Don’t Give the U.N. the Finger

Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton is a poor choice to serve as the US Ambassador to the United Nations.  From his post at the State Department, he oversaw the administration’s failed non-proliferation policy, was an outspoken proponent of the principle of pre-emptive war and was a major opponent of the International Criminal Court, which many in the UN see as the only realistic solution to the ongoing genocide in Sudan.  Moreover, Bolton is an inexperienced diplomat with a history of belligerent opposition to the United Nations itself.
In her speech announcing the nomination, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice claimed the “United States is committed to the success of the United Nations.”  She added:  “We view the UN as an important component of our diplomacy.”  Let’s hope Bolton was listening carefully and took the hint:  as recently as 1994, he claimed there was “no such thing as the United Nations,” and maintained that “if the UN Secretariat building in New York lost ten stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference” in world affairs.

United Press International recently reported Bolton’s involvement in spreading the Bush administraion’s claim that Saddam Hussein tried to acquire enriched uranium from Niger.  The State Department maintained as recently as 2003 that Bolton was not involved in promoting this dubious intelligence.  Questions about this scandal will likely be raised when confirmation hearings begin on April 7.

Please urge your Senators to oppose Bolton’s nomination.  Many Senate Democrats are beginning to take a stand, including Minority Leader Harry Reid, who called the nomination “a disappointing choice and one that sends all the wrong signals.”  You can help push the rest of them in the right direction.

Urge Your Representatives to Reject Budget Cuts

The Senate and House passed very different FY 2006 Budget Resolutions in mid-March and each are very problematic to the disability community.  The Resolutions would make large cuts to entitlement programs and limit total spending for human services discretionary programs to one percent below the current levels.  They would also provide for extensive tax cuts that limit federal revenues, thus adversely affecting the federal deficit and forcing legislators to make cuts in human services.  

Now, the Senate and House must hold conference committee meetings to try to resolve the differences between the bills and refer a final resolution back to their respective houses for a final vote.  If successful in adopting a final Budget Resolution, Congressional Appropriations Committees will then make FY 2006 spending decisions on the discretionary programs based on the targets outline in the Budget Resolution.  Other committees of jurisdiction (e.g. the Senate Finance and House Energy and Commerce (Medicaid) and Ways and Means) will also need to develop their own bills to adjust the tax cuts and the entitlement spending.

A top concern for people with disabilities is the conference committee’s deliberations over Medicaid.  So far, the House Budget Resolution calls for $20 billion cuts to Medicaid.  The Senate resolution contains no cuts to Medicaid, instead establishing a commission to study the Medicaid program.  Aside from Medicaid, both Resolutions call for large cuts to other entitlement programs (House-$49 billion – Senate-$23 billion) that may result in drastic reductions to SSI, TANF, Title XX Social Services, Foster Care and Adoption Assistance and other entitlements.  The Senate and House also call for more than $20 billion cuts to non-defense discretionary programs.  Numerous human services programs are slated to be eliminated (e.g. Supported Employment State Grants), others are expected to be frozen at current levels and only a few high priority programs may get small increases.  The combination of entitlement and domestic discretionary cuts would devastate services, supports and benefits for people with disabilities.  The proposed cuts in federal government programs are massive and, as a result, the costs for providing these services is being shifted to the states, a burden that would overwhelm state budgets already experiencing significant shortfalls.

Given the vital role Medicaid plays in the provision of health care and long-term community-based supports for The Arc’s and United Cerebral Palsy’s constituents, exempting Medicaid from any cuts or caps is a top priority.  It is also critical that SSI recipients not lose eligibility or have their meager cash benefits reduced.  Key disability discretionary programs such as special education, vocational rehabilitation, developmental disabilities, and HUD housing must be spared from cuts as well.  To accomplish this, we must ensure that the tax cuts proposed in the Budget Resolutions be limited so that balancing the federal budget does not fall solely on the backs of people with disabilities and the much needed human services programs.

Write a Letter to the Editor: Stop the Republican Power Grab

Senate Republicans are going the ultimate power grab.  They’re planning to give themselves absolute power, silencing Senate Democrats (and the millions of Americans they represent) by changing the rules and traditions of the Senate and eliminating the filibuster, a two-century Senate tradition that has preserved the voice of the minority.

Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper and help Democrats stop this unprecedented power grab.

Urge your Representative: Vote “No” on Oppressive Bankruptcy Overhaul

The House will vote next week to dramatically expand the power of banks and other lenders to force millions of Americans to pay off 100 percent of their debts even after they have filed for protection from their creditors.  Since 1997, credit card companies and banks have pushed for legislation requiring debtors to pay back every penny they owe — even if they file bankruptcy.  Representatives need to know their constituents vehemently oppose this legislation.

A recent Harvard study found that about half of all personal bankruptcies in the United States are caused by the exploding costs of medical care — with approximately two million Americans affected each year.  What’s more, most people who file for bankruptcy due to medical problems have health insurance to start with, but lose their jobs and then their health coverage as a result of their long-term health problems.

The proposed bankruptcy legislation would require people making over the median income to repay the debt regardless of the circumstances that led to their bankruptcy.  The cover story for those pushing these draconian changes is that most people file bankruptcy simply to avoid paying for frivolous excessive spending.  But the truth is, most people file bankruptcy because of a medical or economic catastrophe.  The proposed bill would line the pockets of a few credit card companies while denying millions of hardworking Americans the chance for a fresh start.

Urge your representative to stand up to the credit card companies and vote no on the proposed bankruptcy overhaul.

Tell Your Representatives to Strengthen Social Security

Social Security can meet 100 percent of its obligations until 2042–at the very least.  That’s not to say we shouldn’t take measures to strengthen the most successful U.S. program in history.  But President Bush’s proposal to establish private accounts would be a disaster for working families.

Instead of making Social Security more secure, Bush’s privatization scheme would slash guaranteed retirement benefits by 40 percent, greatly increase the federal deficit by nearly $5 trillion and allow Wall Street to make billions of dollars while opening up the system to corruption.  

We can strengthen Social Security by:

Ending the “wealthy wage exemption” so CEOs pay the same Social Security taxes on their salaries as average workers pay.

Rolling back Bush’s tax giveaways to the wealthiest one percent of Americans.

Making sure Congress lives up to its obligation that borrowed Social Security funds being held in U.S. Treasury bonds are returned to the Social

Security trust fund.

Strengthening negotiated union pensions, since Social Security was never meant to be the sole retirement benefit Social Security deserves to be strengthened–not privatized–because working families deserve the peace of mind that retirement benefits they have paid for and earned will be there when they need them.  

Contact your Representatives now and urge them to strengthen Social Security–not weaken it with private accounts!

Restore the Balance at Point Reyes

One of the greatest threats facing our national parks today remains one of the most difficult to address:  invasive species.  Also known as “aliens” and “non-natives,” these exotic plants and animals were transported as a result of human activity — both deliberate and accidental — smuggling themselves aboard cargo ships, airplanes, the bottoms of park visitors’ shoes; or even transplanted for commercial purposes.  And they are spreading across the country at an alarming rate.

Once an invasive species is introduced to a new environment, it will rapidly take hold and spread throughout its new home with no natural predators to deter its population growth.  Invasives will eat or pollute native food supplies, take over shelter and breeding areas, and crowd out habitat — eventually wiping out native populations and disrupting native ecosystems and species that have evolved in harmony for thousands of years.

America’s economy takes a hit too.  Nationwide, the impacts of invasive species cost approximately $140 billion a year.

Among the more notorious invaders include the northern snakehead fish (also referred to as “Frankenfish”), which walks on land to find and spread to nearby waterways; and zebra mussels, which have spread uncontrollably throughout the Great Lakes.  Snakeheads have voracious appetites and decimate native fish populations before seeking out new waterways.  Zebra mussels have nearly eliminated the native clam population, caused severe problems at power plants, and clogged community water supplies.

Right now, Point Reyes National Seashore is facing a serious problem from two invasive species:  non-native axis and fallow deer, imported from India and Asia Minor, respectively.  The deer were originally introduced to enhance game hunting before Point Reyes was established as a park.  When Point Reyes became a national seashore, public hunting came to a halt and the deer populations began to grow rapidly.  Today, these non-native deer pose a serious threat to the Seashore’s ecosystem and will continue to destroy the health and balance of the area without a better plan in place to manage them.

The park has drafted a non-native deer management plan, currently open for public comment.  When it is approved, it will guide non-native deer management actions for the next 15 years.  We need your support to put this plan into action.

The Park Service mandate to protect and restore native ecosystems has guided the creation of Point Reyes’ non-native deer management plan, which includes five alternatives.  NPCA encourages the park to choose Alternative D, which would proactively address the need to remove invasive, non-native species–a feasible plan, considering the financial and human resources of the park.  Supporting Alternative D will not only assist Point Reyes in protecting the health and biodiversity of its ecosystem for the future, but will also allow park managers to better attend to other resource management projects, as staff and financial burdens from eradicating invasive deer will be alleviated afterwards.  The comment period ends this Friday, April 8, so it’s URGENT that you weigh in now.

Save Phil A. Buster – Protect Checks and Balanz

For over 200 years, the Senate filibuster has been an essential part of the system of checks and balances that protects our democracy.  When the same party controls the presidency and both houses of Congress, the filibuster is the only check that prevents an abuse of power and ensures the voice of the minority party is heard.

By eliminating the Senate’s long-standing tradition of the filibuster:

A key element of our checks and balances will disappear;

The minority party – whether Republican or Democrat – would be disenfranchised;

A new era of one party rule would be ushered in;

The role of Congress will be fundamentally changed, allowing President Bush – or any future President – to push through any judicial nominee, no matter how radical, partisan or unfit to serve.

We must not allow our country’s history to be rewritten for temporary, partisan, political gain.

Please preserve our democracy, protect our system of checks and balances, and ensure the voices of all Americans, by maintaining the longstanding right of senators to filibuster.

Check Out Fair Trade…Coffee

Fair Trade Certified<sup>TM</sup&gt coffee guarantees a minimum price to small-scale coffee farmers.  Over 300 US companies already carry Fair Trade Certified<sup>TM</sup&gt coffee, but greater access to these products would allow more consumers to support struggling coffee growers.

Click on your local supermarket chain at the link below to send a message to its parent company.

Ask them to carry more Fair Trade Certified<sup>TM</sup&gt products in their main coffee aisles.

Kurdish Women’s Rights Activist Summoned to Revolutionary Court in Iran

When the Iranian government refused to register the Association of Kurdish Women for the Defense of Peace and Human Rights, Dr. Roya Toloui, one of its founding members, spoke out.  In what appears to be retaliation, Dr. Toloui was summoned to appear before a revolutionary court in Sanandaj on April 5, for interrogation.

Dr. Toloui is a leading Kurdish women’s rights and human rights activist and a champion of the rights of Iran’s Kurdish minority and women’s rights in Iran.

Dr. Toloui is an outspoken nonviolent critic of the policies of the Iranian government.  The revolutionary prosecutor in Sanandaj, the capital of Iran’s Kordestan province, has claimed that her public comments jeopardize national security.  She has also been criticized for being photographed not wearing a headscarf that all women in Iran are required to wear in public.  

Join Human Rights First in supporting Dr. Toloui’s right to freedom of expression.  Urge the Iranian government to cease its harassment and intimidation of human rights advocates.

Tell Credit Suisse to Dump Shell’s Sakhalin Oil Project!

Shell is currently seeking to build a massive oil extraction facility in the pristine waters off Sakhalin Island in the Russian Far East.  These waters are the primary fishing grounds for communities on the island, and are also home to the world’s last population of critically endangered Western Gray Whales.  Credit Suisse First Boston is serving as financial advisor to this Shell Oil project even though it violates the terms of the Equator Principles, to which it is a signatory.  Take action today to tell CSFB to withdraw funding for this egregious project and to adopt comprehensive environmental standards immediately to prevent this from happening again.

These and over 375 other action alerts are archived at

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