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Undocumented Workers Cleaned Chertoff's Home

Most people could care less if the landscaping or house cleaning firm they hire employs undocumented workers. But most people aren't in charge of Homeland Security.

Every few weeks for nearly four years, the Secret Service screened the IDs of employees for a Maryland cleaning company before they entered the house of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, the nation's top immigration official. The company's owner says the workers sailed through the checks -- although some of them turned out to be illegal immigrants.

The owner of the cleaning firm is understandably grumpy that the IDs were good enough for the Secret Service but not for ICE, which fined the company more than $20,000 for neglecting "to check identification and work documents and fill out required I-9 verification forms." [more ...]

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Montana Judge Okays Doctor-Assisted Suicide

A judge in Montana has ruled doctor-assisted end of life choices are legal.

In her ruling, Judge McCarter wrote that “the Montana constitutional rights of individual privacy and human dignity” give a mentally competent person who is terminally ill the right to “die with dignity.”

The ruling said that those patients had the right to obtain self-administered medications to hasten death if they found their suffering to be unbearable, and that physicians could prescribe such medication without fear of prosecution.

It's hard to fathom anyone would challenge such a basic human right, but the state is expected to appeal.

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Renewing the Nation's Commitment to Labor Law

It turns out that arresting half the workforce at Iowa's Agriprocessors, Inc. for crimes related to their status as undocumented aliens wasn't good for Agriprocessors or, more importantly, for the town of Postville in which the kosher meatpacking plant is located. Agriprocessors has filed for bankruptcy.

The workforce arrests weren't Agriprocessors' only problem. Serious labor law violations, including the employment of underage workers, resulted in thousands of misdemeanor charges against the company, its owner and its top manager. The company's former CEO was arrested last week on federal charges of conspiring to harbor illegal immigrants. Consumers (Jeralyn among them) stopped buying Agriprocessors' products after the plant's working conditions and child labor violations were publicized.

Still, it's difficult for a company to stay in business when half its workforce is suddenly hauled off to jail (not to mention the devastating consequences to the workers and their families). [more ...]

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Is Pro Bono Work 'Anti-Social'?

Speaking to a gathering of the Federalist Society (where he was preaching to the choir), Judge Dennis Jacobs, chief judge of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, told the crowd that pro bono work is an anti-social activity. He particularly dislikes pro bono work for environmental causes, which he considers "legal activism."

"No public good is good for everybody," Jacobs said.

Perhaps Judge Jacobs meant to distinguish the helping hands that lawyers lend to the indigent in divorce and domestic abuse cases, landlord-tenant disputes, social security disability and veterans benefits cases, and all the other kinds of legal work that help individuals rather than the broader public. Even if that's so, it's shocking to think that a federal judge would disparage pro bono representation in lawsuits against the government. Making the government obey the law isn't an invitation to judicial "activism."

Helping society for free, rather than corporate clients for a healthy hourly rate, isn't anti-social. It's in the finest tradition of the bar to use the judicial system to help improve lives. Lawyers who do so should be praised, not scolded.

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Action Alert : Biogen Denying Cancer Drug to Fred Baron

Remember Fred Baron, the financier in the midst of the John Edwards-Rielle Hunter story?

He was diagnosed last week with multiple myeloma and given a week to live. There's a drug, Tsyabri, that's an exact match for him and the FDA has okayed it and requests have been made by Lance Armstrong, Bill Clinton, John Kerry and others to provide it and the CEO of Biotech is refusing.

Read his son's letter (Andrew is the founder of Rocketboom)and do what you can to add to the pressure. The drug is readily available, it's just not prescribed for myeloma.

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Alternative Economic Stimulus Plans

I don't like the economic stimulus plans of either the Government or the candidates. With the October 15 deadline for filing our 2007 tax returns a few days away, I've been focused on tax issues. Here's what I would propose for next year.

  • Something similar to the donation boxes for social causes on our tax returns, whereby we could specify an amount up to $10,000 of the taxes we are paying and fill in details of our credit card accounts, and the government would send that amount to the credit card companies and our debt would be reduced. This would give the credit card companies money so they could extend more credit and give consumers more money to spend.
  • A moratorium on credit card interest for 180 days. The moratorium on home foreclosures is a great idea for those whose homes are at risk, but it does nothing for renters or homeowners who are current on their mortgages. It's only fair to give everyone a break.


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Creating a Green Collar Work Force: Include Our Inmates

The Green Collar Economy is activist and political advisor Van Jones' new book. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. wrote the forward

The premise: We can solve both our economic crises and our environmental problems with one solution: creation of green collar jobs, a green collar work force and a green economy.

Jones says we cannot drill and burn our way out of our energy and environmental problems. Here's what we can do to solve the crisis, and at the same time, address our declining economy, poverty and inequality. [More...]

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Cook County Sheriff Halts Foreclosure Evictions

The Sheriff of Cook County (Chicago) today announced his office will no longer evict people from homes under foreclosure.

many people his office has helped throw out on the street are renters who did nothing wrong.
“We will no longer be a party to something that's so unjust,” a visibly angry Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said at a news conference.

“We have to be sure that when we are doing this – and we are destroying some people's lives – we better be darned sure we're talking about the right people,” Dart said.


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Peter Camejo Is Dead

Activist, candidate, and Green Party leader Peter Camejo died today at the age of 68.

Camejo ran for [California's] top office in 2002, 2003 and 2006, supporting abortion rights, universal health care and a moratorium on the death penalty. Before joining the Green Party, he also ran for president as the Socialist Workers Party nominee in 1976. In 2004, Camejo was independent Nader's vice presidential pick.

Camejo, a first-generation Venezuelan-American, was also active against the Vietnam War and a vocal advocate for migrant worker rights. He marched in Selma, Ala. with Martin Luther King, Jr.

RIP, Peter Camejo.

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'Books Are Weapons': Remembering Richard Wright

Richard Wright, author of the powerful novel Native Son, died in 1960. Had he lived, this would have been his 100th birthday.

This great black writer not only helped change the face of American fiction but he also helped pull the curtain down on Jim Crow. We should commemorate Wright because he defied all the odds. One hundred years ago, he was born poor, black, the son of a sharecropper. In his formative years, he was legally denied access to segregated Southern public libraries. Raised in poverty and hunger, and barely educated in rural Arkansas and Mississippi, Wright believed that "books are weapons." His material spat in the face of indifference, forcing readers to acknowledge the racist underside of the American dream.

Happy birthday, Richard Wright.

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Labor Day

Today is Labor Day. If you aren't familiar with its origin and history, here's a primer.

The observance of Labor Day began over 100 years ago. Conceived by America's labor unions as a testament to their cause, the legislation sanctioning the holiday was shepherded through Congress amid labor unrest and signed by President Grover Cleveland as a reluctant election-year compromise.

On the first Labor Day parade: [More...]

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Obama to Ask Supporters to Help Gustav Victims

Here's something we should all be able to agree is a good idea:

Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama said Sunday he will tap his huge political network of donors and volunteers to help U.S. victims of Hurricane Gustav after it comes inland. ... "I think we can activate an e-mail list of a couple of million people who want to give back," he said. Donations could include cash, goods and individual labor, he said.

Obama will wait until local officials make clear what sort of assistance is needed before asking volunteers to help. In the meantime, his website offers information for people in the area and links to relief agencies that need financial support.

Update: Obama says he is fine with McCain's visit to Mississippi because the response to a natural disaster should be bipartisan, but doesn't plan to travel to the disaster area himself until he can do so without diverting resources from first responders.

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