Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Sierra Club Rejoices Christmas Gift from Senate Democrats

Released today by the Sierra Club....


In an against-all-odds victory for wildlife, wild places and all Americans, the Senate today rebuffed attempts to attach controversial provisions to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the Defense spending bill.

"Drilling proponents have pulled out all the stops, and tried every trick in their playbook to open up the Arctic Refuge to no avail," said Carl Pope, Sierra Club Executive Director. "This is a tremendous victory for all Americans and proof positive that the fate of the Arctic Refuge must be debated on its merits, not as part of a sneak attack."

Drilling proponents have now failed to include Arctic drilling on energy, budget and defense bills. The deplorable effort to link Arctic drilling to funding for America’s troops and Hurricane Katrina relief, led by Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) and bolstered by intense lobbying from the Bush administration, failed in a cloture vote 44-56 (cloture requires 60 votes).

"We applaud those Senators who refused to let drilling proponents manipulate them and the democratic process," said Pope. "Today’s vote reaffirmed the Senate’s role as a deliberative body, not a place where unrelated and controversial issues are tacked on to any bill without debate and at the whim of special interests."

Senator Stevens -- the man who brought us the $450 million "bridges to nowhere" -- tried to bully the Senate into passing a bill that benefits his state and the oil industry at the expense of all Americans.

"This year the oil industry squeezed Americans at the gas pump to the tune of billions in record profits, carved out billions more in government subsidies, and then lied to Congress. Senator Stevens held defense spending and hurricane relief hostage to help Big Oil out," said Pope. "Today the Senate gave the oil industry and Stevens the lump of coal they deserved. We will remain vigilant as those who would plunder the Arctic Refuge for short-term gain are clearly willing to try anything regardless of cost."

"Americans want real energy solutions that protect special places like the Arctic Refuge. Today that message was heard loud and clear," said Pope. "Drilling proponents tried every excuse, but Americans know that Arctic drilling would not put a dent in our dependence on foreign oil, would do nothing to strengthen our national security, and would not save consumers money at the pump."

A recent report from the U.S. Department of Energy’s own Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that even 20 years down the road, when Arctic Refuge oil would be at or near peak production, gas prices would only be affected by about a penny per gallon.

The United States sits on just 3 % of the world's known petroleum reserves. Government estimates indicate that there is less than a year’s supply of oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and even the oil industry admits it would take 10 years to make it to US markets.

(Read my other political site at US Liberals at

Sunday, December 18, 2005

2005 Persons of the Year: Time Magazine Places Compassion Over Politics

Praise God for Time magazine's public recognition of compassion over politics.

My prayer is that it inspires a new public movement within the United States, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, to reach out to the world's poor, hungry, homeless, uneducated and ill, both at home and abroad.

My pledge, and 2006 resolution, is to actively do my part.

Time Honors Bill and Melinda Gates, Bono by Desmond Butler, Associated Press Writer

Time magazine has named Bill and Melinda Gates and rock star Bono its "Persons of the Year," citing their charitable work and activism aimed at reducing global poverty and improving world health.

The magazine said 2005 was a year of extraordinary charity in which people donated record amounts in response to extreme natural disasters, from the tsunami in South Asia to Hurricane Katrina.

"Natural disasters are terrible things, but there is a different kind of ongoing calamity in poverty and nobody is doing a better job in addressing it in different ways than Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono," said Jim Kelly, Time's managing editor.

The 2005 "Person of the Year" package hits newsstands Monday.

"For being shrewd about doing good, for rewiring politics and re-engineering justice, for making mercy smarter and hope strategic and then daring the rest of us to follow, Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono are Time's Persons of the Year," the magazine said.

Time praised the Gateses for building the world's largest charity — The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has a $29 billion endowment — and for "giving more money away faster than anyone ever has" in 2005.

The foundation has saved at least 700,000 lives in poor countries by investing in vaccination programs, has donated computers and Internet access to 11,000 libraries and has sponsored the biggest scholarship fund in history, the magazine said.

Time said Bono's campaign to make rich countries address the debt of poorer ones has had an equally impressive impact on the world. In 2005, "Bono charmed and bullied and morally blackmailed the leaders of the world's richest countries into forgiving $40 billion in debt owed by the poorest," the magazine said.

Bono has earned a remarkable number of political allies around the world and in Washington, where he has courted politicians from both major parties, Time said.

"Bono's great gift is to take what has made him famous — charm, clarity of voice, an ability to touch people in their secret heart — combine those traits with a keen grasp of the political game and obsessive attention to detail, and channel it all toward getting everyone, from world leaders to music lovers, to engage with something overwhelming in its complexity," it said.

Even archconservative former Sen. Jesse Helms had praise for the Irish singer.

"I knew as soon as I met Bono that he was genuine," Helms, who has allied with Bono on AIDS awareness, told Time.

Bono, who first met the Gateses in 2002 to discuss their mutual interests, told Time that the Gates foundation is the second enterprise for Microsoft founder Bill Gates that has changed the world. "And the second act for Bill Gates may be the one that history regards more," the rock star said.

In a separate article in the same edition, Time named former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush as "Partners of the Year" for their work on behalf of the victims of the tsunami and Hurricane Katrina.

(Also see my site at US Liberals at, a New York Times Company)

Monday, December 12, 2005

George Bush Lives in a Dome, Not a Bubble!

From Reuters today.....

"U.S. President George W. Bush said on Monday that he does not live 'in a bubble' and that he is well aware of what is going on outside the White House, rejecting critics' claims that he is out of touch with public opinion. 'I don't feel in a bubble,' Bush said in an interview on "NBC Nightly News....

'Every morning I look at the newspaper,' Bush told NBC. 'I can't say I've read every single article in the newspaper. But, I definitely know what's in the news.' "

Bubble? A light, transparent, frothy bubble that pops, thusly revealing reality?

No, I never thought George Bush lived in a bubble.

More like the stubbornly impenetrable, intransparent, circa-1980 dome at Disney's EPCOT Center in Florida, the birth state of his illegitimate presidency.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

What Is Conveyed by a Forced "Merry Christmas" ?

If Christians insist on others greeting them in a specific fashion in order to help the Christians hold onto their own faith, then it's not much of a deeply-held faith.

If Christians insist on others greeting them in a specific fashion in order to teach those others, what the Christians have taught others is inflexibility, narrow-mindedness, self-absorption and anger during a sacred season.
A tongue-in-cheek New York Times op-ed from today.....

O Fight, All Ye Faithful by JOHN TIERNEY

'Tis the season when even the most blasé agnostic finds something special to fight about. But the Christmas battles are so complicated this year that you may be reluctant to join.
Don't let that happen. Honor the season. To get in the holiday spirit, you just need to arm yourself with the answers to a few basic questions:

Where is the "war on Christmas" being fought?

On many fronts. Retailers and politicians refer to fatally wounded evergreens as "holiday trees." The White House has sent out cards wishing a happy "holiday season," incurring the wrath of conservatives worried that secularists are "taking Christ out of Christmas." And the White Witch has cast Narnia into perpetual winter without Christmas, an assault not only on Santa Claus but on ecosystems vulnerable to climate change.

Is there any link between the White Witch and the White House?

Nothing proven, but Patrick Fitzgerald is still investigating the "Turkish Delight Connection."

Why do some Christians object to the term "holiday tree"?

Because it hides the ancient link between the tree and Christianity, found in an original Christmas gospel:

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon shepherds abiding in the field, and the angel said unto them: "I bring you tidings of great joy. On this Christmas go forth and smite a mighty tree, a Norway spruce with pleasing boughs, and place it in your home, and adorn it with candles and red balls and strands of silver."

And the shepherds were sore afraid and said unto the angel: "What is this spruce you speak of? What is Norway? Wouldst thou allow a small palm tree?"

And the angel said: "Whatever. Only place on its highest point a star of gold, or, better yet, an angel."

Please note, the angel did not call it a holiday tree.

Is that "original Christmas gospel" in the New Testament?

No, but never mind where it comes from. That's the kind of cynicism that's ruining Christmas. As a matter of historical fact, people in the ancient Middle East did put greenery inside their homes in December.

To celebrate the birth of Jesus?

The Egyptians put date palm leaves into their homes to celebrate the return of the sun at the solstice. Romans honored the god of farming with evergreens and gifts during the Saturnalia, their weeklong solstice festival.

Did the Romans say "Happy Holidays" to one another?

No, the traditional greeting was, "Io, Saturnalia" (the first word was pronounced "yo"), which meant roughly, "Ho, praise to Saturn." Scholars suggest that the date of Christmas was picked in the fourth century to coincide with the Roman holiday.

Did Roman pagans complain that Christians were taking Saturn out of Saturnalia?

Perhaps, but in those days there were no conservative all-news channels. The pagans in northern Europe must have complained about their traditional Yule solstice festival. Christians not only co-opted customs like burning a Yule log, but also turned Yule into a synonym for Christmas.

They took the Yule out of Yule?
And put it into Christmas. For all we know, some Norse lumber merchants tried appeasing both pagans and Christians by marketing "holiday logs," but the term didn't stick.

Why are today's Christians having such a hard time holding on to Christmas?

In some cases because of ridiculous political correctness, like not allowing the singing of traditional Christmas carols in public schools. But it's mainly because they're up against retailers who don't want to offend their many non-Christian customers. That old seasonal admonition of good will to all means more sales.

Does the moral fable of Narnia offer any way to resolve these religious differences over Christmas?

Yes. The pro-Christmas side forms an army and destroys the opposition.

Are there any other ways?

Well, non-Christians could tolerate a few Christmas traditions, and Christians could recognize they're not the only group in the mood for lights and festivities on long December nights.

So what's the right greeting?

If you want be safe - or sell anything - go with "Happy Holidays." Otherwise, say anything you want.

What's your choice?

Yo, Saturnalia!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Christian Materialism Movement and "Merry Christmas" at Malls

There's name now for this new, odd phenomenon.....the Christian Materialism movement. Wikipedia, the widely respected, online encyclopedia, defines it as follows:

"Christian materialism is the combination of the theology, concepts, and holy writings of Christianity with the philosophy of materialism, which places primary importance on material objects and their interrelationships.

Historically, materialism and Christianity have generally been at odds. This is due on the one hand to anti-materialist passages in
Christian scripture; and on the other to the denial by most materialist thinkers of the existence of the kinds of spiritual realities that were fundamental to the traditional Christian church....

...Christian Materialism quietly emerged from the earlier 'fundamentalist' movement in the late twentieth century, in a bold takeover that went largely unnoticed outside the religious community. The key to the worldview was the development of a Mechanism that closely paralleled that of Materialism (in order to compete effectively with Materialism).

The explicit goal of the resulting movement was to reverse the social decline that had accompanied the rise of Individualism and the breakdown of traditional communities. In order to do this, however, it sacrificed the spirituality and Christian Idealism that had become a drag on the popularity of Christianity, and embraced the tenets of Materialism.

The final step marking the change from fundamentalism to Christian Materialism was a cross-pollination of evangelical ministry and capitalist marketing techniques. To support this, a set of new consumer goods was created that paralleled mainstream consumer goods, but with a (often uneasily) grafted-on Christian message.

This was the root of the emergence of Christian rock, Christian heavy metal and Christian rap, as part of a deliberate effort to shift popular trends in teenage culture wholesale into an alternate, Christian universe."


An editorial observer column from the December 4, 2005 New York Times.....

This Season's War Cry: Commercialize Christmas, or Else by Adam Cohen

Religious conservatives have a cause this holiday season: the commercialization of Christmas. They're for it.

The American Family Association is leading a boycott of Target for not using the words "Merry Christmas" in its advertising. (Target denies it has an anti-Merry-Christmas policy.) The Catholic League boycotted Wal-Mart in part over the way its Web site treated searches for "Christmas." Bill O'Reilly, the Fox anchor who last year started a "Christmas Under Siege" campaign, has a chart on his Web site of stores that use the phrase "Happy Holidays," along with a poll that asks, "Will you shop at stores that do not say 'Merry Christmas'?"

This campaign - which is being hyped on Fox and conservative talk radio - is an odd one.

Christmas remains ubiquitous, and with its celebrators in control of the White House, Congress, the Supreme Court and every state supreme court and legislature, it hardly lacks for powerful supporters. There is also something perverse, when Christians are being jailed for discussing the Bible in Saudi Arabia and slaughtered in Sudan, about spending so much energy on stores that sell "holiday trees."

What is less obvious, though, is that Christmas's self-proclaimed defenders are rewriting the holiday's history. They claim that the "traditional" American Christmas is under attack by what John Gibson, another Fox anchor, calls "professional atheists" and "Christian haters."

But America has a complicated history with Christmas, going back to the Puritans, who despised it. What the boycotters are doing is not defending America's Christmas traditions, but creating a new version of the holiday that fits a political agenda.

The Puritans considered Christmas un-Christian, and hoped to keep it out of America. They could not find Dec. 25 in the Bible, their sole source of religious guidance, and insisted that the date derived from Saturnalia, the Roman heathens' wintertime celebration. On their first Dec. 25 in the New World, in 1620, the Puritans worked on building projects and ostentatiously ignored the holiday. From 1659 to 1681 Massachusetts went further, making celebrating Christmas "by forbearing of labor, feasting or in any other way" a crime.

The concern that Christmas distracted from religious piety continued even after Puritanism waned. In 1827, an Episcopal bishop lamented that the Devil had stolen Christmas "and converted it into a day of worldly festivity, shooting and swearing." Throughout the 1800's, many religious leaders were still trying to hold the line. As late as 1855, New York newspapers reported that Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist churches were closed on Dec. 25 because "they do not accept the day as a Holy One." On the eve of the Civil War, Christmas was recognized in just 18 states.

Christmas gained popularity when it was transformed into a domestic celebration, after the publication of Clement Clarke Moore's "Visit from St. Nicholas" and Thomas Nast's Harper's Weekly drawings, which created the image of a white-bearded Santa who gave gifts to children. The new emphasis lessened religious leaders' worries that the holiday would be given over to drinking and swearing, but it introduced another concern: commercialism. By the 1920's, the retail industry had adopted Christmas as its own, sponsoring annual ceremonies to kick off the "Christmas shopping season."

Religious leaders objected strongly. The Christmas that emerged had an inherent tension: merchants tried to make it about buying, while clergymen tried to keep commerce out. A 1931 Times roundup of Christmas sermons reported a common theme: "the suggestion that Christmas could not survive if Christ were thrust into the background by materialism." A 1953 Methodist sermon broadcast on NBC - typical of countless such sermons - lamented that Christmas had become a "profit-seeking period."

This ethic found popular expression in "A Charlie Brown Christmas." In the 1965 TV special, Charlie Brown ignores Lucy's advice to "get the biggest aluminum tree you can find" and her assertion that Christmas is "a big commercial racket," and finds a more spiritual way to observe the day.

This year's Christmas "defenders" are not just tolerating commercialization - they're insisting on it. They are also rewriting Christmas history on another key point: non-Christians' objection to having the holiday forced on them.

The campaign's leaders insist this is a new phenomenon - a "liberal plot," in Mr. Gibson's words. But as early as 1906, the Committee on Elementary Schools in New York City urged that Christmas hymns be banned from the classroom, after a boycott by more than 20,000 Jewish students. In 1946, the Rabbinical Assembly of America declared that calling on Jewish children to sing Christmas carols was "an infringement on their rights as Americans."

Other non-Christians have long expressed similar concerns. For decades, companies have replaced "Christmas parties" with "holiday parties," schools have adopted "winter breaks" instead of "Christmas breaks," and TV stations and stores have used phrases like "Happy Holidays" and "Season's Greetings" out of respect for the nation's religious diversity.

The Christmas that Mr. O'Reilly and his allies are promoting - one closely aligned with retailers, with a smack-down attitude toward nonobservers - fits with their campaign to make America more like a theocracy, with Christian displays on public property and Christian prayer in public schools.

It does not, however, appear to be catching on with the public. That may be because most Americans do not recognize this commercialized, mean-spirited Christmas as their own. Of course, it's not even clear the campaign's leaders really believe in it.

Just a few days ago, Fox News's online store was promoting its "Holiday Collection" for shoppers. Among the items offered to put under a "holiday tree" was "The O'Reilly Factor Holiday Ornament." After bloggers pointed this out, Fox changed the "holidays" to "Christmases."

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Actor-Activist Tim Robbins Disses Hillary's "Ridiculous" Statement on Iraq

This morning, actor and liberal activist Tim Robbins lashed out (on AIR AMERICA'S 'Morning Sedition') about Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's recent statement on why she voted for the Iraq War, but well, didn't exactly, really mean it........."Hillary Clinton can kiss my butt... That ridiculous, ridiculous statement she's made on Iraq."

So you can judge for yourself, here's Hillary's complete statement on the War in Iraq, which I received a day or two ago. It's a political masterpiece in CYA-ing, clever double-speak and convenient history revision.

(I've read it twice, and still have little grasp of what she's saying. As a writer, though, I'm a tad amazed at her excessive overuse of "I." Extreme overuse of "I" is the sure sign of a narcissist.)

November 29, 2005

Dear Friend,

The war in Iraq is on the minds of many of you who have written or who have calledmy office asking questions and expressing frustration. When the President addresses the nation tomorrow on the war, the American people want and deserve to know how we got there, why we are still there, how we have executed the war and what we should do now. In short, the President must explain his plan for the war in Iraq.

There are no quick and easy solutions to the long and drawn out conflict this Administration triggered that consumes a billion dollars a week, involves 150,000 American troops, and has cost thousands of American lives.

I do not believe that we should allow this to be an open-ended commitment without limits or end. Nor do I believe that we can or should pull out of Iraq immediately. I believe we are at a critical point with the December 15th elections that should,if successful, allow us to start bringing home our troops in the coming year, while leaving behind a smaller contingent in safer areas with greater intelligence and quick strike capabilities. This will advance our interests, help fight terrorism and protect the interests of the Iraqi people.

In October 2002, I voted for the resolution to authorize the Administration to use force in Iraq. I voted for it on the basis of the evidence presented by theAdministration, assurances they gave that they would first seek to resolve the issueof weapons of mass destruction peacefully through United Nations sponsored inspections, and the argument that the resolution was needed because Saddam Hussein never did anything to comply with his obligations that he was not forced to do.

Their assurances turned out to be empty ones, as the Administration refused repeatedrequests from the U.N. inspectors to finish their work. And the "evidence" of weapons of mass destruction and links to al Qaeda turned out to be false.

Based on the information that we have today, Congress never would have been asked to give the President authority to use force against Iraq. And if Congress had been asked, based on what we know now, we never would have agreed, given the lack of a long-term plan, paltry international support, the proven absence of weapons of mass destruction, and the reallocation of troops and resources that might have been used in Afghanistan to eliminate Bin Laden and al Qaeda, and fully uproot the Taliban.

Before I voted in 2002, the Administration publicly and privately assured me that they intended to use their authority to build international support in order to get the U.N. weapons inspectors back into Iraq, as articulated by the President in his Cincinnati speech on October 7th, 2002. As I said in my October 2002 floor statement, I took "the President at his word that he will try hard to pass a U.N.resolution and will seek to avoid war, if at all possible."

Instead, the Bush Administration short-circuited the U.N. inspectors - the last line of defense against the possibility that our intelligence was false. TheAdministration also abandoned securing a larger international coalition, alienating many of those who had joined us in Afghanistan.

From the start of the war, I have been clear that I believed that the Administration did not have an adequate plan for what lay ahead. I take responsibility for my vote, and I, along with a majority of Americans, expect the President and his Administration to take responsibility for the false assurances, faulty evidence and mismanagement of the war.

Given years of assurances that the war was nearly over and that the insurgents were in their "last throes," this Administration was either not being honest with theAmerican people or did not know what was going on in Iraq.

As a member of the Armed Services Committee, I heard General Eric Shinseki, the Army Chief of Staff, tell us that it would take several hundred thousand troops to stabilize Iraq. He was subsequently mocked and marginalized by the BushAdministration.

In October 2003, I said "In the last year, however, I have been first perplexed, then surprised, then amazed, and even outraged and always frustrated by theimplementation of the authority given the President by this Congress" and "Time andtime again, the Administration has had the opportunity to level with the American people. Unfortunately, they haven't been willing to do that."

I have continually raised doubts about the President's claims, lack of planning and execution of the war, while standing firmly in support of our troops. After my first trip to Iraq in November 2003, I returned troubled by the policies ofthe Administration and faulted the President for failing to level with the American public.

At the Council on Foreign Relations, I chided the President for failing to bring in enough international partners to quell the insurgency.I spoke out often at the Armed Services Committee to Administration officials pointing out that the estimates they provided about the war, its length and costlacked even basic credibility.

And I challenged Secretary Rumsfeld more than once that he had no benchmarks to measure actual progress which would lead us to believe we had a strategy that was working.

Last month, I signed a letter with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and dozens ofother Democratic Senators voicing strong concerns that, without a solid plan, Iraqcould become what it was not before the war: a haven for radical Islamist terrorists determined to attack America, our allies and our interests. The letter asked the Administration "to immediately provide a strategy for success in order to prevent this outcome."

Just a few weeks ago, I joined a bipartisan majority in the United States Senate in voting for an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill calling upon the President and his Administration to provide answers and a plan for the war.

It is time for the President to stop serving up platitudes and present us with a plan for finishing this war with success and honor – not a rigid timetable that terrorists can exploit, but a public plan for winning and concluding the war. And it is past time for the President, Vice President, or anyone else associated with them to stop impugning the patriotism of their critics.

Criticism of this Administration's policies should not in any way be confused with softness against terrorists, inadequate support for democracy or lack of patriotism.I am grateful to the men and women of our armed forces and have been honored to meetthem twice in Iraq. They honor our country every day with their courage, selfless dedication, and success in battle.

I am also grateful to the thousands of unknown men and women in our security forces and around the world who have been fighting thelarger war against terrorism, finding terrorists’ cells, arresting them and workingto prevent future attacks. And I applaud the brave people who have been riskingtheir lives every day to bring democracy and peace to Afghanistan and Iraq.

I recently returned from visiting Israel and Jordan, seeing first hand the tragedyof spreading terrorism. As a New York Senator, I believe New York has a special bond with the victims of such terrorism, and we understand both the need to fight terrorism and the need for a clear plan in Iraq so that we can focus our resources in the right ways to prevent it from again reaching our shores.

America has a big job to do now. We must set reasonable goals to finish what westarted and successfully turn over Iraqi security to Iraqis. We must deny terrorists the prize they are now seeking in Iraq. We must repair the damage done to ourreputation. We must reform our intelligence system so we never go to war on false premises again. We must repair the breach with the Muslim world. And we must continue to fight terrorism wherever it exists.

Like all Americans, I hope the Iraqi elections are a true expression of democracy,one that is committed to majority rule, minority rights, women's rights, and thebasic rule of law. I hope these elections will finally put the Iraqi people on theroad to real security and independence.

If these elections succeed, we should be able to start drawing down our troops, butwe should also plan to continue to help secure the country and the region with a smaller footprint on an as-needed basis. I call on the President both for such aplan and for a full and honest accounting of the failures of intelligence –something we owe not only to those killed and wounded and their families, but to all Americans.

We have to continue the fight against terrorism and make sure we apply America'sbest values and effective strategies in making our world and country a better and safer place. We have to do what is right and smart in the war against terrorists and pursuit of democracy and security. That means repudiating torture which undermines America's values. That means reforming intelligence and its use by decision makers. That means rejecting the Administration's doctrine of preemptive war and their preference to going it alone rather than building real international support.

I know when America leads with its values and fearlessly faces the facts, we make the best decisions. That is what is missing at the highest levels of our government,and what we desperately need now – answers to the questions about Iraq that only the President can provide.

I hope he will level with the American people and provide us those answers in his Annapolis speech and give us the plan that has been sorelylacking.

Sincerely yours,
Hillary Rodham Clinton

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Listen Up, Hillary: We Don't Need Another Stubborn, Arrogant President

I received the same letter from Hillary. I second everything this writer says...Hillary, you're NOT listening.

The last thing this nation needs...or wants.... is another stubborn President who refuses to listen to the American people, and who arrogantly thinks he/she knows better.
Hillary, You're Not Listening by Jeff Cohen (
from Common Dreams)

"Part of my job is being a good listener," Hillary Clinton wrote, in the first line of her letter received today. As a New Yorker, I'm represented by Hillary in the U.S. Senate. Along with her two-page fundraising letter, I received a four-page "2005 Critical National Issues Survey."
But something was missing -- something Hillary obviously doesn't want to hear about: IRAQ. Nowhere in the letter or the questionnaire was that four-letter word.

Hillary's first question asked me to rank nine issues in their "order of importance." Iraq wasn't on the list. Nor was there a place I could add an issue she'd somehow forgotten about.

The problem is she hadn't forgotten the war. She simply doesn't want to hear about one of the biggest issues dividing our country, draining the federal budget, destabilizing the Middle East, undermining international law and institutions, and spreading fear and hatred of our country.

When national polls show that 54% or more of Americans want our troops withdrawn promptly from Iraq, and 60% believe it was a mistake to have sent troops in the first place, imagine how huge the majorities are for those propositions in Hillary's home state of New York.

Hillary's letter said that she enclosed the questionnaire to help gauge concern about "the extreme Bush agenda." But on the central foreign policy initiative of Bush's agenda, she has been complicit. When she voted to authorize the Iraq war, and today when she echoes White House talking points in criticizing advocates of withdrawal.

Hillary's letter closes by appealing to Americans who believe "no one's listening to me." I'm not one of those Americans: Progressive members of Congress have been listening to their constituents, and speaking out loudly and bravely to end the destabilizing US occupation of Iraq.

Now even a hawk like John Murtha is listening. It's Hillary who isn't listening.

What I want this Christmas season is an antiwar Democrat to step forward to challenge Hillary Clinton in New York's upcoming primary for senate. And I want a powerful antiwar Democrat to oppose her for the presidential nomination in 2008.

Pollster John Zogby believes that a credible progressive Democrat will challenge Hillary for the presidency in 2008: "There will be an antiwar candidate," predicts Zogby. "That's what the base demands."

Hillary's letter ended with a P.S.: "Please return your completed survey with a generous contribution within 10 days."

I immediately returned the survey...with the word "IRAQ" scrawled across it in marker. But there was no "generous contribution." I'm keeping my checkbook open for candidates ready to challenge Bush's extreme agenda, at home and in Iraq -- and to challenge Hillary as well.

(Jeff Cohen ( is a media critic and author. )

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Women Waiting for Their Moment in Africa

I'm not terribly sensitive to "womens' issues," because I think we all have legitimate issues. Men and women are all children of God in this imperfect world, so I don't tend to focus on one genders' challenges over the other.

But this Editorial Observer piece in today's New York Times touched my heart.

And I must admit....women in African and the Middle East are treated much more poorly in relation to men than women in the Western industrialized nations.
Waiting for Their Moment in the Worst Place on Earth to Be a Woman by HELENE COOPER

You can't get to Bukavu, Congo, from Monrovia, Liberia. Like just about everywhere else in Africa, the two places are separated by dense rain forests, interminable wars and impassable dirt roads that don't go anywhere.

Yet they might as well be the same place. "Oh, finally, now I'm home," I thought as I crawled out of the tiny single-engine plane and jumped onto the landing strip of what passes for Bukavu's airport. It was about six months ago, and I was on a reporting trip throughout Africa. It was a weird trip for me because I was there to write about poverty and development, yet everywhere I went, from Accra, Ghana, to Mekele, Ethiopia and Kisumu, Kenya, I kept thinking that none of those places, for all of their endemic poverty or corruption, seemed as bad off as my own home country, Liberia.

Until, that is, I got to Bukavu. After the semidesert of Ethiopia and the savannahs of Kenya, Bukavu was otherworldly lush, with that tropical just-rained smell that often greets me when I go home to Liberia. Leafy, green mountains and valleys surrounded the teeming city, with rich banana trees and tea plantations dotting the countryside: the same luxuriant, verdant landscape we have around Monrovia.

And the same inexplicable sense of abandonment that comes from having a population ravaged by years of pointless civil wars. Thousands upon thousands of young boys troll fetid, trash-strewn streets, with nowhere to go. Downtown buildings, long devoid of any commerce, are marked with holes from rockets, grenades and the various other projectiles common to all of the continent's numerous wars. A few private cars - mufflers dragging, crammed with 10, 15, even 20 people - travel the crater-filled streets, but mostly just the white United Nations S.U.V.'s.

What struck me most, though, in Bukavu were the women. As I drove into the city, I passed women I have known all of my life. There were old women - old in Africa means 35 or so - with huge bundles of bamboo sticks on their back. In most cases, the burdens were larger than the backs carrying them as they trudged up one hill after another. There were market women in their colorful dresses - in Liberia we would call them lapas - huddled together on the side of the road selling oranges, hard-boiled eggs and nuts.

There were young women and girls, sitting in front of village huts bathing their sons, daughters, brothers and sisters in rubber buckets. No electricity or running water was anywhere close, but one 10-year old girl had dragged a bucket of dirty creek water up the hill to her house so she could wash her 4-year-old sister.

These were the women I grew up with in Liberia, the women all across Africa - the worst place there is to be a woman - who somehow manage to carry that entire continent on their backs.

In Liberia, when their sons were kidnapped and drugged to fight for rebel factions, and when their husbands came home from brothels and infected them with H.I.V., and when government soldiers invaded their houses and raped them in front of their teenage sons, these were the women who picked themselves up and kept going.

They kept selling fish, cassava and kola nuts so they could feed their families. They gave birth to the children of their rapists in the forests and carried the children on their backs as they balanced jugs of water on their heads.

These are the women who went to the polls in Liberia last week. They ignored the threats of the young men who vowed more war if their chosen presidential candidate, a former soccer player named George Weah, didn't win. "No Weah, no peace," the boys yelled, chanting in the streets and around the polling stations.

The women in Liberia, by and large, ignored those boys and made Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a 67-year-old grandmother, the first woman elected to lead an African country. I wasn't surprised that Mr. Weah immediately said the vote had been rigged, although international observers said it had not been. In the half-century since the Europeans left Africa, its men have proved remarkably adept at self-delusion.

No one can be sure what kind of president Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf, a Harvard-educated banker who was imprisoned by one of the many men who ran Liberia into the ground over the last few decades, will be. There are plenty of African women who have brought us shame, from Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in South Africa to Janet Museveni in Uganda.

But after 25 years of war, genocide and anarchy, it's a good bet that she will smoke the men who preceded her in running the country. It's not going to be that hard to do; Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf is following Charles Taylor and Samuel Doe, both butchers of the first degree.

Ever since the voting results started coming in a few days ago, showing what the Liberian women had done, I've been unable to get one image from Bukavu out of my mind. It is of an old woman, in her 30's. It was almost twilight when I saw her, walking up the hill out of the city as I drove in. She carried so many logs that her chest almost seemed to touch the ground, so stooped was her back. Still, she trudged on, up the hill toward her home. Her husband was walking just in front of her. He carried nothing. Nothing in his hand, nothing on his shoulder, nothing on his back. He kept looking back at her, telling her to hurry up.

I want to go back to Bukavu to find that woman, and to tell her what just happened in Liberia. I want to tell her this: Your time will come, too.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Republicans Balk at Immoral "Take from the Needy, Give to the Greedy" Bush Budget

Received today from EarthJustice (the nonprofit law firm for the environment, representing—without charge—hundreds of public interest clients, large and small) regarding the unimaginably immoral, "Take from the Needy, Give to the Greedy" budget legislation under consideration now by the House of Representatives.

A final vote is long overdue on the the federal budget for fiscal year 2006, which started on October 1, 2005. House leadershp cancelled a vote again today in what the New York Times called an embarrassment to the Republicans.

Election Day 2005, which was two days ago, clearly and strongly repudiated the Bush Administration and everyone who supports its bankrupt agenda. Republican House members want to be reelected in 2006, yet many believe a vote for this budget package is the death knell of their Congressional careers.

Good. I fervently hope it is.

To: Earthjustice Supporters
From: Buck Parker, Executive Director

Re: Nightmare Budget Still Threatens Wild Lands and Our CourtsArctic Refuge and coastal drilling set aside -- for now

Dear Deborah ,

We did it!
Last night, language that would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and America's off-shore waters to oil drilling was stripped from the House version of the budget reconciliation bill. Then, this afternoon, House leadership cancelled a planned vote on the budget bill, conceding that they still did not have enough votes to pass the misguided package.

Millions of Americans wrote, emailed, and telephoned their House members asking them to oppose oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Public support, along with the leadership of strong Arctic Refuge champions on both sides of the aisle, led to the current victory.

Earthjustice will remain vigilant against any efforts to open the Arctic Refuge to oil drilling. But it's not over yet.

The budget reconciliation bill is still bad for America. The bill could return to the House floor as early as next week, and Earthjustice remains very concerned about the impacts it could have on the environment, particularly on our most special public lands.

The budget bill still seeks to:

Sell off millions of acres of public lands
currently protected by the federal government – including parcels around Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Grand Canyon national parks – at bargain-basement prices, solely for the gain of private mining corporations. This would be one of the largest land giveaways in our nation's history.

Deem as "adequate" an as-yet-unwritten environmental impact statement for oil shale development. State and local governments, Indian tribes, and citizens would be deprived of the opportunity to voice their concerns about oil shale exploitation, and its impacts on clean air, safe drinking water, and vulnerable ecosystems.

Split the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in two, isolating California and Hawaii from other Western states. Anti-environmental interests want to "judge-shop," where they hope new judges would look the other way when environmental laws are violated.

Cut important Farm Bill programs that help farmers and ranchers protect and enhance natural resources on their land. The bill also eliminates the budget for popular and effective federal programs that support farm-related energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

When the House takes up the bill next week, we hope that they will reject this budget. If Congress can't pass a bill that protects the environment, they shouldn't pass a bill at all. If you haven't already, please
take action to ask your representatives to oppose this nightmare budget.

Thank you for standing with us. We'll keep you updated.

Vawter "Buck" Parker
Executive, DirectorEarthjustice

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Gluttonous Orgy at Home, Savage Attacks Abroad

Just imagine....insiders say that all these cuts in basic-needs assistance for poverty-level and middle class Americans were done by Congressional Republicans to clear the way for even more rich tax breaks for multi-millionaires and billionaires.

The Bush term has turned into a gluttonous orgy of riches for wealthy Americans and corporations at home, and a savage attack abroad on civility and respect for other countries and cultures.

Does it get any more unChristian? Or perhaps anti-Christian is the better term.

Eight times in the Bible we are told to love our neighbor -- one of the Bible's most repeated commands. How does that fit into the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Rice agenda?

From Center for American Progress....

This week as House conservatives debate their five-year, $54 billion budget proposal a few things remain clear. It will be “disguised as an overdue act of fiscal responsibility and government savings”, but in the end it is anything but that. Conservatives in the house will also claim that its impact will help all Americans, but the truth is, if passed low income Americans will bear the brunt of the Bill.

Conservatives in the House have chosen the health of drug companies over poor Americans. To avoid disastrous cuts in Medicaid, the Senate wisely chose to remove a provision that hands over $5.4 billion to drug companies in the hope that they offer prescription drug coverage under the new Medicare benefit plan. House conservatives lack of creativity and desire had led them to conclude that cutting $12 billion in Medicaid benefits is the best solution for low income Americans.

House Conservatives are cutting services at a time when they are most needed. The bill is expected to make substantial cuts in the food stamp program. This comes at a time when victims of the Hurricanes are in most need of the government service. In the face of $35 billion worth of cuts to Medicaid, food stamps, and child care enforcement, conservatives are seeking to "extend several of Mr. Bush's biggest tax cuts, including those on stock dividends and capital gains. It is hard to imagine those beneficiaries of capitol gains tax cuts are in as dire need of such cuts as those recipients of food stamps.

Drilling in the Alaskan refuge has nothing to do with our national budget priorities. The budget reconciliation bill is reserved for only those legislative items that impact spending and revenue targets. But because the bill is immune from the filibuster, it has become a favored means of passing sought-after, non-revenue-related items that otherwise would not obtain the necessary support for passage as a stand-alone bill, such as drilling in Alaska.

Monday, November 07, 2005

An Administration with No Competence and No Agenda

The New York Times lead editorial for November 8, 2005....

President Bush's Walkabout

After President Bush's disastrous visit to Latin America, it's unnerving to realize that his presidency still has more than three years to run. An administration with no agenda and no competence would be hard enough to live with on the domestic front. But the rest of the world simply can't afford an American government this bad for that long.

In Argentina, Mr. Bush, who prides himself on his ability to relate to world leaders face to face, could barely summon the energy to chat with the 33 other leaders there, almost all of whom would be considered friendly to the United States under normal circumstances. He and his delegation failed to get even a minimally face-saving outcome at the collapsed trade talks and allowed a loudmouthed opportunist like the president of Venezuela to steal the show.

It's amazing to remember that when Mr. Bush first ran for president, he bragged about his understanding of Latin America, his ability to speak Spanish and his friendship with Mexico. But he also made fun of Al Gore for believing that nation-building was a job for the United States military.

The White House is in an uproar over the future of Karl Rove, the president's political adviser, and spinning off rumors that some top cabinet members may be asked to walk the plank. Mr. Bush could certainly afford to replace some of his top advisers. But the central problem is not Karl Rove or Treasury Secretary John Snow or even Donald Rumsfeld, the defense secretary. It is President Bush himself.

Second terms may be difficult, but the chief executive still has the power to shape what happens. Ronald Reagan managed to turn his messy second term around and deliver - in great part through his own powers of leadership - a historic series of agreements with Mikhail Gorbachev that led to the peaceful dismantling of the Soviet empire. Mr. Bush has never demonstrated the capacity for such a comeback. Nevertheless, every American has a stake in hoping that he can surprise us.

The place to begin is with Dick Cheney, the dark force behind many of the administration's most disastrous policies, like the Iraq invasion and the stubborn resistance to energy conservation. Right now, the vice president is devoting himself to beating back Congressional legislation that would prohibit the torture of prisoners. This is truly a remarkable set of priorities: his former chief aide was indicted, Mr. Cheney's back is against the wall, and he's declared war on the Geneva Conventions.

Mr. Bush cannot fire Mr. Cheney, but he could do what other presidents have done to vice presidents: keep him too busy attending funerals and acting as the chairman of studies to do more harm. Mr. Bush would still have to turn his administration around, but it would at least send a signal to the nation and the world that he was in charge, and the next three years might not be as dreadful as they threaten to be right now.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Deadly Irresponsibility - US Had No Staffing Plan to Rebuild Iraq

This degree of incompetency and destructive, even deadly, irresponsibility is hard to imagine...and then again, sadly, it's not of the Bush Administration. From Financial Times, via Common Dreams....
US ‘Had No Policy’ in Place to Rebuild Iraq by Stephanie Kirchgaessner

The US government had “no comprehensive policy or regulatory guidelines” in place for staffing the management of postwar Iraq, according to the top government watchdog overseeing the country’s reconstruction.

The lack of planning had plagued reconstruction since the US-led invasion, and been exacerbated by a “general lack of co-ordination” between US government agencies charged with the rebuilding of Iraq, said Stuart Bowen, the special inspector-general for Iraq reconstruction, in a report released on Sunday.

His 110-page quarterly report, delivered to Congress at the weekend, has underscored how a “reconstruction gap” is emerging that threatens to leave many projects planned by the US on the drawing board.

“Nearly two years ago, the US developed a reconstruction plan that specified a target number of projects that would be executed using the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund.

“That number was revised downward [last year]. Now it appears that the actual number of projects completed will be even lower,” Mr Bowen says in his report.

Increasing security costs were “the most salient” reason behind the shortfall, he concluded.
While 93 per cent of the nearly $30bn (€25bn, £17bn) the US has appropriated for reconstruction has been committed to programmes and projects, more than 25 per cent of the funds have been spent on security costs related to the insurgency.

The largest expected increase in costs to complete planned projects had occurred in the Project and Contracting Office (PCO), which manages projects in the oil, electrical, security and water sectors and has been allocated $4.6bn in reconstruction funds.

While in most sectors PCO data indicated that project costs would not exceed initial estimates, Mr Bowen found that oil sector-related costs had been under-estimated by about $790m.

Conflicting data also showed “possible funding anomalies”, because although the PCO reported that more than 85 per cent of oil projects were on or ahead of schedule, other data showed that the cost of completing the tasks was increasing beyond initial estimates.

The report said a separate agency given the job of assisting the Iraqi government in training and equipping security forces – a job for which it was allocated $835m – had spent 14 per cent more than originally estimated.

The special inspector-general also highlighted a stark increase in non-military deaths in connection to Iraq’s reconstruction. The number of non-Iraqi contractor deaths from all countries rose to 412 for the period of March 2003 to September 2005. That compared to 120 deaths up until September last year.

While the most successful post-conflict reconstruction effort in US history – the reconstruction of Japan and Germany following the second world war – began being planned in the months after the US entered the war, Mr Bowen found that “systematic planning” for the post-hostilities period in Iraq was “insufficient in both scope and implementation”.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Scott Ritter - US Duped Into Iraq War

From Scott Ritter, a complex man who always has something intriguing and revealing to add to the conversation about Iraq. Scott's a former chief U.N. weapons inspector who participated in 52 missions in Iraq, 14 of which he led.

Indicting America by Scott Ritter (from
Common Dreams)

The indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby by Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald provides the most cogent and visible evidence to date of the criminal mindset that exists inside the Bush administration regarding the decision to invade Iraq.

The indictment is linked to Libby's involvement in illegally revealing the identity of a covert CIA operative, Valerie Plame, in violation of U.S. law, and the resultant conspiracy to deny and cover up the fact that this crime had in fact taken place. But the real crime committed here is the deception leading to war carried out by the Bush administration, in particular the activities of the vice president, Dick Cheney, and his chief of staff, "Scooter" Libby, which is why they felt they needed to go after former Ambassador Joseph Wilson and his wife, Plame.

The outing of Plame was just the tip of this criminal enterprise. The specific charge - making false statements to a grand jury - is in fact the best indicator of the true nature of the crimes committed by Libby and, by extension, the Bush administration.

Acting at the behest of the vice president, Libby was a key figure behind inserting dubious and unverified intelligence data alleging the existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction into the public arena, either by leaking this information to reporters such as The New York Times' Judith Miller, or by having it referenced in high-profile speeches such as the president's 2003 State of the Union Address or Colin Powell's now-infamous presentation to the Security Council in February 2003.

Cheney and Libby were behind the decision to mislead Congress, in particular the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's investigation into the reasons why the U.S. intelligence community had gotten it so wrong about Iraqi WMD capabilities. (Contrary to the much-hyped case made by the Bush administration in justifying the decision to invade Iraq, no WMD were found in Iraq, and the CIA subsequently acknowledged that all Iraqi WMD had been destroyed by the summer of 1991).

To Cheney and Libby, Joseph Wilson had committed the ultimate sin when he publicly challenged President Bush's case for war with Iraq by exposing the fraudulent nature of the administration's very public claims that Iraq had attempted to acquire uranium "yellowcake" from Niger.

If true, the "yellowcake" story would have bolstered the president and vice president's assertions that Iraq had resurrected its nuclear weapons program, thus legitimizing the case for war. But the reality is that the "yellowcake" claim, like all of the Cheney- and Libby-peddled intelligence, was specious, in this case derived from forged documents.

Wilson's exposure of this fraud was seen not only as an act of betrayal, but also rightly recognized as a threat to the entire charade that was the Bush administration's fabricated case for war. If left unchallenged, Wilson's claims could have initiated a process that would have unraveled the entire fabric of deception and lies woven by Cheney, Libby and the Bush administration about the non-existent Iraqi WMD threat. As far as Cheney and Libby were concerned, truth was the enemy, and truth-tellers were to be attacked and destroyed.

And now the lies have come home to roost. But the indictment of Libby must not be the final punctuation in this tragic tale of lies and deception. Instead, it should serve as a much-needed boost for Congress, the media and ultimately the American people to carry out a massive re-examination of the totality of the processes that took place in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq.

The lies of Cheney, Libby and the Bush administration regarding Iraqi WMD did not take place in a vacuum. Congressional checks and balances, especially in the form of relevant oversight committees, were non-existent; the few hearings held served as little more than sham hearings designed to amplify a case for war that was accepted at face value, without question, despite the fact that all involved knew the supporting evidence was either non-existent or paper-thin.

The fourth estate was likewise reduced to little more than a propagandistic extension of the White House and Pentagon, losing any claim to journalistic integrity through its slavish parroting, without question, of anything that painted Saddam Hussein's regime in a negative light, especially when it came to the issue of retained WMD.

At the receiving end of this tangled web of lies and incompetence are the American people. Having been duped into a war that has to date cost the lives of over 2,000 members of the armed forces (not to mention hundreds of our coalition partners and tens of thousands of Iraqis), the question now is how the citizenry of the world's most powerful representative democracy will respond.

Void of a major backlash on the part of the American people in response to the deliberate falsification and deceit that has transpired regarding Iraq and the now-debunked case for war, the Libby indictment may prove to be little more than an exercise in damage control.

Already senior Republican officials, such as Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, are calling the Libby indictment a mere "technicality." Right-wing pundits refer to the indictment as the "criminalization of politics," as if lying one's way into an illegal war of aggression is somehow akin to politics as usual.

If the American people go along with such blatant attempts at obscuring the reality of the criminal conspiracy that has been committed, then it is perhaps time we finally lay to rest this experiment we call American democracy.

At the very minimum, Congress should be compelled into action. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and in particular its two senior senators, Pat Robertson, R-Kan., and Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va, should not only complete their investigation into how the Bush administration used (or misused) intelligence to formulate Iraq policy, but also re-open its initial report into the so-called "intelligence failure" regarding the flawed WMD assessments, with the intent to indict any and all who conspired to keep relevant information from, or made false statements to, that committee during the conduct of its original investigation.

There must be a wider investigation into the totality of the criminal conspiracy undertaken by the Bush administration to defraud Congress and the American people about the issue of war with Iraq, and in particular the case used to justify the invasion of that country.

The crime that was committed goes far beyond the outing of a rogue diplomat's CIA-affiliated spouse, as serious as that charge may be. The deliberate and systematic manner in which the Bush administration, from the president on down, peddled misleading, distorted and fabricated information to Congress and the American people represents a frontal assault on the very system of government the United States of America proclaims to champion.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

US May Have Dozens of Detention Centers for Torture

When will the American people rise up and actively proclaim "Stop this insanity. American neither stands for nor condones evil, dictatorial brutality" ?

Dozens of Abu Ghraibs by Gustavo Capdevila (from
InterPress Service via Common Dreams)

U.S. human rights groups have denounced before the U.N. Human Rights Committee that there are perhaps dozens of secret detention centres around the world where Washington is holding an unknown number of prisoners as part of its "war on terror". This week in Geneva, the Committee began to examine the United States' compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, particularly with regard to its anti-terrorism activities.

There are locations you know about, like Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, and Bagram in Afghanistan, but there are other locations which you know exist, but you don't know exactly how many or where they are.

On Monday, the members of the Committee, made up of 18 independent experts with recognised competence in the field of human rights, heard presentations from U.S. non-governmental organisations that accuse Washington of grave rights violations.

Priti Patel, an attorney and representative of the New-York based group Human Rights First, reported to the Committee members on the secret detention centres for individuals allegedly linked to terrorism. "There are locations you know about, like Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, and Bagram in Afghanistan," commented Patel, "but there are other locations which you know exist, but you don't know exactly how many or where they are."

According to Patel, these are transient facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan that are close to conflict zones, but move around, to wherever the United States decides. "There are around 20 of them in Afghanistan, but you don't know how many people are being held there, and you don't know how they are being treated," Patel told IPS.

"And then there is the worst case scenario, which is you don't know even their location," she added. For example, Patel remarked, "we don't know if people have been held in Diego Garcia (a small island in the Indian Ocean, home to a U.S. military base), but we have enough credible reports to make us believe it."

And while the United States refuses to deny or confirm the existence of these secret detention centres, "we know that at least 36 people have been held in secret locations," she stressed.

Monday's meeting with U.S. human rights organisations coincided with the announcement that although the United States had been late in presenting its second and third periodic reports to this specialised U.N. body, the reports were finally received last week.

The latest U.S. government report to the Human Rights Committee has yet to be made public, but civil society activists said that in addition to a general overview of compliance with the International Covenant, it also contains responses to specific questions formulated by the Committee with respect to allegations of abuse in the context of anti-terror activities.

Over recent years, the Committee has called on Washington to submit overdue reports and also to explain the consequences of the provisions adopted by the United States as part of these activities.

The Committee has expressed particular concern over the implications of the Patriot Act, passed in October 2001 as one of the first anti-terrorism measures adopted by the United States after the Sept. 11 terror attacks in New York and Washington that same year, which claimed some 3,000 lives.

Civil society sources said that in a letter that accompanied the presentation of the report, the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations and other international organisations in Geneva, Kevin E. Moley, specified that the document also contained references to the United States' application of the Patriot Act.

Moley also noted that as a matter of courtesy, the report was accompanied by a separate description of the individuals currently in the custody of the U.S. armed forces, captured during operations against the Taliban Afghan Islamic extremist movement and the Al Qaida terrorist network, as well as those captured during the invasion, war and occupation of Iraq since March 2003.

This issue was one of the primary concerns expressed to the United States by the Committee, as well as the central theme of the presentations made by U.S. human rights groups to the Committee members.

Monique Beadle of the World Organisation for Human Rights USA told IPS that the activists had expressed their concerns to the Committee about U.S. non-compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but placed particular emphasis on the situation of detainees, especially those who are held in places where torture is practiced.

Beadle referred to the specific case of Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, a U.S. citizen who was in Saudi Arabia for religious studies when he was arrested by Saudi authorities under the direction of the United States.

He was detained incommunicado without charge for 18 months in a Saudi prison, where "he was subjected to all kinds of evil treatment," said Beadle "There are scars on his back from the torture he was subjected to," she reported.

Beadle's organisation filed a habeus corpus on his behalf in the District of Columbia. "The judge in the case recognised that if we could show that the U.S. was playing a role in the custody and detention of Mr Abu Ali, it could be held accountable."

The judge's decision "was quite embarrassing for the U.S. government," she noted. Without charges ever being laid in Saudi Arabia, Abu Ali was transferred to the United States, where he remains in custody, accused by the U.S. government of association with alleged terrorists.

"What this indicated is that the U.S. had control over his custody at all times, because at the last moment, when it was no longer convenient for him to be held in Saudi Arabia, it was very easy for them to bring him over," Beadle remarked.

Beadle also referred to the practice of transferring prisoners to countries like Egypt or Syria, where they will likely be subjected to torture.

"It is well known by the U.S military that Egypt and Syria are places where detainees are tortured, and in fact they use this knowledge to their advantage in questioning other detainees," she noted.

Beadle described the process by which detainees in Guantánamo are put in sensory deprivation and then on a plane, which flies around for several hours and lands back in Guantánamo, although the detainees are made to believe that they have been taken to Egypt. "The guards tell them in Arabic, welcome to Egypt. If you don't participate in this interrogation, we are going to torture you," she explained.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee will take the denunciations made by these non-governmental organisations into account when it studies the report submitted by the United States, most likely during its session here next July.

The Committee is currently holding its last session of the year, which will wrap up Nov. 3. The first session next year will take place in March at U.N. headquarters in New York.

The report presented by the United States will not be distributed by the U.N. until it has been translated into all of the U.N. working languages, which could take at least three months. Nevertheless, the civil society groups believe that the U.S. State Department will post the report on its website in the coming days.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Someone Bill Moyers-Like for President?

Not sure I agree that extraordinary journalist and writer Bill Moyers should be President, but this article makes some excellent, well-taken points.

Howard Dean, read up and stop obsessing about your Merlot Democrats.
10 Reasons Bill Moyers Should Be President by Scott Beckman, from Common Dreams....

For many years I have reached out and tried unsuccessfully to bridge the differences between Democrats and myself despite the fact that these efforts have never resulted in anything more than dashed political hopes. My simple plea has been for Democrats to earn my vote-and most of America's-by standing on a people-centered platform and selecting a world-class Presidential candidate to champion it.

I simply disagree with my friends who say that superior leadership doesn't make a difference. Therefore, in the face of their constant discouragement, I have continued to reflect on what the leadership I can support would look like and who in the Democratic Party might embody it. At this moment in time, I've concluded that it is found in the person of Mr. Bill Moyers.

1. Mr. Moyers has a genuine, civil, positive, hopeful courage of conviction that we the people can and will serve our own common good if we are properly informed and use the tools of our great democracy wisely. His passion for our country is rooted in a deep understanding, respect for, and unswerving adherence to the bedrock values and principles our Founding Fathers left us for us to preserve.

2. Mr. Moyers has a profound vision about how the United States of America can be unified again by the fullest exercise of self-government by we the people around our basic commitments to simple, commonly accepted all-American values and policies such as equality of opportunity and caring for your neighbor and telling the truth.

3. Mr. Moyers is a fearless advocate. He is unafraid to say that many politicians are simply the shills of selfish, greedy corporate interests; that false prophets are heretics; and that powerful media and lobby groups are peddling corruption.

4. Mr. Moyers espouses and upholds very high standards of professional ethics and personal integrity.

5. Mr. Moyers brings significant hands-on White House experience to bear on his thinking about America's future.

6. Mr. Moyers lifetime of public service as an honest political journalist has earned him national esteem and the respect of millions of people.

7. Mr. Moyers talks openly and comfortably about the role spiritual values play in his progressive outlook without abusing or disrespecting the line that is supposed to separate religious belief and political thought in America.

8. He is an exceptionally smart person. He has a truly impressive command of the facts underlying the fundamental connection that exists between progressive policies and electoral results. Further, he has demonstrated a unique ability to think ahead of the curve and craft and manage creative, state-of-the-art, successful enterprises, including ones that involve media planning.

9. He is a mesmerizing public speaker and a superb debater.

10. Mr. Moyers understandsand expresses the view that the perfection of our union will require new and perhaps unprecedented sacrifices by all of us. He would be a captain who bravely acknowledges the turbulent waters roiling all about and inspires us to do the right things needed to safely sail through them.

The current leadership of the Democratic Party is timid, off-message, and strategically bankrupt. Therefore, I submit this recommendation for a change in leadership to the people for your consideration before your hopes for the Democratic Party are crushed again before they've even had the chance to form.

In a recent speech, Mr. Moyers challenged his audience to become more active in the practice of democracy by telling a joke about an Irishman who in coming upon a fight outside a bar asked, "Is this a private fight or can anyone join in?"

What a wonderful question. Bill Moyers is one of the very few Americans in public life who I can honestly say has earned my complete trust and my allegiance should he choose to accept it. If he were to run for President, I'd join what would become the people's movement to win back our country under the Democratic banner.

Scott Beckman is Development Director for the Northern Pueblos Housing Authority in Santa Fe, NM. )

Saturday, October 22, 2005

A Dickensian Tale of Today: The US Poor Freeze in Winter

Imagine the richest country in the history of the world letting its poor freeze, possibly to death, in the cold winds of winter. It sounds like a miserly, horrid tale out of Charles Dickens' time.

Sadly, it's today, and it's the United States. The rich get richer, fatter and cozier, and the poor starve and freeze.
A New York Times editorial today......Washington's Cold Shoulder

The weather is turning cold, and home heating fuel is increasingly unaffordable. The Energy Department recently reported that households should expect to pay 48 percent more this year for natural gas, on average, and nearly a third more for oil and propane - assuming a "normal" winter and no further supply disruptions like Katrina.

In and of themselves, those increases will be too much for an estimated seven million low-income Americans, including old people, disabled people and families with children. On top of gasoline prices that are already high and wages that are stagnating, the rising cost of heating fuel is bound to be devastating.

Yet Congress is balking at approving an additional $3 billion in federal heating subsidies that would help meet the coming need. (Lawmakers allocated $2 billion to the subsidy program last summer, before Hurricanes Katrina and Rita sent prices soaring.)

Earlier this month, and again on Thursday, measures in the Senate to provide the extra funds were defeated, largely by a bloc of Republican lawmakers, though with each vote, a handful of Republicans voted in favor and a few Democrats voted against.

At the same time, Republican majorities in Congress are unrelenting in their drive to pass $70 billion in new tax cuts this fall, most of them for wealthy investors, and $35 billion in spending cuts, most in programs that benefit the poor.

With Congress's priorities so obviously skewed, the best chance for adequate heating subsidies this winter lies with President Bush. Advocates for the poor are hoping that Mr. Bush will ask for the additional money in a future hurricane-related emergency spending request to Congress. But so far, Mr. Bush has not said whether he will ask for more heating aid, and, if so, when or how much.

This sad lack of urgency is seen elsewhere in the administration as well. Asked at a news conference earlier this month whether the administration would support bolstered subsidies for low-income families and the elderly, Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman suggested that everyone just wait and see. "I can't respond to that," he said, "other than by saying we're going to do our very best, first, to see what we can accomplish by the reduction in demand for energy."

That's unacceptable. Heating subsidies are not a conservation issue. Vulnerable people need to keep the heat on to keep from getting sick, or worse. Such subsidies help everyone by maintaining public health and safety, ensuring that others don't become ill and spread illness, or resort to hazardous means of heating that can cause fires.

Heating aid for the needy is also a matter of common decency, which ordinary Americans are entirely capable of, though not, so far, their elected leaders.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Illegal Immigration and the Gospels

Lately, I've been reading and listening to many others on the hot-potato topic of illegal immigration....attempting to open my eyes, ears and heart to be able to understand both sides.

I'm a native-born Southern Californian and I make my home just south of downtown Los Angeles, the city with the second largest Mexican population in the world. My family has experienced overcrowding in schools, hospital emergency rooms and local court rooms. We have our English language regarded as foreign (or incomprehensible) in many parts of our area. We hear rumors of a Mexican Mafia and drug deals, violence and shootings. We're innundated with messages of the inconvenience, the economic loss and the broad-brush ethnic stereotypes of immigration.

But I've never understood the other side. And truthfully, I'm unclear on what the Bible says about illegal immigration. So I'm presently reading...listening.....dialoging...and writing what will be a major article at my site.

I tell you all this because I want to share with you something I read today that spoke...actually, me. It's a fragment of an article by Dr. Daniel Groody, Associate Professor of Theology at Notre Dame University and a director at Notre Dame's Center for Latino Studies.
"\According to Judeo-Christian scriptures, immigration is not simply a sociologial fact, but also a theological event. God revealed His covenent to His people as they were in the process of immigrating.

This covenant was a gift and responsibility; it reflected God's goodness to them, but also called them to respond to newcomers in the same way Yahweh responded to them in their slavery: "So you too must befriend the alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt." (Deuteronomy 10:19)....

...we have created a society that values goods and money more than human beings and human rights, which contradicts the biblical narrative. The gospel vision challenges the prevailing consumerist mentality of American culture, which sees life as an endless accumulation of goods, even while the rest of the world suffers.

Jesus, in His life and ministry, went beyond borders of all sorts....clean/unclean, saintly/sinful, rich/poor...including those defined by authorities of His own day. In doing so, he called into being a community of magnanimity and generosity that would reflect God's unlimited love for all people.

He called people "blest" not when they have received the most, but when they have shared the most and needed the least. Christians distinguish themselves not by the quantity of their possessions, but the quality of the heart is measured by the extent to which one loves the least significant among us.

Many immigrants sit at America's door like Lazarus, hoping for scraps to fall from the US table of prosperity. They are seeking not simply charity, but justice. In Matthew, Jesus says, "I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; a stranger and you welcomed me naked and you clothed me; ill and you cared for me; in prison and you visited me. "

The corollaries to the immigrant experience are striking. Hungry in their homelands, thirsty in the treacherous deserts they cross, naked after being robbed at gunpoint by bandido gangs, sick in hospitals from heat-related illnesses, imprisoned in immigration detention centers and, finally, if they make it across, estranged in a new land, they bear many of the marks of the crucified Christ in our world today."