Feb 28, 2005

Founder of Amnesty International Dies

Peter Benenson the founder of Amnesty International died on February 25th, 2005. He was 83. He had already been successful in building a world-wide organization for human rights, but "civil society" is far from being universally established. We should never rest in fighting the forces of darkness, to bring dignity, liberty and better living conditions to all human beings. Benenson is among those giants who changed our humanity for the better, because he gave hope to all prisoners of conscience and showed us that, through a collective effort, our humanity can triumph.
Let's honor his memory by tending the light of freedom for as long as we live.
Instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle! It's in our own interest.

Feb 26, 2005

Look at the Women: It's Truly Revealing

Long time ago, as a student of comparative politics, I came upon a method for examining a country's social, economic, and political progress: one could know a great deal about a country's condition by looking at the status of the women! As a rule, the higher the status of women, the more democratic, tolerant, and stronger economically the country was! It still holds true today. Worse, there are places that women are considered property in this 21st century!

Iraq just counted the beans of an "election" and is getting ready to form a government and draft a constitution. Reading the tea leaves, the situation doesn't look promising. Democracy is good, but if it's not directly connected to freedom and minority rights then it's just a hollow word.
Some people may argue that if this is what the Iraqis want, they should have it! I've also heard something about "cultural relativism," and that most Iraqi women prefer the "traditional ways." This is not an easy issue to grapple with, but allow me the opportunity to try. I hold a dissenting point of view to these arguments. I have the right to dissent, no? Even if I were the only one holding an unpopular view, I should be entitled to it and have the opportunity to convince others to change their minds. That's basically what democracy is all about. Election is an expression of democracy, not its definition. Democratic tenets should be the way to do politics and should be largely accepted by the citizens. The rule of the mob is not democratic!

The clerics, mullahs and other religious Iraqis want Islamic law, the strict Sharia, to be the law of the land. Which brings us to the question of the status of
women under Sharia. If it comes to be, it will mean that women won't have equal rights; they won't have the rights enjoyed by men, period! From the moment you define rights based on gender and/or race, you are a bigot, and, basically, not a very good person in my book. Under Sharia law, a man can beat his wife, though "not too badly," something we can understand, along Gonzales's line: it's not torture if there is no organ failure or death!

"[The husband] can beat his wife but not in a forceful way, leaving no mark. If he should leave a mark, he will pay," she says of a system she supports. "He can beat her when she is not obeying him in his rights. We want her to be educated enough that she will not force him to beat her, and if he beats her with no right, we want her to be strong enough to go to the police." This from a woman newly-elected to Iraq's parliament!

Of course, there is the other side of this coin. No one else can better describe the current situation in Iraq than an Iraqi woman, an independently thinking person living in Baghdad today. You can follow her daily experiences on her blog, Baghdad Burning
. Here's an excerpt,
" 'And is Iran so bad?' He finally asked. Well no, Abu Ammar, I wanted to answer, it's not bad for *you* - you're a man, if anything your right to several temporary marriages, a few permanent ones and the right to subdue females will increase. Why should it be so bad? Instead I was silent. It's not a good thing to criticize Iran these days. I numbly reached for the bags he handed me, trying to rise out of that sinking feeling that overwhelmed me when the results were first made public..."

"You feel it all around you. It begins slowly and almost insidiously. You stop wearing slacks or jeans or skirts that show any leg because you don't want to be stopped in the street and lectured by someone who doesn't approve. You stop wearing short sleeves and start preferring wider shirts with a collar that will cover up some of you neck. You stop letting your hair flow because you don't want to attract attention to it. On the days when you forget to pull it back into a ponytail, you want to kick yourself and you rummage around in your handbag trying to find a hair band, hell, a rubber band to pull back your hair and make sure you attract less attention from *them*..."

I'm not trying to turn this into a discussion about religion, but religious beliefs, right or wrong, do guide the actions of many in Iraq today. As long as any religion is used against freedom, democracy and human rights, I fervently oppose it. In addition, I reject the notion of cultural relativism, when it infringes upon fundamental human rights. Should we accept human sacrifices because it's part of a culture? How about religious child prostitution?

The Bill of Rights makes our Constitution a great living document and clearly defines those rights that cannot be taken away by the government. Those rights are under attack in our country. Yet, those values are universal, and indeed they are liberal values: live your life they way you see appropriate for yourself, but let me do the same. The pursuit of happiness means different things to different people, and it's OK! As long as I'm not harming anyone else, let me be. The problem with the American Taliban and all other religious fundamentalists is that they don't want you to do what they don't approve of.

To be fair to the Iraqi sexist bigots, our American Taliban has a neaderthalian quality in its views regarding women. But, what do you expect from people who argue that women's lib is such a bad thing that it helped God make a decision to allow the attacks of 911. Did you know that "feminism encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians?" That's right, we've got them here as well, and our Taliban are much worse because they should know better than those who haven't had any experience with democracy, human rights & individual liberties!

Iraq as a member of the UN and, thus, is under the obligation to uphold human rights; it has also signed the Treaty for the Rights of Women. Of course many countries have singed the same documents only to blatantly disregard them. But, we should keep the spotlight on them. The US and the world community have leverage on Iraq. After Bush changed the purpose of the mission from WMD to democracy, he should now press for Iraq to respect the UN charter and its treaties. It's the least he can do. And, while at it, he should tell his Republican Senator Lugar to let the Treaty come to a vote. As of the Fall of 2004, a total 179 countries (but not the US) have ratified this treaty for the rights of women!

To quote from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, "Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.."

Similarly with your friends, show me your women and I'll tell you who you are!

Feb 18, 2005

The Social (In)Security, Plainly Speaking

You may have heard that there is a big push by the President to privatize Social Security. Although, this complicated program is on paper right now, and it may change if it passes through Congress, you might want to find out what would this new system would have on you! Here's a handy calculator.
There are many misconceptions about SS and unfortunately there isn't much discussion, but rather fireworks going off left and right. Basically, Bush's idea is that you can take some money out of your contributions to SS and invest it privately hoping for better returns. In theory, you could do better in the marketplace. Of course, this won't mean guaranteed security later when you retire because you may chose badly where to invest. However, you currently do have the opportunity to establish private accounts like IRA, KEOGH, etc, to supplement your SS benefits later. But, you are guaranteed your SS benefits as the system stands today. Bush's own SS trustees say that SS will pay 100% of benefits until 2042 (conservative estimate) even if there are no adjustments today or in the years to follow!

What most people don't realize is that current SS contributions go to pay for benefits to the retirees today; it's not a savings/investment program. In other words, if you take out (or reduce) your contributions today, you will be withholding payments meant for your ..mother, father, everyone retired! Of course, the current and future benefits for people already on the SS program must continue.... What to do? This several-trillion-dollar deficit (if Bush's plan goes through) will have to be covered by additional borrowing, that is, more national debt! Of course, any debt is owned by all of us and our children!

Why is Bush doing this? Well, you might say that he's an idiot, or that big corporations, Wall Street, and other insiders are going to benefit greatly from all this money coming out of state treasury and into their pockets. I'd say you're partially right. In addition, Bush believes that the marketplace and all things private (except privacy!) are preferable to a state-owned contract of social security. This argument is shallow--as blindly minimizing the state hurts mostly the people who don't have power, aren't rich-- but the President is not exactly the person who leads an examined life nor that he bothers with the details!
We also have to understand that persons like Bush and others, (members of the socio-economic elite throughout the political spectrum) don't really understand what everyday reality is for most people. They don't have to deal with the consequences of failed policies. They don't know what the real quality-of-life issues are. [Remember president Bush, senior, being mesmerized by the scanner at a supermarket checkout? Yes, it had been around for 10 years or so!] Their beliefs are formed not by careful examination or study of the facts and of history. They don't even spend too much time debating the finer points. If it sounds good enough, jives with their own often-distorted views, then it's good enough to implement it.
However, we do have the power to stop this ill-conceived scheme of social (in)security. Contact your representatives in the House and the Senate. For more articles, news, and questions about Social Security, click this link to an excellent site!

Feb 17, 2005

Exactly What We Called For: Clean House!

The progressive community was truly excited to see Howard Dean elected boss of the DNC, so many, especially in the blogosphere, were quick to begin raising money to "give ammunition" to the new chairman. Those of us who argued for waiting to see signs of a ..broom in action before contributing money to a corrupt system were happily surprised today to hear Democratic leaders, Harry Reid (Senate) and Nancy Pelosi (House) announcing their plans for a shake-up. The old system of a few insiders who had amassed a long string of stupefying losses has had a suffocating effect on the Democratic party over the last several decades!
It wasn't only this voice here but many others who have pointed out the obvious. Had Kerry won last November, perhaps the situation wouldn't change, but with the base still being engaged and fired up, this past election seems to be bringing something positive to us: the end of the entrenched consultants' reign. We need a modern, meritorious and open party. We need a winner!
This is a good start. It was only four days ago when we made a public call to Dean to pick up the broom, but we've been approaching anyone willing to listen for the need for such change. Thanks to Amy Sullivan for writing that excellent article on this topic. It's paying off. Congratulations to the two leaders. Chairman Dean can be the spearhead of the clean-up effort. And, thanks for listening. We'll be watching!

Feb 12, 2005

Call to Howard Dean: Fire the Losers, Get Rid of the Parasites

Congratulations to Howard Dean on winning the chair of the DNC. Although I had suggested that he should run for the Senate, he can now be a positive force in Democratic politics if he sticks to his pledge to change "business as usual." The Republicans, while Clinton was in office, went all out to oppose the president and distinguish themselves as a different political entity. It quickly worked. The Dems have the issues but they lack in the messenger and operation departments. Maybe this will change. Ultimately, it will be the candidates who win or lose, but the chairman, being what he is now, can play a big role in articulating the Democratic agenda and he can change the inner workings of the machine.

What Dean can do to immediately help the party is to fire the losers, the very wealthy consultants who have been advising the candidates. In an unbelievably long streak of bad losses, those entrenched operatives have a stranglehold on Democratic politics. They are the mafia within the party. They control the purses, and, of course, they play favorites. Dean's extraordinary success was due to his own devices not to traditional party support! A voice like his could not have risen from within the establishment of the DNC, and I say we need more voices like Howard's. This tell you a great deal about the attitude and the direction the insiders want to push the party. After all, they feed at the trough.

In order to get access to the money, a candidate has to hire the "recommended" consultants, who turn to "affiliated" (often their own) businesses for the campaign's needs. If you don't hire them, then you're not considered a "viable" candidate! This means no money, and most likely an active opposition. Joe Hansen is one of the hacks. As one of the "embedded" Democratic operatives ( he's now a "consultant" to the Dem. Senatorial Campaign Committee after some conflict-of-interest issues arose). He's responsible for a lousy record of losses for many years. In the last election, his firm handled 5 of the most competitive senatorial candidates. Out of them, only Salazar won in Colorado. In 2002, he worked for 9 of the closest Senate contests. Only 2 were successful!

DSCC's recommended Pollster Mark Mellman is another one. His strength derives from his connections (duh!), and because he tells the candidates what they want to hear. He's considered by many the architect of the disastrous defeat in 2002. He recommended to the congressional candidates to ignore national security and Iraq as prevalent issues. The Reps increased their lead in the House as a result. Mellman's track record was good enough for the party bosses, so he was promoted to be the chief pollster for Kerry's presidential run!

Last, but not least, is Bob Shrum. Over a 30-year career, he has worked on the losing campaigns of 7 presidential candidates, from McGovern to Kerry. He commands millions for his services. He got $5 million after the 2004 election (bonus for a job well done?), and now back from his vacation in Tuscany he's advising Jon Corzine who's running for governor in NJ. Mellman and Hansen are both doing fine lining up customers, in case you care.

Chairman Dean has an opportunity to clan house and he should do it fast. Business as usual is a losing proposition. The establishment, much of which opposed Dean during his presidential run and now for the chair of the DNC, will kick and scream, but for the first time the Democratic base, after a disheartening election loss, is still greatly energized. It's shouting, "throw the bums out!" It's this base, including the independent bloggers, and the thousands of grass-roots organizations that pushed for a change at the DNC. Maybe there is hope. Instead of being more like the GOP or playing a passive partner in the Congress, the Democratic Party can rise to the occasion. These are not ordinary times. The re-election of Dubya and his neo-con politics will be inflicting damage to America and the world for the many years to come, well after he leaves office.

Most of the consultants in both parties are part of the same clique in Washington D.C. They go to the same parties, they belong to the same country clubs, and, worse, they share the same mentality, and the same greed to further their own interests above all. No matter what happens in an election, their fortunes don't change much. It's the rest of us who have to deal with the consequences of an election and failed policies. These people have lost touch with the party's base and with real America.

It is no accident that fresh ideas, new faces, and thinking outside the box, have won the day and elections. Some examples are: Pat Caddell (Carter), James Carville, George Stephanopoulos, Paul Begala (Clinton), all of which were unknown before winning. Same when R. Reagan relied on his California people. Karen Hughes, Karl Rove and Mark Mckinnon, also largely unknown and outside the Beltway, made G.W. Bush president.

Many Republicans are happy today because they think the Democratic party has a "death wish" (as Newt was quick to tell us) by electing Dean to its leadership. The party has to stick to its traditional values and the many achievements and not become another shade of the GOP. However, the Dems should also be the party of change and of modernity, and it should start from within. Keeping the losers and the parasites is not the way to go forward. Howard, you have a mandate and an obligation to clean house!

A recent article by Amy Sullivan in the Washington Monthly is an excellent read on why the consultants must be fired.

Feb 9, 2005

Fraud, Waste, Cronyism, Secret No-Bid Contracts, and Only One Accountant. Porkrinds Anyone?

Principle above politics? Com'on now, in this Congress? You've got to be kidding! The Republicans' understanding of bi-partisanship is like the breakfast partnership between the hen and the pig: one provides the eggs, the other the bacon!
Bush is asking for another $80 billion for Iraq. Before Congress gives the money (actually, before it takes out our national credit card to charge it), I'd like to see a "Truman Committee" like the one in the 1940s. Back then, Senator Truman launched an investigation into corruption charges, waste, and ended up saving taxpayers $15 billion dollars. This was a true bi-partisan effort that also saved American lives by rooting out contractors who were using inferior materials and producing shoddy equipment. The US-led occupation government in Iraq is "missing" some $9 billion, 30% of the reconstruction money is lost to fraud and thievery. The $20 billion of Iraqi oil sales was being tracked by a single accountant! [I, too, want, that Quicken program! I guess, there would be no problem tweaking the software to reconcile the "missing" $9 billion either]
We've set aside $24 billion to rebuild Iraq (schools, hospitals, utilities, clean water, roads, etc), but only 27 cents of every dollar is reaching the average Iraqi.
Efforts in both chambers of Congress by Dems and a couple Reps to create another "Truman Committee" have stalled because the current Republican leadership doesn't think this is a good idea. I've said it before, this praetorian Congress is in no mood to check Emperor Nero! Besides, it's our money that's being laundered back to our praetorians via the Halliburtons, Bechtels, Carlyles, Accentures, and other big corporations, many of whom maintain an off-shore fax machine as their headquarters to avoid US taxes. What a fare! Served wrapped in the flag with lots of patriotism on the side! Want freedom fries with this?

Feb 8, 2005

Spending Our Money, For Protection and Other Incidentals

If you're reading this you most likely care about politics and how our country does business. Well, in a democracy we collectively get what we deserve. If most people vote against their economic interests, they get what they deserve....along with the rest of us in the minority. Ok, I understand, certain social issues and ideology may take precedent over economics, but I find it fascinating that the Republicans have made this into an art: to push the right buttons to get so many people excited and fool them into voting for more tax breaks for the rich, big cuts in the social programs that the rich don't usually need or use but are essential for the middle/poor classes, and for not demanding "goods" such as universal health care & education--staples of any modern society (I mean elsewhere, not in the US)...Of course, they don't want you to learn science or get a critical, thinking mind in school. All theories are equally good....the unicorn flew the tooth fairy to meet Santa...Imagine how much money we could save if along with Amtrak we cut all subsidies for subways, buses and other means of public transportation. Heck, the rich don't use them anyway. Now, lets wave the flag and sing "America the Beautiful"...

President Bush proposed a tight budget, cutting everything in discretionary spending, except for an increase in spending for Homeland Security and Defense. Did I mention that Republicans also don't know how to balance budgets? They do know how to create huge deficits. A deficit is an "IOU" that our government signs in our name. Well, maybe not in our name, but definitely in our children's name since the latter are going to pay for it. Did I mention that Bush is cutting Veterans' benefits? OK, but the death gratuity went up. That's good and long overdue.
Speaking of money, did you watch PBS Frontline's report on credit cards the other day? Do you know that consumers are less protected today after Bush took away the states Attorney General's authority to bring lawsuits on behalf of the consumer against credit card companies. Also, under the present rules, a credit card company, like MBNA, can hike your APR and put you into a "high-risk" category without telling you even if you have a perfect history payment with MBNA! If you're late with any bill payment, like your phone bill, then tough luck!
Senators Kerry and Dodd introduced legislation to forbid this practice, but the Reps in Congress won't even allow this to come to a vote. MBNA was one of the biggest Bush contributors in the last election. It also has the highest consumer complaints in its industry. Do you want to know why ending usury ceilings was a good thing for the consumer? I didn't know this!..
Are you still with me? Do you still maintain that politics don't matter? Do you know anyone who depends on Social Security? Do you expect to collect some day? If yes, you might want to pay closer attention to the on-going debate.

Feb 2, 2005

Bushwhacking & this Topic In Progress...

I'm taking bets. How many times is Bush going to mention "freedom" (or any variations thereof) in his State of the Union address? Stick with me, I have a point or two to make after the speech tonight.....
For starters, I say 22 times.... you can take the overs or unders...(to be continued below)
"Today, Iran remains the world’s primary state sponsor of terror - pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve." Hey, if you subed the "n" for a "q", it would ring a bell for sure! Syria, don't forget Syria! The Syrians are hiding Saddam's WMD. Ask Rummy or Wolf. I'll take that with Rice please.
"For the good of families, children, and society, I support a constitutional amendment to protect the institution of marriage." Protect from what, or whom? You know you can marry that stripper you just met. What? It's your fourth marriage? You both cheated on your spouses? Well, at least you're not gay! Problem is that the highest divorce rates are in the "red" states, and the lowest in the liberal Massachusetts! Go figure.
"holds the growth of discretionary spending below inflation, and stays on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009." Half of what amount exactly? At any rate, Dubya will retire as a multi-millionaire and leave us with the tab. I say, cut all those services not required by the rich. Truth or dare?
"My budget substantially reduces or eliminates more than 150 government programs that are not getting results, or duplicate current efforts,or do not fulfill essential priorities." See? Now, is our education system achieving results? Depends on the kind of results you'd like. Let's replace science and critical thinking with divine inspiration and other "theories" of the absurd and wait for the results. It won't be long.
"The United States has no right, no desire, and no intention to impose our form of government on anyone else."......."And when that result is achieved, our men and women serving in Iraq will return home" Ah, OK, just making sure of our objectives.

Woa! I stayed up all night counting words. I missed it by this much. It seems that the word "freedom" was mentioned 20 times, more than his inaugural speech, and 2 fewer than my prediction. I would have counted "fat-free" and even "freesbe" but Dubya was well-rehearsed. Thanks to all those who e-mailed me and posted comments. The unders have it, though it remains to be decided who came closer to freedom. Also, the "terror/terrorists" beat "freedom" by 6 in a combined effort! "Osama," "balanced budget," and "I/we've made mistakes" were missing, but they will be hunted down and killed for good in the next four years. Guaranteed!