DES MOINES, Iowa: Voters ratchet up pressure for Iraq withdrawal

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley probably thought coming home meant family picnics with sweet corn, instead of scores of constituents outside his home office windows, July 18, protesting his recent vote to continue funding for the Iraq war.

“Senator Grassley’s vote for endless war is an insult to Iowans who overwhelmingly oppose President Bush’s policy of endless war,” said Sue Dinsdale, whose son served in Iraq. “Sen. Grassley chose obstructionist party loyalty over his constituents and the security of this country and the people of Iowa are not going to take this lying down.”

Dinsdale is one of nearly 100 organizers in 15 states and about 30 congressional districts working on the “Iraq Summer” campaign initiated by Americans Against Escalation in Iraq. Modeled after the historic Freedom Summer of the civil rights movement, the 10-week project is targeting Republican members of Congress who voted against setting a date certain to bring the troops home and to cut war funding.

Over 150 similar events were held nationwide.

When GOP Sen. Norm Coleman pulled onto his street in St. Paul, Minn., 20 of his neighbors had yard signs up reading “Support the troops. End the war.”

Lisa Switzer had her group ready at Sen. John Warner’s office in Annadale, Va. “It’s time Sen. Warner and his fellow Republicans … stopped playing these petty games and started representing their constituents by voting to bring this war to a safe and responsible end,” she said. “If Sen. Warner thought he could escape public retribution … he’s sadly mistaken. We’ll be knocking on more doors, holding more rallies outside his office, continuing our ‘call Congress’ campaigns and placing more and more signs on lawns across this state.”

HOUSTON: BP fined for safety hazards, again

On July 20, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined oil giant BP Plc $92,000, citing the company for safety violations discovered in January at its Texas City, Texas, plant.

Federal inspectors found conditions at the plant were similar to those that preceded a March 2005 explosion that resulted in the deaths of 15 workers and injured scores more. Last September, in connection with that blast, BP was cited for 300 willful violations of safety regulations and was fined $21.3 million.

In the current case, OSHA cited BP with allegedly failing to ensure that a pressure relief system at the plant conforms to industry codes. It said BP failed to ensure that a special “fractionator” processing unit was functioning properly, that piping and instrument diagrams were accurate, that the correct type of valves were being used, and that adequate safety measures were being taken with electrical equipment near flammable liquids and gases.

The Houston Chronicle quoted Lynn Baker, a spokeswoman for the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union, as saying, “Hopefully this will be the last time there are such fines.”

JACKSON, Miss.: Teenage girls sue to halt prison abuse

“Our state must stop sponsoring child abuse,” said Sheila Bedi, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Mississippi Youth Justice Project (SPLC). “Girls at the Columbia Training School [a juvenile prison] not only are being routinely abused, humiliated and injured, they are being denied the most basic services that the law requires.”

SPLC and Mississippi Protection and Advocacy, Inc., a congressionally authorized nonprofit agency that enforces civil rights of people with disabilities, recently filed suit against the state in federal court on behalf of six girls, ages 13-17, who are being held in the Columbia, Miss., facility. All were sentenced to prison for nonviolent offenses, and all suffer mental illness and are victims of past physical or sexual abuse.

“We filed this suit reluctantly and after several failed attempts to negotiate with the state,” said Bedi. “We would much rather see the state’s resources go toward caring for our children than defending the indefensible.”

The suit alleges that five of the girls were shackled for 12 hours a day for periods ranging from eight days to a month because prison authorities thought they were planning an escape. One girl was assaulted by a male guard while confined to an isolated area. Three of the girls cut themselves while on suicide watch and were denied psychological attention during solitary confinement.

In 2003, a U.S. Justice Department investigation of the Columbia prison revealed that guards routinely pole-shackled and hogtied girls with chains. The department took the state to court and a consent decree was reached in 2005. Follow-up reports show that the state failed to implement reforms mandated by the court.

National Clips are compiled by Denise Winebrenner Edwards (dwinebr696 Paul Hill contributed.