WASHINGTON: Troops tell Congress ‘Bring them home’

Active duty military personnel are telling their members of Congress, “As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American forces and bases from Iraq. Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home.” Called “An Appeal for Redress from the War in Iraq,” the statement is an initiative by Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace and Military Families Speak Out.

“We are not urging any form of civil disobedience or anything that would be illegal,” said Navy Seaman Jonathan Hutto. “We are saying to our active duty family that you have a right to send an appeal to a Congress member without reprisal.”

Marine Sgt. Liam Madden, one of the organizers, said he opposes the war because of the absence of weapons of mass destruction and lack of a link to al-Qaeda.

The campaign has already generated hundreds of e-mails to Congress since its launch earlier this month. The groups plan to deliver the messages to the new Congress on Martin Luther King Day in 2007.

NEW ORLEANS: Immigrant workers fight for wages

“When we weren’t paid, we didn’t have money for food,” said Sergio de Leon, who is working in this city’s St. Bernard Parish, cleaning toxic mud and mold from schools. According to the Advancement Project, there are 30,000-100,000 immigrant workers in the Gulf region. A study by Tulane University and University of California-Berkeley said 25 percent of construction and restoration workers are undocumented — a situation ripe for super-exploitation. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed three lawsuits and sent a letter to Bush signed by 20,528 people, demanding full enforcement of federal wage and job safety standards.

The first of the lawsuits has been settled. Belfor USA Group Inc., a German corporation operating in 20 countries on disaster recovery, was sued on behalf of thousands of immigrant workers who said they were denied overtime pay. The corporation settled in September for $223,000 and agreed to pay overtime.

“Lawsuits alone won’t stop the widespread exploitation of workers that’s going on in New Orleans,” said J.J. Rosenbaum, a lawyer with the center’s Immigrant Justice Project. “The people working in New Orleans to rebuild its schools, hospitals and university buildings need and deserve the protection of the federal government.”

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.: Voting rights upheld

It might be hard to imagine that a drunk driving conviction resulted in the loss of a person’s right to vote, but that was the case here until Oct. 26, when a 5-4 decision by the state Supreme Court confirmed the rights of people convicted of some felonies to vote. While the decision came just the day before the last day to register for the Nov. 7 election, it is still hailed as a victory for democracy.

The ruling applies to an estimated 250,000 Alabamans who had lost their right to vote because of DUI, trespass, liquor violations or attempted burglary. People convicted of violent crimes, like murder, did not have their right to vote restored.

According to a new Sentencing Project study, “A Decade of Reform: Felony Disenfranchisement Policy in the U.S.,” 5.3 million Americans cannot vote because they were convicted of a felony, even though they have served their time.

African Americans are the hardest hit, the report says, noting, “One in 12 African Americans is disenfranchised because of convictions — five times the rate of non-African-Americans.”

The trend, though, is restoration of voting rights. In the past 10 years, 600,000 people in 16 states have regained their right to vote. Florida, Kentucky and Virginia remain states with most restrictive voting laws.

CHARLESTON, W.Va.: More deaths on the job

Another coal miner died at work Oct. 30, bringing this year’s death toll to 43.

The miner, whose name had not been released at press time, was a member of the United Mine Workers union working in Bluestone Coal’s Double Bonus No. 65 mine on Pinnacle Creek. He was crushed between a shuttle car, used to transport coal, and the wall of the mine. His co-worker sustained shoulder and chest injuries.

About 70 miners at Double Bonus have produced 193,397 tons of coal so far this year. In 2004, the state cited the owner, James C. Justice, for 152 violations.

Explosions and crushing hazards are not limited to mining. On Oct. 25, three steelworkers at Mittal Steel’s Burns Harbor, Ind., mill were severely burned when a pipe that funneled hot air to the blast furnace burst.

Robert Oberle, 60, and Otto Barrios, 49, are out of the hospital but David “Harry” Lowe, 48, remains in intensive care.

“When people downsize, I think safety is compromised,” said Oberle. “It’s getting to be where there’s a lot of close calls.”

The furnace, used to make iron, is out of production while an investigation is under way.

National Clips are compiled by Denise Winebrenner Edwards (dwinebr696@aol.com).

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