Thursday, June 22, 2006Amazing. Utterly amazing. What further sign do we need, really, that there is systematic disenfranchisement going on? If anything, If anything, voting rights need to be expanded so they can't get away with stealing elections like in 2000 with a database of mostly black democrats...uh...I mean "felons".
WASHINGTON — The Voting Rights Act, which has protected minority voters from discrimination since its passage more than 40 years ago, appeared headed for an easy reaffirmation in the House on Wednesday — until conflicts old and new clouded its future.
Amid wide bipartisan support — the House Judiciary Committee approved the measure last month by a 33-1 vote — Republican leaders scheduled a floor debate, hoping to use the bill's passage for an election-year outreach to minority voters. The landmark legislation is due to expire next year, and advocacy groups have been pressing for its renewal for another 25 years.
But in a private morning meeting, Republicans raised objections that forced House leaders to yank the bill from the floor.
One concern had its roots in the bill's origins. The legislation requires nine states with a documented history of discrimination against black voters — such as poll taxes and literacy tests — to get Justice Department approval for their election laws.
Another objection, a spillover from the contentious debate on immigration, had to do with requirements in some states for ballots printed in several languages and the presence of interpreters at polling places where large numbers of citizens speak limited English.
Some members of the Republican caucus also suggested delaying the debate until the Supreme Court issued a ruling in a controversial 2003 Texas redistricting case. That decision, expected in the next two weeks, will examine the issue of whether Latino voters were disenfranchised.
Whatever the fuel, Wednesday's delay set off a series of brush fires on Capitol Hill.
"It was heated," said Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.), who supports an amendment by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) to end a requirement for bilingual ballots in jurisdictions where at least 5% of the population speaks a language other than English. "I've been in meetings for two hours. There are meetings going on all over the Hill."
Officially, House Republican leaders said in a statement that they were "committed to passing the Voting Rights Act legislation as soon as possible." Unofficially, some aides said the leadership might schedule the vote again after the July 4 recess.
Although dismayed by the delay, Democrats seized the chance to spotlight the rare public dissension in Republican ranks.
"I hope that the Republicans will be able to quickly resolve their differences and that the Congress will be able to pass this vital legislation," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco). "It is critical that we do so as soon as possible, because our democracy depends on protecting the right of every American citizen to vote."
"Apparently, the leadership of the Republican Party cannot bring its own rank-and-file members into line to support the Voting Rights Act," said Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), who represents Selma and Birmingham — the sites of seminal events in the civil rights movement that produced the bill in 1965. "That ought to be a significant embarrassment as they fan around the country trying to skim off a few black votes in the next four months."
Part of the problem, according to some GOP congressional aides, was that the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), was unavailable to answer questions and allay concerns. In addition, they said, he consulted more often with his Senate counterparts than with members of his own party during deliberations over the bill.
In a statement issued later Wednesday, Sensenbrenner defended both the bill and the process. "Some members, whom I believe are misinformed, have expressed concerns about voting on this legislation now," he said.
Noting that the committee has held 12 hearings and amassed more than 12,000 pages of testimony, Sensenbrenner said the bill was one Republicans and Democrats could be "proud of because it ensures that when discriminatory practices of the past resurface, they are quickly put to rest. I hope the House leadership will bring [the bill] to the floor in the near future."
Sensenbrenner thinks opponents "keep moving the goal post," said an aide who asked not to be identified. Some of the issues being raised — such as bilingual ballots — first came up in committee, where efforts to change them were defeated, the aide said.
The House delay could complicate matters in the Senate, where Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) had planned to bring up an identical bill next week before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The effort to amend the requirement that nine states clear election laws with the Justice Department was led by Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.). The requirement, he argued, unfairly singled out Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.
Others saw the vote as a vehicle to address the growing language gap in American culture. After waking up to headlines suggesting that House leaders were delaying President Bush's push to overhaul immigration laws, Garrett said he hit the telephones to rouse his constituents.
"I've been on the talk radio circuit in the last 24 hours just to get the message out to let their representatives know how they feel," he said. "If we have until after the Fourth, the issue will resonate with the base."
Minority and advocacy groups will also likely rally in coming weeks.
"The notion that a handful of Republicans from Southern states can rally enough support to hijack reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act is a slap in the face," said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles). "This delay is inexcusable."
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
City moves to limit mass meals for homeless
Rich Mckay | Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted June 20, 2006
If charitable groups want to feed the homeless in Orlando, they'll have to find someplace other than Lake Eola Park -- or any city park, for that matter -- to do it.
The City Council effectively banned serving food to homeless people in parks, after a 3 1/2-hour public session Monday that included testimony from more than two dozen homeless activists as well as crime-weary residents and business owners who called for action.
The meeting was preceded by a protest of about a dozen homeless people and their supporters in front of City Hall.
But they had less sway than the residents and business owners who complained that charitable groups are using Lake Eola Park, the centerpiece of downtown Orlando, as a soup kitchen. Other complaints were that the homeless are aggressively panhandling in and around the park, breaking into cars and causing other problems, including using bushes as toilets.
"Feeding the homeless is a good thing, a civic duty," downtown businessman Robin Stotter said. "But it needs to be done in the right place."
The ordinance as passed on first reading Monday was modified from an original proposal and now encompasses city property, although the intent is parks. It states that no one can feed groups of 15 or more people without a one-time-use permit, and such permits would be issued no more than twice a year to one person, and the city would dictate the location of the group feeding.
The decision faces likely legal action from the Central Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and outright defiance from at least one group that is feeding the homeless in Lake Eola Park.
"If they want war, they've got one," said Eric Montanez, 20, a volunteer with the charity Orlando Food Not Bombs. "This is not over. Believe me."
Montanez, while not speaking officially for the group, said that he and others have no intention of not feeding the hungry in a public park.
The group has at least a few weeks of breathing space. The ordinance must go before the City Council for a second vote before it becomes law. That hearing is expected in July.
"This hasn't been easy," said Commissioner Patty Sheehan, who drafted the ordinance after receiving numerous complaints from residents and business owners.
"What's heartbreaking is that I do support delivering services to the people who need them," she said.
The point of the ordinance, Sheehan said, isn't to hinder charitable work, but to take control of unregulated events and direct them to proper venues.
"I don't think it's fair to be told that we don't have a say" in how the parks are used, Sheehan said.
While the ordinance is poised to pass on its second vote, the City Council wasn't unanimous in its support. Commissioners Sam Ings and Robert Stuart voted against it.
Ings said the city should step up and help the homeless, not create obstacles.
"I encourage that we stop this now," said Stuart, executive director of the Christian Service Center. "This is bad city policy."
However, he said he would vote for it on the second reading, but he hopes to add an amendment to sunset the ordinance in a year, meaning it would come up for vote again.
Roberto Dijols, 49, who said he is homeless and was protesting outside City Hall before the hearing, asked how a group of homeless people eating in the park could be treated differently from a big family holding a picnic.
"It's not a crime to be poor, to be hungry," he said. "Well, maybe it is."
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
National Guard Ordered to New Orleans
Louisiana Governor Orders National Guard to Patrol New Orleans After Deadly Weekend
By CAIN BURDEAU
NEW ORLEANS Jun 20, 2006 (AP)— Gov. Kathleen Blanco ordered National Guardsmen to help police patrol the city for the first time since Hurricane Katrina, following a bloody weekend that brought fears of crime disrupting the city's delicate reconstruction.
At Mayor Ray Nagin's request, Blanco ordered 100 troops and committed to send 200 more soon and 60 state police troopers to head to the city Tuesday to support the Police Department. Six people were killed over the weekend, including five teenagers in one incident.
"The situation is urgent," Blanco said. "Things like this should never happen, and I am going to do all I can to stop it."
Blanco said reinforcements would cycle in-and-out of the city. No deadline has been set for their mission, which did not require a special order because Louisiana is still under a state of emergency 10 months after Katrina hit on Aug. 29.
The troops were to patrol heavily damaged and largely unpopulated neighborhoods, freeing police to focus on hot spots. State troopers will work mostly in the French Quarter, where they often patrol during major events like Mardi Gras.
It was the first time the National Guard has been used for law enforcement in the United States since the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
"I'm just delighted," said King Milling, a New Orleans banker. "The powers that be recognize that this is an issue that we must deal with."
Frustration over a rise in crime reached a tipping point on Saturday when five teenagers in an SUV were shot and killed in the city's deadliest attack in at least 11 years. Police said the attack was apparently motivated by drugs or revenge. Also, a man was stabbed to death Sunday night in an argument over beer.
The killings brought this year's murder toll to 53, raising fears that violence was back on the rise in a city that was plagued by violent crime before Katrina drove out much of the population last year.
There were 17 killings in the first three months of 2006, and 36 since the start of April.
Monday, June 19, 2006
Turning the Corner Right Into a Blind Alley: WaPo receives memo from embassy in Baghdad that says the situation is deteroriatingTime to go after the leakers! Seriously...ugh. It's not surprising that, yet again, the media is trying to put a rosy tint on a horrible situation, but it is discouraging that they contine to do so.
'Wash Post' Obtains Shocking Memo from U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Details Increasing Danger and Hardship
By Greg Mitchell
Published: June 18, 2006 6:20 PM ET
NEW YORK The Washington Post has obtained a cable, marked "sensitive," that it says show that just before President Bush left on a surprise trip last Monday to the Green Zone in Baghdad for an upbeat assessment of the situation there, "the U.S. Embassy in Iraq painted a starkly different portrait of increasing danger and hardship faced by its Iraqi employees."
This cable outlines, the Post reported Sunday, "the daily-worsening conditions for those who live outside the heavily guarded international zone: harassment, threats and the employees' constant fears that their neighbors will discover they work for the U.S. government."
It's actually far worse than that, as the details published below indicate, which include references to abductions, threats to women's rights, and "ethnic cleansing."
A PDF copy of the cable shows that it was sent to the SecState in Washington, D.C. from "AMEmbassy Baghdad" on June 6. The typed name at the very bottom is Khalilzad -- the name of the U.S. Ambassador, though it is not known if this means he wrote the memo or merely approved it.
The subject of the memo is: "Snapshots from the Office -- Public Affairs Staff Show Strains of Social Discord."
As a footnote in one of the 23 sections, the embassy relates, "An Arab newspaper editor told us he is preparing an extensive survey of ethnic cleansing, which he said is taking place in almost every Iraqi province, as political parties and their militiast are seemingly engaged in tit-for-tat reprisals all over Iraq."
Among the other troubling reports:
-- "Personal safety depends on good relations with the 'neighborhood' governments, who barricade streets and ward off outsiders. The central government, our staff says, is not relevant; even local mukhtars have been displaced or coopted by militias. People no longer trust most neighbors."
-- One embassy employee had a brother-in-law kidnapped. Another received a death threat, and then fled the country with her family.
-- Iraqi staff at the embassy, beginning in March and picking up in May, report "pervasive" harassment from Islamist and/or militia groups. Cuts in power and rising fuel prices "have diminished the quality of life." Conditions vary but even upscale neighborhoods "have visibly deteriorated" and one of them is now described as a "ghost town."
-- Two of the three female Iraqis in the public affairs office reported stepped-up harassment since mid-May...."some groups are pushing women to cover even their face, a step not taken in Iran even at its most conservative." One of the women is now wearing a full abaya after receiving direct threats.
-- It has also become "dangerous" for men to wear shorts in public and "they no longer allow their children to play outside in shorts." People who wear jeans in public have also come under attack.
-- Embassy employees are held in such low esteem their work must remain a secret and they live with constant fear that their cover will be blown. Of nine staffers, only four have told their families where they work. They all plan for their possible abductions. No one takes home their cell phones as this gives them away. One employee said criticism of the U.S. had grown so severe that most of her family believes the U.S. "is punishing populations as Saddam did."
-- Since April, the "demeanor" of guards in the Green Zone has changed, becoming more "militia-like," and some are now "taunting" embassy personnel or holding up their credentials and saying loudly that they work in the embassy: "Such information is a death sentence if overheard by the wrong people." For this reason, some have asked for press instead of embassy credentials.
-- "For at least six months, we have not been able to use any local staff members for translation at on-camera press events....We cannot call employees in on weekends or holidays without blowing their 'cover.'"
-- "More recently, we have begun shredding documents printed out that show local staff surnames. In March, a few staff members approached us to ask what provisions would we make for them if we evacuate."
-- The overall environment is one of "frayed social networks," with frequent actual or perceived insults. None of this is helped by lack of electricity. "One colleague told us he feels 'defeated' by circumstances, citing his example of being unable to help his two-year-old son who has asthma and cannot sleep in stifling heat," which is now reaching 115 degrees.
-- "Another employee tell us that life outside the Green Zone has become 'emotionally draining.' He lives in a mostly Shiite area and claims to attend a funeral 'every evening.'"
-- Fuel lines have grown so long that one staffer spent 12 hours in line on his day off. "Employees all confirm that by the last week of May, they were getting one hour of power for every six hours without.....One staff member reported that a friend lives in a building that houses a new minister; within 24 hours of his appointment, her building had city power 24 hours a day."
-- The cable concludes that employees' "personal fears are reinforcing divisive sectarian or ethnic channels, despite talk of reconciliation by officials."
The final line of the Cable is: KHALILZAD