Civil Rights

EU supports democracy in Lybia

European Commission President Barroso addresses the situation in North Africa.

Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen,

We just had a very useful and important debate on the situation in the Southern Mediterranean in the meeting of the Commission College.

The events unfolding in our southern neighborhood are a rendezvous with history. Europe will rise to this challenge and support the current transformation processes. The Commission has a crucial set of political and economic tools that we are already deploying and that we will strengthen further in the run-up to next week's extraordinary European Council.


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Who will watch the watchers?

Government transparency and accountability proponents recently lost an invaluable ally. Glenn Fine, internal watchdog since 2000 at the Department of Justice, stepped down at the end of January. Fine’s tenure as Inspector General (IG) has been notable for his independence and assertiveness, and for the resulting increased transparency of Justice Department activities.

Replacing Fine with a successor equally independent and committed to exposing waste, fraud and abuse is crucial. That nomination, however, should be just the first step in ensuring sufficient oversight of the Justice Department’s activities going forward—in particular, the activities of the FBI under the 2008 Attorney General’s Guidelines for Domestic FBI Operations. 

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No “frivolous lawsuits” here

The term “frivolous lawsuit” has become so pervasive in our lexicon that a constitutional right – the right to a jury trial – is at risk of extinction. 

Even President Barack Obama, in his 2011 State of the Union address, bought into the myth with his throwaway comment suggesting that he would work with Republicans to “rein in frivolous lawsuits” against medical providers “to bring down costs.” The president appears willing to go along with Republicans’ cruel game to throw away Americans legal rights, which would shield the health industry – that’s insurers, doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies – from accountability.

Let’s be clear: Frivolous lawsuits are rare. A recent survey of the federal judiciary found that approximately 85 percent of federal trial court judges perceived “groundless litigation” as no more than a small problem.

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A letter to the general counsel of the Department of Defense (Rep. Michael Honda)

This letter was sent by Rep. Michael Honda (D-Calif.) and signed by 11 other members of Congress to Jeh Johnson, general counsel for the Department of Defense. 

Dear Mr. Johnson,

This month, all of us have, in our different ways, honored the life and memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King left a profound impact on this nation, and on each of us as public servants, and transformed the way we think about the most contentious of topics – be it racism, poverty or warfare – conflicts with which our society continues to grapple. While we are certainly closer to the realization of Dr. King’s dreams, we still have much work to do. Violence remains pervasive in America; the gap between our rich and our poor has grown substantially.  Racism still lingers. If we are to truly honor Dr. King, then, our efforts must be devoted to transforming the structures that perpetuate violence, inequality and racism. 

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MLK and Afghanistan: Distorting his dream (Rep. Lynn Woolsey)

Earlier this week, we recognized the 82nd birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., perhaps the greatest moral and spiritual leader in our nation’s history. Each of us in our own way reflected on Dr. King’s teachings, and his message had more relevance than ever in light of the tragic shootings in Tucson. 

It’s a sign of progress that a man who was an agitator, whose ideas were considered revolutionary during his life, has achieved mainstream iconic status in death. But as we all share his legacy, there is a very real danger that some people will, in a self-serving way, distort Dr. King’s vision to justify the very policies he gave his life opposing. 

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Sudan, Ivory Coast underscore need to prevent large-scale killing

The current referendum on independence in southern Sudan and mounting tensions over the presidential leadership stalemate in the Ivory Coast remind us once again that too many people around the world live their lives under threat of large-scale killing and atrocities. While the immediate vote was generally calm, much of the last decade in Sudan has been aptly described as “genocide in slow motion.” These crises and others (Congo is a prominent example) evoke the urgent need for a comprehensive international approach to prevent the use of mass violence as a political tool.  

Encouragingly, putting a stop to deliberate and systemic murder recently became an explicit US diplomatic priority. Top policy directives now commit the United States to engage actively “in a strategic effort to prevent mass atrocities and genocide” and develop real-life plans to that effect. S. Con. Res. 71 passed in December with strong bipartisan support and calls for a “whole of government” approach to such prevention. These are major steps forward, yet still only a start. As always, translating good intentions into successful global action will be a long, hard slog. 

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In this time of national sorrow, let us look to Dr. King (Rep. Maxine Waters)

This 25th anniversary of our national celebration of the life, times and teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – his legacy of nonviolent resistance, community activism, and social change through peace, love and tolerance – is an important milestone as we reflect upon a national tragedy that has shocked us to our very core and left us trying to understand a heinous act of violence.

Last week, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was critically injured and many of her staff members and constituents were killed or wounded in a mass shooting that lasted only seconds but will be seared into our minds forever. Indeed, this monstrous attack upon innocent lives, and the representative democracy we cherish so dearly, has given us pause and broken our hearts.

No words can give adequate justice or much comfort to the injured who are recovering, the families and friends who are grieving for the loss of their loved ones, and the American people who are trying to understand what happened. What we do know is that Gabby and the other victims, their loved ones, and the first responders and volunteers who leapt into action are all fighters, they are all heroes, and they are all our brothers and our sisters.

Also weighing heavy on my heart is a recent wave of violence in my district in South Los Angeles, violence that is often traced back to gangs that continue to act with impunity and terrorize my constituents like: five-year-old Aaron Shannon Jr., hit by a bullet in his own backyard while showing off his Spiderman Halloween costume to his family; Kashmier James, a young woman killed while visiting friends on Christmas day; 14-year-old Taburi Watson, shot while riding his bike a few days before New Year’s; and Mr. Lewis Smith, who sadly was removed from life support earlier this week after surviving the initial shooting.

In some sad and tragic twist of fate, Mr. Smith was wounded in a shopping plaza and memorial area named after Dr. King, one of the greatest minds to have lived and graced us with his wisdom, his strength, and his vision for a better world for all people, especially African Americans in our fight for equality, justice and freedom. But I understand that already, in the spirit of cooperation and brotherhood, some business owners and other leaders have come together to address this act of violence against Mr. Smith and stand united as a community.

So I believe it is as relevant as ever to look to Dr. King and his words to help us understand these and other tragedies – and perhaps more importantly – understand how we go forward as a stronger community, a stronger nation, and a stronger people resolved to be: vigorous in our debates, but never violent; impassioned about our opinions, but never intolerant; steadfast in our efforts to work together and implement effective social change, but never scurrilous; and demonstrative of respect toward our fellow man and woman, but never derisive.

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A reminder not to be silent on gun violence (Rep. Bobby Rush)

“…I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly…” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., April 16, 1963

I share these words at a time when our nation has, once again, gone through another period of national mourning because of the wanton acts of a disturbed individual with a loaded gun. Undoubtedly, this passage from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s iconic “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is as relevant now as it was when it was written almost 48 years ago.

When my colleague, the brilliant and beloved Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was targeted by a gunman on January 8th, in that moment that small, idyllic shopping plaza in Tucson, Arizona became America’s latest ‘Birmingham.’ The brazen, unprovoked attack in broad daylight that left Giffords critically injured, six people dead—including a nine-year-old child—and more than a dozen seriously wounded evoked the outpouring of positive spirit from a shocked nation. In that moment and in the days that followed, King’s view that “whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly” was the sentiment that held sway in our nation. Our shared grief and concerns for those who survived and those who lost their lives was powerfully on display last Wednesday night at the memorial service where more than 30 million viewers watched as the President lent a soothing voice of comfort and solace to a grateful nation.

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MLK Day couldn't come at a more appropriate time (Rep. Mike Honda)

As our country continues to mourn and heal from Arizona’s inexplicable violence, we are reminded of the timeless and transcendental teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, whose life and legacy is remembered this Monday, January 17, 2011.

Dr. King’s commemoration could not come at a more appropriate time. Arizona’s violence is a sad reminder of the culture of violence that pervades this country and propagates such actions, manifesting in a myriad of ways, be it by pistol, pen, podium or a policy.

Dr. King spent and ultimately sacrificed his life seeking to transform our culture of violence. At the height of foreign and domestic conflict – whether it was our war with Vietnam or our nation’s racial and economic inequalities – Dr. King preached peace, promoted equality and shook the structures of segregation with love, not violence.

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