SEATTLE: Health care is a right, voters say

By a whopping margin of 69-31 percent, Seattle voters approved a ballot initiative last month that declares, “Every person in the United States should have the right to health care of equal high quality. The Congress should immediately enact legislation to implement this right.”

The Puget Sound Alliance for Retired Americans, led by Will Parry, and Health Care for All–Washington joined forces two years ago to petition the City Council to place the measure before the voters. Despite media antagonism, including from some “independent, hip” newspapers, the measure finally made on the ballot, thanks in part to Tom Rasmussen, chair of the Council’s Health Committee.

The advisory referendum, known as Issue No. 1, calls for the city and state to cooperate in providing universal access to health care. It urges a public awareness campaign about the need for such access, mandates the tracking of health care data in Seattle, and calls for a panel of experts to recommend ways to improve health insurance coverage for residents.

SAN FRANCISCO: 20 cops suspended for racist, sexist videos

Charging videos produced by policemen insult people of color and depict women as sex objects, Police Chief Heather Fong and Mayor Gavin Newsome announced the suspension of 20 cops and convened a blue-ribbon panel to investigate.

“This is a dark day, an extremely dark day, in the history of the San Francisco Police Department for me as a chief to have to stand here and share with you such egregious, shameful and despicable acts by members of the San Francisco Police Department,” Fong told reporters.

The videos were shot over a two-year period and were posted on an Internet web site of police officer Andrew Cohen. The police officers’ union offered an apology for the “extremely stupid and immature” videos.

Malaika Parker of the citizen’s group Bay Area PoliceWatch was outraged. “They are absolutely disgusting. There are assaults on women, people of color and the transgender community,” she said. “I hope they bring deep, deep changes to the department.”

PHILADELPHIA: Mumia Abu-Jamal wins another day in court

The worldwide movement to overturn the 25-year-old murder conviction of Mumia Abu-Jamal picked up steam Dec. 6 when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit agreed to hear arguments that Abu-Jamal’s constitutional rights were violated.

In 1982, Abu-Jamal, a journalist and political activist, was convicted of the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. Abu-Jamal was shot and beaten at the scene of the killing. He has maintained his innocence.

The court said there were three claims made by his defense team, including charges of racial bias in jury selection and in post-conviction proceedings, which can serve as the basis for appeal.

“We have achieved a great victory in the campaign to win a new trial and the eventual freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal,” said lead attorney Robert R. Bryan. The case is on the fast track with briefs due by Jan. 17, 2006.

ST. LOUIS: Hit lack of Black police recruits

Eddie Simmons is president of the Ethical Society of Police Officers, an African American organization. When he saw that all the graduates of the city’s Police Academy for 2006 were white, he got that “sick, empty feeling” that he had not experienced since the days of segregation.

At an open meeting called by the Ethical Society, Police Chief Joe Mokwa said budget cuts had hamstrung the department’s ability to recruit. But the 2005 budget did include funding for recruiting, critics said.

Norman Seay, a civil rights activist, praised Mokwa for appointing an African American as the chief’s executive assistant, but charged, “There is still discrimination within the police department. There is racism and we must attack it.”

WASHINGTON: Congress OKs Santa border crossing

In the first exception to Patriot Act regulations, Congress voted Dec. 13 to lift sanctions barring Santa Claus and his elves from entering the U.S. on Dec. 24. Congressional orders also permit Claus and his entourage to move freely around the country for one night only.

Through his attorney, R.N. Rudolph, Claus said he was thrilled but deeply disappointed that Frosty the Snowman, his executive assistant, has been held in Alaska by authorities. Snowman, whose country of origin is not known, has been denied access to legal counsel. “It is typical of that bunch in the White House, that we would have to go into court to cross the U.S. border on Christmas Eve,” roared the Jolly Ole Elf. “I am fighting to get Frosty in, too. They have no shame and they are not on my list!”

Elves Local USW 1219, AFL-CIO, assisted in the case.

National Clips are compiled by Denise Winebrenner Edwards ( Rosita Johnson, Marilyn Bechtel and Roberta Wood contributed to this week’s clips.