Happy New Year. (12/31/04)
How to help tsunami victims
Since we can't depend on the US government to do the right thing, here are a few good groups that are pitching in for South Asian tsunami relief:
American Friends Service Committee Crisis Fund
American Red Cross International Response Fund
Americares South Asia Earthquake Relief Fund
CARE Asia Quake Disaster
Catholic Relief Services Tsunami Emergency Fund
Direct Relief International International Assistance Fund.
Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres Fund
Episcopal Relief and Development South Asia Relief Fund
International Medical Corps Fund
International Orthodox Christian Charities Fund
Islamic Relief Asia Tsunami Emergency Fund
Lutheran World Relief Fund.
Oxfam Asia Earthquake Fund
UNICEF South Asia Tsunamie Relief Efforts
See more organizations at Network for Good.
For guidelines on how to choose a charity, see GuideStar.
Also, Max notes that if "we" were really generous, we would write off the debts owed by Third World nations who are struggling to pay $100 million every day, according to Oxfam. In many cases, these payments are required for loans taken by previous corrupt regimes and in furtherance of Western corporate foreign policy.
US still lags in foreign aid
Charles Sennott of the Boston Globe reports, the US government is contributing $35 million of the half-billion dollars that the world's developed nations are donating to the tsunami relief effort, and many Americans believe -- as President Bush put it earlier this week -- that their country is being its typical ''generous, kindhearted" self.
But both on a per capita basis and as a percentage of the nation's wealth, America's emergency relief in Asia and development aid to poor countries actually ranks at the bottom of the list of developed nations, some of the world's top economists and analysts of international development aid said yesterday. ...
As of yesterday, the amount the United States has pledged is eclipsed by the $96 million promised by Britain, a country with one-fifth the population, and by the $75 million vowed by Sweden, which amounts to $8.40 for each of its 9 million people. Denmark's pledge of $15.6 million amounts to roughly $2.90 per capita.
The US donation is 12 cents per capita.
Even with US corporate donations of $60 million, America's perception of itself as the most generous country in the world is contradicted by the reality, economists and specialists on international aid say. The relatively low US per capita donation to the tsunami-ravaged region reflects a larger pattern of a decline in official US foreign assistance in recent decades.
In the aftermath of World War II, the US government gave as much as 2 percent of its total gross national product to help countries rebuild. That figure dropped to about 0.5 percent of GNP during most of the 1960s and 1970s, and it fell precipitously during the Reagan administration to its current level of about 0.15 percent of GNP, according to figures compiled by Sachs and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development based in Paris.
While the United States gives the most foreign development aid in terms of dollars, it ranks lowest among wealthy countries in terms of official development assistance as a percentage of gross national income.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States gave $16.2 billion in development aid in 2003, or an amount equal to 0.15 percent of the US gross national income. Norway, with official development assistance of $2 billion, ranked highest, giving 0.92 percent of its 2003 gross national income. France allotted 0.41 percent of its gross national income to development aid in 2003, according to the organization's figures.
At a global development conference in Monterrey, Mexico, in 2002, the world's 22 wealthiest countries, including the United States, were instructed by the General Assembly to provide 0.7 percent of GNP. But the target of the so-called Monterrey Protocol has been met by only five countries. They are Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands.
Nathaniel Raymond, communications adviser on humanitarian response for Oxfam America at its Boston headquarters, said that the aid organization's fund-raising drive in the last five days had raised $3 million for the relief effort in Asia.
In terms of private donations to charity, American citizens and corporations give generously -- more than $3 billion a year. But Sachs and other analysts say that amount only slightly changes -- from 0.15 percent to 0.18 percent of GNP -- the relatively low standing of the United States.
When you consider that much of US development assistance is tied to foreign policy considerations (and promotion of multinational corporations), we clearly have nothing to brag about in terms of our foreign aid.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune found the Bush administration's response to tsunami relief appeals "an appalling performance."
As the Bush administration is wont to say, actions speak louder than words, and America's actions in recent days have painted the United States as a rich, self-absorbed and uncaring nation that had to be shamed into anything approaching appropriate concern about this catastrophe. The Bush administration's handling of this crisis has been inept beyond belief.
We agree. (12/31/04)
For what it's worth, a wonk at the Ayn Rand Institute thinks Bush shouldn't be sending any taxpayer money out of the country at all. "Year after year, for decades, the government has forced American taxpayers to provide foreign aid to every type of natural or man-made disaster on the face of the earth: from the Marshall Plan to reconstruct a war-ravaged Europe to the $15 billion recently promised to fight AIDS in Africa to the countless amounts spent to help the victims of earthquakes, fires and floods," David Holcberg complains.
Josh Marshall notes that the ARI wonk allows as how private charity "may be entirely proper, especially considering that most of those affected by this tragedy are suffering through no fault of their own." (emphasis added)
"I'm waiting to hear about the minority of victims suffering because of self-inflicted tsunami damage," Marshall added. (12/31/04
Dem backpedals on privatizing Social Security;
Keep the heat on
US Rep. Harold Ford, D-Memphis, who wants to run for the Senate in Tennessee and apparently thought he'd try it as a black conservative, apparently has been feeling the heat on his reported openness to Republican privatization plans. He issued this statement, according to Josh Marshall:
"I do not support changing the Social Security system as has been proposed by President Bush, nor do I support Social Security proposals advanced by the CATO Institute. In fact, both of these proposals have the potential to harm current beneficiaries by paying for the transition costs by issuing debt. Piling on more red ink to the existing federal budget deficit and the national debt will do both long and short term harm to our economy. I do believe that the system needs to be reformed but I do not support changing the Social Security system as President Bush has proposed."
AARP has joined the fight against the Republican plan to privatize Social Security, with a $5 million two-week advertising campaign timed to coincide with the start of the new Congress, the New York Times reports.
"There are places in your retirement planning for risk," the advertisements say, "but Social Security isn't one of them."
One advertisement shows a couple in their 40's looking at the reader. "If we feel like gambling, we'll play the slots," the message says.
It's good to see AARP back on the site of working people after their embrace of Pharma-friendly Medicare deform last year.
Contact your Congress member to reinforce the point: No privatization of Social Security. If there's any "reforming" to be done, increase the limits on the amounts of wages taxed from the current $87,000 and earmark estate tax revenues to Social Security.
Let Republicans as well as Democrats feel the heat on this issue -- many Republican Congress members are holding off on declaring their support for privatization, waiting to see how the wind blows. Send a gale their way.
To send an email message to your rep and senators, see the AFL-CIO's e-Activist Network page on Social Security. You fill in your name and address and they figure out who your rep and senators are and automatically send the message to them. (You can change the suggested text of the email, putting it in your own words -- which probably is a good idea anyway, so they don't all have the same wording.)
You also can find other good issues relating to working people at the site. Give your reps some resolution for 2005! (12/31/04)
US Justice reins in torturers
The Washingtpon Post reports, the Justice Department published a revised definition Thursday of acts that constitute torture under domestic and international law, overtly repudiating one of the most criticized policy memorandums drafted by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales during President Bush's first term.
In a statement published on the department's website, the head of its Office of Legal Counsel declares that "torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and international norms" and goes on to reject a previous statement that only "organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death" constitute torture punishable by law.
That earlier definition of torture figured prominently in complaints by Democrats and human rights groups about White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, who oversaw its creation and is Bush's nominee to become attorney general for the second term. The new memo's public release came one week before the start of Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Gonzales's nomination.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Daniel Levin said in the new memo that torture may consist of acts that fall short of provoking excruciating and agonizing pain and thus may include mere physical suffering or lasting mental anguish. His opinion is meant, according to its language, to undermine any notion that those who conduct harmful interrogations may be exempt from prosecution.
'Fags' blamed for tsunamis
The Lord's Name taken in vain once again by gay-bashing Kansas Baptists. This is the same group of haters from Topeka, by the way, that picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard, the young college student who was brutally murdered in Wyoming in 1998. Via Kos.
Meanwhile, the White House blames Bill Clinton. (12/31/04)
Are We Stingy? Yes
If by "we," you mean the Bush administration and the Republican Congress.
Even the New York Times comes out and says so:
President Bush finally roused himself [Wednesday] from his vacation in Crawford, Tex., to telephone his sympathy to the leaders of India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia, and to speak publicly about the devastation of Sunday's tsunamis in Asia. He also hurried to put as much distance as possible between himself and America's initial measly aid offer of $15 million, and he took issue with an earlier statement by the United Nations' emergency relief coordinator, Jan Egeland, who had called the overall aid efforts by rich Western nations "stingy." "The person who made that statement was very misguided and ill informed," the president said.
We beg to differ. Mr. Egeland was right on target. We hope Secretary of State Colin Powell was privately embarrassed when, two days into a catastrophic disaster that hit 12 of the world's poorer countries and will cost billions of dollars to meliorate, he held a press conference to say that America, the world's richest nation, would contribute $15 million. That's less than half of what Republicans plan to spend on the Bush inaugural festivities.
See the rest of the editorial for information on how the Bush administration has lagged behind other industrial nations on foreign development assistance and reneged on previous pledges of aid. (12/30/04)
Pittance hurts 'war on terror'
Kos notes: Bush's stingy initial response to the catastrophic tsunamis in the Indian Ocean boots a chance to demonstrate the "compassionate" side of the United States and reap goodwill in the Muslim world (much like Clinton's Kosovo liberation did for some time).
"Instead, we just handed Osama Bin Laden a PR bonanza. And you better believe Muslim charities -- many run by radicals like Hamas -- will fill the void and fan the flames of discontent."
Juan Cole writes of the "lost opportunity":
As John F. Harris and Robin Wright of the Washington Post cannily note, US President George W. Bush has missed an important opportunity to reach out to the Muslims of Indonesia. The Bush administration at first pledged a paltry $15 million, a mysteriously chintzy response to what was obviously an enormous calamity. Bush himself remained on vacation, and now has reluctantly agreed to a meeting of the National Security Council by video conference. If Bush were a statesman, he would have flown to Jakarta and announced his solidarity with the Muslims of Indonesia (which has suffered at least 40,000 dead and rising).
Indeed, the worst-hit area of Indonesia is Aceh, the center of a Muslim separatist movement, and a gesture to Aceh from the US at this moment might have meant a lot in US-Muslim public relations. Bin Laden and Zawahiri sniffed around Aceh in hopes of recruiting operatives there, being experts in fishing in troubled waters. Doesn't the US want to outflank al-Qaeda? As it is, the president of the United States is invisible and on vacation (unlike several European heads of state), and could think of nothing better to do than announce a paltry pledge. As Harris and Wright rightly say, the rest of the world treated the US much better than this after September 11.
Alberto Gonzales revisited
From DailyKos.com: "Soj" writes: "I saw that the Washington Post has a soft profile piece today on the man soon to be the Attorney General , or head law enforcement officer of the United States, Alberto Gonzales. I figured it was time for another look at this guy." See Soj's take on the story thus far. (12/28/04)
War on Social Security deja vu
Peter Canellos of the Boston Globe writes: "The run-up to President Bush's plan to deal with Social Security is looking a lot like the run-up to his plan to deal with Saddam Hussein."
The United Nations' humanitarian-aid chief called Western nations "stingy" in their aid to Asian nations hit by a tsunami that had killed more than 22,500 people. (The death toll has since then been raised to more than 40,000.)
"It is beyond me why are we so stingy, really," UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland of Norway told reporters Monday. "Christmastime should remind many Western countries at least, [of] how rich we have become."
The Bush administration pledged $15 million to assist the stricken nations. The European Union's executive arm released $4 million in emergency aid and pledged an additional $27 million.
Atrios notes that the estimated budget for next month’s second inauguration for President Bush in Washington, D.C. is $30-40 million -- and that does not cover security costs.
UPDATE: According to Bloomberg.com, Oxfam reports that the US contributes about a tenth of one percent of its income in aid to poor countries -- an abysmal rate that falls below that of all industrialized nations, and is dwarfed by the giving rate of Canada (0.26 percent), Germany (0.28 percent), the United Kingdom (0.34 percent), and France (0.42 percent).
Salon.com notes: "What's worse, this situation doesn't seem to be improving. Indeed, in just the past two months, the Bush administration has quietly reduced its commitments to global anti-poverty programs, cutting its contributions to groups like Save the Children and Catholic Relief Services by as much as $100 million. The move prompted the New York Times to ask in an editorial : 'The administration can conjure up $87 billion for the fighting in Iraq, but can it really not come up with more than $15.6 billion -- our overall spending on development assistance in 2002 -- to help stop an 8-year-old AIDS orphan in Cameroon from drinking sewer water or to buy a mosquito net for an infant in Sierra Leone?'
"When the state of Florida suffered four hurricanes this summer, the Bush administration quickly and admirably pried open the federal wallet, and so far Floridians have received more than $3 billion in federal and state disaster assistance. Nobody's saying that Floridians didn't deserve that aid; they surely did. But what happened in Asia over the weekend may turn out to be one of the worst natural disasters in human history. More than 40,000 people are now believed dead, and officials fear that the toll may surpass 60,000. A good test of the Bush administration's generosity -- not to mention the generosity of all Americans -- is whether our government can now muster as much money for far-off foreigners as we could for Americans in an all-important swing state."
Protect minority rights ... in Iraq
Max Sawicky writes:
The Sunni/Shi'ite divide in Iraq goes to precisely the sort of considerations undelrying Lani Guinier's work on constructing systems of voting and representation to permit the expression of minority interests. Though Iraq itself is probably too far gone.
Slimeballs on the Right like Clint Bolick and the Wall Street Journal editorial page cretins chose to paint her with a racial stereotype "Quota Queen," just a short step of course from "Welfare Queen," just a short futher step to the N-word.
But letting bygones be bygones, we look forward to application of this newfound concern for minority representation to other polities struggling towards democracy. Texas, for instance.
For more on protecting minority rights in the USA, see our friends at FairVote/The Center for Voting and Democracy. (12/27/04)
Social Security is simple
Max Sawicky plays out the arguments of deluded persons. (12/27/04)
Support Our Troops
Bring them home, writes Al Neuharth, founder of USA Today:
"Support Our Troops" is a wonderful patriotic slogan. But the best way to support troops thrust by unwise commanders in chief into ill-advised adventures like Vietnam and Iraq is to bring them home. Sooner rather than later. That should be our New Year's resolution
Laying the groundwork for electoral reform in Ohio
Jerome Armstrong of MyDD.com notes the work done by Freepress.org in Columbus, Ohio.
Richard Hayes Phillips doesn't seem to take a break from researching the vote tabulation of Ohio votes. I'm agnostic as to whether Kerry really won Ohio, but that's missing the point that the deeper one looks the more irregularities one finds.
In terms of the raw ongoings of the election in Ohio, was the burglary of computers with sensitive voter information from Lucas County Democratic headquarters in Toledo partisan politics? In terms of the votes cast on election day, is it fathomable that Concord South West precinct in Miami County showed a 98.55% (679 of 689 RV's casting votes) turnout in a precinct that favored Bush over Kerry by a 520-157 margin; or that 19.27% (90 of 557), in the Cleveland 6-M precinct didn't vote for a Presidential candidate, in a precinct that favored Kerry over Bush by 367-9 votes?
At the least, the last few months have proven that Ohio (and don't forget New Mexico ) needs electoral reform. The "strategic machine shortages in largely Democratic precincts" is the ' biggest deal since Selma ', especially given Blackwell's continued stonewalling of the recount (and look, he's the GOP frontrunner for Governor in '06). Upcoming, OHIO'S STOLEN ELECTION: VOICES OF THE DISENFRANCHISED, in January of 2005, is sure to shine the light under more than a few stones that have been turned over.
I'm convinced that vote-by-mail is the most legit and democratic means of holding an election. Currently, only Oregon holds their entire election in this manner; but it works. Vote-by-mail yields a high turnout, avoids electronic voting, leaves a paper trail, accomodates voters, and it saves the taxpayer money. Hopefully, the Democratic trifecta in Washington State sees the sense in adopting this practice; and eventually, Ohio follows.
A consummation devoutly to be wished. (12/26/04)
Ohio electoral figh becomes 'biggest deal since Selma' as GOP stonewalls
Columbus, Ohio, Free Press reports: As Republican officials stonewall subpoenas and subvert the recount process, Rev. Jesse Jackson has pronounced Ohio's vote fraud fiasco "the biggest deal since Selma" and has called for a national rally at "the scene of the crime" in Columbus January 3.
No peace on earth during unjust war
Andrew Greeley writes: "One reads in the papers that the Pentagon expects the war in Iraq to continue till 2010. Donald Rumsfeld will not guarantee that it will be over by 2009. How many dead and maimed Americans by then? How many sad obituaries? How many full pages in the papers with pictures of all the casualties?
See the rest. (12/26/04)
Neoliberalism Defied? The Argentine 'Miracle'
Defying conventional expectations, Argentina has experienced significant economic and employment growth in the last few years while defying the International Monetary Fund and the pressures of foreign investors. Larry Rohter of the NYT presents both sides of the argument (via DailyKos).
The Next War
Perhaps it's appropriate that the White House is comparing the build-up to the Iraq war with their push to phase out Social Security benefits. Josh Marshall notes, "This would suggest that we're now in the lying and fear-mongering phase of the campaign, which would be followed of course by a later phase in which a specific policy remedy is brought forward, nominally meant to address the fake problem." (12/26/04)
Fainthearted Faction forming
Josh Marshall searches for the soft targets -- Democrats who are most likely to abandon the party on Social Security privatization. Harold Ford and Allen Boyd apparently are opening up to GOP privatizers in the House. More importantly, in the Senate, where the loss of four Democrats would allow Bush's plan to proceed, Ben Nelson of Nebraska has talked about his openness to privatization. Others whom privatizers are trying to lure into the privatizer camp include Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Thomas Carper of Delaware and Evan Bayh of Indiana. Marshall concludes that only Nelson is in the Faction so far. We conclude that the others are well worth contacting to reinforce their Social Security bona fides. (12/26/04)
Reframing environmentalism -- and the Left
At NathanNewman.org, Adam Werbach, founder of the Apollo Alliance, in a speech to the Commonwealth Club, recounts how voters in Erie, Pa., and Akron, Ohio, embraced proposals for a major federal investment to accelerate America's transition to the clean energy economy of the future. Working-class, swing voters remembered the thousands of jobs that were created to retrofit smokestacks after the passage of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendment and polls found that 70% of voters would support a $30 billion annual investment in energy efficiency and clean energy. John Kerry signed onto the plan, but his economic advisers objected that the $30 billion annual investment would interfere with deficit reduction, and the campaign failed to link the initiative to job creation.
"I don’t blame Kerry for the campaign he ran," Werbach said. "I’ve come to realize that the election was lost years ago. ... The obstacles we face are the same obstacles any progressive faces when trying to explain the need to think differently about problems and solutions to liberals who insist on putting all problems and solutions in traditional, single-issue categories. ...
"I still wonder about the laid-off Hoover Vacuum assembly plant workers who are waiting for that great American company to come to Akron and put them to work."
Ralph Taylor, who posted the speech excerpts at NathanNewman.org (with links to the entire speech), comments, "We need to fight hard to stop the Right from turning back the clock, but resistance won't be enough. If we don't want four -- or eight or twelve -- more years of the same, it's time to be honest with ourselves and ask tough questions about how we helped create the mess we're in. And we need to follow up this soul-searching not with big, amorphous happy dreams but with the pragmatic idealism of Machievelli's skillful archer , who 'seeing that the object he would hit is distant, and knowing the range of his bow, takes aim much above the destined mark; not intending that his arrow should strike that high, but, in flying high, it may land at the point intended.'
"Happy Holidays! Here's to fighting the good fight -- with our enemies and amongst ourselves -- and uniting to win in the new year." (12/25/04)
Social Security for Beginners
The Economic Policy Institute has put together a useful primer on the Social Security system: what it is and what the Bushites are trying to do to it, with links to general information, other interested organizations and publications.
Progressive Dems, ILCA, Rainbow/PUSH and ReDefeatBush join in pro-democracy rallies
The International Labor Communications Association has joined a broad coalition of organizations, including Rainbow/PUSH, Progressive Democrats of America, and ReDefeatBush.com to promote rallies in Columbus, Ohio, on Jan. 3, and Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6.
"Millions of Americans are losing faith in our political system," said ILCA President Martin Fishgold. "And millions are losing faith in the media to tell them what's going on. We've heard more on our televisions about voting problems in the Ukraine than about what's happening in Ohio. People have been disenfranchised, made unable to vote, and prevented from verifying that their votes are counted. Working people sacrificed to win the right to vote. Any loss of that right must be opposed, and the labor media must work to organize that opposition, because the corporate media will not."
Organizers of the rallies ask: How many Americans are aware that the official overseeing the Ohio election was also running the Bush-Cheney campaign in that state? That members of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee have held hearings looking into some of the many thousands of complaints from Ohio voters?
Also, Progressive Democrats of America will converge on Washington, D.C. January 21-23, 2005, for the Progressive Democratic Summit with progressive speakers, discussions and workshops. Speakers include Rep. John Conyers, Amy Goodman, Medea Benjamin, Tom Hayden, James Zogby, Rev. Lennox Yearwood, John Bonifaz, William Rivers Pitt, Gary Flowers. (12/25/04)
New SS numbers could puncture privatization balloon
Not that the Social Security Chicken Littles will be bothered by the facts -- the Social Security privatization scam depends on you not understanding the numbers -- but Bruce Webb, in a comment to a Maxspeak post, notes that the Social Security Trustees will make their 2005 report on March 31, 2005.
And unlike most past years people will be awaiting its release this time around. Because the Trustees are faced with inserting a real 2004 productivity number of 4.0% into a model that projected 2.7% This is huge. Consider that the difference in the 2004 number for the Low Cost Alternative that shows no shortfall at all and the Intermediate Cost Alternative that produces the now defunct 2042 date was 2.8% for 2004 vs 2.7%, and that the respective projected numbers for 2005 were 2.1% and 1.8%. Now some poor actuary has to insert 4.0% for 2004(real) and 3.5% for 2005 (public Bush projection) into that model and still have "Crisis!!" pop out the other end. Sorry, won't happen, 2042 is so yesterday.
This year April Fools Day will be the day privatization dies. Unless we take our eyes off the ball, because privatization cannot survive the number based reality that faces it. The Trustees already played some fancy tricks with the Reports in 2002 and 2003 to maintain the sense of crisis (change terminology from GDP which people understood to 'productivity', introduce 'infinite future' into a report that previously held strictly to a 75 year window) and apparently hoped nobody would notice the 2004 Report in an election year (they were right). But Max and Brad and Kevin and Atrios and a good portion of the blogtopian blogosphere are going to bring numbers to this fight. And the showdown is March 31, 2005. Be there.
See the current Social Security numbers at:
2004 Report: Economic Assumptions under the Three Alternatives
2004 Report: Long-Range Trust Fund Ratios (12/23/04)
What a difference the 49th Parallel makes
While its big sister to the South named George W. Bush its Person of the Year, TimeCanada.com named Maher Arar its Newsmaker of the Year in its Dec. 27 issue.
Who is Maher Arar? We all know the basic contours of his story. In 2002, U.S. officials detained the Canadian software engineer at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. They alleged that he was linked to al-Qaeda and secretly deported him to Syria, where he says he was tortured. When Arar was freed more than a year later and the public got a glimpse of him, he seemed to be a likable, hard-working family man caught up in a monstrous international screwup. Was there more? Simultaneously, officials, most of them anonymous, were leaking information and dropping hints suggesting that Arar was a security risk with something to hide.
Well, if Arar is a terrorist, he is unlike any other. In contrast to other suspects dispatched to harsh justice, Arar did not vanish into oblivion in his Middle East cell. Nor, after his release, did he recoil from public view. Instead, Arar, who has a modest home in Ottawa, has stepped into the spotlight as a vocal proponent of human rights in Canada, a symbol of how fear and injustice have permeated life in the West since 9/11. To this day, it has not been revealed why Arar was detained. And no one has pushed harder to shed light on his case than Arar. “I have nothing to hide,” he said in late 2003. “I want a public inquiry.”
Arar got his wish. His perseverance—not to mention the absence of evidence against him—helped prod Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan in January 2004 to create a commission to investigate the matter. There is more at stake than just learning the truth. The commission may come up with a new plan for overseeing the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which is accused of botching its end of the case. Arar has launched two gutsy lawsuits in 2004 targeting some of the most powerful people on the continent, including U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller, former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and R.C.M.P. Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli.
Whatever the outcome, Arar has forced Canada to rethink how it balances human rights and security concerns. His struggle has revealed troubling details about how Canada’s police and intelligence agencies share information with foreign governments. And his case is a disturbing reminder of America’s outsize role in the world, particularly since 9/11, and has prompted fresh debate on the harsh powers of Canada’s Anti-Terrorism Act. Before Arar’s situation surfaced, Canadians largely felt that security excesses were a “distant, complicated” problem, says Alex Neve, head of Amnesty International Canada. “It wasn’t until Maher came home that Canadians realized that this is also about us.”
For taking on the national-security agencies in two countries and for stepping courageously into the public realm despite the cost to himself and his family, Maher Arar is Time’s Canadian Newsmaker of the Year.
If the "basic contours" of Maher Arar's story are well-known in Canada, they are basically unknown in the USA, where the mainstream media has largely ignored the story. (The US edition of Time did not include the Arar story in its yearend edition and a search of its archives found only one mention, of his suit against the Justice Department, in the 5/17/04 issue.)
The consignment of Maher Arar to Syrian torturers in September 2002 was disgraceful but to our knowledge no one has been held to account for it. See Arar's side of the story. See a 1/21/04 report by CBS' 60 Minutes II on Arar's attempt to clear his name. 60 Minutes reported that the decision to deport Arar was made at the highest levels of the US Justice Department, with a special removal order signed by John Ashcroft's former deputy, Larry Thompson. No one at the Justice Department would discuss Arar's case with 60 Minutes II on camera, saying only that the facts in the case were classified.
Intelligence sources told 60 Minutes II last January that since 9/11, "the US has quietly transported hundreds of terror suspects captured in different parts of the world to Middle Eastern countries for tough interrogations." (12/22/04)
Get competitive states to nominate prez candidate
It's December and the Democrats once again are wondering how they can reduce the influence of Iowa and New Hampshire in the presidential nominating process. Well, as Josh Marshall notes, Steve Rosenthal, the union activist who led America Coming Together in the progressive get-out-the-vote effort this past fall, in a profile by John Harwood in the Wall Street Journal, "suggests Democrats place the five closest states from the previous general election (Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, New Mexico, and Wisconsin) first in the 2008 primary calendar to help tune up for fall battles."
Rosenthal's idea makes sense. Democrats need a candidate who can win in those marginal states and they need to focus more on the GOP's rural and exurban strongholds -- "and potential Democratic votes there among teachers, police officers and other public employees who can't afford the close-in suburbs."
Democrats also need to recognize that Iowa and New Hampshire didn't lose the presidential election. To a lot of Democrats nationwide, Kerry seemed like a good candidate in January and February. Iowa and New Hampshire gave them the candidate they thought they wanted, so the other states accepted the frontrunner who emerged from those early contests. What happened to that frontrunner after he wrapped up the nomination in March remains to be chewed over. (12/22/04)
Basic Facts on Social Security and Proposed Benefit Cuts/Privatization
Dean Baker and David Rosnick take apart the Republican disinformation campaign to dismantle Social Security Insurance. They expound on the following points:
1) Social Security is Financially Sound;
2) President Bush's Social Security Cuts Would Be Large;
3) Imaginary Stock Returns Don't Offset Real Benefit Cuts;
4) Social Security is Extremely Efficient, Private Accounts Are Wasteful;
5) Social Security Pays the Most to Those Who Need it Most;
6) The Projected Shortfall is No Larger Than What We Have Seen In Past Decades;
7) Young Workers Will Still See Much Higher Wages If Taxes Are Increased;
8) The Bush Proposal Phases Out Social Security as We Know It.
Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and co-author of Social Security. David Rosnick provided research assistance and/or comments on earlier drafts of this paper. (12/22/04)
Bush OK'd Abu Ghraib torture, FBI memo says
Repeated references in in internal FBI memo suggest that President Bush issued a special order to permit some of the more objectionable torture techniques used at Abu Ghraib and other US-run prison facilities around Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the NewStandard reported 10/21/04.
The email memo, which was obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union in connection with a lawsuit accusing the government of being complicit in torture, represents the first hard evidence directly connecting the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal and the White House. The author of the email, whose name is blacked out but whose title is described as "On Scene Commander -- Baghdad," contains 10 explicit mentions of an "Executive Order" that the author said mandated US military personnel to engage in extraordinary interrogation tactics.
The NewStandard reported that after the ACLU released the documents, White House, Pentagon and FBI officials told reporters that the author of the email was mistaken, and that the order was not an executive order, but a Defense Department directive. All sources refused to be identified in news reports.
The White House does not appear to have ever officially denied that President Bush issued an executive order specifying interrogation techniques, though none has been made public, NewStandard noted.
The New York Times ignored the controversy over the alleged Bush executive order in its 12/21/04 report on the FBI memos, which detailed abuse of US military prisoners that included detainees' being beaten and choked, having lit cigarettes placed in their ears and being chained in uncomfortable positions and left to urinate and defecate on themselves, The Times' front-page report did not mention Bush's executive order or the administration's denials. (12/21/04)
DeLay and the appeasers
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay says critics of Donald Rumsfeld are providing aid and comfort to our enemies in a time of war. Of course, Sam Rosenfeld notes at Tapped, DeLay openly opposed and undercut then-President Bill Clinton's war in Kosovo in 1999. And yes, other Republican leaders also questioned Clinton's military action against a genocidal Serbian regime. (10/21/04)
Matthew Yglesias at Tapped notes that the latest Washington Post poll shows that public opinion is on the side of the Democrats in the battle over Social Security.
The public disapproves of Bush's handling of Social Security by a 38-53 margin, which comes in the context of generally widespread skepticism about George W. Bush 's domestic policies ( 37-56 on health care, 46-51 on the economy) and a basically even division about the man himself.
Indeed, disapproval of Bush on the Social Security front extends to every age group . My fear had been that the GOP had a secret reservoir of support on this issue because generally anti-Bush under-30s have historically had a soft spot for ending Social Security. But the issue bleeding seems to have operated in the other direction, with the youngest cohort disliking Bush by the same 38-52 margin as the 65-and-overs. The closest thing to a supportive age cohort is the 31- to 44-year-old group, which disapproves of Bush by a "mere" 39-49. Fortunately, this is the demographic class where the self-interested argument against privatization is at its most obvious. These folks have paid into Social Security all their lives and now Bush wants to cut their benefits to pay for tax cuts to the rich.
Democrats need to stiffen their backbone and take the fight to the Republicans who would dismantle Social Security. (12/21/04)
Gospel truth about right-wingers
Nick Coleman writes in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about the backlash from readers who were offended that he ended a recent column with a biblical Christmas story that referred to Joseph and Mary as a homeless couple who were forced to stay in a stable, where Mary delivered Jesus.
I thought it was pretty straightforward: The Gospels stress the strong identification Jesus had with the poor. But sharp-eyed Christians saw through the scriptural smokescreen to reveal my agenda: There I went again, shoving liberal dogma down their mouths. Thankfully, the righteous are smart. Especially the self-righteous.
"Your allegation that Mary and Joseph were homeless is just a plain lie," wrote Jerry. "They were no more homeless than you would be if you showed up at a posh hotel without a reservation and were turned away."
... "Joseph and Mary were NOT homeless," wrote Steve. "They were forced to go to Bethlehem by Caesar Augustus, who undoubtedly was the world's first liberal Democrat."
All I was trying to do in my homeless column was draw a timely connection between the poor and the Christmas story. This was a connection the nuns drew sharply for me in my formative years. And as I have written about the poor for the past 20 years, it has always been with the echo in my head of what the nuns told me Jesus had said: "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me." ...
Coleman commented today on the Al Franken show on Air America Radio that he's never seen such hostility to poor people and immigrants. He noted that the late Mike Royko used to run an annual column on a homeless couple, Joe and a pregnant Mary, getting off the bus in Chicago and their travails in trying to find shelter.
But that was before middle-class Americans were trained to object to any identification with the working poor. It is the product of years of right wingers vilifying immigrants, the poor and liberals who try to help the poor -- who in fact try to live the Gospel message.
It bewilders us how professed Christians of the Right can bash the poor and immigrants and oppose a living wage, decent housing, equal opportunities for education and health care for all. Do they read the Gospels at all? Would they know what "whitened sepulchers" refer to? (Hint: It's not a compliment. See Matthew 23:27.) (12/21/04)
UPDATE 12/22/04: K. Lamonte John of Burke, Va., notes that if Mary and Joseph were not necessarily homeless, "more importantly ... Jesus was homeless for most of His life, especially during His ministry on earth." Burke recommends a Mormon composer named Michael McLean, whose song "Homeless" in his play, "The Forgotten Carols," makes that point.
Self-interest and SSI
Michael Tomasky of The American Prospect explains why it's OK -- and probably necessary -- to argue that preserving Social Security is in the middle class's self interest.
Buyer's remorse? Or exit polls vindicated?
CNN buries the lede in the 7th graf , but George Bush figures to be the most unpopular incumbent to be reinaugurated since polling began (if Ohio's disputed electoral votes stand in the Bush column).
As for Bush, 49 percent of respondents said they approved of the job the president is doing. That number is down from his November approval rating of 55 percent. Bush is the first incumbent president to have an approval rating below 50 percent one month after winning re-election.
Eric Boehlert has the context, at Salon.com.
SSI Scaremongers can't keep numbers straight
Bushites at the Social Security administration project low growth over the next decade to depict SSI in trouble. Their numbers are considerably lower than the US experience over the past 40 years. The low-growth projection also is considerably more pessimistic than the economic forecasts of the White House Council of Economic Advisors.
Matthew Yglesias of Tapped notes:
The SSA says that "the average annual growth in real GDP is projected to be 2.9 percent over the short-range projection period (2004-13), a slower rate than the 3.3 percent average observed over the historical 40-year period (1962-2002)." Meanwhile the White House's Council of Economic Advisors has recently released its own economic forecasts for the years 2004-10, concluding that we'll see an average of 3.4 percent growth for that seven-year period.
For the numbers to work out, we'd need to see an extraordinary collapse to 1.87 percent average annual GDP growth for 2011-13. Another way of putting this would be that for five out of the seven years in which their projections overlap, the administration's estimates for productivity growth are higher than those used in the SSA's intermediate forecast. If even the White House doesn't believe the SSA's short-term forecasts (i.e., the ones that are most likely to be accurate) why should the rest of us (and the press and politicians in general) be expected to take their 75-year (and even infinite horizon!) forecasts seriously?
At least House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi is willing to call Bush on misrepresentations made at his Monday press conference. "Today, President Bush disingenuously stated that as the first step toward Social Security reform, 'we're going to have to explain to Members of Congress that crisis is here.' Mr. President, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has determined that Social Security is secure for nearly 50 years, without any changes whatsoever. A better first step would be for the President to stop pretending otherwise." (12/20/04)
Big Lie Watch
Josh Marshall does the Social Security lies roundup from the Sunday talk shows, where Treasury Secretary John Snow and White House Chief of Staff raise the threat level on the Social Security fund. "Both Card and Snow, who appeared on 'Fox News Sunday,' said Social Security is beyond repair as it now stands," AP reported. "Straight-up lies, disinformation," Marshall judges. "I was going to say just like Iraq, but it's far more brazen since our knowledge in this case is much more certain." Marshall also promotes Kevin Drum's summary at WashingtonMonthly.com of the reality about Social Security's fiscal health and long-term viability. Any "journalist" who lets the Bush administrtion's disinformation go unchallenged is guilty of malpractice. (12/20/04)
Social Security Worth Fighting For
Josh Marshall writes that Democratic unity is an absolute prerequisite for success in fighting the Republican assault on Social Security. "Democrats should, probably must, consider pulling together the major funders of the party, the official committees, the major organizations, basically the entire infrastructure of the Democratic party and making clear to individual members that if they sign on to the president's plan to phase out Social Security, those various institutions and individuals won't fund their campaigns. Not in 2006, not ever. Similar committments can come from voters, activists and volunteers. And free rein to primary challengers. If a couple folks lose their seats because of underfunding or tough primaries, so be it."
We agree. If a Democrat can't support Social Security against this unwarranted assault, we'd just as soon see their backside. And if Democrats can't hang the Social Security deform issue around the necks of Bush as well as Congressional Republicans to turn around the elections in 2006, they don't deserve to govern. (12/20/04)
Countering the Big Lie on Social Security
Say it loud, say it proud. Populist economist Max Sawicky joins the progressive chorus in assuring us: There is no [major] problem with Social Security!
"Some see a problem in the gap in program financing (benefits minus payroll taxes) that is foreseen after 2042. The ten trillion number you hear refers to the sum of all such gaps after 2042, in perpetuity, discounted to present value for year 2004," Max writes.
The Bush machine perfected the Big Lie in its first term -- blaming 9/11 on Saddam Hussein as an excuse to invade Iraq and seize its oilfields, and then running for election on his war on terror in Iraq. Now the Bush brain trust thinks it is ready for the Really Big One: that the Social Security fund is in danger of bankruptcy, and that there will be no Social Security benefits available for young workers. It's a rationale to divert the Social Security insurance system into a more conventional pension program that would eliminate guaranteed benefits and instead put them at risk of market fluctuation. It would be a huge boon for the Wall Street interests that benefits from Bush's investor tax cuts and bankrolled Bush's campaign.
If he can pull it off Bush will be a hero to right wingers who have been scheming for more than 60 years to dismantle the groundbreaking New Deal program that was designed to keep seniors, dependent children and the disabled out of poverty. Social Security trust fund actuarial forecasts make the average layperson's eyes glaze over, which makes it easier for scalawags to twist those numbers to justify radical changes in the program that has survived the occasional economic bump quite nicely since the 1930s.
Suffice it to say that the Social Security doomsayers assume a low level of economic growth at which stock investments also would tank. At a normal level of economic growth the Social Security fund would be in good shape for the foreseeable future. Even under the worst-case scenario, modest changes, such as eliminating the cap on income subject to the payroll tax and/or earmarking estate taxes from the wealthy to the Social Security fund, would solve the anticipated shortfall, and promised benefits would still be available. But workers and their families really would be screwed if they depended on private accounts that tanked shortly before their retirement.
Does anybody remember what happened to many 401K retirement plans when the high-tech bubble collapsed in 2000? Bury the Social Security deform plan. (12/19/04)
Notes from the Texas Observer's 50th anniversary and on preserving a free press
From the Dec. 4 symposium and dinner in Austin. (12/17/04)
What Can We Do For You?
Should The Progressive Populist switch to weekly publication? The Populist is in good shape entering its sixth year as a twice-monthly publication, after four years as a monthly. Weekly publication would let The Progressive Populist report on a more timely basis on issues of vital interest to workers, small businesses and family farmers and ranchers. Many of our most popular writers are syndicated and already produce more columns than we are able to use in our current twice-monthly schedule, including Jim Hightower, Molly Ivins, Jesse Jackson Arianna Huffington, Ralph Nader, Gene Lyons, Amanda G. Little, Donald Kaul, Norman Solomon, Alexander Cockburn and the Americas column of Patrisia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriguez. A weekly schedule would let us publish more of those favorites as well as our other contributing writers and new features from websites and syndicates such as Salon.com, TomPaine.com, MinutemanMedia.org and AlterNet.org.
We know many of our readers already are hard-pressed to keep up with the 24 full-tabloid pages we publish, but we would rather give you too much news instead of too little. However, if you prefer the twice-monthly format, that suits us fine; the decision is up to you, the readers.
Our survival is a tribute to your hunger for news that you can’t get from the corporate media. We will continue to send our subscribers the meat and potatoes, as well as dessert and snacks. Please fill out our survey. (12/17/04)
Progressive action against Sinclair Broadcasting's right-wing rhetoric.
SinclairAction has been formed by Media Matters for America and supported by MoveOn, MediaChannel.org, Free Press, Working Assets, Robert Greenwald (director, Outfoxed), AlterNet and The Institute for America's Future to protest Sinclair Broadcast Group's continued misuse of public airwaves and put pressure on its advertisers. See an LA Times report. (12/14/04)
Only Grassroots can Save the Democratic Party
Joe Trippi's take on the future of the Democratic Party (12/10/04)
Embracing the New Politics and Perfecting the Old
Donnie Fowler, former Clinton aide, Federal Communications Commissioner, high-tech adviser and Wesley Clark's presidential campaign manager, makes his case for the DNC chair. (12/10/04)
Where We Are
Simon Rosenberg of the New Democrat Network, a centrist candidate for chairman of the Democratic Party, outlines where the party stands. (12/10/04)
Future of Democratic Party
Howard Dean's speech at George Washington University. (12/8/04)
Playing politics with Intel reform
Robert Byrd has grave doubts about the 600-page bill. (12/8/04)
Democrat-friendly corporations ...
Or at least neutral in the past election. See the list of corporations or their PAC affiliates that gave less than 55% of political donations to Republicans. Or see Project Blue Santa to find progressive companies you can patronize for the holidays. For more on politics and shopping see The Big Picture. (12/8/04)
Folk songs and our insane world
Michael Cohen of the Institute of Global Education writes on "Increasing self-esteem: Folk songs and our insane world."
Dubya the movie
At least during the second term we can look forward to the release of this biopic, featuring the only actor big enough to bring Dubya to life on the Big Screen. Check it out. (12/1/04)
Figures lie (or at least are subject to revision)...
One of the nice things about polls is you can twist them to support nearly any position -- even W's claim to have a mandate from his 51% showing. But Ruy Teixeira, a Democratic demographer who found it hard to swallow the claim that Bush got 44% of the Hispanic vote nationally in the recent general election and 59% in Texas, gets some support from new massaging of the data. Now it looks like Bush actually got 49% of the Tejano vote and about 42% of the US Latino vote. See as well his earlier analysis of the Hispanic vote, in which he concludes:
"All this leaves us with a question: if 44 percent is the wrong level for Bush’s support among Hispanics, what is the right level? Of course, we’ll never really know for sure, but I am persuaded, by playing with the numbers and making some reasonable assumptions to correct the anomalies in the NEP that it is somewhere around 39 percent. That is also Sailer’s conclusion and that of the National Council of La Raza, whose extremely useful review of 2004 poll and voting data on Hispanics I recommend to you.
"If the 39 percent figure is about right, that would mean Bush improved his standing among Hispanics by 4 points–about his gain in support among voters overall. That makes sense to me and is certainly no cause for complacency among Democrats. But there is no reason to panic either: Bush made gains among Hispanics, as he did among most voter groups, but not a breakthrough." (12/1/04)