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Thursday, Nov. 3, 2005 07:30 am

Letters to the editor

In and around Springfield

Letters policy
We welcome letters, but please include your full name, address and a daytime telephone number. We edit all letters for libel, length and clarity.

Send letters to: Letters, Illinois Times. P.O. Box 5256. Springfield, Illinois 62705. Fax: (217) 753-3958. E-mail: editor@illinoistimes.com

The struggle for human rights is constant. Humanity’s gains — made through laws, hard struggle, and social transformation — can be overturned in a flash through Patriot Acts, soaring budget deficits, slashed community programs, immunity decisions made long ago, and war. Now, a supposedly liberal Democratic U.S. senator has joined in to limit justice for those abused and victimized in that vicious quest for power and profits perpetuated by governments and corporations. Stunningly, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced the Alien Tort Claims Reform Act (S. 1874) in the Senate recently. This piece of legislation alters the original Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789 in ways that would diminish the statute’s authority to be used fruitfully as a powerful piece of human-rights law. Signed into law by George Washington, the ATCA simply states: “The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” The original intent was to protect foreign diplomats from piracy and sea-based attacks, thus preserving the international standing of the new United States. However, the law was seldom used until 1980, when it became the basis for a civil suit against a Paraguayan police inspector general accused of torturing and murdering a 17-year-old boy. That case, Filartiga v. Pena-Irala, is a benchmark, especially for the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals’ finding that, because abuses of certain fundamental human rights make the abuser “hostis humani generis, an enemy of all mankind,” their decision in favor of the ATCA “is a small but important step in the fulfillment of the ageless dream to free all people from brutal violence.” Just last year, the U.S. Supreme Court articulated the ATCA as clear and concise and did not find it unconstitutional despite the best efforts of federal lawyers crying out that it impedes successful prosecution of the “war on terror” and foreign policy. Opposition to the ATCA’s use by the victims of abuse has been less about foreign policy and more about protecting the hides and bank accounts of the rich and powerful who act wantonly in their global dealings. In fact, look at Bowoto et al. v. Chevron Texaco Corporation et al as a perfect example. Nigerian plaintiffs allege that Chevron Texaco directly and indirectly involved itself in the destruction of two Nigerian villages and shooting of peaceful protesters at an offshore Chevron platform. These days, as Feinstein promotes her “reform” legislation, it ought to be pointed out that one of her largest corporate contributors is Chevron Texaco. Under Feinstein’s legislation, this case would likely be dismissed. The linkage of S. 1874, civil liability, and Chevron seems apparent. S. 1874 smells like rotten corporate payback on behalf of the butchers and criminals of the world. This watering-down of the ATCA gives a blank check to the Bush administration, corporate abusers and human-rights violators. Not even the assassin of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero would be found liable for damages with the reform legislation. Contact Sens. Feinstein, Dick Durbin, and Barack Obama, tell them no, and urge withdrawal of S. 1874. We live by example. Eliminating the ATCA further diminishes our moral standing in the community of peoples — as if Abu Ghraib wasn’t enough. Michael P. Ziri Springfield

Back in the day, I used to do construction. Invariably there would be one guy on the crew who thought himself a comedian. Every time somebody picked up a board that was too short for the task, he would say, “Well, just cut off what you need from one end and put it on the other, then it’ll be long enough,” and he’d laugh and laugh. President George W. Bush and much of his administration must have done construction, too. Whenever there’s a budget shortfall — usually caused by a poorly conceived piece of legislation; hurricane relief that was too little, too late; or the odd invasion — their solution is to whittle benefits from the little end of the stick and paste it onto the wealthy end. Then they laugh and laugh. The gag is no funnier when they say it than it was when the guy on my crew did. But, inexorably, that’s exactly what’s taking place. Medicare prescription benefit costing too much? Don’t raise the income threshold; make that worker stay on the job a couple more years. Where to get the $200 billion for Katrina relief? Delete even more benefits from veterans, children, and Medicare/Medicaid recipients. I’ll sure be glad when George W. Bush and his cronies stop “helping” America grow. Tim Slack Celestine, Ind.

On a recent episode of NBC’s The West Wing, presidential candidate Matt Santos, played by Jimmy Smits, was asked his opinion about intelligent design. After a moment of thought, he said, “I believe in God, and I believe he is intelligent.”
The concept of intelligent design and its teaching in public-school science classes is a hot topic in the media and around the water cooler. Many Christians are insistent that it be taught alongside evolution as a plausible theory that explains the beginnings of life. I’m not really sure why the Christian groups are so adamant. If public school and government officials want to declare that intelligent design is simply a matter of faith, then forget about teaching it in science classes. Instead, how about teaching it in current-events classes? Or how about in American history, emphasizing the importance of the national debate as it shapes our nation? Or here’s a novel idea: Christian parents could teach their children at home and at church about the God of the heavens’ creating all things ex nihilo, from nothing. Christians need to quit expecting the government to spread their religion. It is their job, or commission, if you will, to share the good news of salvation with a lost and dying world. It’s time for the church to be the church. Chris Babb Rochester

Our governor has issued an executive order to allocate $10 million of state funds to create the Illinois Regenerative Medicine Institute to disperse tax dollars to researchers for the purpose of adult and embryonic stem cell research. He was not “above board” in the language used in his executive order, using the phrases “pluripotent stems cell” and “totipotent stem cells” and calling the process of human cloing “somatic cell nuclear transfer” — and not truthful in stating that “no funding will be authorized for research involving human cloning.” His terminology embraced the vital components in embryonic stem cell research, creating and then killing a human being in the name of science! Adult stem cell research using cells found in blood, bone marrow, skin, brain, liver, pancreas, fat, hair follicles, placenta, umbilical cord and amniotic fluids has been proven to be successful. These cells are easily retrieved and the process does not harm the patient. Such stem cells are already curing 58 diseases! Private funding for embryonic stem cell research as almost grounded to a halt as honest scientist admit the inadequacy of the process. The taxpayer is entitled to an honest portrayal of where their tax dollars will be spent! Elizabeth Pearson Elmhurst

Perhaps the best compliment I received when running for a county office came from a well-known local judge, when he asked me, “Don’t you know that an honest man can’t get elected in Sangamon County?”
Donald E. Palmer Springfield

The old Hardee’s office building, located about a block north of South Grand Avenue just off Sixth Street, is both ugly and dangerous. Several big panels of aluminum siding are missing or blowing loose in the wind. Someday one of these panels will come loose in a strong wind and could kill someone, hit a car, or cause an accident. Along with being an eyesore, this situation poses a safety hazard. It’s time to correct this situation before someone gets hurt. Gerald L. Caslin Springfield

Farah Salim, who is selling note cards to help earthquake-ravaged Pakistan, can be reached at fairydust100@hotmail.com. The wrong address was published last week [R.L. Nave, “Designing woman,” Oct. 27]. We regret the error.
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