring what kind of role the international community would like the United States to play in the world.

“This survey shows that despite the negative views of US foreign policy, publics around the world do not want the United States to disengage from international affairs, but rather to participate in a more cooperative and multilateral fashion,” Kull said.

The United States’ Role in the World

Majorities in all 15 of the publics polled about the United States’ role in the world reject the idea that “as the sole remaining superpower, the US should continue to be the preeminent world leader in solving international problems.” However majorities in only two publics (Argentina and the Palestinian territories) say that the United States “should withdraw from most efforts to solve international problems.” The preferred view in all of the other cases is that the United States “should do its share in efforts to solve international problems together with other countries.”

In Asia, large majorities embrace the idea that the United States should play a cooperative role in South Korea (79%) and China (68%). A majority of Filipinos (55%) and a plurality of Indians (42%) also take this view, but they are among the few publics with substantial numbers saying the United States should play the role of the preeminent world leader: 20 percent in the Philippines and 34 percent in India. Thais are also relatively reluctant to support a cooperative role (47%), but very few endorse a preeminent role (8%) or disengagement (18%), while 27 percent declined to answer.

In Europe, the French are those most emphatic in their support for a cooperative role (75%), followed by Armenia (58%). A majority of Ukrainians (52%) also support this position, but an unusually high number (34%) supports US disengagement. In Russia, a plurality (42%) favors a cooperative role, but this is barely more than the percentage (38%) that favors disengagement.

In Latin America, about six in ten Peruvians (61%) and Mexicans (59%) believe the United States should cooperate with other countries to solve international problems. However, as mentioned above, Argentines are one of only two publics favoring US withdrawal from international efforts with 55 percent taking this position and 34 percent in favor of cooperation.

In the Middle East, Israelis and Palestinians differ sharply. A majority of Palestinians favor US disengagement (55%) while more than a third (36%) prefers cooperation. Israelis are more in line with most other publics in that 62 percent favor US cooperation, but they also show the second highest level of support (after India) for the US taking the role of preeminent leader (24%).

Americans match the French in their support for the United States doing its share together with other nations (75%), with small numbers favoring a preeminent role (10%) or isolationism (12%).

United States as World Policeman

Majorities in 13 out of 15 publics polled say the United States is “playing the role of world policeman more than it should be.” This is the sentiment of about three-quarters or more of those polled in: France (89%), Australia (80%), China (77%), Russia (76%), Peru (76%), the Palestinian territories (74%) and South Korea (73%).

The US public is also among those most convinced that United States too often plays the role of world policeman. Seventy-six percent of Americans agree that their country is overdoing such activities.

In only one country does a majority disagree with the idea that the United States tends to take on the role of international enforcer more than it should: the Philippines. Fifty-seven percent of Filipinos reject the idea that the United States plays a police role too often, while only a third (31%) agrees that it does.

Israelis, who are the United States’ closest allies in the Middle East, are divided over whether the United States plays the global policeman role too often. Forty-eight percent of Israelis agree and forty-eight percent disagree.

The five other countries where majorities believe the United States is too often acting as world policeman are: Indonesia (68%), Ukraine (67%), Armenia (63%), Argentina (62%) and India (53%). In India, a country which has been among the most positive about the United States in recent years, a third (33%) disagrees.

The survey also asks respondents in nine countries whether the United States has the “responsibility to play the role of ‘world policeman,’ that is to fight violations of international law and aggression wherever they occur.” Majorities in eight of the nine countries say the United States does not have the responsibility to fight aggression and enforce international law. The exception is India, where a slight majority (53%) says the US does have this responsibility while a third (35%) says it does not.

Palestinians (76%) are the most likely of the publics surveyed to answer that the United States does not have such a responsibility. The next most likely are Americans themselves. Three-quarters of Americans (75%) reject the idea that their country has a duty to enforce international law.

Strong majorities of Armenians (70%), Australians (70%), Indonesians (69%), and Ukrainians (69%) also agree that the United States does not have this responsibility.

The United States’ greatest economic and military rival in Asia—China—and one of its closest allies—South Korea—are equally likely to reject the idea that the US government has a duty to enforce international law. Sixty-one percent of Chinese and60 percent of South Koreans answer no. South Koreans are only somewhat more likely to say yes (39%) than the Chinese (30%).

Trust in the United States to Act Responsibly

In 10 out of 15 countries, the most common view is that the United States cannot be trusted to “act responsibly in the world.” Respondents were allowed to choose whether the United States could be trusted “a great deal,” “somewhat,” “not very much” or “not at all.”

Two Latin American countries show the least trust in the United States. An overwhelming 84 percent of Argentines answer that they have little confidence in the United States, including 69 percent who think the United States cannot be trusted at all. Eight in ten Peruvians (80%) also think the US cannot be trusted (23% not at all).

Most Russian and French respondents agree. Nearly three-quarters of Russians (73%) express little trust and a third (31%) says the United States cannot be trusted at all. The French are almost equally skeptical: 72 percent do not trust the United States to behave responsibly, including 30 percent who do not trust it at all.

Also among those who believe the United States generally cannot be trusted are: Indonesians (64%), Armenians (59%), Chinese (59%), Thais (56%) and South Koreans (53%). Half of Indian respondents (50%) also express little or no confidence.

In four countries, majorities or pluralities say the United States can be at least somewhat trusted to act responsibly. Filipinos (85%) are the most willing to trust the United States and half of them think the United States can be trusted a great deal (48%). Eight in ten Israelis (81%) also believe this. They are also the most willing to say the United States can be trusted a great deal (56%). Australians (59%) also tend to trust the United States (18% a great deal).

In two eastern European countries, about half believe the United States can be trusted: 51 percent in Poland—though most of these (44%) think the United States can only be trusted somewhat—and 49 percent in Ukraine, 31 percent of whom answer somewhat. About a third of Poles (32%) and Ukrainians (37%) say the United States cannot be trusted and large numbers are uncertain (17% and 24% respectively).

US Willingness to Consider Other Interests

Of the seven countries polled on this question, five believe the United States does not take their interests into account when making foreign policy decisions. Only in Israel does a large majority believe that the United States takes their interest into account. Indians are divided. In the other five countries, majorities or pluralities answer “not very much” or “not at all” when asked whether the United States takes their interests into account.

Three former Soviet-bloc countries are the most likely to think that the United States fails to consider their concerns. Although Poles tend to have fairly positive views of the United States, three-quarters (76%) think that the United States does not take their interests into account very much (57%) or does not do so at all (19%).

Two-thirds of Russians (66%) also think the United States ignores their interests, including a third who think it ignores them entirely (33%). Ukrainian feelings are similar: 63 percent say the United States tends not to take their interests into account, including 38 percent who say it does not take them into account at all.

In Asia, the most common view in two countries (China and Thailand) is that their interests are not considered by the United States when making foreign policy decisions. A majority of Chinese (58%) believe this, of whom 23 percent say the US does not do so at all. A plurality of Thais (49%) say the United States does not take their interests into account (30% not very much, 19% not at all) compared to 23 percent who believe it does (15% somewhat, 8% a great deal).

However Indians are divided. Forty-six percent say the United States does not take their interests into account (23% not at all), while 44 percent say that it does take their interests into account (24% somewhat, 20% a great deal).

The Israelis stand out as the only country where a strong majority (57%) says that the United States takes their interests into account a great deal while an additional 25 percent say that it does so somewhat. Thus a remarkable total of 82 percent of Israelis say that the United States takes their interests into account. A mere 14 percent disagree.

US Overseas Military Bases

Despite the widespread belief that the United States should not be the world’s preeminent leader and that it plays the role of world policeman more than it should, countries express mixed views about whether the United States should reduce its military presence around the world. Nonetheless, very few support increasing the number of bases.

Twelve publics were asked whether the United States should have more, fewer or the same number of long-term bases overseas. In six of them, including the US public, majorities or pluralities think the United States should maintain or increase the number of bases it maintains overseas. In five countries, majorities call for reductions. One country—India, again—is divided.

Those most in favor of the United States’ at least maintaining its overseas military presence are Filipinos, Americans Israelis and Poles. Those most likely to support a decreased presence are Argentines, Palestinians, the French and the Chinese.

Filipinos—whose government forced the United States to shut down its last base on Philippine territory 15 years ago—are the most likely to say that the United States should maintain its long-term overseas military presence. Nearly four in five respondents in the Philippines (78%) say the United States should either keep “about as many” bases as now (60%) or add more bases (18%).

Sixty-eight percent of Americans think the United States should either keep as many bases as now (53%) or add bases (15%). Only 27 percent say the United States should have fewer bases.

A majority of Israelis (59%) believe the United States should maintain a strong military presence overseas. Of these, 39 percent say the United States should keep its current number of bases and 20 percent say it should have more.

Respondents in Poland —one of the United States’ staunchest allies in Europe—also believe the United States should keep as many or more military bases overseas as it has today (54%). Most of these (45%) believe the United States should maintain the same number of bases and 9 percent believe there should be more.

Pluralities in Armenia and Thailand favor keeping or increasing US overseas bases over decreasing them. Armenians are in favor of maintaining the US military presence abroad by a margin of 42 percent to 37 percent. Thais support it by a margin of 34 percent to 25 percent, with 41 percent not answering.

Of the twelve publics polled, Argentines are those most in favor of shutting down US bases overseas (75%). Palestinians and the French are next with seven in ten (70% and 69% respectively) saying the United States should reduce its military presence abroad.

A majority of Chinese—an emerging military and economic power in Asia—also thinks the United States should have fewer bases. Three in five (63%) say it should reduce its overseas presence.

A majority of Ukrainians (62%) think that the United States should have fewer bases while 13 percent say it should keep the current number. Only 3 percent think it needs more and 22 percent are unsure.

Indians are evenly divided between those who say the United States should increase or maintain its bases overseas and those who believe it should decrease them. Thirty nine percent believe the US needs more (26%) or the same number (13%) and 39 percent say it should have fewer. About a fifth of Indian respondents (22%) are unsure.

Some Improvement in Bilateral Relations

Also contrary to the largely negative views of the United States’ role in the world is the perception in some countries—including some that are highly critical of the United States—that bilateral relations with the United State States are improving. Eleven countries were asked whether relations of their country with the United States were “improving, worsening, or staying about the same.”

Six of the eleven countries say their relations with the United States show signs of improvement, including majorities in India (58%) and China (53%) and pluralities in Australia (50%), Armenia (48%), Indonesia (46%) and Thailand (37%).

In the remaining five countries, majorities or pluralities say relations with the United States are staying about the same: 60 percent in Poland, 56 percent in South Korea, 52 percent in Israel, 52 percent in the Ukraine, and 45 percent in Russia.

In no country, does even a plurality think relations are getting worse. South Korea has the largest minority saying that relations with the United States are worsening (34%), followed by Thailand (28%) and Indonesia (23%). Among the other eight countries, only 8 percent to 20 percent feel this way.

“The publics in many countries differentiate between their negative views of the US international role and their perceptions of bilateral relations, which are seen as improving in a significant number of countries, even some that are highly critical of the United States,” said Christopher Whitney, executive director for studies at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Pope revises 'limbo,' says there is hope for babies who are not baptized

The AP reported today that:

VATICAN CITY: Pope Benedict XVI has reversed centuries of traditional Roman Catholic teaching on so-called limbo, approving a Vatican report that says there were "serious" grounds to hope that children who die without being baptized can go to heaven.

Theologians said the move was highly significant — both for what it says about Benedict's willingness to buck a long-standing tenet of Catholic belief and for what it means theologically about the Church's views on heaven, hell and original sin — the sin that the faithful believe all children are born with.

Although Catholics have long believed that children who die without being baptized are with original sin and thus excluded from heaven, the Church has no formal doctrine on the matter. Theologians, however, have long taught that such children enjoy an eternal state of perfect natural happiness, a state commonly called limbo, but without being in communion with God.

"If there's no limbo and we're not going to revert to St. Augustine's teaching that unbaptized infants go to hell, we're left with only one option, namely, that everyone is born in the state of grace," said the Rev. Richard McBrien, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.

"Baptism does not exist to wipe away the 'stain' of original sin, but to initiate one into the Church," he said in an e-mailed response Friday.
Benedict approved the findings of the International Theological Commission, a Vatican advisory panel, which said it was reassessing traditional teaching on limbo in light of "pressing" pastoral needs — primarily the growing number of abortions and infants born to non-believers who die without being baptized.

While the report does not carry the authority of a papal encyclical or even the weight of a formal document from the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, it was approved by the pope on Jan. 19 and was published on the Internet — an indication that it was intended to be widely read by the faithful.

"We can say we have many reasons to hope that there is salvation for these babies," the Rev. Luis Ladaria, a Jesuit who is the commission's secretary-general, told The Associated Press. He stressed that there was no certainty, just hope.

The Commission posted its document Friday on Origins, the documentary service of Catholic News Service, the news agency of the American Bishop's Conference.

The complete story may be found here:

The Nation Magazine Publishes Special Issue on Surviving The Climate Crisis

New York, NY – Today The Nation Magazine released its first-ever special issue devoted to the environment and the emerging climate crisis. As Mark Hertsgaard, The Nation’s environmental correspondent, reports in his contribution: “We must accept, unfortunately, that the battle to prevent global warming is over; now, the race to survive it has begun. This race will continue for the rest of our lives, testing human ingenuity, institutions, and values as never before. Losses are inevitable, but the situation is not hopeless.” This special issue of the magazine offers a frank look at the extent of the climate crisis while also seeking to restore hope to the discussion, setting out a broad program for a green future.

Executive Editor Betsy Reed, who supervised the issue, said, “The scientific debate over climate change has been settled. Now we need to focus on how we must respond – both to mitigate its effects and adapt to the changes that are already inevitable.” The special issue subjects faddish solutions such as ‘clean coal’ and carbon offsets to serious scrutiny, and introduces radical new proposals: George Monbiot calls for end air travel as we know it, and James Hansen, Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, outlines a 5-point-plan for transforming our energy infrastructure.

The Nation’s vision doesn’t simply stop at the nation’s borders; the climate crisis is a global one, and so the special issue puts it in global perspective. Elizabeth Economy, Director of Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, considers the “nightmarishly bad” implications of China’s development strategy while chronicling the country’s search for a green path to growth. From Bangladesh to the Gulf Coast, Mark Hertsgaard reports on the calls for climate reparations to address the disproportionate impact of global warming on the poor. And Matthew Gilbert, a member of the Gwich’in tribe of northeastern Alaska, offers a rare perspective on the devastating effects of climate change on his people’s way of life.

Ultimately, the climate crisis demands we change how we think about our relationship with the planet. Lawrence Weschler, director of NYU’s Institute for the Humanities, surveys the artistic response to the crisis, and the role art can play in transforming our vision of the world. The Nation’s special issue represents a renewed commitment to that transformation.

Click here for the contents of this special issue of The Nation:

Thursday, April 19, 2007

36 Rainbow Street Signs Dedicated by Philadelphia Mayor in 'Gayborhood'

City Street Signs Symbolize Diversity, Inclusiveness and Invitation

PHILADELPHIA, April 18 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- It is a historic moment for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) community as the City of Philadelphia and Mayor John F. Street dedicated 36 new street signs that are permanently affixed with the rainbow flag to designate the "Gayborhood" today. The dedication ceremony was held at 13th and Locust Streets, Philadelphia, PA. Locals sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and shot rainbow confetti into the air.

The street signs have been installed in the Gayborhood, defined as Chestnut to Pine Streets between 11th and Broad Streets. The rainbow-branded street signs are an internationally-recognized welcome symbol that demonstrates a city's commitment to diversity and inclusiveness. Philadelphia's "Gayborhood" is a place where GLBT visitors and regional residents can patronize a concentration of gay-friendly businesses, bars, nightclubs, coffee shops and restaurants.

Two years in the planning, the effort to replace existing street signs with the new gay-friendly ones was championed by the members of the Philadelphia Gay Tourism Caucus with support from the City of Philadelphia, Washington Square Civic Association and Philadelphia City Councilman Frank DiCicco. The Philadelphia Gay Tourism Caucus is a non-profit organization with nearly 100 members who are dedicated to helping Philadelphia get its share of the $54 billion gay travel market.

The rainbow symbol, sometimes called "the freedom flag," was created by San Francisco Artist Gilbert Baker. The six colors of the rainbow are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. Philadelphia joins a short-list of other North American cities that have erected permanent rainbow installations in gay-friendly districts including San Francisco, Chicago, Montreal, and Toronto.

The Virginia Tech Tragedy: Distinguishing Mental Illness from Violence

WASHINGTON, April 18 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Ken Duckworth, MD, Medical Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has released the following statement on this week's tragedy at Virginia Technological Institute (VTI):

NAMI extends its sympathy to all the families who have lost loved ones in the terrible tragedy at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. We are an organization of individuals and families whose lives have been affected by serious mental illnesses.

Despite media reports, Cho Seung Hui, the shooter in the tragedy, may not actually have had a serious mental illness relative to other diagnoses. But the possibility opens the door for reflection on the nature of mental illnesses-what they are and what they are not -- with regard to symptoms, treatment and risks of violence.

The U.S. Surgeon General has reported that the likelihood of violence by people with mental illness is low. In fact, "the overall contribution of mental disorders to the total level of violence in society is exceptionally small." More often, people living with mental illness are the victims of violence.

Severe mental illnesses are medical illnesses. They are different from episodic conditions. They are different from sociopathic disorders

Acts of violence are exceptional.
Treatment works, but only if a person gets it.

Questions must be answered about whether the mental health care system responded appropriately in this case. We know that Cho Seung Hui was referred to a mental health facility for assessment. Did he receive the right treatment and follow-up? If not, why not?


NAMI offers below the federal government's official findings on mental illness and perceptions of violence.

Surgeon General's Report on Mental Health (1999)

Are people with mental disorders truly more violent? Research supports some public concerns, but the overall likelihood of violence is low.

The greatest risk of violence is from those who have dual diagnoses, i.e., individuals who have a mental disorder as well as a substance abuse disorder. There is a small elevation in risk of violence from individuals with severe mental disorders (e.g., psychosis), especially if they are noncompliant with their medication...Yet to put this all in perspective, the overall contribution of mental disorders to the total level of violence in society is exceptionally small.

National Institute of Mental Health (2006)

A study of adults with schizophrenia showed that symptoms of losing contact with reality, such as delusions and hallucinations, increased the odds of serious violence nearly threefold. The odds were only about one-fourth as high in patients with symptoms of reduced emotions and behaviors, such as flat facial expression, social withdrawal, and infrequent speaking.

Overall, the amount of violence committed by people with schizophrenia is small, and only 1 percent of the U.S. population has schizophrenia...By comparison, about 2 percent of the general population without psychiatric disorder engages in any violent behavior in one-year period.

The researchers found that the odds of violence also varied with factors other than psychotic symptoms. For example, serious violence was associated with depressive symptoms, conduct problems in childhood, and having been victimized, physically or sexually; minor violence was associated with co- occurring substance abuse.

Source: NAMI

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Minority of Senate Blocks Vote to Allow Medicare to Negotiate Lower Drug Prices

AARP: 'Senators should know this issue is not going away. No amount of campaign money can trump the will of 90 percent of Americans.'

WASHINGTON, April 18 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- AARP released the following statement today, disappointed by a minority of the U.S. Senate that refuses to allow a vote on legislation that could help lower prescription drug costs for millions of Medicare beneficiaries.

Despite the support of a majority of the U.S. Senate, and nearly 90 percent of voting-age Americans, S. 3, The Medicare Fair Prescription Drug Price Act of 2007, was blocked from coming up for a vote on the Senate floor today.

"Allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices is common sense, and could have led to more affordable drugs for Medicare beneficiaries and lower costs for all taxpayers," said David Sloane, AARP Director of Government Relations. "Instead, a minority of the Senate decided to block consideration of a bill that has the support of the vast majority of their constituents. Given the overwhelming support for giving Medicare the power to negotiate, the will of the people will eventually be heard."

Sloane continued, "Pharmaceutical manufacturers have given more than $20 million in campaign contributions for the last two cycles alone. They followed that up over the last few months with misleading polling and disinformation aimed at scaring older Americans into preserving the exorbitant profits that pharmaceutical companies make on brand name drugs. Senators should know this issue is not going away. No amount of campaign money can trump the will of 90 percent of Americans."

Last week, AARP alerted Senators that the association is recording key votes on S. 3 and will be informing its members of how their Senators voted.

Despite the outcome in the Senate today, prescription drug affordability remains a high priority for AARP and its members. The association will continue to fight to make prescription drugs more affordable for all Americans. While millions of older Americans and persons with disabilities have been helped by Medicare part D drug plans, more should be done to put downward pressure on drug costs. AARP will continue to support legislation that would allow Americans to safely and legally import lower-priced prescription drugs from abroad, and legislation to help bring generic drugs to market sooner, including generic versions of biologic therapies. AARP is also working to pass legislation that would reduce the asset test that prevents low-income people from qualifying for extra help under the Medicare drug program. Announces America's Top 100 Places to Live for 2007

HOWELL, Mich., April 18 /PRNewswire/ --, a website that provides relocating consumers access to resources for their upcoming relocation has released its annual list of "America's Top 100 Places to Live for 2007."

"We received nominations for thousands of great communities across the country, all vying to be part of the annual list," said Steve Nickerson, president and CEO. "This year's main nomination and selection process factors ranged from education to environmentally friendly communities as well as economic and housing considerations."

In order to make the list a community must first be nominated by someone familiar with the community's benefits. Relocate-America's editorial team reviews the nominations for compelling reasons that make the community a top place to live. Such descriptions often include references to a community's:

-- People and neighborhoods
-- Beauty of area
-- Schools
-- Activities
-- Economic health
-- Environmental health

For verification and ranking, the towns are also reviewed for education, crime, employment and housing data for the past year.

From the Top 100, the Top 10 communities are ranked and the remaining 90 are compiled alphabetically to recognize the other communities on the list.

The Top 10 communities from "America's Top 100 Places to Live in 2007" are:

1. Asheville, NC
2. Traverse City, MI
3. Ithaca, NY
4. Chicago, IL
5. Cary, NC
6. Portland, ME
7. San Francisco, CA
8. Stevens Point, WI
9. O'Fallon, MO
10. Spencer, IA

The complete Top 100 List, compiled annually since 1998, can be viewed at

Nominating a town can be done by anyone by visiting and completing the questionnaire.

Relocate-America is owned by HomeRoute. HomeRoute is a member of NAR, & the Michigan & Livingston Association of REALTORS(R).

About HomeRoute:

HomeRoute's corporate office is located in Howell, Michigan and has been providing consumers with the help they need to make wise decisions regarding relocation since 1997. Through its nationwide network of REALTOR(R) partners HomeRoute helps serve 250,000 real estate consumers each year. For additional information on HomeRoute, please visit

2007 America's TOP 100 Places To Live:

Anchorage, AK Fruit Cove, FL Madisonville, LA
Huntsville, AL Longwood, FL Mandeville, LA
Hot Springs Village, AR Sarasota, FL Plymouth, MA
Kingman, AZ Tallahassee, FL Portland, ME
Lake Havasu City, AZ The Villages, FL Birmingham, MI
Sierra Vista, AZ Covington, GA Traverse City, MI
Surprise, AZ Peachtree City, GA Troy, MI
Berkeley, CA Rome, GA Duluth, MN
Exeter, CA Cedar Rapids, IA Marshall, MN
Rancho Cucamonga, CA Emmetsburg, IA Lee's Summit, MO
San Diego, CA Spencer, IA O'Fallon, MO
San Francisco, CA Boise, ID Billings, MT
Temecula, CA Champaign, IL Asheville, NC
Estes Park, CO Chicago, IL Beaufort, NC
Fort Collins, CO Naperville, IL Blowing Rock, NC
Highlands Ranch, CO Urbana, IL Cary, NC
Goshen, CT Avon, IN Greenville, NC
Old Saybrook, CT Bloomington, IN Wilmington, NC
Rocky Hill, CT Manhattan, KS Bismarck, ND
Bonita Springs, FL Overland Park, KS Dover, NH
Bradenton, FL Lexington, KY Branchburg, NJ
Cape Coral, FL Louisville, KY Ithaca, NY
New York, NY Greenville, SC Smithfield, VA
Oswego, NY Rapid City, SD Burlington, VT
Saratoga Springs, NY Brentwood, TN Bellingham, WA
Columbus, OH Knoxville, TN Seattle, WA
Edmond, OK Nashville, TN Spokane, WA
Norman, OK Austin, TX Vancouver, WA
Klamath Falls, OR Fredericksburg, TX Madison, WI
Portland, OR Houston, TX Stevens Point, WI
Harrisburg, PA American Fork, UT West Salem, WI
Pittsburgh, PA Arlington, VA Wheeling, WV
State College, PA Chesapeake, VA
Westerly, RI Roanoke, VA


Episcopal Campus ministry reaches out in response to Virginia Tech campus shooting

By Mary Frances Schjonberg, April 16, 2007
[Episcopal News Service] Members of the Canterbury House Episcopal ministry on the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University plan to gather on the evening of April 18 for a memorial and healing service, following an April 16 shooting spree at the school which is being called the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

The Rev. Elizabeth Morgan, interim rector of Christ Episcopal Church, Blacksburg, Virginia,(church building pictured above left) said she was able to check on the small number of students who live at the Canterbury House and all are accounted for.

"They're fine," she told ENS.

A gunman opened fire in a dorm and classroom at Virginia Tech, killing 32 people and wounding another 24 before he was killed, according to the Washington Post.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said that the people of the Episcopal Church are shocked and saddened by the shootings at Virginia Tech. "We hold in our prayers the students, faculty, and staff of that institution, their families, and all affected by today's events," she said "As we begin to confront this senseless loss, we will continue to pray for all who grieve and search for understanding."

"Today the university was struck with a tragedy that we consider of monumental proportions," Virginia Tech president Charles Steger said at a news conference. "The university is shocked and indeed horrified that this would befall us."

The university reported shootings at opposite sides of the 2,600-acre campus, beginning at about 7:15 a.m. at West Ambler Johnston, a co-ed residence hall that houses 895 people, and continuing about two hours later at Norris Hall, an engineering building.

One student was killed in a dorm and the others were killed in the classroom, according to Virginia Tech Police Chief W.R. Flinchum.

After the shootings, all entrances to the campus were closed and classes canceled through Tuesday.

A service of Evening Prayer in remembrance of the deaths and injuries from the shootings was planned for 6 p.m. April 16 at St. John's Episcopal Church in Roanoke, Virginia.

The Canterbury Fellowship ministry on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg is part of Christ Church's outreach work.

Morgan said the town was virtually locked down after the shootings. She and her staff could hear the wail of sirens all morning but "now it's deadly silent."

The AP reported that students on campus communicated via cell phones and the internet while the shooting was going on.

Morgan said residents had some trouble communicating as telephones, especially cellular phones, were experiencing service trouble. The problems could have been due to the high winds of a nor'easter storm that began hitting the east coast of the United States on April 15 and continued into April 16. Morgan reported that medical-evacuation helicopters were grounded because of the winds.

The Christ Church staff held a prayer vigil shortly after the shootings and the church is open now for prayer -- 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. -- for the rest of the week. A sign on door of the sanctuary says "Please enter to pray."

Morgan said she anticipates an ecumenical response by the area's faith communities, but it is still too early to know what shape that service will take.

"Two of our area clergy are police chaplains but we haven't heard from them yet," she told Christie Wills, minister of communication for the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia. "I expect that we will wait on planning any services until we hear from them and find out what community services may be held."

Virginia Tech said it plans a convocation ceremony April 17.

Scott Russell, Christ Church's associate rector and campus chaplain, is in Germany and won't be back until April 18, Morgan said.

She told Wills she has made it known that Canterbury House is open and available for meals, companionship and counseling for anyone.

Wills reported to the diocese's clergy via email that there may be a need for additional clergy to help with counseling/ pastoral visits later in the week.

Bishop Neff Powell is on sabbatical and Wills reported that he has been in touch about the shootings.

-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


VIA UN Press and Media
Photo by: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

With scientists predicting that land and water resources will gradually become more scarce in the coming years, and that global warming may irreversibly alter the face of the planet, the United Nations Security Council today held its first-ever debate on the impact of climate change on security, as some delegates raised doubts over whether the Council was the proper forum to discuss the issue.

The day-long meeting, called by the United Kingdom, aimed to examine the relationship between energy, security and climate, and featured interventions from more than 50 delegations, representing imperilled island nations and industrialized greenhouse gas emitters alike. While some speakers praised the initiative, there were reservations from developing countries, which saw climate change as a socio-economic development issue to be dealt with by the more widely representative General Assembly. Many delegations also called for the United Nations to urgently consider convening a global summit on the issue.

The session was chaired by British Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, whose country holds the presidency of the 15-nation Council for April. She said that recent scientific evidence reinforced, or even exceeded, the worst fears about climate change, as she warned of migration on an unprecedented scale because of flooding, disease and famine. She also said that drought and crop failure could cause intensified competition for food, water and energy.

She said that climate change was a security issue, but it was not a matter of narrow national security -- it was about “our collective security in a fragile and increasingly interdependent world”. By holding today’s debate, the Council was not seeking to pre-empt the authority of other bodies, including the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council. The decisions that they came to, and action taken, in all those bodies required the fullest possible understanding of the issues involved. “[So] climate change can bring us together, if we have the wisdom to prevent it from driving us apart,” she declared.

Calling for a “long-term global response” to deal with climate change, along with unified efforts involving the Security Council, Member States and other international bodies, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that projected climate changes could not only have serious environmental, social and economic implications, but implications for peace and security, as well.

Suspected Virginia Tech Gunman Identified, Described as "Troubled"

The AP reported today that:

BLACKSBURG, Va. - The gunman suspected of carrying out the Virginia Tech massacre that left 33 people dead was identified Tuesday as an English major whose creative writing was so disturbing that he was referred to the school's counseling service.

News reports also said that he may have been taking medication for depression, that he was becoming increasingly violent and erratic, and that he left a note in his dorm in which he railed against "rich kids," "debauchery" and "deceitful charlatans" on campus.

Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year-old senior,(pictured above left) arrived in the United States as boy from South Korea in 1992 and was raised in suburban Washington, D.C., officials said. He was living on campus in a different dorm from the one where Monday's bloodbath began.

Police and university officials offered no clues as to exactly what set him off on the deadliest shooting rampage in modern U.S. history.

"He was a loner, and we're having difficulty finding information about him," school spokesman Larry Hincker said.

Professor Carolyn Rude, chairwoman of the university's English department, said she did not personally know the gunman. But she said she spoke with Lucinda Roy, the department's director of creative writing, who had Cho in one of her classes and described him as "troubled."

"There was some concern about him," Rude said. "Sometimes, in creative writing, people reveal things and you never know if it's creative or if they're describing things, if they're imagining things or just how real it might be. But we're all alert to not ignore things like this."

She said Cho was referred to the counseling service, but she said she did not know when, or what the outcome was. Rude refused to release any of his writings or his grades, citing privacy laws.

The Chicago Tribune reported on its Web site that he left a note in his dorm room that included a rambling list of grievances. Citing identified sources, the Tribune said he had recently shown troubling signs, including setting a fire in a dorm room and stalking some women.

ABC, citing law enforcement sources, reported that the note, several pages long, explains Cho's actions and says, "You caused me to do this."

Investigators believe Cho at some point had been taking medication for depression, the Tribune reported.

The complete story may be found here:

Violence Policy Center Issues Statement, Recounts Past Mass Shootings in U. S.

Issued April 16,2007
In the wake of the mass shooting today at Virginia Tech, Violence Policy Center Executive Director Josh Sugarmann issued the following statement:

"Mass shootings have come to define our nation. Today's shooting at Virginia Tech--the largest mass shooting in U.S. history--is only the latest in a continuing series over the past two decades. These tragedies are the inevitable result of the ease with which the firepower necessary to slaughter dozens of innocents can be obtained. We allow virtually anyone the means to turn almost any venue into a battlefield. In the wake of these shootings, too many routinely search for any reason for the tragedy except for the most obvious--the easy access to increasingly lethal firearms that make mass killings possible."

Prior Deadliest U.S. Shootings

The April 16 shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech where it is reported that 31 are dead and another 24 are wounded is the most deadly in U.S. history. The prior deadliest shootings in the United States are:

24 dead, 20 wounded
Luby's Cafeteria
Killeen, Texas
October 16, 1991

22 dead, 19 wounded
McDonald's Restaurant
San Ysidro, California
July 18, 1984

17 dead, 31 wounded
University of Texas Tower
Austin, Texas
August 1, 1966

15 dead, 23 wounded
Columbine High School
Littleton, Colorado
April 20, 1999

15 dead, 6 wounded
Edmond Post Office
Edmond, Oklahoma
August 20, 1986

Monday, April 16, 2007

Archbishop of Canterbury announces he will meet with Episcopal Church

Photo credit:by Brian G. Bukowski, Episcopal Life
By Mary Frances Schjonberg and Solange de Santis, April 16, 2007
[Episcopal News Service] The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, announced April 16 that he intends to visit the United States this autumn in response to the invitation from the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church.

Speaking in a news conference in Toronto, Williams said he would make the visit together with members of the Standing Committee of the Primates, of which Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is a member, and the Anglican Consultative Council.

"I look forward to some sharing of our experiences as pastors as well as discussion of the business of the Communion. These are complicated days for our church internationally and it's all the more important to keep up personal relationships and conversations," he said. "My aim is to try and keep people around the table as long as possible on this, to understand one another, and to encourage local churches on this side of the Atlantic and elsewhere to ask what they might need to do to keep in that conversation, to keep around the table."

Williams said the meeting will take place during the House of Bishops' previously scheduled fall gathering in New Orleans September 20-25.

"I am glad that he has accepted this invitation, and I know the other bishops will be glad, as well," Jefferts Schori told ENS in an interview following Williams' announcement. "We look forward to a conversation together in September."

Jefferts Schori said that she has received replies from some members of the Joint Standing Committee indicating their plans to attend. Replies from other members are still pending at this time, she said.

This will be the first time Williams has met with the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops or attended a meeting of any of the church's leadership bodies such as General Convention or Executive Council.

The House of Bishops said on March 20 "there is an urgent need for us to meet face to face with the Archbishop of Canterbury and members of the Primates' Standing Committee" and requested and urged Jefferts Schori and Williams to negotiate a meeting "at the earliest possible opportunity."

Jefferts Schori has underscored in earlier interviews that the House of Bishops' resolution inviting the Archbishop of Canterbury to meet with them was passed unanimously.

When Williams did not respond, there was speculation that he would not accept the bishops' initiation.

"Whatever has been said in the press, there's never been any suggestion I should decline that invitation," Williams said at the Toronto news conference. "These are difficult days because I think the (global Anglican) Communion in recent years has had to face the fact that the division on certain subjects, especially human sexuality, has been getting much more deep and bitter and threatens to divide us."

The bishops' request came in the form of a resolution passed during their March 16-21 meeting at Camp Allen in Navasota, Texas, northwest of Houston. It was one of three resolutions the bishops passed in response to a communiqué issued by the Primates of the Anglican Communion at the end of their meeting in February in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Virginia Tech Campus Remains Closed After Shootings, Victim Toll Rises (Second Update)

Death Toll Reaches Thirty-Three
2nd Update
From Virginia Tech University Website
04.16.2007, Updated 9:15 p.m. Eastern Time

Two shooting incidents on campus today have left 33 dead. Thirty-one, including the gunman, died at Norris Hall; two died at West Ambler Johnston Hall. Fifteen other victims from Norris are being treated at area hospitals.

Officials are in the process of identifying victims and notifying next-of-kin. Names will not be released until that process is complete.

The university will remain closed Tuesday. Essential personnel are to report for work. Classes are canceled.

A public gathering will be held Tuesday at Cassell Coliseum at 2 p.m.

Statements by President Charles W. Steger

April 16, 2007 | 4:30 p.m.

With me today is the Secretary of Public Safety for the Commonwealth of Virginia, John Marshall and the Superintendent of Virginia State Police, Steve Flaherty. Also present if the Mayor of Blacksburg, Ron Rordham; the chief of Blacksburg PD, Kim Crannis; the chief of Virginia Tech Police, Wendell Flinchum.

I want to repeat my horror, disbelief, and profound sorrow at the events of today. People from around the world have expressed their shock and sorrow and endless sadness that has transpired today. I am at a loss for words to explain or understand the camage that visited our campus.

I know no other way to speak about this than to tell you what we know.

It is now confirmed that we have 31 deaths from Norris Hall, including the gunman. 15 other victims are being treated at local hospitals in the Roanoke and New River Valleys. There are two confirmed deaths from the shooting in Ambler Johnston Dormitory in addition to the 31 in Norris.

We have not confirmed his identity of the gunman because he carried no identification on his person. We are in the process of attempting identification.

Norris Hall is a tragic and sorrowful crime scene. We are in the process of identifying victims and in the process of notifying next of kin. This may take a while. We will not release any names until we are positive of this notification. We anticipate being able to release a list sometime tomorrow.

We are asking students to contact their parents to let them know their status.

Our investigation continues into whether there is a connection between the first and second incidents.

We know that parents will want to embrace their children. We are not suggesting that you come to campus. However, if parents feel that they must come to campus, we are locating counselors at The Inn and Skelton Conference Center.

As you can imagine, security, investigation, operational, and counseling resources are very taxed at the moment. However, we are getting assistance from the state police, the FBI, ATF, local jurisdictions, and the Red Cross. And we understand the desire, indeed the compelling need to get information on the part of family, students, and loved ones, but unfortunately this is all the information we have at the time.