Friday, December 22, 2006

Goode For Nothing

What makes the first amendment a remarkable piece of writing is that it protects anyone's right to pretty much say any damn thing they want, no matter how ignorant, prejudicial or just plain stupid.

That's a good thing for Virginia congressional representative, Virgil Goode (R), who in a recent letter to his constituents wrote, "The Muslim representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran."

The representative in question is Keith Ellison who is Muslim and who has elected to take the oath of office on the Koran rather than the Bible. In an interview with Fox News, Goode defended his letter saying, "I wish more people would take a stand and stand up for the principles on which this country was founded." He went on to say that he would like to do away with visas that let in people, "not from European countries."

I'm not sure what I find more disturbing; Mr. Goode's sentiments, his unbelievable ignorance about the founding of his own country, or the fact that his constituents re-elected him just a little over a month ago. I am sure of this, however:

As both an elected official and as a Virginian, Mr. Goode should be ashamed.

For it was his fellow Virginians James Madison and Thomas Jefferson who wrote much of the language that shaped the United States. Their words formed the bedrock values of a fledging nation; language that guarantees free speech, protects the right to dissent from the majority view, and to worship or not to worship as one sees fit. These men well understood the importance that a government has allegiance to no religious viewpoint, and moreover, that it not impose a religious point of view on its citizens.

Representative Goode would do well to bone up on the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, before the 110th Congress convenes, in order to better acquaint himself with the principles upon which he attempts to create law.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye 109th Congress

If you type the phrase "Miserable Failure" into the Google search engine, you'll get an interesting result. Through a technique known as "google bombing," which exploits the sites ranking feature, the White House biography of George W. Bush appears first on the results list. While it may seem fitting, it is not an honour that should be his alone.

An equally strong case could be made for the exiting 109th Congress.

The 109th embodied the phrase, style over substance, through snide, high profile legislation such as the anti-flag burning amendment" and the "defense of marriage act." No matter what the odds of failure, there was no emotional hot button topic that the 109th wasn't willing to push. Granted, none of the legislation passed, but at least they got their names in the media.

Many in the media have labeled the 109th, the "Do-Nothing Congress," but as CNN Political Research Director Robert Yoon notes today, nothing could be further from the truth. The exiting Congress was responsible for 383 pieces of legislation that were ultimately signed into law. So perhaps labeling their tenure as a miserable failure is a bit too strong.

That is until you find out that over one quarter of the legislation dealt with the naming or renaming of federal buildings!

And since the President signs legislation into law, well... you can extrapolate from there.

Sure things such as Katrina relief, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, inflated gas prices, the ballooning federal deficit and the incredible trade deficit didn't get dealt with. There apparently wasn't enough time!

On the plus side there are now federal buildingss named after Ray Charles, Shirley Chisolm and Rosa Parks. Don't get me wrong, these are three Americans who I greatly admire. Their contributions to our country and culture are well known and in many cases came from tremendous personal sacrifice. They deserve the honour that was bestowed upon them and more.

It's just that I can't help but think that they'd have gladly declined it, if doing so meant that one less family lived in poverty, or that one less child lost a parent to war...

Friday, December 01, 2006

HIV/AIDS: Failure Is NOT An Option

Imagine for a moment that you go to the movies to catch the latest Hollywood blockbuster release. The film has gotten great reviews and the theatre is jam packed with patrons. The movie is terrific, but when the lights come back on you notice something strange.

Everyone around you is dead.

Each day in South Africa an estimated 950 people die from AIDS and AIDS related diseases. It's the equivalent of the entire movie theatre dying around you.

And it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In the twenty years that HIV/AIDS has more or less been in the public consciousness, rather than decrease, the worldwide infection and death rate has actually increased.

  • In 2004, 36.9 million people were living with HIV. Today that number is 39.5 million.
  • In 2005, 2.7 million people died from AIDS and AIDS related illnesses. In 2006 that number reached 2.9 million.

In the media, we often hear about the impact of AIDS on the African continent and there's no doubt that the situation there is a health crisis disaster. But these reports may also have the unintended effect of giving those of us in other parts of the world a false sense of security. HIV/AIDS isn't in our face the way it is there. Most of us haven’t watched someone we know waste away from the disease. We might not even ever have met someone infected with the HIV virus. But before those of us living in North America or Europe feel too safe, I would like to point out that the statistics sited above, are on the rise in EVERY region of the world!

AIDS is not a gay disease and it is not an African disease. It is not an affliction of just the IV drug user. It is a human disease and it has reached epidemic proportions!

The good news is that antiretroviral HIV treatments are increasingly successful in decreasing the presence of the virus in a person's body. According to the World Health Organization, "when the drugs are given in combination, they stop the HIV virus from replicating within the body, and delay the deterioration of the immune system and onset of AIDS." The challenge however, is that the drugs are expensive (CNN estimated the cost this morning at $20,000/year) and that in third world countries, only a marginal percentage of the infected population has access to them.

We must do more.

Today, I urge you to take a positive step towards turning the tide. Here are simple things that you can do:

  • Write to your Senator and Congressional Representative. Ask them to increase the amount of governmental funding for HIV research.
  • Today, wear a red ribbon as a show of awareness and support.
  • Make a donation to an organization that supports people with HIV and or AIDS.
  • Attend an educational event and learn more about the issue.
  • Practise safe sex.

The past is pock marked with lost opportunities and failures to act. We cannot allow or afford that to continue.