Thrown to the wolves
The New York Times' Bob Herbert talks to the innocent man whom the US sent to Syria to be tortured and held in miserable conditions for a year, apparently because of a bureaucratic mixup which the Bush administration will not admit. The Syrians, who tortured Maher Arar, apparently at the behest of the US government, finally concluded that Arar was not linked in any way to terrorism and returned him to Canada.
Official documents in Canada suggest that Mr. Arar was never the target of a terror investigation there. One former Canadian official, commenting on the Arar case, was quoted in a local newspaper as saying "accidents will happen" in the war on terror.
Whatever may have happened in Canada, nothing can excuse the behavior of the United States in this episode. Mr. Arar was deliberately dispatched by U.S. officials to Syria, a country that - as they knew - practices torture. And if Canadian officials hadn't intervened, he most likely would not have been heard from again.
A lawsuit on Mr. Arar's behalf has been filed against the United States by the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. Barbara Olshansky, a lawyer with the center, noted yesterday that the government is arguing that none of Mr. Arar's claims can even be adjudicated because they "would involve the revelation of state secrets."
This is a government that feels it is answerable to no one.
Support community radio
Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) have introduced the Local Community Radio Act of 2005 (S 312), which would give thousands of communities the right to broadcast on low-power FM airwaves. Many of these communities have seen their "local" stations taken over by corporate media chains who do their programming from remote corporate headquarters. Congress needs to know how important it is for this bill to pass. See details here.
GOP slimemasters exposed
Josh Marshall of TalkingPointsMemo.com is all over USA Next, the Republican "astroturf" group that has set about to smear AARP, the nonpartisan seniors group, in retaliation for its opposition to Social Security privatization.
First, USA Next on Monday 2/21/05 ran an ad with a headline: "The REAL AARP Agenda" under a picture of a soldier in desert fatigues with a big 'X' crossing him out and on the right a picture of two men (in tuxes and obviously just married) kissing each other. The gay newlyweds have a big green check mark over them. (See a copy here.)
Then, his Talking Points Irregulars noticed that USA Next apparently had more slimy ads in store.
Then, Marshall excerpted an article from the May 2004 Washington Monthly, which makes clear that United Seniors Association is basically a slush fund through which pharmaceutical companies make huge donations to the Republican party.
Then, on Tuesday 2/22/05 USA Next pulled the "AARP hates the troops and loves gay marriage" ad from the American Spectator website. But there are copies galore on the Internet, such as this one.
Marshall notes some of the groups and businesses with past ties to USA, including O'Neill Marketing Co., which at one time apparently shared offices with USA but Thursday posts its own note distancing itself from USA Next.
Then Marshall notes that USA Next, formerly known as United Seniors Association, has claimed a membership of 1.5 million at least as far back as 2002. But the group's 2001 and 2002 tax filings for a 501c4 non-profit organization list no income from membership dues.
Yet in the 2003 filing, the most recent available, the report lists $1,204,172 in membership dues income. Coincidentally, that report was filed two months after an article in Washington Monthly questioned USA's membership claims
Marshall also notes that USA was fined a half-million dollars in 2003 for sending deceptive mailings intended to fool seniors into believing they were official correspondence from the Social Security Administration. See the full text of Administrative Law Judge Steven T. Kessel's ruling upholding the fine.
One of many choice quotes, this one on USANext's persistence as a scofflaw: "[T]he SSA I.G.'s enforcement efforts in this case did not spring fully formed from a blank background. There was a long history of discussion between the SSA I.G. and Respondent [i.e., USANext] in which the SSA I.G. struggled vainly to convince Respondent to curb its practices of sending potentially deceptive mailings to senior citizens. Respondent had been warned on several occasions by the SSA I.G. that its conduct verged on violating or violated the Act. It chose to ignore these warnings."
Kudos to Josh and his Irregulars, as well as the other bloggers who are dogging USA Next and its ties to the White House as the story continues to develop.
Hunter S. Thompson kills Gonzo
The Good Doctor was a nonpareil Gonzo Journalist who alternately dined on and was plagued by his reputation for eccentricity. A generation of writers tried -- and mainly failed -- to imitate him, as previous generations imitated Twain, Mencken and Hemingway.
We will not see his like again because no corporate news organization would risk hiring someone like him these days, much less entertain his extravagant expense accounts.
As Marc Cooper wrote: "There isn't much room in our current world for journalists as out-sized as Hunter S. Thompson. They just don't fit in anywhere anymore. I guess he came to the same conclusion."
See the obit at Rolling Stone and tributes by David Corn, Steve Gilliard, Larry Kramer, Greg Palast and Cintra Wilson. Also see Thompson's archive at ESPN.com and a good wrapup from overseas by the London Guardian.
UPDATE: John Nichols also has a good take on HST.
Social Security Calculator
Sen. Chuck Schumer has put up a site to calculate how your current promised Social Security benefits stack up vs. the best guess as to Bush's privatization plan.
We plugged in a few figures and found that a 50-year-old person with an average salary of $25,000 would get $13,178 annually from Social Security upon retirement and would get $782 less under Bush's plan. A 30-year-old person with an average salary of $25,000 would get $15,626 under the current plan and would lost $4115 under Bush's plan.
A 50-year-old earning $42,000, which is close to the mean household income in the US, would get $18,986 under the current plan but would get $1,125 less under Bush's plan. Our hypothetical 30-year-old who earns an average of $42,000 would get $22,514 under the current plan, and $5,929 less under Bush's plan.
The Cato Institute has its own calculator that generally shows people doing better under Bush's plan. Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum examines the differences:
So who's right? Schumer explains his assumptions here, and needless to say they're a wee bit different from Cato's. He figures a net rate of return of 2.7% instead of Cato's 4.95%. He assumes retirement at age 65, not 67. He assumes a constant average salary instead of Cato's endless 4% real growth. He assumes the plan starts in 2009 and contributions are capped at $1,000 per year (plus annual growth) — whereas Cato figures the plan starts now, has a contribution rate of 6.2% of your salary, and completely replaces Social Security. And Schumer assumes that traditional benefits will be cut both by changing the indexing formula and by the "privatization tax" favored by George Bush, which reduces your benefits based on how much money you accumulate in your private account.
So who's right? Hard to say. Schumer's 2.7% rate of return, for example, is as needlessly pessimistic as Cato's 4.95% is needlessly optimistic — although the rest of Schumer's assumptions seem broadly reasonable (unlike Cato's, although they've changed them a bit since I last wrote about them ). Beyond that, what this shows is just how much details matter in any privatization plan. Small differences in wage growth, retirement age, and contribution rates make a very big difference after being compounded for a couple of decades.
In other words, buyer beware. When Democrats complain that Bush hasn't produced a detailed privatization plan, this is the reason. Without an actual plan on the table, you can dangle pretty much any pot of gold you want in front of future retirees. Once a real plan is put down on paper, though, you can do real calculations and figure out whether it really works. The fact that Bush is so reluctant to do this should certainly make everyone skeptical that his plan is as good as he says it is. Schumer's calculator makes that abundantly clear.
Wal Mart gets sweetheart deal on labor complaints
NathanNewman.org noted on 2/12/05 that the Bush administration is making sure that its corporate friends are not too inconvenienced on those rare occasions when they are found to be breaking federal laws, especially if it only involves child labor issues.
Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer agreed to pay $135,540 to settle federal charges that it violated child labor laws in Connecticut, Arkansas and New Hampshire, [the New York Times reported]. As part of the agreement, revealed yesterday after it was secretly signed in January, the Labor Department agreed "to give Wal-Mart 15 days' notice before the Labor Department investigates any other 'wage and hour' accusations, like failure to pay minimum wage or overtime."
The violations involved workers under age 18 operating dangerous machinery, including cardboard balers and chain saws. Consistent with its new P.R. role models -- the industries that brought us lung cancer, underage drinking and Bhopal -- Wal-Mart reached and agreements to pay the fine, although the company denied any wrongdoing.
In a 2/14/05 followup, Nathan Newman comments:
Here's why the deal smells like rotting corporate sludge:
1) The deal to let the Wal-Mart corporate office look at all minimum wage and overtime complaints was kept secret until the New York Times confronted DOL about it. There was no public announcement prior to this date, despite the fact that the DOL usually announces such compliance deals with great fanfare.
2) As far as anyone can tell, no Wal-Mart employees were informed of the compliance agreement, even though it had been implemented as early as January 10 (see the email).
3) While the headlines talk about child labor violations, the email is much broader and says any information on any fair labor standards violation investigation should be turned over to Wal-Mart.
4) Were Wal-Mart employees ever informed that their complaints about their employer to the DOL were just being passed off to Wal-Mart corporate headquarters in Arkansas? Giving Wal-Mart this information secretly is a recipe for employees to face retaliation. Notably, there is no instruction in the email to assure the confidentiality of the employees who might make a complaint.
5) If the DOL receives a complaint, do they just ask Wal-Mart to fix the problem for the individual worker? There is nothing in the directive that requires the DOL to investigate to make sure workers in similar jobs aren't suffering the same violations. And since the complaints are never made public, they may never hear they have the right to seek legal relief.
6) Wal-Mart agreed to pay $135,000 for nationwide violations, yet the state of Maine alone fined Wal-Mart $205,650 for child labor violations. The DOL fine was obviously chump change-- a lick, not even a slap on the wrist.
And there are just weird things about the timeline. The NY Times reports the deal was signed on January 6, but the AP reports it was signed on January 11. The email above was sent out on January 10. The DOL claims they were waiting 30 days to let Wal-Mart pay the fine, yet they didn't announce it until forced to by the NY Times investigation more than 30 days later.
This is one of the slimiest insider deals possible by one of the largest corporate donors to the GOP.
Run, Alan, Run
Max Sawicky notes that Republican family values blowhard Alan Keyes has disowned his daughter for being openly liberal and lesbian. Sawicky is starting a "Run, Alan, Run" Fund to encourage Keyes, a former Marylander who attempted to rally the true believers in his campaign against Sen. Barack Obama in Illinois this past year, to move to Minnesota to run for the US Senate seat that is opening up with incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Dayton's decision not to seek re-election.
Bush team tried to suppress pre-9/11 warnings on al Qaeda
The London Independent reported: Federal officials were repeatedly warned in the months before the 11 September 2001 terror attacks that Osama bin Laden and al-Qa'ida were planning aircraft hijackings and suicide attacks, according to a new report that the Bush administration has been suppressing.
Critics say the new information undermines the government's claim that intelligence about al-Qaeda's ambitions was "historical" in nature.
The independent commission investigating the attacks on New York and Washington concluded that while officials at the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) did receive warnings, they were "lulled into a false sense of security". As a result, "intelligence that indicated a real and growing threat leading up to 9/11 did not stimulate significant increases in security procedures".
The report, withheld from the public for months, says the FAA was primarily focused on the likelihood of an incident overseas. However, in spring 2001, it warned US airports that if "the intent of the hijacker is not to exchange hostages for prisoners but to commit suicide in a spectacular explosion, a domestic hijacking would probably be preferable".
Watch what you say
Max Sawicky writes: "From where I sit, the prosecution and now conviction of attorney Lynne Stewart is another jolt to civil liberties in America and belies U.S. claims to stand for freedom in the world."
Jeralynn Merritt posts a link without editorial comment to the National Lawyers Guild statement. Max also links to the ACLU and Center for Constitutional Rights, but as of Friday afternoon I don't see statements on those sites concerning the Stewart verdict.
Our view: It looks as if Stewart may have bent the rules in representing her client, but it was her bad luck to bend the rules as a defense attorney, so she might get 30 years in a federal penitentiary. Government lawyers who bend the rules are promoted to become judges and attorneys general.
You don't need the Bill of Rights to defend popular figures or ideas. The Bill of Rights is there to protect unpopular figures -- even accused terrorists, and their attorneys.
More punitive bankruptcy law in pipeline
The Washington Post reports: "Republican leaders in Congress began clearing the way yesterday for swift passage of legislation backed by the credit card industry and opposed by consumer groups that would make it harder for consumers to wipe out debt through bankruptcy."
Congress has tried repeatedly in recent years to pass similar legislation in what would be the most significant change in bankruptcy law in more than a quarter of a century. Twice in the last seven years, bankruptcy bills have passed both the House and Senate, only to face ultimate defeat. In one case, President Bill Clinton refused to sign the legislation, saying it was unfair to consumers. In 2002, House Republicans initially backed the bill but then voted it down after an amendment was attached that sought to prevent individuals from using bankruptcy to shield them from fines imposed for illegal antiabortion protests.
Now two nearly identical bills have been introduced in Congress in the last week that are essentially the same as what House and Senate negotiators worked out in the last Congress, but lacking the controversial abortion amendment. The absence of the amendment, plus the Republican leadership's decision to begin deliberation now, early in the legislative cycle, has industry officials and lawmakers hoping a bill can become law within weeks.
This is a bad bill that Democrats bottled up for 10 years but the banks are calling in their markers. What's next? Debtor prisons?
Condi's lie exposed
The Herald Sun newspaper of Australia reports that eight months before the September 11, 2001, attacks the White House's then counterterrorism adviser urged then national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to hold a high-level meeting on the al-Qaeda network, according to a memo made public today.
"We urgently need such a principals-level review on the al-Qaeda network," then-White House counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke wrote in the January 25, 2001 memo.
Mr Clarke, who left the White House in 2003, made headlines in the heat of the US presidential campaign last year when he accused the Bush White House of having ignored al-Qaeda's threats before September 11.
Mr Clarke testified before inquiry panels and in a book that Rice, his boss at the time, had been warned of the threat. Rice is now US Secretary of State.
However, Ms Rice wrote in a March 22, 2004 column in The Washington Post that "No al-Qaeda threat was turned over to the new administration".
See more, including the memo, at DailyKos.com.
Social Security fix found
If there is a problem with Social Security financing, a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll released Tuesday found, more than two-thirds of 1,010 adults contacted from Friday to Sunday said it would be a good idea to limit benefits for wealthier retirees and for higher income workers to pay Social Security taxes on all their wages. Currently, the cap on wages taxed for Social Security is set at $90,000.
Gee, why don't George W. Bush and Republican congressional leaders just do that? Instead they are proceeding with plans to divert Social Security revenues to private investment accounts, which 55% of respondents thought was a bad idea.j
See also the USA Today report.
O'Reilly pads his resume -- again
Keith Olbermann notes, via Media Matters, that unfortunately Super Bowl XXXIX was not scandal free. Bill O'Reilly, a serial exaggerator and, as Olbermann noted, "noted loofah user," wrote an essay in the Super Bowl program that waxed poetic about his own football career at Marist College in New York, including one time when he punted the ball backwards. "I won the national punting title for my division as a senior," O'Reilly wrote. "I guess you could say the end zone was the beginning of the no-spin zone."
But Olbermann, a former sports reporter who now does Countdown on MSNBC, found that football was not a varsity sport at Marist until 1978 -- seven years after O'Reilly graduated. "When he played, it was a so-called club sport where players paid all their own expenses, and schedules and, most importantly, statistical record keeping were haphazard.
"So when he says he was the top punter in his division in the country in 1970, it does not mean what it sounds like. He was not in the NCAA Division I or II or the smaller-college NAIA Division I or Division II. O'Reilly in Marist played in something called the National Club Football Association. So writing in the Super Bowl program that you won the punting championship in your division would be like me writing in one of my articles in one of the World Series programs that I led the nation's high school baseball players in on-base percentage in 1973.
"I did, too. My on-base percentage that season was 1,000. I came to bat once and got hit in the backside with a pitch."
Tell Edward Jones to stop promoting privatization
Investment firms "could reap billions of dollars in management
fees and commissions over the long term" if Social Security is
privatized, according to the Jan. 18 Los Angeles Times -- and the Edward Jones brokerage house is a leading booster of privatization.
Take action now--tell Edward Jones: Don't support Social
Security privatization (via the AFL-CIO's UnionVoice campaign).
Fund manager calls Bush SSI plan 'silly'
Bill Gross, manager of the world's largest bond fund, is criticizing President Bush's plan to privatize part of Social Security, CNN reported 2/4/05. Gross, managing director at Pimco, called the argument about the solvency of Social Security "silly" and said it was an example of the president not focusing on more important issues, such as the budget deficit.
The president's argument for individual Social Security accounts is meant "to promote an agenda that has little to do with seniors and more to do with Bush, his ownership society, and ultimately his domestic legacy alongside the likes of Ronald Reagan and FDR," Gross wrote in comments posted on Pimco's Web site.
Who was the Iraqi woman in the balcony?
Sofia Taleb Al Souhail was cited during Bush's State of the Union speech as a shining example of why we've spent $200 billion and 1,500 lives to take out Saddam Hussein. Now, as Kos notes, it looks as if she doesn't live in Iraq, has been affiliated with right-wing organizations, her father was killed in Lebanon while planning a coup against Saddam, and her family claims the US was complicit in his assassination.
Ms. Al Souhail's sister, Nora al Tamimi, daughter of slain Iraqi opposition activist Taleb al Suhail al Tamimi, told a newspaper in 2003 that her father had planned a coup d'etat to overthrow Saddam in 1993, operating from Beirut and Amman. "But the Americans, who did not want the coup to succeed possibly because they were certain my father would not go along with their polices, tipped off Saddam about the impending putsch by my father and gave the names of his top aides," Nora said. "All of them died in Saddam's torture chambers."
Mikel1814, who dug up the information, wonders: "Is the prominent position within current policy a payback to cover some behinds?"
Voting no on Gonzales and torture
In response the Senate confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as attorney general, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid issued a strong renunciation of torture and Gonzales's active role in making it acceptable US policy. As Truthout noted, Gonzales did write, at the behest of George W. Bush, legal opinions that dismissed US law, international law, and the Geneva conventions, laying the groundwork for the atrocities we are discovering at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo. "That very same Alberto Gonzales will now be the highest ranking law enforcement officer in the United States. That is deeply troubling."
Uphold Constitution or support prez?
Alberto Gonzales was confirmed as attorney general yesterday, but not before several Democratic senators stood up in opposition to the nomination, questioning the ability of Gonzales to work in the best interests of the people instead of the president. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama gave particularly insightful and inspiring remarks at the final confirmation debate, TomPaine.com noted, as Obama asked, "whether, given the choice between the Constitution and the President's political agenda, he would put our Constitution first. " See his speech.
Send a mighty wind toward fence-sitters
After George Bush made his pitch to privatize Social Security, he embarked on a five-state trip to drum up support in states that voted for him but which are now represented by resistant Democrats as well as wavering Republicans who are testing the wind before they jump aboard the SS Private Accounts.
As the White House did during the campaign, they're not letting known Democrats into the rallies, so as to give the impression of a groundswell of support for Bush. So it's up to the people to make it clear by other means that we don't want to replace Social Security's guaranteed benefit with a Wall Street gamble.
The Campaign For America's Future has developed a tool to make it easy for you to send a hard-hitting letter to your local newspaper, radio and TV station. Just enter your ZIP code, choose your media outlets and blend the talking points with your own experiences and arguments. ACT NOW.
You also can sign a petition at the AFL-CIO to protect Social Security.
So many lies, so little time
On Groundhog Day, George Bush addressed the nation to set out his second-term agenda. He talked about privatizing Social Security, problaimed victory again in the war in Iraq and outlined his other priorities for the upcoming year and he was no more careful about telling the truth than he has been in the past, when he was caught telling -- to put it in the best light -- "inadequately sourced statements". Time for a reality check courtesy of Moving Ideas.
Many unhappy returns
Paul Krugman in the New York Times notes that Social Security privatizers assume that investing in stocks will yield a high annual rate of return, 6.5 or 7 percent after inflation, for at least the next 75 years. "Without that assumption, these schemes can't deliver on their promises."
But the projections of a Social Security "crisis" assume that economic growth will slow as baby boomers leave the work force. Republican actuaries predict that economic growth, which averaged 3.4% per year over the last 75 years, will average only 1.9% over the next 75 years.
But Krugman notes that, in the long run, profits grow at the same rate as the economy. So to get that 6.5% rate of return, stock prices would have to keep rising faster than profits, decade after decade.
As we saw with the high-tech bubble in the ’90s, that doesn't happen. And people who bet their retirements on the stock market continuing to grow watched their dreams evaporate as the bubble burst.
Catch 22 for the privatizers: If the economy grows fast enough to generate a rate of return that makes privatization work, it will also yield a bonanza of payroll tax revenue that will keep the current Social Security system sound for generations to come.
Krugman noted that economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research has challenged economists to make a projection of economic growth, dividends and capital gains that will yield a 6.5 percent rate of return over 75 years. "Not one economist who supports privatization has been willing to take the test."