Thursday, June 30, 2005

Tribune: Obama: Why I oppose CAFTA

Why I oppose CAFTA
The proposed accord does less to protect U.S. labor than previous trade agreements, and does little to address environmental standards in the Central American countries
By Barack Obama.
June 30, 2005,0,5449609.story?coll=chi-newsopinioncommentary-hed

This week Congress will debate the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

I wish I could vote in favor of CAFTA. In the end, I believe that expanding trade and breaking down barriers between countries is good for our economy and for our security, for American consumers and American workers. CAFTA would benefit farmers here in Illinois as well as agricultural and manufacturing interests across the country.

We also shouldn't kid ourselves into believing that voting against trade agreements will stop globalization--especially ones like CAFTA, where the countries involved have combined economies one-sixth the size of Illinois'.

Globalization is not someone's political agenda. It is a technological revolution that is fundamentally changing the world's economy, producing winners and losers along the way. The question is not whether we can stop it, but how we respond to it. It's not whether we should protect our workers from competition, but what we can do to fully enable them to compete against workers all over the world.

So far, America has not effectively answered these questions and American workers are suffering as a result. I meet these workers all across Illinois, workers whose jobs moved to Mexico or China and are now competing with their own children for jobs that pay 7 bucks an hour. In town meetings and union halls, I've tried to tell these workers the truth--that these jobs aren't coming back, that globalization is here to stay and that they will have to train more and learn more to get the new jobs of tomorrow.

But when they wonder how they will get this training and this education, when they ask what they will do about their health-care bills and their lower wages and the general sense of financial insecurity that seems to grow with each passing day, I cannot look them in the eyes and tell them that their government is doing a single thing about these problems.

That is why I won't vote for CAFTA.

There are real problems in the agreement itself. It does less to protect labor than previous trade agreements, and does little to address enforcement of basic environmental standards in the Central American countries and the Dominican Republic. Moreover, there has been talk that, in order to get votes from legislators from sugar-producing states, the Bush administration may be preserving indefensible sugar subsidies that benefit a handful of wealthy growers and cripple Illinois candy manufacturers.

But the larger problem is what's missing from our prevailing policy on trade and globalization--namely, meaningful assistance for those who are not reaping its benefits and a plan to equip American workers with the skills and support they need to succeed in a 21st Century economy.
So far, almost all of our energy and almost all of these trade agreements are about making life easier for the winners of globalization, while we do nothing as life gets harder for American workers. In 2004, nearly 150,000 workers were certified as having lost their jobs due to trade and were thus eligible for Trade Adjustment Assistance--and this number doesn't even count service workers like janitors and cafeteria employees.

But this is about more than displaced workers. Our failure to respond to globalization is causing a race to the bottom that means lower wages and stingier health and retiree benefits for all Americans. It's causing a squeeze on middle-class families who are working harder but making even less and struggling to stay afloat in this new economy. As one Downstate worker told me during a recent visit, "It doesn't do me much good if I'm saving a dollar on a T-shirt at Wal-Mart, but don't have a job."

And so now we must choose. We must decide whether we will sit idly by and do nothing while American workers continue to lose out in this new world, or if we will act to build a community where, at the very least, everyone has a chance to work hard, get ahead and reach their dreams.
If we are to promote free and fair trade--and we should--then we must make a national commitment to prepare every child in America with the education they need to compete in the new economy; to provide retraining and wage insurance so even if you lose your job you can train for another; to make sure worker retraining helps people without getting them caught in bureaucracy; that it helps service workers as well as manufacturing workers and encourages people to re-enter the workforce as soon as possible.

We also need to figure out a way to tell workers that no matter where you work or how many times you switch jobs, you can take your health care and pension with you always, so you have the flexibility to move to a better job or start a new business.

We cannot expect to insulate ourselves from all the dislocations brought about by free trade, and most of the workers I meet don't expect Washington to do so. But we need a national commitment.

In America, we have always furthered the idea that everybody has a stake in this country and that everyone deserves a shot at opportunity.

The imbalance in this administration's policies, as reflected in the CAFTA debate, fails to provide American workers with their shot at opportunity. It's time we gave them that shot.

Barack Obama, a Democrat, is the junior senator representing Illinois

Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Time: Obama: What I See in Lincoln's Eyes

Sunday, Jun. 26, 2005
What I See in Lincoln's Eyes
He never won Illinois' Senate seat. But in many ways, he paved the way for me
By BARACK OBAMA,8816,1077287,00.html

My favorite portrait of Lincoln comes from the end of his life. In it, Lincoln's face is as finely lined as a pressed flower. He appears frail, almost broken; his eyes, averted from the camera's lens, seem to contain a heartbreaking melancholy, as if he sees before him what the nation had so recently endured.

It would be a sorrowful picture except for the fact that Lincoln's mouth is turned ever so slightly into a smile. The smile doesn't negate the sorrow. But it alters tragedy into grace. It's as if this rough-faced, aging man has cast his gaze toward eternity and yet still cherishes his memories--of an imperfect world and its fleeting, sometimes terrible beauty. On trying days, the portrait, a reproduction of which hangs in my office, soothes me; it always asks me questions.

What is it about this man that can move us so profoundly? Some of it has to do with Lincoln's humble beginnings, which often speak to our own. When I moved to Illinois 20 years ago to work as a community organizer, I had no money in my pockets and didn't know a single soul. During my first six years in the state legislature, Democrats were in the minority, and I couldn't get a bill heard, much less passed. In my first race for Congress, I had my head handed to me. So when I, a black man with a funny name, born in Hawaii of a father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas, announced my candidacy for the U.S. Senate, it was hard to imagine a less likely scenario than that I would win--except, perhaps, for the one that allowed a child born in the backwoods of Kentucky with less than a year of formal education to end up as Illinois' greatest citizen and our nation's greatest President.

In Lincoln's rise from poverty, his ultimate mastery of language and law, his capacity to overcome personal loss and remain determined in the face of repeated defeat--in all this, he reminded me not just of my own struggles. He also reminded me of a larger, fundamental element of American life--the enduring belief that we can constantly remake ourselves to fit our larger dreams.

A connected idea attracts us to Lincoln: as we remake ourselves, we remake our surroundings. He didn't just talk or write or theorize. He split rail, fired rifles, tried cases and pushed for new bridges and roads and waterways. In his sheer energy, Lincoln captures a hunger in us to build and to innovate. It's a quality that can get us in trouble; we may be blind at times to the costs of progress. And yet, when I travel to other parts of the world, I remember that it is precisely such energy that sets us apart, a sense that there are no limits to the heights our nation might reach.

Still, as I look at his picture, it is the man and not the icon that speaks to me. I cannot swallow whole the view of Lincoln as the Great Emancipator. As a law professor and civil rights lawyer and as an African American, I am fully aware of his limited views on race. Anyone who actually reads the Emancipation Proclamation knows it was more a military document than a clarion call for justice. Scholars tell us too that Lincoln wasn't immune from political considerations and that his temperament could be indecisive and morose.

But it is precisely those imperfections--and the painful self-awareness of those failings etched in every crease of his face and reflected in those haunted eyes--that make him so compelling. For when the time came to confront the greatest moral challenge this nation has ever faced, this all too human man did not pass the challenge on to future generations. He neither demonized the fathers and sons who did battle on the other side nor sought to diminish the terrible costs of his war. In the midst of slavery's dark storm and the complexities of governing a house divided, he somehow kept his moral compass pointed firm and true.

What I marvel at, what gives me such hope, is that this man could overcome depression, self-doubt and the constraints of biography and not only act decisively but retain his humanity. Like a figure from the Old Testament, he wandered the earth, making mistakes, loving his family but causing them pain, despairing over the course of events, trying to divine God's will. He did not know how things would turn out, but he did his best.

A few weeks ago, I spoke at the commencement at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. I stood in view of the spot where Lincoln and Stephen Douglas held one of their famous debates during their race for the U.S. Senate. The only way for Lincoln to get onto the podium was to squeeze his lanky frame through a window, whereupon he reportedly remarked, "At last I have finally gone through college." Waiting for the soon-to-be graduates to assemble, I thought that even as Lincoln lost that Senate race, his arguments that day would result, centuries later, in my occupying the same seat that he coveted. He may not have dreamed of that exact outcome. But I like to believe he would have appreciated the irony. Humor, ambiguity, complexity, compassion--all were part of his character. And as Lincoln called once upon the better angels of our nature, I believe that he is calling still, across the ages, to summon some measure of that character, the American character, in each of us today.

Copyright © 2005 Time Inc.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Glen Ellyn Sun: Roskam pledges to keep conservatism in Washington

Roskam pledges to keep conservatism in Washington
By Katie Foutz

State Sen. Peter Roskam, R-Wheaton, said Monday that while no one can fill conservative U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde's shoes, he plans to "walk in his shadow" and into Congress.
Roskam told a crowd of more than 130 supporters at a Glen Ellyn recreational center that he plans to run for the 6th Congressional District seat Hyde is leaving in 2006 — and he's running with the endorsement of the DuPage County Republican Party chairman, state Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale.
"Peter is our best hope of keeping this seat in Republican hands," Dillard said in a statement. He was at another function Monday and could not attend Roskam's campaign kickoff, Roskam said.
The 6th Congressional District includes much of DuPage County, including part of Naperville's 60566 ZIP code, and part of northwestern Cook County. Both parties now have primaries set for the seat in a district where Republican Alan Keyes lost the U.S. Senate race by a landslide and some Republicans won county offices by slim margins in November.
Roskam called the last election "an aberration."
"This is the district that sent Henry Hyde to Congress for 32 years," he said. "That is not ambiguous."
Roskam has served in the Illinois General Assembly for 12 years; and in the Senate, he is the Republican whip and floor leader. He said that while working on Hyde's Washington, D.C., staff in the 1980s, he learned Hyde works with others while letting people know where he stands.
"The problem with Alan Keyes was his delivery and his message was so harsh," Roskam said. "I'm the Senate whip. I deal with people who disagree with me on a daily basis."
He will find opposite of him on the primary ballot: fellow Wheaton Republican and former DuPage County Recorder J.P. "Rick" Carney. They split along conservative-moderate lines, especially on abortion. Roskam said he opposes abortion except for the health of the mother, but Carney said he supports abortion rights except for late-term abortions.
On transportation issues, both said the most important is fighting O'Hare International Airport expansion in favor of building an airport in south suburban Peotone.
Carney was surprised by Dillard's endorsement but said that when he ran for recorder for the first time, neither the county party chairman nor the party chairmen from the nine DuPage townships endorsed him.
"And yet I won," he said. He held the seat for 20 years until he retired in 2004.
Local elected officials and at least two hopefuls for other offices were present for Roskam's announcement. State Rep. Randall Hultgren, R-Wheaton, said he is meeting with advisers this week about running for Roskam's Senate seat.
"I am still very interested in running," Hultgren said, adding that his priorities are getting Roskam elected to Congress and finishing work for this session in the Illinois General Assembly.
DuPage County Board member Debra Olson, R-Wheaton, declined to comment on her own intentions Monday, though she has expressed interest in seeking Hultgren's seat if he runs for Senate.
"Until Representative Hultgren makes any decision, I will not be commenting," she said.

Chicago Tribune: Henry Hyde's shadow

Henry Hyde's shadow,1,6294725.story

Henry Hyde is a larger than life figure in DuPage County politics, and Peter Roskam gave a clear nod to that the other day as he entered the Republican race to succeed the veteran 6th District congressman."There is no one who will fill [Hyde's] shoes," declared Roskam, now a state senator from Wheaton. "My goal is to walk in his shadow."Shadows, however, can quickly vanish when something moves just a little one way or the other. That's why wandering off to the right on an issue important to many of Hyde's constituents has left Roskam exposed to the light. There he stands, a key player in a push by the National Rifle Association to strip away public safety protections in current gun laws.In his more than 30 years in Congress, Hyde became an icon of many conservative causes. But in 1994, he also diverted from type to play a crucial and eloquent role in helping to propel passage of a federal ban on the sale of semiautomatic assault weapons--a ban that, unfortunately, a more narrow-minded Congress has since allowed to lapse."People have a right to own weapons, but not weapons of mass destruction and mayhem whose only purpose is to kill a lot of people in a hurry," Hyde said at the time.Contrast that with a bill Roskam pushed through the Illinois Senate earlier this spring. As originally passed, it would have voided all suburban handgun bans while also requiring the destruction of state records on gun purchases within 90 days. That provision has federal, state and many local law enforcement officers apoplectic. They say the state database is a powerful tool they use to link weapons purchases to homicidal drug gangs.As Roskam explains it, the measure was part conviction and part practicality. It was grafted to something Mayor Richard Daley has long wanted and Roskam says he does as well: the closure of a glaring loophole that lets people buy weapons at gun shows without being subjected to background checks. In true Springfield fashion, Roskam reasons, the best way to get is to give.Perhaps luckily for Roskam, the Illinois House watered down his bill before sending it back to the Senate the other day for fine-tuning. Stripped away was the part about pre-empting suburbs, like the ones Roskam wants to represent in Congress, from deciding for themselves what kind of restrictions to put on guns.Even so, the measure--which could come to a vote in the Senate Wednesday--still contains plenty that suburban police chiefs and soccer moms alike fret about. So Roskam's name is now indelibly tattooed on a hybrid bill that gun control advocates consider a dangerous step backward despite the gun show provision.The DuPage County that sent Henry Hyde to Congress in 1974 might not have tolerated the kind of moderation he came to embrace on gun control years later. But the county, like Hyde, has evolved over the years on many fronts. Just two years ago, a Tribune/WGN-TV poll found that two of every three voters in the collar counties said they favored more restrictions on gun sales.Roskam is the early favorite to get his party's nomination for the Hyde seat. Should he get it, the gun bill will surely provide a rich mine of material for Democrats to paint Roskam as a tool of the NRA in its fight to weaken gun laws.Democrats have been gaining strength in Hyde's district in recent years. Whether the gun issue would be enough to tilt the balance in their favor is anyone's guess at this point. Perhaps only the shadow knows.
Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Democracy Now: UN Human Rights Investigator in Afghanistan Ousted Under U.S. Pressure

UN Human Rights Investigator in Afghanistan Ousted Under U.S. Pressure
Thursday, April 28th, 2005

We speak with Cherif Bassiouni, a top human rights investigator in Afghanistan who was recently forced out of the United Nations under pressure from the U.S. just days after he released a report criticizing the US for committing human rights abuses. He says, "The U.S. has done an enormous disservice to the cause of human rights in Afghanistan simply because they wanted somebody who was going to look the other way on what their practices were." [includes rush transcript]
Today is the first anniversary of the publication of photos that exposed the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal. 60 Minutes first broadcast the pictures that shocked the world: Images of Iraqis with bags over their heads, beaten, set upon by dogs and forced into sexually humiliating acts. US soldiers looking on and smiling. And the enduring photograph of a prisoner cloaked in black, standing on a box with wires attached to his outstretched arms.
Since then, it has become clear that the U.S. torture of prisoners in Iraq was part of a larger pattern of abuse that stretched from Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay and beyond. The use of so-called "extraordinary rendition" sent detainees to foreign countries where the use of torture was widespread.
Now, one year after the pictures of abuse at Abu Ghraib became public, the scandal continues.
This past week, news emerged that the U.S. forced out a top human rights investigator at the United Nations just days after he released a report criticizing the US for committing human rights abuses in Afghanistan.
The Egyptian-born law professor Cherif Bassiouni had spent a year in Afghanistan interviewing Afghans, international agency staff and the Afghan Human Rights Commission. His official title was "independent expert on human rights in Afghanistan."
In his new report, Bassiouni accused US troops of breaking into homes, arbitrarily arresting residents and torturing detainees. He estimated that around 1,000 Afghans had been detained. Bassiouni also indicated that the US-led forces had committed "sexual abuse, beatings, torture and use of force resulting in death." He wrote, "When these forces directly engage in practices that violate... international human rights and international humanitarian law, they undermine the national project of establishing a legal basis for the use of force."
Last week, just days after Bassiouni released his report, the UN Human Rights Commission ended his mandate at a meeting in Geneva.
Cherif Bassiouni joins us on the line today from his home in Chicago.
Cherif Bassiouni, the former United Nations human rights investigator in Afghanistan. He is a professor of law at DePaul University. He is the author of 27 books on a wide range of legal issues and president of the International Human Rights Law Institute.

This transcript is available free of charge, however donations help us provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution.

AMY GOODMAN: Cherif Bassiouni joins us on the phone right now from his home in Chicago. He's a professor of law at DePaul University, author of 27 books on a wide range of legal issues, and he’s President of the International Human Rights Law Institute. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Professor Bassiouni.


AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Well, why don't you first tell us what you found in Afghanistan?

CHERIF BASSIOUNI: Well, Afghanistan, we have to distinguish between the general human rights situation in that country and the problem connected with the coalition forces. First, Afghanistan is a very poor country that has gone through almost a quarter of a century of wars, and is very ethnically and tribally and regionally divided. It has had warlords who have controlled the fate of the country for years. During the last 25 years, many of these warlords have emerged as having committed major atrocities, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and because they have been useful to U.S. forces when they invaded Afghanistan in 2003, they – many of the leaders were basically rewarded with plum positions, and above all, they were rewarded with impunity for their past crimes. In time, their help may not have proven to be that useful to the U.S. In fact, the elusive Bin Laden has still not been captured, and his al Qaeda leadership, presumably still in Afghanistan, has not been captured.
But in the meantime, these warlords have converted into drug lords. They control the drug economy or give it protection. It brings them over $2 billion a year in income. They have $80,000 men under arms. And they're literally a power within the country. For the U.S. to have allied itself to these people for political military strategic purposes was a judgment that many in time will certainly dispute, particularly because of the dangers of this alliance, and the fact that it's not likely to produce much of the desired benefits that the U.S. wants.
The result of that is a terrible human rights situation in Afghanistan, particularly for weaker elements of society: women, children, the handicapped. The justice system is totally inefficient, corrupt. The prison conditions there are medieval. I have seen not hundreds, but thousands of prisoners live in incredibly inhuman conditions. Prisons are sometimes made of a metal container, a small metal container in which 12 people are put in there. No toilets, no running water, no heat in the cold when it gets down to 10 or 0 degrees. People in medieval shackles, hand and feet with a metal bar between them. All of these situations and instances are matters that I brought up to the government, and I must say that the government of President Karzai has always been very responsive and desirous of making changes, but they don't have the resources, and that's not really one of their top priorities. So, that's one aspect, and that's why a human rights monitor representing the United Nations, with experience and with a certain personal prestige and the prestige of the United Nations, is important to be there. Whether it's me or somebody else is immaterial.
Now, the next issue is the fact that the United States and the coalition forces consider themselves above and beyond the reach of the law. They feel they -- that human rights don't apply to them, the international conventions don't apply to them, nobody can ask them what they're doing, and nobody can hold them accountable. And that type of position is simply untenable. And then as one goes further into it, these forces have acted in a manner which maybe in their mind is justified, but in a country where now you have a constitution and presumably a rule of law, you simply cannot allow foreign troops to go anywhere they want, break into any houses at any time of the day, arrest anybody, take them to any prison detention facilities without going through any legal process and without being accountable. So, that's the essential problem.
Now, the Defense Department and the U.S. government take the position that nobody can ask the U.S. government what it's doing in Afghanistan. And I take the very simple position, which I think is principle and principled and valid, that that's not really true. If the United States are there, and we're not questioning why they're there, and we're not questioning what they're doing, that's a political judgment. But how you behave with ordinary citizens, that's something that is questionable.

AMY GOODMAN: Cherif Bassiouni, we have to break, but when we come back, I want to ask about what happened to you, about the U.S. saying that the human rights situation has improved in Afghanistan, so the U.N. doesn't need an independent and human rights investigator. We're speaking to Professor Cherif Bassiouni, who teaches law at DePaul University, President of the International Human Rights Law Institute, just let go by the United Nations after he came up with a report on the human rights situation in Afghanistan.

AMY GOODMAN: As we continue with Professor Cherif Bassiouni. He teaches law at DePaul University, President of the International Human Rights Law Institute. Then, we're joined in our studio for the first time by Dahr Jamail, who we are used to speaking to on the telephone from Iraq, from Baghdad, an unembedded reporter.
But Professor Bassiouni, can you talk about what happened to you at the United Nations? First, specifically what your title was, what your mandate was, and why you don't have that title anymore.

CHERIF BASSIOUNI: Well, the United Nations was concerned with the situation of human rights in Afghanistan and wanted to monitor them, and one of the mechanisms and devices that the U.N. uses is to have an independent expert which it appoints to a particular country, and that person is then invested with what is called a mandate, which defines the parameter of that person's work, and the person then reports back. Half the reports go to the General Assembly and the other halves go to the Commission on Human Rights. So, two years ago, the Commission on Human Rights established such a mandate, and then for about a year the United States obstructed the appointment of an independent expert. Obviously, the U.S. didn't want a human rights monitor there on the ground. And a year later the Secretary General appointed me, probably because I had served for two years as chairman of the Security Council commission to investigate the war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, which ultimately brought about the creation of the Yugoslavia Tribunal, and now Milosevic, the former head of state, is on trial. So, he assumed somebody with my experience and somebody who’s reasonable and balanced would do well in the job, and so I set on to do the work.
Interestingly enough, the U.N. doesn't provide any resources for the work, so I had to come up with my own resources. They also don't pay anything, so it's not something that many people really accept. And my first report was submitted to the General Assembly in October, and it contains the same subjects that this last report did, including the same criticism that you mentioned, Amy, about the situation in the U.S. prison facilities there. No objection by the United States at the time. Everybody approved the report and was very happy with it. A second report was in April to the Commission on Human Rights, and again everybody agreed with everything, including President Karzai and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Khalilzad, with whom I had discussed the report before. And everything seemed to be so well, in fact, that the resolution of the Commission unprecedentedly for ten pages adopted almost every recommendation I had.
But, when it came to inquiry into what the U.S. forces are doing, there a stone wall was put. And I suspect it has to do with the fact that in the last two months the U.S. has been moving prisoners from Guantanamo to Afghanistan, and that soon we will see the D.O.D. open up Guantanamo for international inspection. And by then the worst cases will have been transferred to Afghanistan; Guantanamo will have been repainted, recarpeted, and would look very nice, and people who would go to inspect it there will find nothing wrong. But, of course, that means that those people who have been transferred from Guantanamo to Afghanistan could not be interviewed or seen by anybody else. So, I speculate (but I think there's valid reason to make such speculation) that the reason that the mandate was not renewed was really to avoid having somebody like myself, and certainly myself, if I were to be renewed, insisting on going into the prison facilities and talking to the people, which would in this case have included those transferred from Guantanamo. So it was a chance that I think the U.S. didn't want to take.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Bassiouni, how do you know that these hundreds of prisoners are being moved? I mean, for a lot of people this is going to be the first time they’ve heard any word of this, from Guantanamo to Afghanistan; and if that's true, where are they being held in Afghanistan?

CHERIF BASSIOUNI: Well, the U.S. officially announced that it released 18 prisoners from Guantanamo who are Afghani citizens, and they were returned to Afghanistan. Obviously, people who have been prisoners in Guantanamo for two years or more, when they return home, especially in tribal societies, the entire tribe rejoices, and it's not a question of only a small circle of family and friends who know it. The news spread out, and as you can well imagine, again in a large family setting or tribal setting, people are going to ask, you know, ‘How were you there?’ and ‘How were you treated?’ and, you know, ‘Do you know of anybody else?’ and ‘Is so-and-so still there?’ or something like that. And I think that news started spreading out that -- of what was happening in Guantanamo, and that a number of them had indeed been transferred to two main facilities in Afghanistan and that they were there. But you also have to remember that it’s difficult to move -- the estimates that I heard (and it's purely rumors and speculative, so there's no way that I can back these figures) that about 200 prisoners were moved from Guantanamo to Afghanistan. If that is correct it's a very large number of people. And, you know, they land at military air force bases. There are civilian workers. There are local people. You need buses to transport them, convoys. Prisons have more food and the cooks and personnel in the prisons start realizing that there are newcomers there in large numbers. And so, words, in a tribal society like Afghanistan, sort of travels fast.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Bassiouni, was there anyone in particular at the United Nations who was gunning for you, who was trying to force you out?

CHERIF BASSIOUNI: Well, no. I think that with the exception of the United States, which sort of really dug in for the non-renewal of the mandate, then I don't really think that it was anything personal.

AMY GOODMAN: And who at the U.N. -- in the U.S. was doing that?

CHERIF BASSIOUNI: Well, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva is a man by the name of Kevin Moley. He’s one of the owners of the Texas Rangers, and I think he’s the one who brought in George W. Bush as a part owner of the Texas Rangers before President Bush ran for Governor of Texas. So, he is a close, personal family relationship. He’s very much of a Texan entrepreneur, and I think his threshold of sympathy for human rights issues is probably very low, and to him this was just a question of total support for the administration, and anybody who in any way asked questions or criticized was -- fell in the category of you're either with me or against me. And I think that's the way he saw it and that's the way he directed his staff to make it a point with all of the other delegations at the commission that the U.S. is adamantly opposed to the renewal of the mandate.

AMY GOODMAN: What will happen with the report that you have just put out, again, that is very forceful in criticizing the U.S. for committing human rights abuses in Afghanistan?

CHERIF BASSIOUNI: Well, this latest report was twenty-one pages. The part that deals with the U.S. is one page. As I said earlier, there are many, many problems in Afghanistan with human rights. The prison situation is very bad. The situation with women is very bad. This is a country in which violence against women is practiced daily in almost every family. You know, the idea of slapping down your wife or hitting her or whatnot is part of social discourse. Women are routinely judged by tribal judges as opposed to going through the justice process. They are frequently assigned for their prisons to serve in the house of tribal chiefs where they become literal slaves there including sex slaves. Frequently, their families kick out their children and these women have to take their small children with them, so it becomes a second generation of enslavement. Young girls, ages nine to fifteen, are given in marriage, but really in payment for blood money. So that if you have a dispute or a settlement of a claim between two families or two tribes the settlement is not, you know, necessarily two cows or two horses, it's two little girls. You know, these are very serious matters, and it's so important to have somebody with the U.N. backing there reminding the government that these things should be changed. Without that, I think the U.S. has done an enormous disservice to the cause of human rights in Afghanistan simply because they wanted somebody who was going to look the other way on what U.S. practices were. And as I said to Ambassador Moley, I said: ‘It's not only bad for human rights in Afghanistan, but it's so counterproductive for the U.S., because these are not the practices that a great nation should engage in, and these are not the practices that will endear the U.S. to the Afghani people or to the Muslim people.’

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Cherif Bassiouni, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Teaches law at DePaul University, President of the International Human Rights Law Institute, has written twenty-seven books on a wide range of legal issues, has just lost his mandate as the independent expert on Afghanistan investigating the human rights situation. His report on the situation there has just come out.

Copyright © 2005
- Democracy Now!, All Rights Reserved

New York Times: Lawyer Who Told of US Abuses at Afghan Bases Loses UN Post

Published on Saturday, April 30, 2005 by the New York Times
Lawyer Who Told of US Abuses at Afghan Bases Loses UN Post
by Warren Hoge

UNITED NATIONS - A United Nations human rights monitor who accused American military forces and civilian contractors last week of abusing and torturing prisoners in Afghanistan has been told his job is over.

M. Cherif Bassiouni, a professor of law at DePaul University in Chicago who was the human rights commission's independent expert for Afghanistan, said Friday that he had received an e-mail message from a commission official in Geneva a week ago telling him his mandate had expired.

The day before, he had released a 21-page report saying that Americans running prisons in Afghanistan had acted above the law "by engaging in arbitrary arrests and detentions and committing abusive practices, including torture."

In an interview from his Chicago office, he said that he had been expecting a routine two-year renewal but that the United States had lobbied against him because of his persistent efforts to examine American-supervised prisons and his disclosure that prisoners were being detained in remote "fire bases" constructed for combat operations.

Kurtis Cooper, a State Department spokesman, denied that Mr. Bassiouni's ouster could be attributed to American pressure. "This was a decision that was made in light of the fact that more than three years after the Taliban, the human rights situation in Afghanistan had evolved to the point where it could be monitored under the ordinary procedures of the high commissioner for human rights without the need of an independent expert," he said.

Brenden Varma, a spokesman for Secretary General Kofi Annan, who appointed Mr. Bassiouni to the post, said that he was widely respected for his long human rights record, but that his tenure was up to the human rights commission, and "they decided that the situation had improved and that it was time for the mandate to expire."

Mr. Bassiouni, born in Cairo, was chairman of the Security Council's commission to investigate war crimes in the former Yugoslavia from 1992 to 1994, and leader of a program to train 450 judges in Afghanistan in 2003.

He said he had not intended to be confrontational. "When I went to Afghanistan last year, in my mind, my role was not to go there and shame them but to help them," he said. "I didn't see myself as someone going to fix the blame but to fix the problem."

He said he was rebuffed repeatedly in his efforts to visit prisons at the United States bases in Bagram and Kandahar by American officials who told him he was exceeding his mandate.

He discovered the use of 14 fire bases for detainees, he said, when he spotted an American military order warning commanders against keeping captives at the spots for more than two weeks.

Despite the lack of cooperation, he said, he had no trouble learning of rights violations.

"Arbitrary arrest and detention are common knowledge in Afghanistan because the coalition forces are known to go to villages and towns and break down doors and arrest people and take them whenever they want," he said.

He said victims' descriptions of their American captors' appearance had struck a grim note of recognition because of his past experience. "It was very reminiscent of what I had seen in the former Yugoslavia, where you would ask victims of beatings and torture who had abused them and they would say they couldn't identify them because they wore battle fatigues with no names and no insignias."

Asked what he thought would happen to prisons in Afghanistan now, he said, "My guess is that torture will go down at the U.S. facilities, but what will go up is torture at the Afghan facilities.

It's the usual shell game. The U.S. feels the heat, it tries to discontinue the practice itself, but it finds special forces in the Afghan Army to do its bidding."

© Copyright 2005 New York Times Company

Friday, June 10, 2005

New York Times: Richest Are Leaving Even the Rich Far Behind

Richest Are Leaving Even the Rich Far Behind
June 5, 2005
New York Times

When F. Scott Fitzgerald pronounced that the very rich "are different from you and me," Ernest Hemingway's famously dismissive response was: "Yes, they have more money." Today he might well add: much, much, much more money.

The people at the top of America's money pyramid have so prospered in recent years that they have pulled far ahead of the rest of the population, an analysis of tax records and other government data by The New York Times shows. They have even left behind people making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

Call them the hyper-rich.

They are not just a few Croesus-like rarities. Draw a line under the top 0.1 percent of income earners - the top one-thousandth. Above that line are about 145,000 taxpayers, each with at least $1.6 million in income and often much more.

The average income for the top 0.1 percent was $3 million in 2002, the latest year for which averages are available. That number is two and a half times the $1.2 million, adjusted for inflation, that group reported in 1980. No other income group rose nearly as fast.

The share of the nation's income earned by those in this uppermost category has more than doubled since 1980, to 7.4 percent in 2002. The share of income earned by the rest of the top 10 percent rose far less, and the share earned by the bottom 90 percent fell.

Next, examine the net worth of American households. The group with homes, investments and other assets worth more than $10 million comprised 338,400 households in 2001, the last year for which data are available. The number has grown more than 400 percent since 1980, after adjusting for inflation, while the total number of households has grown only 27 percent.

The Bush administration tax cuts stand to widen the gap between the hyper-rich and the rest of America. The merely rich, making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, will shoulder a disproportionate share of the tax burden.

President Bush said during the third election debate last October that most of the tax cuts went to low- and middle-income Americans. In fact, most - 53 percent - will go to people with incomes in the top 10 percent over the first 15 years of the cuts, which began in 2001 and would have to be reauthorized in 2010. And more than 15 percent will go just to the top 0.1 percent, those 145,000 taxpayers.

The Times set out to create a financial portrait of the very richest Americans, how their incomes have changed over the decades and how the tax cuts will affect them. It is no secret that the gap between the rich and the poor has grown, but the extent to which the richest are leaving everyone else behind is not widely known.

The Treasury Department uses a computer model to examine the effects of tax cuts on various income groups but does not look in detail fine enough to differentiate among those within the top 1 percent. To determine those differences, The Times relied on a computer model based on the Treasury's. Experts at organizations representing a range of views, including the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute and Citizens for Tax Justice, reviewed the projections and said they were reasonable, and the Treasury Department said through a spokesman that the model was reliable.

The analysis also found the following:
  • Under the Bush tax cuts, the 400 taxpayers with the highest incomes - a minimum of $87 million in 2000, the last year for which the government will release such data - now pay income, Medicare and Social Security taxes amounting to virtually the same percentage of their incomes as people making $50,000 to $75,000.
  • Those earning more than $10 million a year now pay a lesser share of their income in these taxes than those making $100,000 to $200,000.
  • The alternative minimum tax, created 36 years ago to make sure the very richest paid taxes, takes back a growing share of the tax cuts over time from the majority of families earning $75,000 to $1 million - thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars annually. Far fewer of the very wealthiest will be affected by this tax.
The analysis examined only income reported on tax returns. The Treasury Department says that the very wealthiest find ways, legal and illegal, to shelter a lot of income from taxes. So the gap between the very richest and everyone else is almost certainly much larger.

The hyper-rich have emerged in the last three decades as the biggest winners in a remarkable transformation of the American economy characterized by, among other things, the creation of a more global marketplace, new technology and investment spurred partly by tax cuts. The stock market soared; so did pay in the highest ranks of business.

One way to understand the growing gap is to compare earnings increases over time by the vast majority of taxpayers - say, everyone in the lower 90 percent - with those at the top, say, in the uppermost 0.01 percent (now about 14,000 households, each with $5.5 million or more in income last year).

From 1950 to 1970, for example, for every additional dollar earned by the bottom 90 percent, those in the top 0.01 percent earned an additional $162, according to the Times analysis. From 1990 to 2002, for every extra dollar earned by those in the bottom 90 percent, each taxpayer at the top brought in an extra $18,000.

President Ronald Reagan signed tax bills that benefited the wealthiest Americans and also gave tax breaks to the working poor. President Bill Clinton raised income taxes for the wealthiest, cut taxes on investment gains, and expanded breaks for the working poor. Mr. Bush eliminated income taxes for families making under $40,000, but his tax cuts have also benefited the wealthiest Americans far more than his predecessors' did.

The Bush administration says that the tax cuts have actually made the income tax system more progressive, shifting the burden slightly more to those with higher incomes. Still, an Internal Revenue Service study found that the only taxpayers whose share of taxes declined in 2001 and 2002 were those in the top 0.1 percent.

But a Treasury spokesman, Taylor Griffin, said the income tax system is more progressive if the measurement is the share borne by the top 40 percent of Americans rather than the top 0.1 percent.

The Times analysis also shows that over the next decade, the tax cuts Mr. Bush wants to extend indefinitely would shift the burden further from the richest Americans. With incomes of more than $1 million or so, they would get the biggest share of the breaks, in total amounts and in the drop in their share of federal taxes paid.

One reason the merely rich will fare much less well than the very richest is the alternative minimum tax. This tax, the successor to one enacted in 1969 to make sure the wealthiest Americans could not use legal loopholes to live tax-free, has never been adjusted for inflation. As a result, it stings Americans whose incomes have crept above $75,000.

The Times analysis shows that by 2010 the tax will affect more than four-fifths of the people making $100,000 to $500,000 and will take away from them nearly one-half to more than two-thirds of the recent tax cuts. For example, the group making $200,000 to $500,000 a year will lose 70 percent of their tax cut to the alternative minimum tax in 2010, an average of $9,177 for those affected.

But because of the way it is devised, the tax affects far fewer of the very richest: about a third of the taxpayers reporting more than $1 million in income. One big reason is that dividends and investment gains, which go mostly to the richest, are not subject to the tax.

Another reason that the wealthiest will fare much better is that the tax cuts over the past decade have sharply lowered rates on income from investments.

While most economists recognize that the richest are pulling away, they disagree on what this means. Those who contend that the extraordinary accumulation of wealth is a good thing say that while the rich are indeed getting richer, so are most people who work hard and save. They say that the tax cuts encourage the investment and the innovation that will make everyone better off.

"In this income data I see a snapshot of a very innovative society," said Tim Kane, an economist at the Heritage Foundation. "Lower taxes and lower marginal tax rates are leading to more growth. There's an explosion of wealth. We are so wealthy in a world that is profoundly poor."

But some of the wealthiest Americans, including Warren E. Buffett, George Soros and Ted Turner, have warned that such a concentration of wealth can turn a meritocracy into an aristocracy and ultimately stifle economic growth by putting too much of the nation's capital in the hands of inheritors rather than strivers and innovators. Speaking of the increasing concentration of incomes, Alan Greenspan, the Federal Reserve chairman, warned in Congressional testimony a year ago: "For the democratic society, that is not a very desirable thing to allow it to happen."

Others say most Americans have no problem with this trend. The central question is mobility, said Bruce R. Bartlett, an advocate of lower taxes who served in the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations. "As long as people think they have a chance of getting to the top, they just don't care how rich the rich are."

But in fact, economic mobility - moving from one income group to another over a lifetime - has actually stopped rising in the United States, researchers say. Some recent studies suggest it has even declined over the last generation.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Barack Obama: The Fifth Black Senator in U.S. History Makes F.D.R. His Icon

The Fifth Black Senator in U.S. History Makes F.D.R. His Icon
By Ben A. Franklin June 1, 2005 The Washington Spectator

On July 27, 2004, when he made one of the most memorable speeches in the history of our political parties, at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, Barack Obama began to click with American voters as they watched him on TV. In Illinois, helped by his reputation as a state senator and a African-American statesman, he ran for the U.S. Senate in November and won with 70 percent of the turnout. He was known for his belief that "what people are most hungry for in politics now is authenticity." He's got it.

At age 43, he has won a lot of praise from people who know him. Time magazine has found Obama enthusiasts who compare him to Abraham Lincoln, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bill Clinton — and credit him with enough political clout to become a Democratic candidate for president in 2012 or 2016.

He has intellectual power. He is a graduate of Columbia University in New York and of Harvard Law School, where he was named the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. It is a record of scholarship that, matched with his popularity, led Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the House minority leader, to call him, at the time he won his senatorial seat, "an inspiration to the country before he is even sworn in" and to add: "Imagine what he has in store for us."

This from a child of an African father who married a white American woman from Kansas, and who grew up in Hawaii after his father broke away from the family and returned to his homeland in Kenya. In considering his life, Obama concludes that "in no other country on earth is my story even possible."

Meanwhile, Senator Obama has become a vox clamantis in deserto — a voice crying out in the wilderness. He is not yet frequently seen or heard on the Senate floor, but his occasional speeches elsewhere say a lot. A recent one that struck us as a self-illuminating sketch of his promising future was given recently at a Washington National Press Club luncheon. It got little national media attention, so we've decided to present some of it here to spotlight the talents of this unusually promising man.

Obama's focus was on the Bush Social Security meddling. "We've heard about privatization and benefit cuts, about massive new debt and huge new risks, and we've even been scared into thinking the system will go broke when our kids retire, even though we know there'll be enough money then to pay the vast majority of benefits."

He spoke then about the Franklin Roosevelt era. "Some thought that our country didn't have a responsibility to do anything about these problems, that people would be better off left to their own devices and the whims of the market. Others believed that American capitalism had failed and that it was time to try something else altogether.

"But President Roosevelt believed deeply in the American idea. He understood that the freedom to pursue our own individual dreams is made possible by the promise that, if fate causes us to stumble or fall, our larger American family will be there to lift us up. That if we're willing to share even a small amount of life's risks and rewards with each other, then we'll all have the chance to make the most of our God-given potential.

"And because Franklin Roosevelt had the courage to act on this idea, individual Americans were able to get back on their feet and build a shared prosperity that is still the envy of the world.
"The New Deal gave the laid-off worker a guarantee that he could count on unemployment insurance to put food on his family's table while he looked for a new job. It gave the young man who suffered a debilitating accident assurance that he could count on disability benefits to get him through the tough times. A widow might still raise her children without the indignity of charity. And Franklin Roosevelt's greatest legacy promised the couple who put in a lifetime of sacrifice and hard work that they could retire in comfort and dignity because of Social Security.

"Today, we're told by those who want to privatize that promise how much things are different and times have changed since Roosevelt's day. I couldn't agree more. A child born in this new century is likely to start his life with both parents—or a single parent—working a full-time job. They'll try their hardest to juggle work and family, but they'll end up needing child care to keep him safe, cared for, and educated early.

"They'll want to give him the best education possible, but unless they live in a wealthy town with good public schools, they'll have to settle for less or find the money for private schools.

"This student will study hard and dream of going to the best colleges in the country, but with tuition rising faster than ever before, he may have to postpone those dreams or start life deeper in debt than any generation before him.

"When he graduates from college, this young man will find a job market where middle-class manufacturing jobs with good benefits have long since been replaced with low-wage, low-benefit service sector jobs and high-skill, high-wage jobs of the future.

"To get those good jobs, he'll need the skills and knowledge to not only compete with other workers in America, but with highly skilled and highly knowledgeable workers all over the world who are being recruited by the same companies that once made their home in this country.
"When he finally starts his job, he'll want health insurance, but rising costs mean that fewer employers can afford to provide that benefit, and when they do, fewer employees can afford the record premiums.

"When he starts a family, he'll want to buy a house and a car and pay for child care and college for his own children, but as he watches the lucky few benefit from lucrative bonuses and tax shelters, he'll see his own tax burden rise and his own paycheck barely cover this month's bills.
"And when he retires, he'll hope that he and his wife have saved enough, but if there wasn't enough to save, he'll hope that there will still be two Social Security checks that come to the house every month.

"These are the challenges we face at the beginning of the 21st century. We shouldn't exaggerate. We aren't seeing the absolute deprivation of the Great Depression. But it cannot be denied that families face more risk and greater insecurity than we have known since FDR's time, even as those families have fewer resources available to help pull themselves through the tough spots. Whereas people were once able to count on their employer to provide health care, pensions, and a job that would last a lifetime, today's worker wonders if suffering a heart attack will cause his employer to drop his coverage, worries about how much he can contribute to his own pension fund, and fears the possibility that he might walk into work tomorrow and find his job outsourced.

"Yet, just as the naysayers in Roosevelt's day told us that there was nothing we could do to help people help themselves, the people in power today are telling us that instead of sharing the risks of the new economy, we should shoulder them on our own.

"In the end, this is what the debate over the future of Social Security is truly about. After a lifetime of hard work and contribution to this country, do we tell our seniors that they're on their own, or that we're here for them to provide a basic standard of living? Is the dignity of life in their latter years their problem, or one we all share?

"Since this is Washington, you won't hear them answer those questions directly when they talk about Social Security. Instead, they use the word 'reform' when they mean 'privatize,' and they use 'strengthen' when they really mean 'dismantle.' They tell us there's a crisis to get us all riled up about so we'll sit down and listen to their plan to privatize.

"But we know what the whole thing's really about. It's not just about cutting guaranteed benefits by up to 50 percent—though it certainly does that.

"It's not just about borrowing $5 trillion from countries like China and Japan to finance the plan—after all, we know how fiscal conservatives hate debt and deficit.

"And it's not even about the ability of private accounts to finance the gap in the system—because even the privatization advocates admit they don't.

"What this whole thing is about, and why conservatives have been pushing it so hard for so long now, is summed up in one sentence in one White House memo that somehow made its way out of the White House: For the first time in six decades, the Social Security battle is one we can win—and in doing so, we can help transform the political and philosophical landscape of the country.

"And there it is. Since Social Security was first signed into law almost seventy years ago, at a time when F.D.R.'s opponents were calling it a hoax that would never work and some likened it to communism, there has been movement after movement to get rid of the program for purely ideological reasons. Because some still believe that we can't solve the problems we face as one American community; they think this country works better when we're left to face fate by ourselves.

"I understand this view. There's something bracing about the Social Darwinist idea, the idea that there isn't a problem that the unfettered free market can't solve. It requires no sacrifice on the part of those of us who have won life's lottery . . . and doesn't consider who our parents were, or the education we received, or the right breaks that came at the right time.

"But I couldn't disagree more. If we privatize Social Security, what will we tell retirees whose investments in the stock market went badly? We're sorry? Keep working? You're on your own? When people's expected benefits get cut and they have to choose between their groceries and their prescriptions, what will we say then? That's not our problem?

"When our debt climbs so high that our children face sky-high taxes just as they're starting their first job, what will we tell them? Deal with it yourselves?

"This isn't how America works. This isn't how we saved millions of seniors from a life of poverty seventy years ago. This isn't how we sent a greatest generation of veterans to college so they could build the greatest middle-class in history. And this isn't how we should face the challenges of this new century either.

"And yet, this is the direction they're trying to take America in on almost every issue. Instead of trying to contain the skyrocketing cost of health care and expand access to the uninsured, the idea behind the President's Health Savings Accounts is to leave the system alone and give you a few extra bucks to go find a plan you can afford on your own. You deal with double-digit inflation by going to the doctor less. Instead of strengthening a pension system that provides defined benefits to employees who've worked a lifetime, we'll give you a tax break and hope that you invest well and save well in your own little account.

"And if none of this works—if you couldn't find affordable insurance and suffer an illness that leaves you thousands of dollars in debt—then you should no longer count on being able to start over by declaring bankruptcy, because they've changed the law to put the burden of debt squarely on your shoulders.

"Taking responsibility for oneself and showing individual initiative are American values we all share. Frankly, they are values we could stand to see more of in a culture where the buck is too often passed to the next guy. They are values we could use more of here in Washington too.

"But the irony of this all-out assault against every existing form of social insurance is that these safety nets are exactly what encourage each of us to be risk-takers and entrepreneurs who are free to pursue our individual ambitions. We get into a car knowing that if someone rear-ends us, they will have insurance to pay for the repairs. We buy a house knowing that our investment is protected by homeowners' insurance. We take a chance on start-ups and small businesses because we know that if they fail, there are protections available to cushion our fall. Corporations across America have limited liability for this very reason. Families should too—and that's why we need social insurance.

"This is how the market works. This is how America works. And if we want it to keep working, we need to develop new ways for all of us to share the new risks of a 21st-century economy, not destroy what we already have.

"The genius of Roosevelt was putting into practice the idea that America doesn't have to be a place where our individual aspirations are at war with our common good; it's a place where one makes the other possible.

"I think we will save Social Security from privatization this year. And in doing so, we will affirm our belief that we are all connected as one people—ready to share life's risks and rewards for the benefit of each and the good of all.

"Let me close by suggesting that Democrats are absolutely united in the need to strengthen Social Security and make it solvent for future generations. We know that, and we want that. And I believe that both Democrats and Republicans can work together to do that. While we're at it, we can begin a debate about the real challenges America faces as the baby boomers begin to retire.

"They are about getting a handle on the growing cost of health care and prescription drugs. About increasing individual and national savings. About strengthening our pension system for the 21st century.

"These are important questions that require us to work together, not in a manufactured panic about a genuine but solvable problem, but with the spirit of pragmatism and innovation that will offer every American the secure retirement they have earned.

"You know, there are times in the life of this nation when we are individual citizens going about our own business, enjoying the freedoms we've been blessed with. And then there are times when we are one America, linked by the dignity of each and the destiny of all.

"The debate over the future of Social Security must be one of these times. The people I've met since starting my campaign tell me they don't want a big government that's running their lives, but they do want an active government that will give them the opportunity to make the most of their lives.

"Starting with the child born today and the senior moving into the twilight of life, together we can provide that opportunity.

"The day Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act of 1935 into law, he began by saying that 'today, a hope of many years' standing is in large part fulfilled.' It is now time to fulfill our hope for an America where we're in this together—for our seniors, for our children, and for every American in the years and generations yet to come."

About Me

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"Austin Mayor" is not a real name. "Austin Mayor" is not a title. "Austin Mayor" is a pseudonym. "Austin Mayor" is a simulacrum. "Austin Mayor" is performance art. "Austin Mayor" is a brand without a product. "Austin Mayor" is your imaginary friend.