Sunday, April 23, 2006

Homes and Voting in NO

“It looks like the storm hit yesterday. It looks like a war zone.” This was said by Jessica Felix, a New York University Student who went down to New Orleans in March of 2006, seven months after the storm hit, in order to do reconstruction in the lower ninth ward, the most damaged area by the levee breech. One of the biggest fallacies about the destruction of New Orleans is that the damage was caused by a natural disaster. The truth is that the damage was almost completely due to the flooding caused by several levee breeches. These breeches were forewarned and preventative.

Despite claim by FEMA that they are using every resources in order to rebuild New Orleans and bring resident back to the city, they have continued to deny much needed aid. This is not only from foreign governments, but also the American federal government. When the interior department offered FEMA rooms, equipment, trucks, boats, aircraft, police officers, special agents, and refuge officers; none were integrated into the recovery of Katrina. According to Senator Susan Collins, all of these resources are exactly what were needed in order to respond to Katrina effectively in search and-rescue operations.

Michael Chertoff said, “The idea that this department [Department of Homeland Security] and this administration and the president were somehow detached from Katrina is simply not correct. We were acutely aware of Katrina and the threat it posed.”

With the loss of faith in the levees, and the upcoming hurricane season, there is no confidence in reconstruction. This means that is people do not have confidence in the levee system, that resident will not be coming back.

Another problem was voting. The recent election on April 22, 2006, was controversial due to the number of people who were disenfranchised. Because there were so many displaced residents, more then 60%, there was the problem of how they would vote. There is satellite-voting set up throughout the state of Louisiana, but not outside the state due to legal issues despite most displace resident are outside the state, many in Houston Texas and Atlanta, Georgia.

Though thee are thousands of absentee ballot, there are complaints of them being incorrect, with too little time to correct them. Even with these absentee ballots, a voter is simply getting a list of names with no background to what the candidate stands for, or if that candidate wants them to come back.

Several Civil Rights groups have called the elections unconstitutional, claiming that they favor whites because most displaced residents outside the state are black, and that the elections are requiring an unconstitutional poll tax by require residents to pay travel because they have been displaced outside of the state.

Before the storm, 63% of New Orleans votes were black. But many of the black voters have been unable to come back because the area with the worst flooding and least rebuilding has been the neighborhoods with mostly black residents. Area such as the French Quarter and Uptown, with mostly white residents, are the areas where the most residents have come back.

Due to the close election this past weekend there will be another vote for mayor for the two top candidates, Nagin and Landrieu.

Sources

23 Wanna- Be Mayors vie to Win New Orleans Vote
http://www.cnn.com/2006/POLITICS/04/21/new.orleans.elex/

Bush touts $4.2 billion plan for Louisiana homeowners
http://www.cnn.com/2006/POLITICS/03/08/bush.gulf/

Homeland Security Chief Defends Katrina Response
http://www.cnn.com/2006/POLITICS/02/15/katrina.response/index.html

Vote for Mayor Points to Change in New Orleans By ADAM NOSSITER
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/24/us/24orleans.html?hp&ex=1145937600&en=e69345692800aa01&ei=5094&partner=homepage

Message: I don't care

Chinese President Hu Jintao came state-side late last week to meet with Bush, and the fully photo op'd visit could not have been expected to be a walk in the park, as negotiations were to entail very serious matters: trade and Chinese currency; Iran -- China has a multi-billion dollar petroleum relationship with Iran, and as one might guess, it may be a little concerned with how Bush intends to proceed against the new Beast of the Middle East -- and North Korea on nuclear energy programs; and China's human rights issues, like freedom of expression.

And so, given the significance, the Administration enforced every measure necessary to respect and accomodate President Hu. . . . Ehh, not really.

Dana Milibank of the Washington Post notes in a recent article that "China and Its President Greeted By A Host of Indignities," such as the following:

• The official announcer said the band would play the "national anthem of the Republic of China" -- the official name of Taiwan (China’s longstanding rival).
• Vice President Cheney donned sunglasses for the ceremony
• Hu, attempting to leave the stage via the wrong staircase, was yanked back by his jacket sleeve. ... the president of the United States tugging at it as if redirecting an errant child.
• China wanted a formal state visit such as Jiang (Hu's predecessor) got, but the administration refused, calling it instead an "official" visit
• Bush acquiesced to the 21-gun salute but insisted on a luncheon instead of a formal dinner, in the East Room instead of the State Dining Room
• Even the visiting country's flags were missing from the lampposts near the White House.

The WaPo article failed to mention the Administration's most flagrant act of disrespect: A mindful photographer snapped a shot of Cheney as he slept during an adjoining press briefing by Bush and Hu. Cheney's aides insisted that he was merely reading his notes.

Cheney's untimely nap "outraged" Chinese officials, according to a NY Times article. However, "outrage" probably doesn't encapsulate their feelings as accurately regarding a Falun Gong activist's interruption of President Hu's speech on the White House South Lawn.

The episode went a little something like this. After waxing romantic on the need for China to step up its human rights game in the areas of free speech, freedom to assemble peacefully, and the freedom of expression, Bush handed things over to President Hu. But 90 seconds later a woman, Wang Wenyi, spoke freely, screaming, "President Hu, your days are numbered!" and "President Bush, stop him from killing," among other things. After several minutes she was physically muzzled, hauled off by Secret Service officials, and later arrested. She now faces up to 6 months in prison and a $5,000 fine.

A more ironic juxtaposition is hard to imagine.

When confronted with questions of how the activist was granted access to the event the Administration's reaction was a familiar one: How were we s'posed to know? As Milibank notes:
The Chinese had warned the White House to be careful about who was admitted to the ceremony. To no avail: They granted a one-day pass to Wang Wenyi of the Falun Gong publication Epoch Times. A quick Nexis search shows that in 2001, she slipped through a security cordon in Malta protecting Jiang (she had been denied media credentials) and got into an argument with him.

When it comes to strengthening international relations, the Administration rarely misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity. This most recent snafu is especially bad given the circumstances. It is no surprise, as Milibank writes, that
Hu was in no mood to make concessions. In negotiations, he gave the U.S. side nothing tangible on delicate matters such as the nuclear problems in North Korea and Iran, the Chinese currency's value and the trade deficit with China

By Bush Administration standards, that's a success.

Why the ICC means more than justice alone

A Scathing Report


In “Think Again: International Courts” Helena Cobban takes her teeth to the seams of UN International Tribunals, the International Criminal Court (ICC) and any optimistic outlook for the future of international criminal justice to be seen. Truthfully, her article for Foreign Policy is good. So good in fact, it’s almost convincing. In asking us to “abandon the false hope of international justice,” the transitional justice expert cites instances where the UN tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda failed to achieve peace, advance human rights, and deter future atrocities. She claims "they have squandered billions... and ignored the wishes of the victims they claim to represent." Though persuasive and passionate, many of Cobban's arguments fail to recognize the important precedent the tribunals have created, or to differentiate between the tribunals and the International Criminal Court. In one argument, she asserts

“We can predict that the ICC will be no more effective than the
international courts for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda in improving
the lives of war-zone residents who are its primary stakeholders. That
is, not very effective at all [...] When such a trial concerns events that took place in
recent memory, in a society that's still highly divided and deeply
traumatized, the trial itself too often exacerbates existing political
rifts."


Deputy Convenor Wasana Punyasena of the American NGO Coalition for the ICC provides counter-arguments that reaffirm everything you thought was true, and in the end articulates why the ICC is different from the ad-hoc tradition of justice. In one of many points lunging back at Cobban, Punyasena show's her teeth:

"Victims of atrocities generally demand justice. As a 2005 International Center for Transitional Justice survey of residents in northern Uganda discovered, 76% of respondents said that those responsible for abuse should be held accountable for their actions [...] Of those who had heard of the ICC, a majority believed that the court would contribute both to peace (91%) and justice (89%)."


These numbers are surprising, especially that more Ugandans felt that a body of law could be primarily part of an answer in ending the violence even more than it could seek to end impunity. Ugandan Defense Minister Amama Mbabazi and Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa addressed the Security Council during a joint briefing on the situation in Uganda and measures to disarm the Lord's Resistance Army. Mr. Mbabazi "said Uganda hoped to engage the Congolese and Sudanese Governments in the near future, and emphasized the importance of developing combined regional efforts, with the support of the international community, to disarm, capture or arrest indicted LRA terrorist leaders and hand them over to the International Criminal Court in The Hague." In another important step of transparency, Parliament passed the Amnesty Amendment Bill 2003, giving authority to the Minister of Internal Affairs to submit a list to the Parliament to approve names of individuals to be excluded from government pardon.

The Power of a Trial


Meanwhile, three weeks after the Special Court for Sierra Leone requested that former Liberian president Charles Taylor be tried in The Hague, Taylor's transfer is still facing several obstacles. The guarantees required by the Netherlands are not in place; Taylor's lawyer is objecting, while Sierra Leoneans are divided over the issue and various voices in Dutch parliament are opposed to the transfer. With better facilities for holding Taylor than in Sierra Leone, security has been the main argument in favor of the warlord’s transfer.

Sam Kargbo, contributor to Nigeria’s Daily Independent, reports his insights of Taylor’s detention, explaining mostly that Sierra Leoneons are just happy to have him locked up, but that Presidential election contenders plan to exploit the Taylor situation in everyway possible to bolster their respective campaigns. Kargbo's accounts of his time in Sierra Leone show his heightened awareness of his own nationality, although tensions between the two countries may have changed with Nigeria's "eleventh hour" role in turning over Taylor to the ICTR.

Central African Republic (CAR) has asked the ICC to investigate crimes against humanity allegedly committed by former President Ange-Felix Patasse and Congo Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba, suspected of committing murder and rape against civilians. CAR's supreme court of appeal recently opened the door to an ICC investigation that underscored "the inability of the legal services in CAR to successfully conduct an investigation" into the crimes perpetrated in response to the attempted coup d'état led by François Bozizé in 2002. Both are cited in the writ of summons that Bozizé sent over a year ago to the ICC prosecutor, who has been "analyzing the situation" since January of 2004. As Sidiki Kaba, president of the International Federation of Human Rights notes,

"The ICC's silence is deafening when the country's courts have admitted that they are unable to effectively prosecute these crimes [...]"


Cobban concludes that "idealists who supported the ICC's creation hoped that it would help check the power of governments and improve the well-being of much-abused people. There is little to suggest it will do either." Yet from the initiations from governments to reign in their own power and submit infamous names to face charges, it is hard to see how the ICC hasn't already incited both.

Kansas, Phill Kline, and Reproductive Rights

This week, I’m going to blog about a small victory on the reproductive and sexual rights front. A few days ago, the New York Times published an article about a federal court decision not to enforce health care workers to divulge to the authorities any sexual activities reported by persons under the age of 16 in the state of Kansas. This law reflected a blatantly obvious attempt of attorney general Phill Kline to aid in restricting abortions and cutting down on sexual liberties in Kansas, and what’s more, he masked his attempt by attesting that it was a law designed to protect persons under the age of 16 from sexual abuses. Judge Marten saw right through this proposed law, and ruled against it, deciding that Kline’s opinion basically allowed for sexual activity (which is illegal for those under 16) and sexual abuse to be improperly lumped together. The law was brought up in a class action suit brought by doctors and nurses and sexual health educators who were deeply disturbed by it, and saw it as a huge setback, and terribly detrimental to the sexual health of teenagers. A law like this is very dangerous. Because it is designed to closely monitor the sexual activities that people under the age of 16 are engaging in, it will therefore discourage teenagers from going to clinics and doctors and getting the help, advice and services they need such as STD and pregnancy tests, birth control and other forms of contraception, etc. As a result, teenagers would be neglecting to seek services that they need, thus instead of protecting them, this law would actually end up putting them in great danger.
Like wire taps, this law was just another way to infringe upon the personal lives of US citizens in an absolutely unconstitutional way, and this ruling was dead-on in its decision to eliminate this piece of legislature: it comes down to protecting an individual’s right to have his or her health records sealed, and to have a relationship with a health care worker based around trust and confidentiality.
Although this doesn’t seem to be as large of an issue as South Dakota’s recent abortion ban, but it is certainly significant especially in light of the current anti-choice, anti-abortion climate of the United States. Although, as a representative for the Center for Reproductive Rights said, “the ruling could have broad national implications because it was the first to assure adolescents constitutional protection for private communication with health care workers.” This is perhaps the most progressive thing to happen for the fight for choice in several months, and it is going to ensure that teenagers don’t have to feel as if they are being spied on and essentially ratted out for going to the doctor and being responsible about protecting themselves.

1week.

Last Thursday was Jamnesty, a benefit concert and the finale of the 1week campaign. 1week was organized by NYU's chapter of Amnesty International to raise money for and awareness of the genocide in Darfur. The campaign started on the thirteenth with a showing of Hotel Rwanda, which was followed by a question-and-answer with Paul Rusesabagina, the inspiration for the film, who has also worked to spread awareness of the crisis in Darfur.

On Tuesday there was a panel discussion entitled "Genocide in Darfur: A Panel on a Global Humanitarian Crisis" that featured Iain Levine, Program Director at Human Rights Watch, Dr. Joyce Apsel, the coauthor of the book "Teaching About Genocide," and Diana Phillips, daughter of survivors of the Armenian genocide. Little new was said on the subject of Darfur and the panel seemed to me to be more of an "intro" discussion for those who knew little about the cause, however it was interesting to see such a detailed description of the cause through the lens of the definition of genocide. Iain Levine began the discussion by stating he would focus on "why and how we are all failing the people of Darfur." He emphasized the importance of political pressure, encouraging audience members to write to their congressmen as a demonstration of American concern for the cause. Without this kind of political pressure, the United States will do nothing, because focusing on genocide, according to Levine, increases unemployment and taxes and results in a decreased approval of the government. Diana Phillips emphasized the importance of "educating people from scratch- we want to reach people for the first time...we want numbers."

Iain Levine blamed the lack of concentrated effort against the genocide on extremely little media coverage, national interests in the Sudanese oil (namely in Russia and China), and the Sudanese government's excuse that they are in the midst of negotiating peace agreements, and complications with and distrust of US foreign policy. Joyce Apsel stated that "people like to think this is age-old tribal conflict" rather than what it is, part of a recurring and consistently successful pattern of targeting civilians because they are part of a group. He added that in order to make a difference, civilian protection must be emphasized, a 20000-strong United Nations force with a robust mandate (allowing UN troops to shoot back), bans, sanctions, freezing of assets and oil embargos on Sudan, and for the murderers to be brought to justice.

The panel the following night was extremely different. "The Best Hope for Peace in Darfur" was held in the New York Society for Ethical Culture amphitheater, and it included Nicholas Kristof, an op-ed columnist for the Times that has written consistently about the situation in Darfur, Juan Mendez and Mark Malloch Brown of the United Nations, Darfurian refugee Traji Mustafa, and Professor Karima Bennoune of Amnesty International. Unlike the previous panel, which was held in a room at NYU's Kimmel Center and had around twenty people in the audience, this panel had what I would estimate to be close to a thousand people. Nicholas Kristof, who won a Pulitzer Prize last Monday for his work on Darfur, began his speech with an explanation of why he has written so consistently on the subject. He is a firm believer that the Sudanese government backs the Janjaweed, explaining that he has seen Janjaweed with government issued uniforms and weapons, and that prisons have opened up to recruit for the militia. He also said that though Janjaweed are able to drive through government checkpoints, they did attempt to arrest a man who was working in Sudan with Nick. He emphasized that President Bush has been good at providing humanitarian aid, but bad at providing security and stopping the killing. Kristof believes this could be accomplished by imposing a no-fly zone and a more effective peace negotiation.

Because the only effective impact the panel could have on the crisis is by gaining advocates for the cause, the most effective statements Kristof made were those describing some of the people he saw. In closing Kristof described two girls who confided in a humanitarian aid worker that a group of Janjaweed moved into their household, making the sisters sexual slaves and the rest of the family domestic slaves, and when their father begged the commander to free his daughters, the sisters were forced to watch their father be beheaded.

Mark Brown addressed what needs to be done for the United Nations involvement to be successful, most importantly, Sudanese approval and the large sum of money it would take for their force to be supported by helicopters and airlifts. Currently the UN has more troops around the world than any other country, and this is detrimental to their popularity because of what it costs the governments supporting the UN. It was at this point in the speech when a man from the audience began to yell about making excuses while people are dying, which Brown listened to without interruption before asserting that the UN is doing everything possible to solidify their forces quickly.

Upon entering the panel, audience members were given an index card to write questions on. I wrote two questions, one of which I directed at Nick Kristof, asking how he felt about his newspaper's acceptance of almost one million dollars from the Sudanese government for an advertisement spread of Sudan. The question was used at the beginning of the question-and-answer session, and he had a lot to say in response. Kristof was apparently in Pakistan when the ad was printed, and was flooded immediately with emails generally focusing on the subject "how could you?" Kristof acknowledged that he felt betrayed, that his paycheck was tainted with blood money from the exchange. However, he stressed that the print of the article did no harm to Sudanese, and instead was another form of media coverage on the issue. While I was satisfied with this response, if I were in Kristof's position I can't see myself staying with the Times. And I'm fairly certain he won't have any trouble finding a job as a recent Pulitzer Prize winner and writer for the biggest newspaper in the country.

Club Med Baghdad

The largest U.S. embassy in the world is being built in Baghdad, Iraq that will boast a staff of 5,000. The compound, divided up into 21 buildings, will include water wells, an electricity plant, a swimming pool, a gym, a commissary, an American club, and its own defense force. Spanning over 104 acres, it’s about the size of Vatican City or six times the U.N. building in N.Y.C. Sounds like a Club-Med on the Tigris River.

The construction is projected to be finished in mid 2007 and started mid 2005. That’s astonishing compared to the sad rate of reconstruction that exists in the rest of the country. But with $592 million United States tax-payers dollars to fund the project, it shouldn’t be too hard. My favorite part of this all inclusive resort is the waste-water treatment plant that will be completely independent of Baghdad’s utilities.
“The designs aren't publicly available, but the Senate report makes clear it
will be a self-sufficient and "hardened" domain, to function in the midst of
Baghdad power outages, water shortages and continuing turmoil.”

U.S. officials will sleep snug in their private homes and enjoy fresh water, which will be a luxury provided to the ambassador and his deputy as outlined in the building plan, while “raw waste from the western half of Baghdad is dumped into the Tigris River, where many of the capital's 7 million residents get their drinking water.”
I think it is a slap in the face to Iraqi civilians to build such a gaudy compound when reconstruction efforts elsewhere in the country are weak at best. When the U.S. government does acknowledge reconstruction failures, a rare occurrence, the attitude is once again it ain’t my fault. Blame for any halts in reconstruction has been turned toward the failure of Iraqis.

"The United States must ensure that the billions of dollars it has already
invested in Iraq's infrastructure are not wasted," said an October report by the
Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, citing what
it said were "limitations in the Iraqis' capacity to maintain and operate
reconstructed facilities."


Most problems with the decay of infrastructure in Iraq are due to war-related incidents. Tanks that rattle weak water pipes and mortar bombs exploding sewer lines contaminate fresh water daily. That doesn’t seem like an Iraqi civilian induced problem to me.

Chertoff to the "Shadow Economy": Get Back Into the Shadows

Not one of the millions of undocumented immigrants (many of whom are actually more similar to the people who initially inhabited than Sen. Sensenbrenner or myself) who turned out during the nation-wide mobilizations on April 10th were arrested for protesting.

Or so we thought on April 11.

On Wednesday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement carried out what was billed as
“the largest immigration enforcement action in US history.”
Raids were conducted on plants in 26 states operated by the IFCO pallet company. The raids resulted in the detention of nearly 1200 undocumented workers. Many of these workers had been smuggled into the country by the Houston-based company in order to do the very work for doing which they will now be deported. Nearly half of IFCO’s employees were found to be illegal, compared to approximately 1 in 20 in the country as a whole.
Chertoff explained that the raids were part of a year-long investigation into the company, and that they had no relation to the protests. But many immigrants’ rights advocates say the raids were carried out in retribution for the April protests, and as a way of intimidating the immigrant community preceding the planned May 1 “Day without Immigrants”*

This claim is supported by Chertoff’s further statements Thursday that the raids are part of a new government crackdown on undocumented workers. As part of the new “interior enforcement strategy”, DHS has initiated a plan to use its favorite new technique: data-mining. According to senior DHS officials, the department is seeking authority to mine company databases that contain Social Security numbers in order to identify illegal immigrants employed in the country.

Such a crackdown will inevitably lead to legitimization of racial profiling. Already we have discouraged immigrants from Arab countries from entering US universities among a deluge of other racially motivated restrictions, now you can be stopped, even deported simply for looking indigenous. Chicago’s Latino Union reported detentions the day of the IFCO raid at more than 5 different sites around the city’s south side. Spokesperson for the union Jessica Randa said that in known Latino neighborhoods random pedestrians were stopped by ICE officials and asked to provide documentation of their legal status. In the end of March, Merced County school children were removed from schoolbuses by ICE officials, and made to inform on their immigrant parents, who were subsequently deported. I spoke to a woman and her sister whose brother was taken from his home at 4am, without a warrant, despite the fact that he currently has a green card, on charges that he had violated immigration law 21 years previously. He was transported in a van, along with several parentless children, to an ICE facility in San Francisco where he began deportation proceedings, and is currently being detained along with many others on the top floor of thehttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif facility, in a room where the detainees sleep on the floor with no blankets, the windows open to the frigid California night. According to attorney Carlena Ruano, incoming president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, “ICE has to have reason to believe that someone is unlawfully in the United States before they can stop them and ask for papers.” This being said, my arguments on this issue will not rely on law, as congress tomorrow resumes talks which will likely increase ten-fold the harshness of current immigration law.

Jorge Mujica, a labor organizer, journalist, and key immigrants’ rights advocate in Chicago of the IFCO raid, “They could have done it two months ago or they could have done it 2 months from now. One week before the May demonstration, you get the feeling like the Sensenbrenner law was already approved.”

In a recently released video, the CAIR coalition estimated that nearly 20,000 immigrants are detained every day. Many of them are held for years, and have been, for years. But there have been two changes:

The first is defined by Chertoff, and I, along with the 12 million undocumented residents of this country look forward with baited breath to the new “strategy.”
The second change is defined by our reaction. If the bold millions who have turned out to protest in recent weeks continue to flood the streets demanding recognition, it will be much more difficult for the level and nature of immigrant detention, deportation, and exploitation that currently is the norm in this country to continue. If they, and we, bow to Chertoff’s “new strategy”, the “shadow economy” will continue to be as such, and we will continue the criminalization and abuse of our millions of shadow citizens.

*There actually was at least one arrest that I personally witnessed at the New York rally, however if there were many more, their families have kept quiet.

**In the mass media on Thursday, numerous articles touted a "split" in the immigrants' rights movement, however on Democracy Now Friday Jorge Mujica wrote the split off as merely a tactical change in language usage.

Swing State Vies for Seat in the Senate and Riding the Abortion Wave to Get There

The race for the crown in the 2004 Presidential election ended with the reign of one bad candidate over the other less-than-stellar player. However, this game of choosing the lesser of two evils is far from over.

I was able to vote for the first time in 2004, and my family was divided between Bush and A.B.B. They mostly felt that Kerry wasn’t a better option; my mom cried “at least we know what Bush stands for!” Yes, yes we do. The A.B.B philosophy surrounded the election and still rings strong in those that oppose our current President. I follow politics and consider myself to be a decent citizen, yet I remain uninspired by the slew of political candidates. Right now, Pennsylvania is the swing state the Democrats need to win over in order to gain control in the Senate. Bob Casey, Jr. is vying for the seat and hopes to thwart the reelection of staunch conservative/Republican Rick Santorum. One way he hopes to win is to use abortion as his ticket to ride.

Democrats say they need their party to dominate the Senate in order to “bridge the gap” between Pro-Choice and Pro-Lifers. Above all else, it is an excuse to push the vote in Casey’s favor; not because he’s better for the job, but because he is a Democrat. The “big race,” as the series in the New York Times has dubbed the opposition between Casey and Santorum, shows the vigilance of the Democrats. But do not be fooled, our country will not find a happy medium between two morally, ethically and politically opposed groups by a single Senator.

Casey is Pro-Life and believes that prevention will dissipate the need for abortion (like his conservative counterparts) through the use of birth control and family planning (unlike them). Now, outwardly Pro-Choice politicians, like Ms. Hilary Clinton, have begun to sing to a different tune: prevention over abortion. I say, please! Of course prevention is necessary in avoiding abortion but it DOES NOT serve as a substitute for a woman's right to choose. The optimism for a middle ground is dandy, but highly unrealistic. Abortion is a sensitive subject that many people will not see eye-to-eye on and people should not be led to believe otherwise.

The nine female Democrats in the Senate say that Casey’s election is crucial to regain Democratic majority, revealing their main political objective. They are riding on the coattails of South Dakota to put Casey in power. Even avid Pro-Choicers are holding signs singing Casey’s praise, although his beliefs oppose their own.

Santorum, on the other hand, is Bush’s wet dream; he wants to cut money for education and Medicare and give tax breaks to the wealthy. Needless to say, Democrats are giving big bucks to get Casey in power and many have taken notice of how hungry the Democratic party is.

Pennsylvania is historically a swing state. The state's demographic is generally older and is a prime example of how Christian ethics and tax breaks for the rich clash with blue-collar minorities.

I don't know how well the abortion debate will serve as Casey's ticket into the Senate, but for now, he is the lesser of the two evils.

Global Economics

This weekend is the annual meeting between the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, where members are set to discuss imminent changes in the balance of world power. Some believe the IMF’s influence in worldwide economics is actually waning, as an article in the Economist* points out by saying that while “[t]he IMF spent 1994-2002 dashing from one financial conflagration to the next…the sirens have been silent for some time.” This weekend’s meetings between the two organizations, however, are intended to address issues related to poverty reduction, international economic development and finance on a global scale, as if their influence and policy-making are still significant.
One noteworthy issue that has already graced the pages of the Washington Post is the rise of Asian countries’ international economic influence. The most notable example of this pool of up-and-coming economies is China. Although the World Economic Outlook report on Globalization and Inflation put out by the IMF this month lists China as an Emerging Market, it is beginning to recognize that it might be time to increase Asia’s influence in international economic policies. As one Post article indicates,

Part of the strategy involves making the IMF’s governance fairer. In response to long-standing complaints that fast-growing countries such as China and South Korea are woefully underrepresented in the fund’s decision-making bodies, the committee launched a process to reapportion voting power.

Of course, the World Bank’s principal shareholders (i.e. The United States, Europe, and Japan) are not exactly supportive of this power shift. What a surprise.

Another item on the agenda at the meeting is “a proposal aimed at giving the IMF a more central role in dealing with global problems, including the massive U.S. trade deficit and corresponding surpluses in Asia and oil producing countries.” To try and curb this problem, the IMF is planning to “hold consultations with top officials from groups of large countries about how their economic policies affect each other and the world” (both quotes also taken from Paul Blustein’s article in today’s Washington Post).

A different article in the latest edition of the Economist,* however, states that while “[p]lenty of Americans blame unfair competition on Asia, and especially China, for their country’s gigantic current-account deficit…the group of countries with the world’s biggest current-account surpluses is [actually] no longer emerging Asia, but exporters of oil.”

To be perfectly honest, I don’t know what—if anything—will come out of the meetings between the IMF and the World Bank. But it seems as though many countries are acting with reckless abandon when it comes to making financial decisions. Considering the scale to which globalization is intertwining international markets, maybe governments should begin to consider how their individual fiscal situations are affecting people all over the world. It sure doesn’t seem as if the United States is heeding the economic needs of others…but why should that come as a surprise?


*To read these articles in full, do a Lexis Nexis search for “Not even a cat to rescue; Reshaping the IMF” and “Money to burn; Economics focus,” both published on April 22, 2006. Or, if you have a subscription to the Economist, you may view it at www.economist.org.

"Change to Win" Announces its Change to Win

Campaign

At its recent convention the Change to Win federation of unions announced its new “Make Work Pay!” campaign. The actions to kick off the make work pay campaign between April 24-28 will kick off new union organizing drives and help develop drives that have already been in progress. The campaign is trying to make sure that the millions of people working harder and longer are able to join the American middle class. Anna Burger, the Chair of Change to Win said, “We are fighting so that individuals who work hard can earn paychecks that actually support families; receive affordable health care, have the chance to give their children a better life and count on a secure retirement.”

Uniting All Unions

Some of the main goals that Change to Win has announced is to create strong cross union local organizing teams and to unite 50 million workers in industries that cannot be outsourced. The federation includes 7 unions representing 6 million people across the country; at their recent convention they brought together local organizing committees with members of each of the separate unions. The federation says that they intend to unite these unions because they want employers to know not only are they fighting against the local union they are fighting against all the members of Change to Win. Greg Tarpinian, an executive direction of the federation said, "This is a permanent campaign to connect the aspirations of working people in multiple industries." On the other side, Change to Win is working to create new unions in industries all over the country. The industries that Change to Win shoots for are those which cannot be outsource such as retail, food processing, hospitality and leisure, health care and social services, construction, transportation and warehousing, and property service. Change to Win has said that it would like to unite 50 million workers across the country in order to raise the living standards and quality of life of American workers. The federation says it is fighting to make sure that America always has a vibrant middle class. In history, unionized labor was the backbone of the middle class, so Change to Win has announced a plan to make that true again.

Television Advertisement

One of the main things that Change to Win has done to kick off its campaign is to run a television add highlighting the gulf of pay between workers and executives. The ad shows photos of hard-working honest workers shrink from full screen to nothing. While a narrator says lines like “They don't own vacation homes or fly on the company jet They are tens of millions of hard working Americans.”“And their CEOs get richer and richer! Average CEO pay rose 27% last year, to $11.3 million. Workers get left farther and farther behind. After inflation, taxes, and health costs the average American worker makes less than he did in the 1960s.” “Don't let America's middle class vanish. It's time to make work pay.” This ad is playing mostly on Sunday during talk shows in at least ten markets. Is an ad the best way to reach people. The lines in the ad are striking and they are going to make people think, but how many people who are not currently in a union will see the ad and then be ready to suddenly start a union? Starting a union is not easy. It seems to me the money could be better spent training or sending out organizers to talk to people. In addition, the federation spent $500,000 on airing this commercial. That is more than 10 times what a lot of the people they are trying to organize make. It seems unfair for a union claiming to work for people with so little money to be throwing money around so carelessly. The money had to come from somewhere and that was probably the pockets of the people in the union. The issues in the ad are important it just seems to me that there ought to be a better way to talk about them.

Enviornmentalism and Women's Rights Meet

In her article for Planned Parenthood, Rhonda Schlangen writes, “Women in the developing world are often the first to be affected by environmental degradation and the first to act.” Women in developing countries are particularly vulnerable given their biology as well as their social position as care providers in many contexts. The reproductive rights movement has begun to look at the ways in which issues not typically associated with reproductive rights affect women’s lives—the environment, war, poverty, etc. This turning point in the movement shows a shift from the monolithic focus on the right to abortion, to a look at women’s reproductive rights on a larger scale, including their access to conditions that enable them to raise healthy families if they choose to.
In a recent article entitled “Pro-Choice, Pro-Environment,” and an earlier report, “Reproductive Rights, Women, and the Environment,” Planned Parenthood looks at the ways in which the struggle for reproductive rights is connected to the environmental movement. Their focus is on the particular impact the state of the environment has on women’s lives in developing countries. They cite the ways in which pesticide use and unsound manufacturing practices affect women’s fertility, heighten their risk of cancer, and increase the likelihood of their having a miscarriage. In addition, women, often the main providers of food and water in a household, struggle to provide for their families when environmental impurities taint water and food supply. Further, destruction of the natural environment affects women’s ability to provide shelter, energy, and food to their families. The article does not mention that the misuse and corruption of national resources in today’s context of Globalization is a key contributor to economic hardship for women and their families in developing countries, but it is indeed relevant. Finally, women are better able to care for their families, communities, and physical environment when they have personal and political agency, a key goal of the reproductive rights movement.
These articles underscore the importance of and appreciation for interconnectivity in struggles for reproductive rights—the recognition that movements for social and ecological health can and should work in tandem, for example. Western feminists are only recently beginning to understand the public, community-focused nature of reproductive rights, a major rhetorical weakness. These articles are a step in the right direction. When women and their advocates stress the importance of reproductive rights not just on an individual scale, but also for the community, and indeed, the globe, their argument is strengthened and less vulnerable to anti-choice attack.
Reproductive Rights, Women, and the Enviornment
Pro-Choice, Pro-Enviornment
Cairo Consunsus background info

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Immigrant Protest

This past Monday we saw the largest protest in American history, which may have also been the most diverse in terms of ethnicities and immigrant status. This was not only in the hot spot cities like New York or Washington D.C., but in other cities in Texas and Utah. The unprecedented turnout, particularly for immigrant rights, has many surprised; forcing the subject to be seen in a new light.

The protest was in response to the new legislation being proposed in the senate, and House of Representatives. Currently, being in the United Sates undocumented is a civil offense, not a criminal, and deportation can be appealed. The bill being proposed in the House, which is the harsher of the two, calls for being in the U.S. with papers a felony, being banned from the U.S. permanently if found to be here illegally, and no work visa for those currently in the U.S.

The Senate bill allows for undocumented workers who have been here before 2004 to apply for a six year visa and let them bring their families, after this six year period they would be allowed to apply for citizenship (must pay back taxes and know English fluently), and anyone who has been here for less then two years would have to go back to their home countries, but would be allowed to apply for a visa.

Despite the large turnout, there are many Americans do support the stricter legislation, claiming that people who are here illegally should not have rights and be removed. This may seem like the logical answer, but it far from the reality of the situation. It was not only immigrants who were part of the protest, but also family members who are citizens, many born in the U.S., and the undocumented workers themselves. The fact of the matter is that these people build lives and communities in this country, and as easy as it is to say that they should just “go back to where they came from” when not looking at the humanistic aspect of this problem.

But even more than this, how ethical is it to punish people for being part of a system that encourages their presence. To solely blame immigrants for their role is misguided, when both he government and companies encourage their presence. The U.S. allows for a certain amount of undocumented workers as part of the economic structure. This can be seen in the 2002b case Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. National Labors Relations Board, where the Supreme Court decided that undocumented workers did not have to receive back pay for their labor from the companies that employed them because they were here illegally.

This means that there is no accountability to the companies, which recruited the workers, and no protection for the people who do the work. Despite citizenship, all people in America are protected by the constitution, though they do not have the immunities and privileges of citizens. Bush stated that he would not support the court’s decision because what it would mean for the economics of this country.

Immigrants are an easy scapegoat for unemployment by politicians and citizens. But this is a fallacy that is tainted with racism and classism. Let us be real, how many of us would do the work that many undocumented workers do? Not only our most of us not willing to do the same work, but even less of appreciate how our lives are made easier and cheaper by that same labor we easy dismiss.



Non - Hispanics Part of Immigration Debate New York Times
http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-Immigration-Non-Hispanics.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

Strategy Sessions Fueled Immigrant Marches By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD New York Times
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/12/us/12immig.html

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

HOFFMAN PLASTIC COMPOUNDS, INC. v. NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD
http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/00-1595.ZS.html

South Dakota

It seems that these days, there are so many American wars being waged. Of course, the most high-profile of which are happening on foreign soil, as the war in Iraq continues every day to escalate in seriousness, and we are now on the brink of waging an air strike campaign on Iran.
And then there are those much subtler, somewhat quieter battles that are being waged on our own soil, namely the war that is currently and aggressively being waged on reproductive rights and choice.
The New York Times published an article this afternoon about the current climate of South Dakota, which, as I’ve blogged about before, is knee-deep in a state-wide debate about abortion, and whether or not it should be legal. After the almost total abortion ban was passed, South Dakota has been incredibly divided. Although the legislation is scheduled to go into effect June 1 of this year, there are those who are determined not to accept defeat, and then there are those in absolute solidarity with the legislation who are strongly reacting to the backlash inspired by the passing of this policy.
The residents of South Dakota who are in fact opposed to the legislation are mobilizing as best they can, and currently calling on an 1898 provision that allows the reconsideration of a law passed by state legislation if enough signatures are collected. The article describes one woman as she stands outside of a South Dakota County administration office gathering signatures on a petition to bring the abortion ban back into question. Acts like these honestly reinstate my faith in grassroots efforts: despite the fact that so many South Dakotans are in support of this, those who aren’t are doing their best to protect their rights before June 1, when they will be officially taken away. Unfortunately, it seems that the odds are still against them: they must, according to the article, gather at least 16,728 signatures in support of reconsidering the ban.
Also, to make the odds that much worse, there has been an increase in mobilization of those who are in support of the legislation: the article sites an organization of people in support of the ban setting out across the state “in a bus dubbed ‘the Fleet for Little Feet,’ complete with an ultrasound machine and plastic models of a growing fetus.”
Although the struggle in South Dakota has attracted attention mostly for the fact that its recently passed anti-choice legislature is an incredibly frightening and rather giant leap towards banning abortion, I think the grassroots mobilization of those opposed to the ban, although small, is an excellent start, and I can only hope that more and more South Dakotans are going to be willing to join the fight and do whatever it takes to bring this piece of policy to light before it goes through. Though this article seemed to present the opposition to the ban as being underwhelming, I think it says something that Gov. Mike Rounds’ job approval ratings have dropped dramatically to 58 per cent from 72 per cent since the ban. Perhaps people are realizing the actual effect of this ban, as well as the symbolic significance of such an anti-choice motion.

The Rac/pe Issue

Happy holidays to those of you that celebrated this weekend. I traveled to Connecticut friends and family and we began to debate whether or not the current rape case against the Duke University Lacrosse team was a hate crime. However, the word on everyone's lips is yes. The case is very sensitive due to the woman’s skin color and occupation especially because of the race relations between Duke and North Carolina University.

Even though my official topic is “woman’s issues,” feminists have historically linked their struggle against a patriarchal majority to race relations. While no arrests have been made and there has been a lack of evidence against the Duke Lacrosse players via DNA, the state’s attorney general has vowed not to drop the charges despite pressure from many high-up officials. However, his suspicions do not stand alone. One player sent an email a little after the crime was supposedly committed that stated his wishes to kill and skin strippers with elicit details about the sexual excitement he would get from these horrendous acts. A week later, the Lacrosse coach, Mike Pressler, resigned. The captain of the lacrosse team stated that same day that the lacrosse team would not “not play competitively” until the DNA results came back to show that these men were falsely accused. While they did come back, they were drawn as inconclusive. Now civil rights advocates have offered to pay for the woman’s schooling and many others have spoken out for justice. Yet the Rainbow/PUSH coalition has said they will pay for her tuition so she can support her two children, go to school and not have to expose her body. At first the woman’s occupation was the first thing she was identified by, now her student status has definitely been put out there. A security phoned 911 when found the accuser in a car “passed out drunk,” but not in distress. Yet hospital officials said that her behavior was consistent with somone who had been sexually assaulted when she was examined shortly thereafter. So what does this mean? With what I blogged about last week, blame being the game, when does race become the driving force between justice and lack thereof? New headlines have shown that race is not a main issues but its still the center of this debate. The fact is, whether the rape was a hate crime or not, race is an issue, if not THE issue, here. Prejudices and stereotypes against minorities make it harder to seek justice without having race come into the picture. So before we think that a rape is just a crime of control, we have to think about the factors involved: this is a crime against (mainly) women and more specifically, in the Duke case, a crime against a black woman. With the woman being a stripper and an African American, will justice be served in the same way a white student/stripper if raped by a black lacrosse team would be? You be the judge.

1. "Mike Pressler resigns as Duke mens' lacrosse coach," statement by Mike Pressler. 04/07/2006 Duke University Athletics website http://www.goduke.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPSID=25937&SPID=2027&DB_OEM_ID=4200&ATCLID=264739

2. "Duke Lacrosse captain's statement," made by lacrosse captain (unnamed). 03/28/2006 Duke University Athletics website
http://www.goduke.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPSID=25937&SPID=2027&DB_OEM_ID=4200&ATCLID=251532

3. "Civil rights group to pay tuition for woman who accused Duke lacrosse team of rape," released by AP. 04/15/2006

http://news.aol.com/topnews/articles?id=n20060415221009990004

4. "Police: Duke Accuser 'Passed-Out Drunk,'"released by AP. 04/14/2006

http://sports.aol.com/news/articles?id=n20060414075709990010

The DoD Defends the Indefensible

I suppose it was only a matter of time before the Defense Department came to the defense of Rumsfeld.

The Pentagon issued a one-page memo to a group of former military commanders and civilian analysts as a challenge to the very public criticisms made by six retired generals regarding the Defense Secretary's handling of the Iraq war.

Today's NYT article "Pentagon Memo Aims to Counter Rumsfeld Critics" includes some highlights:

The memorandum begins by stating, "U.S. senior military leaders are involved to an unprecedented degree in every decision-making process in the Department of Defense." It says Mr. Rumsfeld has had 139 meetings with the Joint Chiefs of Staff since the start of 2005 and 208 meetings with the senior field commanders.

Seeking to put the criticism of the relatively small number of generals into context, the e-mail message also notes that there are more than 8,000 active-duty and retired generals alive today.

Great. But what's that got to do with the price of eggs?

That Rumsfeld is characterized as a workaholic says nothing about the duplicity of his actions, as those numbers merely credit the man with zealotry. By the DoD's logic, we should breathe a sigh of relief because the man has shown a unique dedication to . . . ineffectiveness (among other things).

Similarly, that only a handful out of the thousands of in/active generals have publicly railed against the Defense Secretary, calling for his immediate resignation, says very little as well. First, the likelihood of generals - soldiers who have busted their asses for years and years to attain such prestigious positions - having an opposing mentality about the war, on the whole, is not too great. One could argue it is only with a certain like-mindedness that they would have been able to reach those positions in the first place. Second, the likelihood of active generals publicly speaking out against the war is that of a snowball's chance in Hell, because, as a related Times article "Civilians Reign Over U.S. Military by Tradition and Design" notes, such action mandates a court-martial.

In fact, Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice prescribes a court-martial for any commissioned officer who "uses contemptuous words against the president, the vice president, Congress, the secretary of defense" or other federal or state officials.

Third, that same article mentions that "some officers contend Mr. Rumsfeld has promoted top leaders based largely on their fealty to him" -- which is to say, toss your opinions before working under this administration, because they mean nothing to them. Just fall in line and your career will be fine. Unless you're Claude Allen, of course. Moreover, ask Joseph Wilson why some may be reticent in criticizing someone high up in the Administration.

The "Pentagon Memo" article ends with the following:

Mr. Rumsfeld still enjoys support in many Republican circles. Senator John Coryn of Texas, a Republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said his resignation would be a mistake.

"If this were to happen," Mr. Coryn said, "it would encourage demands for other members of the cabinet or other people close to the president to resign."

That's the idea, Senator. Rumsfeld's resignation - a very unlikely move considering Bush's near physical dependency upon him - would change little. The problem is bigger than Rumsfeld, is bigger than Cheney, and is bigger than Bush. I support the call for resignation and hope that it comes to that at the very least. But there's much more to be done if we're to take real steps toward real solutions.

With This Administration, Negotiation Is a Four-Letter Word.

Go to any newspaper, turn on any television news syndicate, and chances are that the topic will be Iran. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that it’s pretty handy for the Administration to have another world crisis fomenting to take our weary minds off our losses in Iraq. But this cynicism is a little more potent when one looks at the records, specifically through the gaze of a celebrated Iran reporter, Christopher de Bellaigue, who states more than once that the current “crisis” is not all that it seems. Bellaigue is a reporter who writes for the Economist and The New York Review of Books, and his memoirs of his time in Iran were recently published. Bellaigue’s article in the February 24, 2005 issue of the NYRoB (“Bush, Iran & the Bomb”) makes many prescient claims that come to be proven in his most recent article for the publication, now titled simply “Iran & the Bomb” (4/27/06). His claims that the US is ignoring workable options (like negotiations) with Iran in favor of pursuing its own agenda for the region are backed up by Seymour Hersh’s April 17th article in The New Yorker. The lede to Hersh’s article sums up the current double-agenda: “The Bush Administration, while publicly advocating diplomacy in order to stop Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon, has increased clandestine activities inside Iran and intensified planning for a possible major air attack.” As long as the Bush Administration refuses to negotiate in good faith with Iran, and tries to speed up the United Nations processes in the IAEA, we may have another Iraq on our hands quite sooner than many think.

In his articles, Bellaigue paints a picture of Iran as a country that is grappling with its place in the international community rather than a trigger-happy nuclear armory. Iran sees the Middle East being ransacked by foreign powers, and at the same time, recognizes that nuclear-armed countries surround it. Bellaigue suggests:
“[One should] review the deterioration in relations between Iran and the US since early 2002, when Bush included the Islamic Republic in his ‘axis of evil’…This speech convinced Iran’s leaders that Bush intended to bring down the Islamic Republic. Iranian insecurities were subsequently heightened by the American invasion of Iraq…and by the US’s stated ambition to democratize the Middle East.”

This explains a lot of President Ahmadinejad’s blustering talk. Though much of it is morally reprehensible and reminds one of the Islamic Republic’s tawdry record with human rights (e.g. Holocaust denial), a good portion of the talk is transparent enough to show the president’s obvious need to appear tough and anti-Western to his fundamentalist base. Israel, to the Middle East, is seen as a Western ally, and why not? Israel is one of the nations that are in flagrant violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Iran ratified in 1970. Yet we never cry foul of this violation, much like we've stood idly by with other Israeli discrepancies and abuses. It is therefore always illogical to me that we are so fiercely contesting Iran’s pursuit of a full nuclear cycle, which it has a right to pursue under the NPT. Ahmadinejad is obviously trying to keep up with the nuclear Joneses. Iran's former chief nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rohani, said as much in 2004:
"...the situation will change. The world didn't want Pakistan to get an atom bomb or Brazil to get a fuel cycle, but Brazil achieved a fuel cycle and Pakistan a bomb, and the world came to an accommodation with them...but we haven't yet achieved a full fuel cycle, and that, as it happens, is our main problem."

What this comes down to is simple: “Iran's leaders are unlikely to abandon their plans to achieve a fuel cycle unless they believe that they will be more secure as a result” (Bellaigue 4/27/06). The only way for Iran to feel more secure, as proven by both statements and diplomatic trends, is through US protection. Bellaigue saw this back in ’05:
“What is clear is that the US, not Europe, can offer the incentives that are most attractive to Iran. The Americans have the Mujahideen in their custody [the People’s Mujahideen, ‘a once-popular left-wing Muslim organization hostile to Iran, now declared a terrorist organization] and can approve Iran’s entry into the WTO [World Trade Organization]. US sanctions against trade with Iran have had a debilitating effect on the Iranian economy, and the Iranians would like that policy reversed. Most important of all, the Europeans cannot offer Iran the security guarantees that it seeks. The US can.”

I am not indicating that there is not a problem here. President Ahmadinejad’s bellicose statements, like the one issued on Friday announcing, “Our answer to those who are angry about Iran obtaining the full nuclear cycle is one phrase. We say, be angry and die of this anger", are making me nervous as well. But I consider them bluffs, particularly when no one news source can agree how close or far away Iran is to making a full-scale nuclear weapon [For example, in Bellaigue’s 4/27/06 article alone, there were conflicting reports. “…a senior British official expects it to have acquired ‘the technology to enable it to develop a nuclear weapon’ by the end of this year.” But then, in the footnotes: “The official, who spoke anonymously to British newspapers following Iran's referral to the Security Council, was referring to Iran's impending mastery of the nuclear fuel cycle, a prerequisite both to generating electricity and building a bomb. But he acknowledged that even with this technology, it would still take several years for Iran to build a serviceable weapon.”].

I place hope in the Security Council, that it will pay a little closer attention to intelligence than it did during the Iraq weapons inspections. But I don’t for a minute trust that there is a ticking clock on this issue. The only deadline being made right now is by President Bush. If the US wants to find a viable solution other than war for this nuclear problem, the bureaucratic channels of the United Nations are the best hope right now. But, as Bellaigue ends his 2005 article, “What is needed to deal with Iran and its nuclear ambitions is the formation of an international coalition including the US, and that is not George Bush's strong point.” Sound familiar?

New York Times Motives- Part Two.

In what appears to be an indirect response to the force of complaints sent to the New York Times with regards to their publication of an advertisement that the Sudanese government paid a very large amount of money for, the April 2nd issue of the New York Times Magazine (which is buried inside Sunday issues of the paper) included a feature article on Darfur. The cover image of the magazine was a fuzzy picture of a person walking through a desert, and referenced the article with the line "The U.N. is not going to stop the genocide in Darfur. The African Union is not going to stop the genocide in Darfur. The U.S. is not going to stop the genocide in Darfur. NATO is not going to stop the genocide in Darfur. The European Union is not going to stop the genocide in Darfur. (And then, in smaller letters underneath a red line) But someday, Luis Moreno-Ocampo is going to bring those who committed the genocide to justice."

An intense opening for an intense article, especially for the Times. But a pleasant alternative to the propaganda that they printed the previous week. One of the most startling statements in the article was within the introduction of the situation, "Militias called janjaweed, recruited from Arab tribes in Darfur and Chad and supported by the Sudanese government, continue to attack, rape ad kill villagers from African tribes..." Every other article I have ever read on the situation, even the most one-sided, would never go farther than stating that the Sudanese government is accused or suspected of supporting the janjaweed. Perhaps this statement means we are one step closer to an international recognition of the Sudanese government as the source of so much of the violence going on in Darfur today. If we internationally acknowledge the government's guilt in the current situation, perhaps countries currently supporting their rejection of involvement of non-African Union forces, including China, will change their position.

The article went on to explain the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice, which have begun to examine the numerous cases of human rights violations in Darfur. Luis Moreno-Ocampo is the chief prosecutor in The Hague, where the International Court of Justice is based. The case on Darfur is explained as unique in the difficulties it embodies; because human rights activists must work against the Sudanese government, the process of gathering evidence is made extremely difficult. "They cannot gather any forensic evidence from schools where collective rapes occurred. They cannot gather samples from wells that were poisoned. They cannot even gather shrapnel from bombs dropped on civilians by the government." As a result, those involved in the case depend on the documents provided to them by Sudanese dissidents and activists and the information provided from interviews with victims.

The question is- will the ICC be able to promote any sort of change in the current situation? Many are suspicious of the ICC, namely, of its power to introduce an investigation purely by a prosecutor's will. President Bush has, according to the article, referred to this prosecutor as "unaccountable," though they must present the case to an international panel of judges.

The Sudanese government has created the Darfur Special Criminal Court in what seems to be an effort to show their work towards peacekeeping and prove that the United Nations need not involve them. This court has done little, hearing six cases since last fall (one was dropped when the judges refused to allow a closed-session for a rape victim and she neglected to speak as a result, another in which the robbing and shooting of a USAid worker was reduced to weapons possession). The president of the court, Mahmoud Abkam, blamed the victims for the lack of cases heard, saying that they preferred to speak with foreign journalists and would rarely provide evidence to support accusations made.

One thing is for sure- the current efforts to help victims are going nowhere. The African Union, which the Sudanese government so adamantly believes in, has no power. According to the Times article, "Their mandate is a cruel one in that they are nearly powerless; they must monitor the cease-fire, and that's it, no peacekeeping. Which means that many of these men...have spent the last year picking up and burying hundreds of dead bodies, and even watching as janjaweed burn and shoot. And they can do nothing." Yet several countries have let themselves be persuaded by Khartoum into thinking that the African Union is the only solution to stop the genocide, and continue to think so despite the overwhelming evidence against the notion.

In the documentary "Invisible Children," the rebel groups in Northern Uganda are faceless and nameless, no one knowing who they are led by or what they will do next. In Sudan, everything is out in the open. We know commanders of the janjaweed, one of them, Nazir al-Tijani, has even admitted that he directed many attacks, and was quoted saying "Just because I ordered and planned the attacks doesn't mean that I was present during the attacks" as a means of stating his innocence. So if the situation is anywhere near as clear as it seems from this side of the globe, why has no one been able to do anything?

"Material Support" and the "Battle for Hearts and Minds"

On Saturday ex-Tampa professor Sami-al-Arian agreed to be deported rather than undergo a second harrowing trial on dismissed charges of providing material support to the terrorist group Islamic jihad. Rather than implying his guilt, Arian’s decision is a testament to the extent to which we as a country have bowed our collective reason to the extent that we throw down our hats at any invocation of the buzzword “terrorist.”

The Al-Arian case could be used to address any number of current issues.

In the context of the current war on immigrants: al-Arian agreed to deportation to a still-to-be-determined country despite the fact that he has lived in the US for longer than I have been alive, and has raised five children here; all of them US citizens. Deporting Al-Arian is not a simple task, the son of Palestinian parents grew up in Kuwait, but immigrated to the US from Egypt.

In the context of the post-9/11 assault on academic freedom: Al-Arian is a computer science professor, not exactly an easy position to transform into a soap-box for anti-Semitic diatribe. Yet regardless, he was not found guilty of any crime, and following his arrest was fired promptly from a professorship he had held for nearly two decades.

In the context of the renewal of the Patriot Act, much of the evidence against Arian, ultimately deemed inconclusive, was gleaned from email, fax and phone correspondence, and would have been illegal for use in making the case against the professor were it not for Patriot Act provisions.

But the timing of Al-Arian’s “sentencing” is also key. The case comes in the context of another stigmatization of a “terrorist” group that will have far more drastic implications. The US/EU decision to financially isolate the PA is undoubtedly costly and potentially lethal for the hundreds of thousands that make up the Palestinian population as well as for those who are effected by the reverberations of a population’s being reduced to abject poverty.

--Note, I published this post originally on Sunday night before the bombings in Tel Aviv Monday. Monday’s bombing was the first major attack since the election of Hamas to the Palestinian authority in January. Nine people were killed, making it the deadliest Palestinian strike against Israel in nearly two years.
The group Islamic Jihad took responsibility for the bombing, however the newly elected Hamas government was criticized for calling the bombing justified. Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri said Monday, “the problem is the attackers and the Palestiniann people are defending themselves and they have the right to do so using all the means available.” Also Monday, Israel labeled the Hamas-run Palestinian government a part of a new “axis of terror” along with Iran and Syria, and called Hamas’s justifications of the bombing “clear declarations of war.”--

Many aid organizations, most notably Oxfam and the Red Cross, have condemned the EU and US actions.On Friday, the Daily Telegraph of London published a lengthy piece on foreign aid workers who have evacuated the financially-destroyed Palestinian territories. Why leave the scene of a looming financial catastrophe, where already Oxfam has cited that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians live on less than two dollars a day? According to the article, workers are afraid of being accused of providing material support to terrorism by aiding the popularly-elected Hamas government. And why would workers fear this ridiculous accusation? Likely because the US, over the weekend, banned US companies and private citizens from financially engaging with Hamas-controlled components of the PA.

Hamas has been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Israeli civilians by way of indiscriminate acts of violence. But so have a huge number of other national governments we've dealt with financially. To take what’s in the news this week alone, we have not initiated economic sanctions against the government of Nepal, headed by the despot Gyanendra, to whom we've recently funneled tens of millions of dollars and whom we continue to support despite his recent repression of the population and brutalizing of journalists.

We have not entirely divested from Sudan, despite the fact that hundreds of thousands continue to be murdered by the government in Khartoum. For years, we provided a vast quantity of oil revenue to the dictator of Chad, whom we knew at the time was corrupt and abusive. More controversially, we essentially birthed and raised the Iraqi interior ministry and other militias which currently ravage Iraq and have brought the country to the brink of civil war. And as long as we're being honest, have we ourselves not been directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians worldwide by way of bombs, militias, gunfire, and meddling essentially since our country's founding?

Therefore it is unlikely that the US/EU funding cuts have much to do with concern for civilians. On the other hand, Hamas's election victory also didn't have anything to do with support for terrorism. Hamas won the legitimate Palestinian elections not because all Palestinians are violent terrorists, but because Hamas, as an organization, served a crucial civilian purpose that the PA and the international community were not fulfilling. Since its initiation, Hamas has provided the population with food, clothing, and other social services.

So why the special targeting of Hamas, a group with a military wing, but which was also popularly elected and will likely brew less violence if left with political power? Is it a Zionist conspiracy? Give me a break. To extrapolate on statements made by Kanye West, George Bush doesn't care any more about Jews than he does about Black people.
It’s highly unlikely that Condoleeza Rice assumes that it will be possible to strategically starve a government, hence starve a people, and simultaneously maintain a favorable image for the US in the eyes of the Palestinian public.

Ultimately, it comes down to control. Control of the region, and control of hearts and minds. Not the hearts and minds of Iraqis this time; with Bush's current 38 percent approval rating, our own hearts and minds are much more likely the target.

French Protestors Win—Then Push for More

We Won

On the 10 of April President Jacques Chirac of France withdrew the New Employment Contract law known as the CPE. France has replaced the CPE with new training programs subsidized by the government. The programs will cost the government 150 million euros($182 million) in 2006 and up to double that in 2007. One of the problems that the government has been saying that they are trying to fix is the huge amounts of government spending. This will increase compromise will increase government spending, so if it does not manage to increase employment taxes could go up.

We Wanted the CPE

Members of the business community are now complaining that they wanted the CPE so that they could hire new employees. A chief executive officer of Poweo SA that has a staff of 70 said under the CPE he would have hired new employees under the CPE. An owner of a Paris construction company says he is worried the governments retreat will postpone needed labor reform. The business community wants a bill like the CPE because it has become so hard to fire people in France they choose to not hire people in the first place. A bill like the CPE gives them the freedom to fire people that they no longer need.

No CPE

One the other hand, more than one million people marched across France against the CPE. People have compared the recent conflict to the 1968 riots saying the fight is to retain the status quo and resist reform instead of fighting the ideological war of 1968. The fight is against the elimination of job security. The protestors were not the unemployed, ill-qualified youth of the poor suburbs who need these contracts; they were regular students and trade unionists. The fight against the bill says that it attacks the security of employees. Job insecurity is also increasing if they accept things. Before the CPE was passed another similar bill the CNE was passed. Since the acceptance of the CNE led to the CPE the trade unionist and students saw the need to stop the attacks.

Contract Nouvelle Embauche(CNE)

Faith from Success

More confident because of their win the students and Trade Unionists are now taking aim against another measure that attacks job security the CNE.

What is it

The CNE is a bill similar to the CPE, but it only effects businesses with less that 20 employees. It allows these businesses to fire any new employees within 2 years. There is proof that this bill has created 400,000 jobs, but these new jobs only constitute 27% of the CNE contracts being signed. Is it worth the creation of these jobs to take away the job security of the other 73% of these contracts signed.

Are They Going to Far

The question becomes are the trade unionists going to far attacking this bill. Even though it has created jobs, it is still a major attack on job security. The bill was passed just previously to the CPE and both were passed with little resistance. It becomes a choice between job security and jobs.

It aint my fault

An article in the New York Times published Sunday titled “Political Impasses Delays Iraq Parliament” demonstrates the attitude of U.S. officials toward the looming civil war in Iraq. The article begins by stating that once again postponement to government organization has occurred in Iraq. Next it goes on to point out that four U.S. marines have died and then the article goes back to explaining that the assembly meetings would reconvene Monday once all officials agreed on an appropriate Prime minister.

U.S. officials have been pressing the Iraqis
to install a new national unity government as quickly as possible to confront armed insurgency and the sharp rise in tensions between Shiites and Sunnis.”

The current attitude of U.S. officials is that the upsurge in sectarian violence is the fault of bickering Iraqi officials. The key words are ‘sectarian violence’ not civil war. We are supposed to think: It’s not that the occupation has lost control of the country, or that U.S. forces have purposefully started attacking militias instead of insurgents, rather it’s these undemocratic people that can’t seem to agree on what we tell them to agree on.

These marine deaths are supposed to tug at our heartstrings, with statements like: “the number of American service members killed so far this month rose to nearly 50 following a sharp drop in March. Don’t get me wrong, I’m just as sad about marine deaths as the next Yankee doodle sweetheart, but comparing 2,376 U.S. service members with 38,000 civilians(approximate numbers) skews my sympathy. And thinking about the sharp decline in electricity, domestic water supply, the rise in the cost of food, the constant fear of death widespread over a population of about 26 million does not put Americans on an even playing field with Iraqis.

An article in the BBC highlighted the severe condition of healthcare citing that “Three thousand doctors, as an estimate, left Iraq in the last two years” and "Two hundred and fifty have been kidnapped and 60 have been killed inside Iraq." One mother of four children, Om Hamada said, “I am scared, of the road, of the explosions, of the Americans who just shoot at anyone, the national guards, the gangs”.

The worst part about this article in the New York Times is the apparent addendum at the end. It serves as an update from the week, like it’s just something they thought people might want to know

"In other developments Sunday:

-- Police discovered three corpses of handcuffed men in Baghdad. River patrols retrieved two of the bodies from the Tigris River, near the central district of Jadriyah, and the third was found in a gutter in Baladiyat in eastern Baghdad.

-- Police found the body of an Iraqi soldier in Hillah, 60 miles south of the capital.

-- Gunmen attacked a group of Iraqis driving on a rural road south of the northern city of Kirkuk, killing two civilians and wounding two others."

Do wrongful deaths of women and children have no precedence in news anymore? Are we now in a time that an article can casually mention multiple deaths in the context of political delay? How is it that cold-blooded murder can be written about so unemotionally and detached as if to say: This is routine, this is plain events, this only has to do with politics, we shouldn’t be upset about this. And anyway, it’s not our fault. It’s the Iraqi government’s fault.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Different Perspectives on Taxes

In honor of today being April 15th—which would normally be tax day if it weren’t a Saturday (hence April 17th being this year’s deadline)—I’ve decided to devote my weekly blog on federal spending to taxes. As most tax-paying Americans presumably know, a portion of their hard-earned money gets taken away by the government to pay for local, state, and federal programs. (For a thorough breakdown of the different kinds of taxes, please see What are the Various Taxes? at TeenAnalyst.com.)

Several organizations have come up with interesting reports on things like how our taxes are spent versus how they could be spent; how much of our income pays for governmental programs as opposed to our own personal needs; how long it takes Americans to work off their yearly monetary debt to the country; etc. Hence, I thought it would be interesting to bring these meticulous and somewhat disturbing reports together in one post.

Beginning on a personal level, the National Priorities Project does an annual study published every April 15th entitled Where Do Your Tax Dollars Go? The goal of the study is to show “how the median income family’s income tax dollars are spent for every state and 200 cities, towns and counties.” The Interactive Tax Chart offers “a breakdown of how the federal government spent your income taxes” while the Trade Offs section of the study gives details of “how your tax dollars could be spent differently in your state.” In New York, for example, the $26.5 billion state residents pay in taxes for the war in Iraq could provide 3,100,897 people with health care. That’s just something to think about…

Another compelling report is The Tax Foundation’s America Celebrates Tax Freedom Day. This report, which “compares the number of days Americans work to pay taxes to the number of days they work to support themselves,” found that this year “Tax Freedom Day will arrive on the 116th day of 2006 – Wednesday, April 26.” This means that, as the St. Petersburg Times so kindly put it, “every day from Jan. 1 to that date, we have essentially been feeding Uncle Sam and his kin. After that day, we can start to keep our paychecks.”

This year’s Tax Freedom Day comes “three days later than it [did] in 2005 and a remarkable 10 days later than it [did] in 2004” (Executive Summary). The study claims that this is because of “robust” economic growth accompanied by a 6.5 increase in the country’s GDP. It is not, therefore, entirely due to the United States’ increasing federal budget deficit—which, by the way, is expected to rise to a disturbing $319 billion by the end of fiscal year 2006. (In fact, if taxes had been increased to account for the budget deficits this year, Tax Freedom Day would not have occurred until May 6th. So, there’s evidently good reason not to diminish this nation’s federal deficits in one foul sweep.)

The most disconcerting facts about the study come to the surface when Tax Foundation President and co-author of the study, Scott A. Hodge, states that “[d]espite the tax cuts passed by the federal government recently, Americans will spend more on taxes than they spend on food, clothing and housing combined.” Broken down more precisely, the report reveals the following:

In 2006, Americans will work 77 days to afford their federal taxes and 39 more days to afford state and local taxes. That makes taxation a bigger financial burden than housing and household operation (62 days), health and medical care (52 days), food (30 days), transportation (30 days), recreation (22 days), or clothing and accessories (14 days).

For anyone who’s interested in seeing the study in full detail, please visit Special Report No. 140.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Sermonizing as Public Health Policy

Why does our nation have the highest teen pregnancy rate of any developed country? Simply put, because our teens don’t know the glory of “faith fucking.” The pro-choice and anti-choice camps have very different prescriptions for combating this country’s high teen pregnancy rate. While pro-choice lawmakers, educators, and activists, and those who really aim to reduce the need for abortions call for comprehensive, accurate, proven effective sex education programs, the anti-choice lobby advocates a different approach. In addition to sex education programs that teach teens that condoms are only 70% effective, and that all pre-marital sex is psychologically damaging, proponents of abstinence only education also recommend diversion for curios teenagers. On abstinenceonly.com, they recommend something they call “faith fucking,” suggesting that teens “rigorously rub your face, body, or genetalia against those of your faith partner until orgasm.” (link below) Behind the comical image that this brings to mind is the not so funny fact that, on average, teenagers who take such “faith pledges” for abstinence before marriage are only delayed in sexual activity for a year and a half, and are at a greater risk for unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases once they do become sexually active because of their lack of education about protection. (see Planned Parenthood article linked below) Further, teenagers who do not take such pledges but who are still denied sex education other than the kind cited above because the Bush administration has withdrawn funding from honest sex education programs are also put at risk. Since the Bush administration withdrew funding from effective sex education programs in lieu of pseudo scientific Sunday school lessons, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease infection has increased, a development that has not encouraged proponents of abstinence only education to change their strategies. In essence, the religious right views unplanned pregnancy and STD infection as due punishment for the sins of pre-marital sex. While this as a foundation for teaching in a religious setting would be dangerous and inappropriate, it is patently absurd and disastrous, as well as unconstitutional, as the basis for public health policy.
Regardless of the overwhelming scientific, educational, and experiential factors that display the inherent flaws in abstinence only education, it remains the prevailing policy of the US Department of Health and Human Services. Indictments against abstinence only education include numerous reports from medical coalitions, lawmakers, and educators, such as a report released by Henry Waxman in 2004 which exposed the various patent lies used in abstinence only programs such as a condom’s 30% failure rate and that HIV can be transmitted through sweat and tears. (see Planned Parenthood link below). Senator Robert Menendez thinks that the nation’s youth deserve better, and has introduced a bill that would give teenagers access to medically accurate information and resources though effective sex education programs. If abstinence only education worked, program developers would be able to support their claims with real science and valid statistical research. It doesn’t work, so rather than focus on high teen pregnancy and infection rates, proponents choose catch phrases like “a celebration of non-penetration,” and scientific falsehoods based on religious speculation
NARAL Pro Choice America's article about the Menendez bill
abstinenceonly.com
Planned Parenthood, "Abstinence-Only Only Gets Worse