Sunday, April 24, 2005


The situation in Darfur is just unbelievably horrific. I suppose that is why I hadn't posted about this previously. It is sad that the international community has basically allowed these atrocities to continue. Recently, a group at my college has begun organizing a chapter of Amnesty International; they are hoping to get the college community to help create awareness on this issue - hence this post.

Amnesty International USA has a very good page containing a late update on the situation and some links for action. Please take a moment, educate yourself, and act.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Pay Equity Day

Today (what's left of it) is "Equal Pay Day". This day symbolizes how far into the next year women must work on average to earn as much as men earned the previous year!

Today is a good day to reflect on the problems women still face in the workplace. Discrimination (yes, still in 2005), the glass ceiling, the sticky floor, and less monetary value placed on "women's work" such as child care, all contribute to the problem.

Today is a good day to remember that many women are either the sole support of their families or provide a vital part of family income. By expanding the choices women view on their horizons, by allowing them to progress as far in their careers as their talents can carry them, and by compensating them fairly, not only women, but families and society will greatly benefit. Families will have a better standard of living and society will feel the impact of their fully utilized capabilities.

The Coalition of Labor Union Women has an Equal Pay Day site, as does the National Committee on Pay Equity.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Now Hear Us!

While reading about the 2005 Jefferson Center Muzzles, something I'd thought about previously came to mind. The Muzzles cited both major parties for their treatment of protesters. The right to protest and dissent is central to our democracy. It should be cherished, not stifled. We should all be concerned about the treatment given to protesters. The next hot issue may be one which makes us want to join a protest. How would we care to be treated?

The thought that occurred to me, however, is that I wonder just how effective such protests really are. Lawmakers and decision makers are very insulated from us now. There are so many layers of security, lobbyists, and staff between ordinary citizens and our representatives that it's difficult for us common citizens to make our voices heard. Town hall meetings with the President are filled with partisan crowds, so very little real discussion of issues is heard. I'm not much on going to marches, but I do often send e-mails or letters to national and state officials. I wonder how effective even that is. We need to find ways to (civilly, of course) break through and get our decision makers to pay attention. Maybe they should be required to visit a grocery store at least once a month. They could meet us and see the challenges some people face in order to feed a family. Maybe there should be "People's" press conferences (regularly, not just during debating season) where ordinary folks are selected by lottery to ask questions. Maybe there should be some limits on the access lobbyists have. Maybe, as was mentioned earlier, there should be real campaign finance reform. What do you think?

Happy Birthday, Thomas Jefferson!

I know it's getting late in the day, but Happy Birthday, nevertheless to our Third President. He reminded us that freedom of speech "cannot be limited without being lost."

Let's remember some more thoughts of Jefferson's as his birthday celebration winds down:

"Educate and inform the whole mass of the people...They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty."

"All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent."

"I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

Those are excellent observations that all of us should remain mindful of.

On or around his birthday, the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression gives out the "Muzzles" to those who have tried to stifle free expression. Go here - or use the link in the side bar - to read about the 2005 Muzzle awardees. I found the story of the high school valedictorian who stood up for her right to free speech against the school who earned a Muzzle very inspiring.

Saturday, April 9, 2005

Journalism Under Fire

I truly believe that an independent judiciary is crucial to our system of government. I believe that a free and independent press is as well. That's why I hope the courts would lighten up and not force journalists to reveal confidential sources. Jim Taricani, a Rhode Island reporter was just freed today after serving a sentence of home confinement for not revealing a source. I believe that if a source needs confidentiality, this should be honored. Sometimes, that is the only way the person may feel comfortable about providing information. Without this type of information, often the public would not be completely informed. I want a press that is not afraid to investigate and question everything, especially the government!

Here's another article about recent developments in this area. I hope that we all will support the establishment of a federal shield law for journalists.

Friday, April 8, 2005

Keep the "Third Branch" Independent

I'm very concerned about the rhetoric and posturing that has been going on concerning our judiciary. Yesterday, the religious right had a conference on "Confronting the Judicial War on Faith". I wonder if these folks care about what the Constitution says. Rep. DeLay (who has "threatened" judges recently) and others want Congress to interject itself into the judiciary system.

At this point, everyone's alarm bells should be ringing. The Constitution of the United States created 3 independent branches of government, so that there would be checks and balances on power. For Congress to intervene or otherwise pressure the judiciary as they are proposing would compromise an independent judiciary, which is vital to our democracy.

I'm with Sen. Minority Leader, Harry Reid. The Sen. is quoted as saying, "I believe in our Constitution. I believe in the separation of powers doctrine. I believe that the Founding Fathers were wise in developing these branches of government - executive branch, legislative branch, judicial branch - one having no more power than the other".

Another Threat to Online Privacy

I'm a fairly upstanding person, but I still value what little online privacy I may have left. I'm always complaining about "cookies". I won't accept them unless absolutely necessary. Although they are "supposedly" to help a website remember you (why?) or remember what pages you've visited if you're ordering from them, I suspect their real purpose is just to track our movements on the web. In fact, one of the tech support people at my ISP told me he thought there was no such thing as a good cookie.

I'm also alarmed at the personal information some websites want if they make you "register" to use them. For example, both my local newspaper and the Philadelphia Inquirer ask for your birthdate! Ok, so maybe I shouldn't be so sensitive about my age, but there is another reason I haven't registered with either one. In an age in which we have to guard against identity theft, a birthdate is sensitive information that we shouldn't have to give out just for some registration purposes. We all ought to be concerned about the availability of personal information in this digital society. For example, this article investigates how information brokers sell social security numbers, often with little or no verification that the request was legitimate.

Now, getting back to cookies. It seems a company, United Virtualities, has found a way to restore cookies that have been deleted from hard drives! Their system uses Macromedia flash player. You may want to read this and use the link provided to get information on adjusting your flash player settings.

We need to let our legislators (state and national know) that we are concerned about privacy issues and want legislation to address them. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of CA has introduced several pieces of legislation that could help consumers with some online privacy issues.

P. S. I also e-mailed United Virtualities to tell them I was not fond of their cookie-busting technique. Links are current as of today, 4/8.

Monday, April 4, 2005

H. R. 27 Alert

I'm continually outraged at many recent events. On March 2, the U. S. House approved H. R. 27, the Job Training Investment Act. That sounds good, but in this latest update, certain anti-discrimination language pertaining to faith-based employers has been removed - specifically, there is would be no protection against such employers discriminating on the basis of religion. As of now, these employers must comply with all Federal anti-discrimination guidelines.

This has been opposed by People for the American Way (read their statement here ) and The Interfaith Alliance (their statement is here - scroll down their list of press releases).

Shouldn't recipients of Federal dollars consider all job candidates equally, regardless of religion or creed? Remember, our tax dollars would be funding this. As PFAW points out, the functions of worship and providing community services can easily be kept separate, so there is no real reason to have such employers be exempted from observing the guidelines others are subject to. The bill is now being considered in the Senate. It might be a good idea to let your Senators know how you feel on this issue.

We Need More Openness

For anyone who hasn't read the reports, here are two more articles highlighting the trend of this administration toward media manipulation and stifling dissent. The first is by Helen Thomas, a very respected journalist. The second is by Ron Hutcheson of Knight Ridder.

When someone first told me that (at least some) audience members in Bush's campaign events had to sign loyalty oaths, I didn't believe it. However, this has been fairly
well documented. I can't believe more people aren't outraged about this. Helen Thomas also mentions some questionable media practices by the Bush camp which have recently come to light. This makes me wonder why the media are so compliant! I can't remember where I read it now, but I read an article contrasting the coverage of protesters against the administration and protesters for Terri Schiavo having her feeding tube reinserted. Groups protesting administration policies barely get noticed, while the other group was given quite a lot of coverage. We need a good, free and independent press; I hope that more journalists will stand up to ensure that Americans have full and correct information with which to make decisions.

Open access to independent information, and open discussion, including dissent, are essential for democracy to work. Have we forgotten this? We preach democracy around the world; the best advertisement for it would be its full practice here at home.

Saturday, April 2, 2005

Never off the Clock?

Work is work and home is home (unless you work from home...), right? There are some employers that are regulating - at least tobacco use - quite closely. Here is an article with some highlights of what has been going on. It should be available for the next 14 days.

Is anyone else troubled by this trendzoid? A commissioner in Montgomery Co., PA wants to propose that the county create a policy of not hiring smokers. Weyco, Inc. (mentioned in the article referenced above) actually demands that employees not use tobacco even when not at work, going so far as to require random tests. A Michigan State Senator is drafting legislation to make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of a worker's LEGAL activities outside the workplace (unless it would infringe on his or her ability to do the job or if there's a conflict of interest with the organization). My state, NJ (one of 29) does have such a law.

I'm not a smoker; I've been known to tell folks that "It's not good for you". I would advocate that anyone who can quit this habit certainly should. However, I find these stories very troubling. Employers already have so much control over our lives, to have them exert more control over our private lives is a clear erosion of our personal freedoms. As Al Lewis suggests in the article, we don't know what they might start regulating next.

Do no Harm? Pass No Judgement?

If you've been paying attention, maybe you've noticed more salvos of the culture war in the health care field. There have been reports of pharmacists not filling prescriptions because they had some moral objection to the drug involved (often contraceptives). First, there is some good news. Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich approved an emergency rule requiring pharmacies to fill contraceptive prescriptions with no hassles given to the client. Under the rule, if a pharmacists objects to filling the prescription, another must step in and fill it. Hopefully a permanent rule will be ready by the time this rule is set to expire.

Now the bad news: the Michigan House passed a bill which would allow health care workers to object within 24 hours to providing a service they are personally against, or protest providing a service to someone they have a personal objection to.

I can't believe this. Why would a person go into a helping profession if he or she doesn't want to help people? That means providing care without imposing judgement, in my opinion. I had to be on the pill for a while when I was in college. The reason had nothing to do with contraception. I needed that prescription to regulate my cycle. I can't imagine how I would have felt if I'd been hassled by a pharmacist about using them, or what might have happened if that prescription hadn't been filled.

There is great danger for abuse here. Single people might be denied contraception because of some moral objection of the pharmacist. Morning after pills might not be as readily available to rape victims. A patient might be denied care if the patient's sexual orientation or lifestyle conflicts with the beliefs of the health care provider. Having these moral beliefs is a personal privilege, but when providing services necessary to enhance and sustain life is concerned, I feel we should do so without discrimination based on them. My job is to teach all of my students - not just the ones who fit my own mold of morality. We must be vigilant and make sure that the job of providing good health care is done on a nondiscriminatory basis.