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Archive for December, 2004

Charities see an increase in aid applications

Despite reports of an improving economy, charities are experiencing an increase in the number of people asking for “help to pay the rent or feed their children.” At the Sullivan Center, requests for aid have doubled. North Fulton Community Charities is reporting that requests for rent money or food from the pantry are up about 20%.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, poverty rates rose from 12.1% in 2002 to 12.5% in 2003, an increase of 1.3 million people.” And the U.S. Department of Agriculture has “found that more than 36 million people, including 13 million children, experienced hunger or worried about it last year. Two years ago, the figure was 35 million people.”

The majority of aid applicants are single mothers who have lost their jobs or are working for lower wages and fewer benefits. But for the most part, the media has avoided covering the plight of the working poor. Sensationalized media segments about “the anti-Christmas jihad” serve as convenient distractions from more substantive reports on the work of benevolent Christian charities.

The greatest Christian moral outrage is the willingness of many to ignore the growing number of Americans who have been displaced out of the modern economy, not Macy’s refusal to greet customers with “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Perhaps someone should tell Billy O’Reilly.

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New torture opinion issued

The Bush administration has issued a new directive retreating from its previously permissive view of torture. The new memo doesn’t repudiate the previous policy, which allowed interrogators to inflict pain approaching that of organ failure or death, but it does concluded that the 2002 memo was wrong when it found that only “excruciating and agonizing pain” constituted torture, and that prosecution for committing torture was only possible if the defendant’s goal was simply to inflict pain, rather than to extract information. “There is no exception under the statute permitting torture to be used for a ‘good reason,’ ” the new memo concludes, even if the aim is “to protect national security.”

From the Justice Department:

  • “Severe” pain is no longer narrowly limited to the intensity of pain “accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily functions, or even death.”
  • Severe physical “suffering” can be distinct from severe physical “pain.”
  • In order to be classified as “prolonged” mental harm, conduct does not have to last for “months or even years.”
  • Infliction of severe pain or suffering does not have to be the defendant’s “precise objective” in order to prosecute for war crimes.

An early New Years gift from Gonzales? Perhaps he’s trying to butter up that Senate confirmation committee…

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Empty talk show outrage?

The Nation looks into the Oil for Food Scandal:

Listening to the cable pundits, you would never suspect that there is no proof at this point that Annan, or indeed anyone else at the UN, did anything wrong. Charges of corruption against UN official Benon Sevan are suspect at best, given that they come via Ahmad Chalabi, who was also the source of the discredited information about Iraq’s illusory weapons, as well as the assurances that Iraqis would greet US and British forces as liberators. Nor is there any evidence that Annan used his influence to give Cotecna, a company that employed his son, the job of monitoring contracts under the oil-for-food program, and no proof that Cotecna did anything illegal or corrupt. Although Annan’s son certainly let his father down by not telling him of Cotecna’s continuing “non-compete” payments to him, paternal resignations in response to the sins of prodigal sons have not been a great American tradition–certainly not under the Bush dynasty.

More thorough Thoughtful Points coverage here.

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Why we’re stingy

The NYT editorial page weighs in on the “Are We Stingy?” relief efforts debate and concludes that yes, we are. The paper contrasts the public perception that the U.S. gives 24% of its budget on aid to poor nations and the reality that we only spends a quarter of 1%. In 2003, America gave $16.2 billion in development aid, while the European Union gave $37.1 billion. In 2002, America offered $13.2 billion, while Europe contributed $29.9 billion. Also, very often, the U.S. does not actually deliver all the aid it promises.

Still, all spending is an indication of priority. When a country, a people, or a politician (do you like how politician get her/his own category?) allocate money towards a cause, they acknowledge the importance of that cause. When not enough money is allocated, the cause is deemed less important than a higher spending priority. In this case, the message couldn’t be clearer. Helping the poorest nations on earth overcome one of the largest natural disasters in history is less important than the Bush inauguration. The inauguration of Bush is more important than rebuilding the lives of millions.

Now, I wonder. If (God forbid) a natural disaster occurred in the Western hemisphere, or even in the United States, would we, as Americans, not expect all other nations to (1) send their condolences immediately and not wait almost a week [note to Bush: since you’re president and all, you’ll sometimes have to disrupt your vacation, especially when 80,000+ suddenly die in the poorest region on earth. If you were a true statesmen you would fly to India and Sri Lanka to survey the damage and extend your personal sympathies] (2) contribute all that they can to the relief efforts.

Is it all too much to ask for?

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Is the U.S. too stingy with relief funds?

From Democracy Now!

President Bush has pledged to send $35 million in tsunami relief. To put the figure in perspective, Bush plans to spend $30 to $40 million for his upcoming inauguration celebration.

“The U.S. has spent an average of $9.5 million every hour on the war and occupation of Iraq. With a current price tag of $147 billion, the U.S. has spent on average of about $228 million a day in Iraq.

In other words, the U.S. spends what it promised on the tsunami relief effort in less than 4 hours in Iraq.”

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Does this mean that Bush is defending us with spitballs?

The NYT is reporting that in an effort to offset deficits and the costs of the war in Iraq, the Pentagon is considering “cuts in the Air Force’s program for the F/A-22, the most expensive fighter jet in history.” Where is Zell Miller now? (I wonder if he’ll be screaming about this from his new soap box at FoxNews…)

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In Ohio recount, Bush’s margin narrows

In the latest Ohio recount, spearheaded by Green and Libertarian, Bush’s vote margin shrunk by 318 votes, from 118,775 to 118,457. The NYT notes that “the state has become an emblem of continuing ailments in the nation’s electoral process, because of Election Day events like seven-hour lines that drove voters away from the polls, malfunctioning machines, poorly trained poll workers who directed people to the wrong polling places and uneven policies about the use of provisional ballots, which were given to voters whose registration was contested.” The Washington Post had a better story on this here.

Because the real problems are the for profit corporations that count our votes, the partisan leanings state election heads, and the intimidation and suppression of voters.

More thorough Thoughtful Points coverage:
Column on voter fraud in 2004.
Analysis of voter intimidation.
Radio segment with Professor Bruce Luske on Vote 2004.

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U.S. to control more Iraqi oil and economy

The U.S. has “persuaded” the interim Iraqi government to cut social subsidies, reconsider past oil deals with France and Russia and allow U.S. companies full access to the nation’s oil reserves.

All this is part of a neo-liberal economic restructuring plan that emphasizes privatization of government entities, cuts to social spending and would prove a windfall for U.S. corporations. The interim Iraqi government is now considering privatizing the Iraqi National Oil Company, and will pass a new law that will open Iraq’s huge oil reserves to foreign companies. “U.S. firms are expected to gain the lion’s share of access in a process estimated to be worth billions of dollars.”

In October, Iraq signed an agreement with the IMF that forces Iraqi leaders to abolish a public subsidy system that kept millions of Iraqis from starvation during the U.S. and UK-backed sanctions. A study by the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) found that under the sanctions, 500,000 more Iraqi children died than would have otherwise (but they stressed that not all the deaths could be directly blamed on the provisions). “It is believed that many more Iraqis would have died if not for a strong subsidies system that gave food rations to Iraqi families.”

Under the agreement, the IMF would grant $420 million in loans to the Iraqi government as long as Iraq continues on its path towards a neo-liberal economy (privatization of natural resources, less spending on social programs etc…).

And so, as rich nations continue to dangle the carrot of badly needed reconstruction loans in front of Iraq, the economic prerequisites that surround these funds ensure future corporate profits. After all, Iraq is important not only in its natural resources but also for its market potential.

Since the U.S. invasion ensured Iraq’s dependence upon rich nations, large multi-national corporations are able to exploit Iraq’s neediness and bleed the Iraq money making machine for all its worth.

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“Career soldiers solute Bush”

A Military Times Poll found that almost 66% of active duty U.S. soldiers approve of Bush’s handling of the situation, and 73% believe Washington is ”very” or ”somewhat likely” to succeed in Iraq.

  • 60% of military respondents said Bush was right to invade Iraq
  • 66% agreed or strongly that the military was stretched ”too thin to be effective”
  • 75% of respondents opposed a draft, (the quality of service members would decline)
  • 63% of men said they believed that Washington was right to invade Iraq
  • 42% of women agreed with the invasion

Asked who should be punished for the abuses committed by U.S. soldiers at the Abu Ghraib:

  • 66% said the officers in direct command of the prison should be targeted
  • 21% said punishment should also be handed out against ”higher-level military commanders”
  • 12% said ”civilian policymakers at the Pentagon” should be disciplined
  • 10% said no one should be punished at all
  • 3% held Bush responsible

Asked who should be held accountable for the shortages of body armor and armored vehicles:

  • 60% blamed Congress
  • 49% blamed the senior military leadership,
  • 35% named the administration

Media coverage of Iraq

  • 44% said media had ”somewhat” or ”very” unfavorable views of the military
  • 37% said the media should not publish stories that suggest the war is not going well and that the military itself should decide whether such articles should be printed or broadcast

The military has long been more conservative than the general public. A recent Washington Post-ABC News public opinion poll found that 56% of the public believe the war was not worth fighting, and only 39% approve Bush’s handling of Iraq.

“In releasing the results, the Times stressed that respondents tended to be older, higher in rank and more career-oriented than members of the military as a whole… [and that] the survey did not include members of the National Guard or the reserves, those components of the armed forces that have been particularly restive about deployments to Iraq and whose recruitment and retention rates have suffered over the past two years.”

Also, the survey featured a disproportionate number of self-identified Republican respondents (so watch out for conservatives in the media to tout these results as “the heart and soul of America” and to criticize the mainstream media for being too liberal and negative in its Iraqi coverage).

A breakdown of the respondents:

  • 60% of respondents identified their political views as ”Republican”,
  • 46% described themselves as ”conservative”
  • 38% as ”moderate’
  • 13% identified themselves as Democrats
  • 17% claimed to be ”independent”
  • 6% identified themselves as ”liberal”

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On December 22, 3 days before Christmas, the White House issued new rules to overhaul the 1976 National Forest Management Act, and allow managers of the nation’s 155 national forests to approve logging, drilling and mining operations without conducting environmental impact statements (for thorough Thoughtful Points coverage go here and here). According to Media Matters for America, “while newspapers across the country covered the change extensively, the new rules, which are expected to take effect next week, were not mentioned on network evening news (ABC, CBS, and NBC) or on cable primetime news (CNN, MSNBC, and FOX News).”

As MMA also points out, if you really want to know what goes on in America, read the news on off-cycle weekends and holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Independence Day…). They just love to slip things in…

  • Just before Thanksgiving 2004, the Pentagon released a study that concluded that “the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have created a shared anti-American cause among otherwise-divided Muslim extremists and raised the stature of the radicals in the eyes of ordinary Muslims.”
  • In 2003, the administration announced on Christmas Eve that they had opened up backcountry trails on federal land to state, county, and municipal governments.
  • On a Friday in November 2002, the administration relaxed enforcement of the Clean Air Act.
  • On Thanksgiving eve 2002, the administration announced that it would give managers of national forests more authority to approve logging without having them conduct environmental impact reports

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