Defend the Bill of Rights

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) launched a “Safe and Free Campaign” Oct. 16, aimed at mobilizing in defense of civil liberties and the Bill of Rights. The ACLU decried the loss of life in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack but also condemned the Bush administration for exploiting that tragedy to ram through the repressive USA Patriot Act, to detain 6,000 innocent people, mostly Muslims, Arabs and other people of color, and to expand FBI and local police spying.

“Without an immediate and powerful public outcry on behalf of liberty,” an ACLU statement said, “the administration’s calculated attempts to limit our constitutional rights and liberties could change the definition of freedom in America.”

One goal of the campaign, said Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington office, is to push for enactment of city council resolutions to block intrusive spying carried out jointly by the FBI and local and state police. Another goal is to push for repeal of the most repressive sections of the Patriot Act. A third goal is to fight the expansion of police surveillance aggressively pushed by Attorney General John Ashcroft and George W. Bush. Murphy also warned that some are pushing for a de facto national I.D. system.

The ACLU is a non-partisan group that does not endorse candidates or political parties. But its grassroots campaign is just in time. It comes on the eve of perhaps the most important midterm elections in U.S. history. Bush seeks to restore Republican majority control of the Senate and widen the razor-thin Republican majority in the House. If he succeeds, it will give the ultra-right control of all three branches of government and place our Bill of Rights in deadly peril. That is the reason the first point in keeping America “safe and free” is to question candidates on where they stand on protecting the Bill of Rights. Then vote Nov. 5 to defeat the Republican ultra right.

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Will Bush and Congress strip children of CHIP benefits?

Last year the number of people lacking health insurance increased by more than 1.5 million to 41.2 million, 8.5 million of them children under 18. By any definition the situation is a national disgrace. Despite an annual cost of more than $1.3 trillion, our health care “system” is very sick, in fact, terminally ill. It costs too much and excludes too many.

The situation is desperate but there is more bad news. A little-noticed provision in the 1997 Balanced Budget Act – the very law that created the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) – reduced spending for the program by one billion dollars in fiscal years 2002 through 2004. Unless Congress acts to rescind these cuts in federal funding for CHIP, the number of children served by the program will fall by 900,000 by 2006.

States lost even more CHIP money when fiscal year 2003 began on Oct. 1. At that time a $2.8 billion “surplus” had accumulated when states – including Texas under Gov. George Bush – failed to appropriate the necessary matching funds. These funds reverted to the Treasury and can be used for other purposes unless Congress preserves them for child health care

Because there is not yet a budget for fiscal year 2002, Congress and the White House must craft “continuing resolutions” as stopgap measures. While such action generally extends provisions of existing law, there is no guarantee that Congress will act to fix this problem in the CHIP program. Thus the demand that Congress act now to protect the health insurance of hundreds of thousands of children. Candidates seeking election Nov. 5 should be asked to explain where they stand on this health care crisis. As governor, George W. Bush made Texas the worst state in the country in providing CHIP benefits to poor children. Now he and his Republican cronies are doing the same nationwide.

If this is not an election issue, what is?

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