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Sunday, January 30, 2005

Los Angelas Times > China and Taiwan -- Polls Apart

China and Taiwan -- Polls Apart

China and Taiwan -- Polls Apart
By Sam Crane
Sam Crane teaches Chinese politics and philosophy at Williams College and is the author of "Aidan's Way."

January 30, 2005

Democracy has transformed Taiwan, and the change demonstrates how political participation can shape national identity and international politics.

Fifteen years ago, it was easy to accept the idea that Taiwan was a part of China. Most people on the island defined themselves as Chinese, and their government was named and was acknowledged — though not diplomatically recognized by many countries — as the Republic of China. The official policy of the People's Republic of China demanded that Taiwan be viewed as a province of the mainland, and the United States vaguely accepted a "one China" principle.

Some things are not so straightforward anymore.

Mandarin discourse is still useful on the streets of Taipei, and the Chinese cuisine is the best anywhere. The National Palace Museum remains an extraordinary trove of Sinological art treasures.

National identity, however, is more than cultural practices and traditions. Linguistic and other affinities are not enough to classify Taiwan as "Chinese," just as the United States could hardly be considered part of a "British" empire anymore.

What matters for any national identity is politics. And Taiwan's domestic politics have long been detached from China's. Since 1895, a mainland government has ruled the island for only about four years, 1945-49. When the Nationalist Party lost the civil war in 1949 and fled to Taiwan, it maintained for many years that it was the government of all China, though it never was.

Since democratization began in Taiwan in 1986, the "return to the mainland" myth has further receded. Free and fair elections have turned people's attention inward.

The democratic political life shared by millions of Taiwanese is forging a common civic identity distinct from China's. This Taiwanese national identity is not merely an invention of those who want to publicly declare independence, something that Beijing's leaders say they will go to war to prevent. It is the natural evolution of democratic participation.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the notion of the "status quo." For mainland China and the U.S., it refers to the "one China" principle, a reflection of the politics of the 1970s — before democracy took root in Taiwan. For many Taiwanese, perhaps most, it has come to mean the situation that has actually prevailed since 1986, an empirical independence that allows them to rule themselves without Chinese control.

But the people of Taiwan are not unanimous in seeing themselves as wholly separate from China. Debates about national identity are a central feature of the island's boisterous democracy.

The momentum of nationhood, however, seems to have reached a point of no return. Taiwan is a democratic nation; China is not. It is difficult to foresee circumstances that would allow for real unification.

The dilemma for Taiwan is the contradiction between its democratic development and its geopolitical context. China's nationalist passions are real. For any mainland Chinese politician, President Hu Jintao included, to be seen as soft on Taiwan independence is to open oneself to charges of treason. Even if political liberalization were to emerge tomorrow, Chinese demagogues could argue that a separate Taiwan is a wound to the nation's pride. So Chinese leaders continue to threaten and isolate Taiwan.

If the Bush administration thinks the Taiwan question has faded, it is sorely mistaken. Taiwan is not really a part of China any longer. It has grown into a thriving and mature democracy where people join together in constructive self-government and see themselves as a nation like any other. The status quo has changed.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Power Trio Led By McCoy Tyner Plays Thrilling Message Of Jazz

January 27, 2005
Bassist: Stanley Clarke
What a joy on stage at Yoshi’s this week: Pianist McCoy Tyner, the inimitable one, is gushing soul as he thunders through standards and originals with bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Billy Cobham. At Tuesday’s late set, this celebrity power trio played with the urgency of an express train and the accumulated spirit of 115 years on the bandstand — which is about how long, in aggregate, these three artists have been on the scene.
Tyner’s mystery is that his harmonic language and rhythmic feel have percolated through jazz, generally, and the moves of thousands of piano players, specifically, since around 1960. Yet every time Tyner shows up on stage, you realize that no one ever quite captures his sound, and no one else — no one — plays with his indescribable spirit. A single chord — or even a single note — from Tyner is a thrilling event, ushering in a unique world of music.
This band actually multiplies Tyner’s impact, and too bad for you if you don’t have tickets. The trio is performing through Sunday, but all shows are sold out. Next week, Tyner returns with a different all-star line-up, capping his annual two-week residency at the Oakland club.
Truth be told, there have been occasional concerts at Yoshi’s the past few years when Tyner, now 66, seemed willing to let his band mates do the heavy lifting. But Tuesday, he came out swinging with his knotty chords, two-handed scorpion runs up and down the keyboard, and crashing left-handed piston-strikes, which conjure the austere tolling of heaven’s bells: Bong! Bong!
Go, McCoy.
He started with Irving Berlin’s “I’ll Take Romance” — Tyner is a sucker for a great melody — and the trio immediately showed its in-synch-ness. It’s not as if these musicians have shared the stage much over the years, but Cobham and Clarke have been in and out of Tyner’s recording sessions since the ’70s; they know the language. On the Berlin tune, Cobham quickly was extending and completing Tyner’s phrases while speedy Clarke zipped down the middle of the musical turnpike with his sturdy, supple walking bass lines.
I attended the concert with a couple of listeners in their early 20s who hadn’t previously heard much music like this; their responses were interesting.
One, a heavy-metal drummer, was knocked out by Cobham’s use of dynamics, his ability to control rhythms at the lowest volumes and then bash hell out of the drums — but always with precision, never misplacing a subdivision of a beat, of which there are thousands as Cobham spreads out across his giant trap set, which seemed to be raining cymbals on Tuesday.
On Tyner’s “Angelina,” which got into some loping, Cuban montuno-ish rhythms, Cobham was using three sticks, two in his right hand, one in the left, just to increase the rhythmic possibilities. The guy’s ridiculous.
As is Clarke, master of high-on-the-bridge filigree and singing, sliding chords that ooze from his instrument. After an extended solo in which Clarke played his acoustic upright like a Spanish guitar, with brooding melody and breakout flamenco flourishes, the other young listener at my table said he had heard Les Claypool, the eclectic rocker, do that sort of thing. But then he said, “But Claypool probably took it from this guy,” which is probably true.
Later in the set, Tyner took his own unaccompanied solo on “Lazybird,” written in the 1950s by John Coltrane, the pianist’s old employer. He played the anthem straight, then fractured it, pointillized it, gospelized it and strode through it like James P. Johnson. It was music as cubist painting, viewed from all angles at once. Yet Tyner never lost the song’s exalted feeling.
Which is what Tuesday’s show was about: virtuosity held in check, always in the service of jazz’s exalted message. Go McCoy.
McCoy Tyner
with Terence Blanchard and Ravi Coltrane
Where: Yoshi’s, 510 Embarcadero West, Oakland
When: Tuesday through Feb. 6 (performances this week, with Stanley Clarke and Billy Cobham, are sold out)
Tickets: $22-30; (510) 238-9200,

Friday, January 28, 2005

Taipei Times > US must side with Taiwan

Thu, Jan 27, 2005 Thursday, Jan 27, 2005

By Henry Wang

Advertising With hard work, perseverance and ingenuity, post-World War II Taiwan has emerged as one of Asia's most advanced economies and one of its most free and democratic countries. Indeed, Taiwan is, in the word of US Secretary of State Colin Powell, a "success story," and a true multi-party democracy worthy of emulating by all developing countries.
Every four years, just as the Americans do, the Taiwanese people freely elect the president of their country.
The US and Taiwan have been allies for decades. The freedom-loving Taiwanese treasure this valuable and mutually-beneficial relationship. They, however, were disheartened be the remarks of the State Department's two highest-ranking officials. On Oct. 25 last year, when speaking about the US' "one China" policy, Powell said, "Taiwan is not independent. It does not enjoy sovereignty as a nation."
He went a step further to express an erroneous view that "reunification" with China is a goal sought by the Taiwanese as well as the Chinese.
The fact is that Taiwan has never been, historically or legally, a part of China since 1895 when the Qing Dynasty ceded Taiwan to Japan. Japan ruled Taiwan as a colony for half a century until its defeat in 1945. By virtue of the 1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty, Japan renounced control of Taiwan. In the minds and hearts of the great majority of the people of, Taiwan is a democracy with all the characteristics of a sovereign nation.
In addition, survey after survey has unmistakably shown that the majority of the Taiwanese people do not wish Taiwan to become part of China. Although through Powell later backtracked on his words and acknowledged that he meant peaceful "resolution" of differences between Taiwan and China and not "reunification," he has yet to retract his prejudicial remarks about Taiwan's sovereignty.
The Taiwanese people were even more dismayed when Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, in an interview with PBS' Charlie Rose on Dec. 10, stated, "We all agree that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China."
He added that the US is not legally obligated to defend Taiwan in the event of a military attack. Since 1972, the official position of the US, as manifested in the three joint communiques between the US and China, has been that the US "acknowledges" the Chinese claim that Taiwan is part of China.
Nowhere is it mentioned that the US "agrees" with China's position. Armitage's remarks are a significant departure from long-standing US policy. Furthermore, Armitage's interpretation of the Taiwan Relations Act that the US is not legally bound to defend Taiwan contradicts President George W. Bush's 2002 pledge that the US would "do whatever it takes" to defend Taiwan.
At a time when the US is committed to establish democracy in Middle East and other regions, it certainly does not bode well for the administration's credibility when the State Department chooses to adopt the position that the Taiwanese should live under the terms of authoritarian China.
One must realize that the tensions across the Taiwan Strait are nothing more than a result of China's territorial ambitions.
China today not only has nearly 600 missiles targeting Taiwan, it also has been steadily upgrading its nuclear capabilities.
The Chinese military modernization in reality is posing a threat not only to Taiwan but also to other Asian countries. It has become increasingly clear that with its rapidly growing economic prowess and military might, China will soon be in the position to recreate an "Asian co-prosperity sphere" that imperial Japan attempted to build during World War II -- but brought disastrous results to itself and its neighbors.
Recognizing China's ambition to be the dominant power in Asia, Japan has perceived China's rise as a threat to its security. Likewise, India is apprehensive of China's rising influence in the region. The urgent task for the US is to refocus on Asia and not to stand idle when democratic Taiwan is intimidated militarily China.
The timing of the State Department officials' remarks reiterating the Chinese position before their pending departures from is both regrettable and perplexing. Proclaiming that "Taiwan is part of China" not only offers US endorsement of Taiwan's eventual annexation, it also emboldens China to enact its so-called "anti-secession law" to justify such an action.
We sincerely hope that with the departure of Powell and Armitage, their recently expressed views on Taiwan will be forgotten. History will show that when the US steadfastly sides with freedom and democracy, it exerts a greater influence on humanity.
We also hope the US will encourage Beijing to respect the wishes of the Taiwanese, as this offers the only meaningful solution to the cross-strait impasse.
To continue to discourage the Taiwanese from pursuing their own destiny -- a right sanctioned by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights -- puts the US in the unenviable position of siding with China, a rising military power that the US-based Freedom House has ranked over the last two decades as one of the world's most unfree countries.
Henry Wang,
North American Taiwanese Professors' Association

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The New York Times > Opinion > Editorial: The Wrong Attorney General

The New York Times > Opinion > Editorial: The Wrong Attorney General: "January 26, 2005
January 26, 2005
The Wrong Attorney General

Alberto Gonzales's nomination as attorney general goes before the Senate at a time when the Republican majority is eager to provide newly elected President Bush with the cabinet of his choice, and the Democrats are leery of exposing their weakened status by taking fruitless stands against the inevitable. None of that is an excuse for giving Mr. Gonzales a pass. The attorney general does not merely head up the Justice Department. He is responsible for ensuring that America is a nation in which justice prevails. Mr. Gonzales's record makes him unqualified to take on this role or to represent the American justice system to the rest of the world. The Senate should reject his nomination.

The biggest strike against Mr. Gonzales is the now repudiated memo that gave a disturbingly narrow definition of torture, limiting it to physical abuse that produced pain of the kind associated with organ failure or death. Mr. Gonzales's attempts to distance himself from the memo have been unconvincing, especially since it turns out he was the one who requested that it be written. Earlier the same year, Mr. Gonzales himself sent President Bush a letter telling him that the war on terror made the Geneva Conventions' strict limitations on the questioning of enemy prisoners "obsolete."

These actions created the legal climate that made possible the horrific mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners being held in Abu Ghraib prison. The Bush administration often talks about its desire to mend fences with the rest of the world, particularly the Muslim world. Making Mr. Gonzales the nation's chief law enforcement officer would set this effort back substantially.

Other parts of Mr. Gonzales's record are also troubling. As counsel to George Bush when he was governor of Texas, Mr. Gonzales did a shockingly poor job of laying out the legal issues raised by the clemency petitions from prisoners on death row. And questions have been raised about Mr. Gonzales's account of how he got his boss out of jury duty in 1996, which allowed Mr. Bush to avoid stating publicly that he had been convicted of drunken driving.

Senate Democrats, who are trying to define their role after the setbacks of the 2004 election, should stand on principle and hold out for a more suitable attorney general. Republicans also have reason to oppose this nomination. At the confirmation hearings, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, warned that the administration's flawed legal policies and mistreatment of detainees had hurt the country's standing and "dramatically undermined" the war on terror. Given the stakes in that war, senators of both parties should want an attorney general who does not come with this nominee's substantial shortcomings.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

The New York Times > Opinion > Editorial: The Crafty Attacks on Evolution

The New York Times > Opinion > Editorial: The Crafty Attacks on Evolution

The Crafty Attacks on Evolution

Critics of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution become more wily with each passing year. Creationists who believe that God made the world and everything in it pretty much as described in the Bible were frustrated when their efforts to ban the teaching of evolution in the public schools or inject the teaching of creationism were judged unconstitutional by the courts. But over the past decade or more a new generation of critics has emerged with a softer, more roundabout approach that they hope can pass constitutional muster.

One line of attack - on display in Cobb County, Ga., in recent weeks - is to discredit evolution as little more than a theory that is open to question. Another strategy - now playing out in Dover, Pa. - is to make students aware of an alternative theory called "intelligent design," which infers the existence of an intelligent agent without any specific reference to God. These new approaches may seem harmless to a casual observer, but they still constitute an improper effort by religious advocates to impose their own slant on the teaching of evolution.

The Cobb County fight centers on a sticker that the board inserted into a new biology textbook to placate opponents of evolution. The school board, to its credit, was trying to strengthen the teaching of evolution after years in which it banned study of human origins in the elementary and middle schools and sidelined the topic as an elective in high school, in apparent violation of state curriculum standards. When the new course of study raised hackles among parents and citizens (more than 2,300 signed a petition), the board sought to quiet the controversy by placing a three-sentence sticker in the textbooks:

"This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered."

Although the board clearly thought this was a reasonable compromise, and many readers might think it unexceptional, it is actually an insidious effort to undermine the science curriculum. The first sentence sounds like a warning to parents that the film they are about to watch with their children contains pornography. Evolution is so awful that the reader must be warned that it is discussed inside the textbook. The second sentence makes it sound as though evolution is little more than a hunch, the popular understanding of the word "theory," whereas theories in science are carefully constructed frameworks for understanding a vast array of facts. The National Academy of Sciences, the nation's most prestigious scientific organization, has declared evolution "one of the strongest and most useful scientific theories we have" and says it is supported by an overwhelming scientific consensus.

The third sentence, urging that evolution be studied carefully and critically, seems like a fine idea. The only problem is, it singles out evolution as the only subject so shaky it needs critical judgment. Every subject in the curriculum should be studied carefully and critically. Indeed, the interpretations taught in history, economics, sociology, political science, literature and other fields of study are far less grounded in fact and professional consensus than is evolutionary biology.

A more honest sticker would describe evolution as the dominant theory in the field and an extremely fruitful scientific tool. The sad fact is, the school board, in its zeal to be accommodating, swallowed the language of the anti-evolution crowd. Although the sticker makes no mention of religion and the school board as a whole was not trying to advance religion, a federal judge in Georgia ruled that the sticker amounted to an unconstitutional endorsement of religion because it was rooted in long-running religious challenges to evolution. In particular, the sticker's assertion that "evolution is a theory, not a fact" adopted the latest tactical language used by anti-evolutionists to dilute Darwinism, thereby putting the school board on the side of religious critics of evolution. That court decision is being appealed. Supporters of sound science education can only hope that the courts, and school districts, find a way to repel this latest assault on the most well-grounded theory in modern biology.

In the Pennsylvania case, the school board went further and became the first in the nation to require, albeit somewhat circuitously, that attention be paid in school to "intelligent design." This is the notion that some things in nature, such as the workings of the cell and intricate organs like the eye, are so complex that they could not have developed gradually through the force of Darwinian natural selection acting on genetic variations. Instead, it is argued, they must have been designed by some sort of higher intelligence. Leading expositors of intelligent design accept that the theory of evolution can explain what they consider small changes in a species over time, but they infer a designer's hand at work in what they consider big evolutionary jumps.

The Dover Area School District in Pennsylvania became the first in the country to place intelligent design before its students, albeit mostly one step removed from the classroom. Last week school administrators read a brief statement to ninth-grade biology classes (the teachers refused to do it) asserting that evolution was a theory, not a fact, that it had gaps for which there was no evidence, that intelligent design was a differing explanation of the origin of life, and that a book on intelligent design was available for interested students, who were, of course, encouraged to keep an open mind. That policy, which is being challenged in the courts, suffers from some of the same defects found in the Georgia sticker. It denigrates evolution as a theory, not a fact, and adds weight to that message by having administrators deliver it aloud.

Districts around the country are pondering whether to inject intelligent design into science classes, and the constitutional problems are underscored by practical issues. There is little enough time to discuss mainstream evolution in most schools; the Dover students get two 90-minute classes devoted to the subject. Before installing intelligent design in the already jam-packed science curriculum, school boards and citizens need to be aware that it is not a recognized field of science. There is no body of research to support its claims nor even a real plan to conduct such research. In 2002, more than a decade after the movement began, a pioneer of intelligent design lamented that the movement had many sympathizers but few research workers, no biology texts and no sustained curriculum to offer educators. Another leading expositor told a Christian magazine last year that the field had no theory of biological design to guide research, just "a bag of powerful intuitions, and a handful of notions." If evolution is derided as "only a theory," intelligent design needs to be recognized as "not even a theory" or "not yet a theory." It should not be taught or even described as a scientific alternative to one of the crowning theories of modern science.

That said, in districts where evolution is a burning issue, there ought to be some place in school where the religious and cultural criticisms of evolution can be discussed, perhaps in a comparative religion class or a history or current events course. But school boards need to recognize that neither creationism nor intelligent design is an alternative to Darwinism as a scientific explanation of the evolution of life.

Survey finds church-going Americans less tolerant

Survey finds church-going Americans less tolerant

Survey finds church-going Americans less tolerant
By Michael Conlon
CHICAGO, Jan. 22 — Church-going Americans have grown increasingly intolerant in the past four years of politicians making compromises on such hot issues as abortion and gay rights, according to a survey released Saturday.
At the same time, those polled said they were growing bolder about pushing their beliefs on others -- even at the risk of offending someone.

The trends could indicate that religion has become ''more prominent in American discourse ... more salient,'' according to Ruth Wooden, president of Public Agenda, a nonpartisan research organization which released the survey.
It could also indicate ''more polarized political thinking. There do not seem to be very many voices arguing for compromise today,'' she said in an interview. ''It could be that more religious voices feel under siege, pinned against the wall by cultural developments. They may feel more emboldened as a result.''
The November election saw voters in a number of states back gay marriage bans, and President Bush won re-election with heavy support from fellow religious conservatives.
The findings came from a telephone survey of 1,507 adults made in 2000 and a second similar survey of 1,004 adults done during the summer of 2004 that tracked the same issues. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Those surveyed were nearly all Christians, not by design but because the sample reflected the makeup of the population, the group said. A 2002 Pew Research Council survey found that 82 percent of the U.S. populace considered itself to be Christian, while 10 percent identified with no religious group.
On the question of whether elected officials should set their convictions aside to get results in government, 84 percent agreed in 2000. However, four years later that had dropped to 74 percent. There was a sharper decline on the same question among weekly church-goers from 82 percent in the first survey to 63 percent in the second.
About 40 percent of Americans claim to be weekly church-goers, according to Corwin Smidt, director of the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics at Calvin College in Michigan. Some surveys have placed the figure at 25 percent.
In the survey, 32 percent of those who attended church once a week said they were willing to compromise on abortion issues -- a 19-point drop in four years. Among the same group the question of compromising beliefs on gay rights was acceptable to only 39 percent, down 18 points from 2000.
The poll also found that 37 percent overall felt that deeply religious people should be careful not to offend anyone when they ''spread the word of God,'' a decline from 46 percent four years earlier.
The number of those who felt that committed faithful should spread the word ''whenever they can'' rose to 41 percent, up 6 points.
On another issue, the survey found little change in opinion on whether the U.S. political system can handle greater interaction between religion and politics. Asked if there was a threat if religious leaders and groups got a lot more involved in politics, 63 percent in 2000 and 61 percent in 2004 said the system could ''easily handle'' it. But the remainder continue to believe the system would be threatened.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

BBC NEWS | World | Asia-Pacific | Hong Kong, Taiwanese press mourn hero

BBC NEWS | World | Asia-Pacific | Hong Kong, Taiwanese press mourn hero: "Hong Kong, Taiwanese press mourn hero

Hong Kong newspapers heap praise on late Chinese premier Zhao Ziyang, who showed sympathy for the 1989 pro-democracy protesters, in contrast to China's low-key coverage of his death.

Editorials reflect the high esteem Zhao was held in the former British colony, which still enjoys some Western-style freedoms. Many lament the absence of political reform in modern China.

Taiwanese papers, recalling Zhao's house arrest after Tiananmen Square, urge Beijing to clear his name in a fusillade against the current Chinese leadership.

He will be remembered here as a reformist leader who was in touch with the people - a Communist Party chief with a distinctive human touch. It would be optimistic to think that a posthumous 'rehabilitation' of Zhao by the party is imminent. But we hope people on the mainland will be allowed to freely mourn his passing - and to openly pay tribute to the former leader's undoubted achievements.

Hong Kong's South China Morning Post - editorial

Zhao Ziyang advocated democracy and the rule of law so he was ousted and illegally put under house arrest by certain people. What was Zhao Ziyang's crime? Was democracy a crime? Was the rule of law a crime? They expunged Zhao Ziyang's name from history and this illegal measure has exposed the illegal nature of these people. Attempts to cover up the truth have exposed their shamelessness and weakness. Mourning Zhao Ziyang is a quest for democracy, the rule of law, and a republic system.

Hong Kong Economic Journal, commentary by Zhao Ziyang's former secretary, Bao Tong

Today, the question of appraising Zhao Ziyang could be called a test of the Chinese Communist Party's ruling ability. If some people worry that positively affirming Zhao Ziyang could trigger 'turmoil', remember Zhao Ziyang's words - 'resolve problems on the track of de"

Saturday, January 15, 2005

N.Y. Times > Editorial > The British Evasion

January 14, 2005
The British Evasion By PAUL KRUGMAN
We must end Social Security as we know it, the Bush administration says, to meet the fiscal burden of paying benefits to the baby boomers. But the most likely privatization scheme would actually increase the budget deficit until 2050. By then the youngest surviving baby boomer will be 86 years old.
Even then, would we have a sustainable retirement system? Not bloody likely.
Pardon my Britishism, but Britain's 20-year experience with privatization is a cautionary tale Americans should know about.
The U.S. news media have provided readers and viewers with little information about how privatization has worked in other countries. Now my colleagues have even fewer excuses: there's an illuminating article on the British experience in The American Prospect,, by Norma Cohen, a senior corporate reporter at The Financial Times who covers pension issues.
Her verdict is summed up in her title: "A Bloody Mess." Strong words, but her conclusions match those expressed more discreetly in a recent report by Britain's Pensions Commission, which warns that at least 75 percent of those with private investment accounts will not have enough savings to provide "adequate pensions."
The details of British privatization differ from the likely Bush administration plan because the starting point was different. But there are basic similarities. Guaranteed benefits were cut; workers were expected to make up for these benefit cuts by earning high returns on their private accounts.
The selling of privatization also bore a striking resemblance to President Bush's crisis-mongering. Britain had a retirement system that was working quite well, but conservative politicians issued grim warnings about the distant future, insisting that privatization was the only answer.
The main difference from the current U.S. situation was that Britain was better prepared for the transition. Britain's system was backed by extensive assets, so the government didn't have to engage in a four-decade borrowing spree to finance the creation of private accounts. And the Thatcher government hadn't already driven the budget deep into deficit before privatization even began.
Even so, it all went wrong. "Britain's experiment with substituting private savings accounts for a portion of state benefits has been a failure," Ms. Cohen writes. "A shorthand explanation for what has gone wrong is that the costs and risks of running private investment accounts outweigh the value of the returns they are likely to earn."
Many Britons were sold badly designed retirement plans on false pretenses. Companies guilty of "mis-selling" were eventually forced to pay about $20 billion in compensation. Fraud aside, the fees paid to financial managers have been a major problem: "Reductions in yield resulting from providers' charges," the Pensions Commission says, "can absorb 20-30 percent of an individual's pension savings."
American privatizers extol the virtues of personal choice, and often accuse skeptics of being elitists who believe that the government makes better choices than individuals. Yet when one brings up Britain's experience, their story suddenly changes: they promise to hold costs down by tightly restricting the investments individuals can make, and by carefully regulating the money managers. So much for trusting the people.
Never mind; their promises aren't credible. Even if the initial legislation tightly regulated investments by private accounts, it would immediately be followed by intense lobbying to loosen the rules. This lobbying would come both from the usual ideologues and from financial companies eager for fees. In fact, the lobbying has already started: the financial services industry has contributed lavishly to next week's inaugural celebrations.
Meanwhile, there is a growing consensus in Britain that privatization must be partly reversed. The Confederation of British Industry - the equivalent of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce - has called for an increase in guaranteed benefits to retirees, even if taxes have to be raised to pay for that increase. And the chief executive of Britain's National Association of Pension Funds speaks with admiration about a foreign system that "delivers efficiencies of scale that most companies would die for."
The foreign country that, in the view of well-informed Britons, does it right is the United States. The system that delivers efficiencies to die for is Social Security.
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japantoday > world Human rights group criticizes  U.S.

Friday, January 14, 2005 at 07:36 JST
WASHINGTON — The Bush administration should appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the abuse of detainees at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to regain the United States' credibility around the world, a human rights group said Thursday.
"Special prosecutors have been appointed for far lesser crimes," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of New York-based Human Rights Watch.

"All that's happened is a flurry of self-investigation," he added, as the group released its annual report on human rights in 60 countries. "There is an urgent need to reinstate the prohibition of torture and to redeem the Unites States' credibility."
An independent commission headed by James R Schlesinger agreed with the Bush administration in August 2004 that the blame for the abuses at Abu Ghraib lies mainly with the American soldiers who ran the jail. But the panel also said senior commanders and top-level Pentagon officials — including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld — can be faulted for failed leadership and oversight.
The near-certainty of attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales's confirmation to head the Justice Department adds urgency to an independent probe of abuses of detainees, Roth said.
As White House counsel, Gonzales issued a legal opinion to Bush saying terrorists captured overseas by Americans do not merit the human rights protections of the Geneva Conventions. He also said at confirmation hearings last week that he was sickened by accounts that American officials tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
"We can no longer have any confidence that a genuine independent investigation can be launched by the Justice Department," Roth said.
At stake is the United States' credibility as world leader on human rights and in the fight against terrorism, he said.
The report cited two matters as posing "fundamental threats to human rights" around the world: treatment of the detainees and the ethnic cleansing in Darfur, Sudan, in which tens of thousands have died and millions displaced in a civil war.
Human Rights Watch said the United Nations or "any responsible group of governments" should deploy a force to protect the civilian population and create secure conditions for people to return home.
"Continued inaction risks undermining a fundamental human rights principle: That the nations of the world will never let sovereignty stand in the way of their responsibility to protect people from mass atrocities," Human Rights Watch said.
"The vitality of human rights defense worldwide depends on a firm response to both of these threats," Human Rights Watch concluded.
Elsewhere in the more than 500-page report, the group said there is growing evidence of conflicts between religious communities and the human rights movement, and a backlash against movements for the rights of sexual minorities. Human Rights Watch argues against "efforts in the name of religion, tradition, or morals to censor expression or limit the behavior of others." (Wire reports)

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The New York Times > Opinion > Editorial: Facing Facts About Iraq's Election

The New York Times > Opinion > Editorial: Facing Facts About Iraq's Election

The New York Times
January 12, 2005
Facing Facts About Iraq's Election

When the United States was debating whether to invade Iraq, there was one outcome that everyone agreed had to be avoided at all costs: a civil war between Sunni and Shiite Muslims that would create instability throughout the Middle East and give terrorists a new, ungoverned region that they could use as a base of operations. The coming elections - long touted as the beginning of a new, democratic Iraq - are looking more and more like the beginning of that worst-case scenario.

It's time to talk about postponing the elections.

If Iraq is going to survive as a nation, it has to create a government in which the majority rules - in this case, that means the Shiites - but the minorities are guaranteed protection of their basic rights and enough of a voice to influence important decisions. The Kurds, non-Arab Sunnis who live in the northeastern part of the country, seem to believe that the elections will bring them what they most want: relative autonomy to conduct their own affairs as part of an Iraqi federation. But the Sunni Arabs, who make up about 20 percent of the population, have grown increasingly estranged. The largest mainstream Sunni party has withdrawn from the current interim government, and just about all of the country's leading Sunni Arab politicians now call either for postponing the elections or boycotting them. Given the violence in Sunni areas, even voters who wish to take part may hesitate to turn out. In some places, the polls may not open at all.

A postponement - which would have to be for a fixed period of only two or three months - would not solve all the safety problems. But it would be a sign to the Sunni Arabs that their concerns were being taken into consideration. That in itself could go a long way toward reassuring them that the Shiite majority was not planning to trample on their rights. The interim government should convene an emergency meeting of top leaders from all major Iraqi communities to come up with a revised election timetable and procedures that would optimize the ability of minority groups to get proper representation. The Sunni leaders, in return, would have to promise to take part in the elections that followed.

Worrying about whether the Sunnis will be included in the government does not mean sympathizing with their baser resentments. Under Saddam Hussein, the Sunni minority reaped almost all of the good things Iraq had to offer while trampling on the rights of the Shiites and Kurds. Those days are over, and the Sunnis simply have to accept the fact that they will never again enjoy their old enormous share of the pie. But if Iraq is to start moving beyond its long history of communal hostility, the Shiites need to demonstrate that they will not treat the Sunnis the way the Sunnis treated them.

To understand what's happening in Iraq, imagine the mind-set of the Sunnis - not the loathsome terrorists who shoot election workers and kill civilians with car bombs and mines, but the average people, including middle-class men and women whose lives have been ruined since the invasion.

The United States and its allies made a great many mistakes in dealing with the Sunnis. On the top of the list would be the early decision to disband the Iraqi military and a decree, later reversed, that banned tens of thousands of teachers, doctors and other professionals who had belonged to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party from government employment - including many people who had joined the party perfunctorily to keep out of trouble.

Since then, the Sunnis have discovered that the American Army - which many regarded as all-powerful - has not protected them from either the criminals or the terrorists who have been operating throughout their region since the overthrow of the Hussein regime. Forced to huddle in their homes to avoid kidnappers or suicide bombers, they have had plenty of time to contemplate the fact that the Americans have also not delivered on their vow to improve infrastructure and provide reliable power and water service. More recently, Sunni civilians have borne the brunt of American counterinsurgency drives like the one in Falluja, which have left residential areas devastated and thousands homeless.

Much of this could have been avoided if the American invasion had been conducted more wisely, but it is the reality now, and the American occupiers can't fix it. A democratically elected government might be able to build up an effective Iraqi security force and win the war against the guerrillas, whose attacks are making everyday life impossible in the Sunni provinces. But it would have to be a government that included all factions.

A broad range of Sunni leaders, including some of the most moderate and pro-Western, are pleading for a postponement of the elections. They have good reason to fear that as matters now stand, many of their people will be unwilling or unable to take part. Last week the top American ground commander in Iraq said that large areas of four largely Sunni provinces, including Baghdad, are currently too insecure for people to vote. Prime Minister Ayad Allawi admitted yesterday there would be at least "pockets" of the country where voting would be too dangerous.

If the elections wind up taking place under current conditions, the new government could wind up with little or no Sunni representation when the new constitution was prepared. The winners of the elections, who will inevitably be Shiites, could, of course, appoint Sunni representatives. But the next Iraqi constitution is bound to include provisions that will make the Sunnis unhappy, and the people agreeing to those deals need to have the legitimacy that comes with being elected.

It seems clear in retrospect that the elections should have been set up along district or provincial lines, an approach that would have ensured minority representation. It would also have allowed the interim government to carry on with voting in the Shiite and Kurdish areas this month while postponing it in the four violence-racked provinces, giving Sunnis the prospect of electing their share of legislators later. The United Nations organizers are mainly at fault here. They made their decisions under heavy pressure from the Bush administration to come up with a simple system that could be in place by Jan. 30. But it now appears that it would have been better to accept the flaws inherent in a regional approach in order to get solid protection for the Sunnis.

For all the talk about letting the Iraqi interim authorities govern Iraq, President Bush will have the final say in large matters, like when to hold elections, as long as American troops are the only effective military in the country. He has always insisted on holding to the Jan. 30 date. Mr. Bush keeps saying that things will go well once the voting actually starts. We certainly hope he's right, but we doubt that he is as optimistic about the outcome as he appears to be in public.

Many Americans - and many Iraqis - worry that if the elections were postponed, the terrorists would feel empowered by having won. That might indeed be the case for the next few months. But that outcome would be far outweighed by the danger that would come from a civil war, with the Sunni territory becoming a no man's land where terrorists could operate at will. Others argue that civil war is probably inevitable one way or another, and that we may as well get the voting over with. That kind of pessimism may be warranted. But given the horrific possibilities, we should make every effort to avoid that end. A delay in the voting seems to offer at least a ray of hope, and it pushes Iraq in the direction it desperately needs to go: toward a democracy in which all religious and ethnic groups have a stake.

Mr. Bush does not need to call for a postponement of elections himself. He simply needs to take the pressure off the Iraqi authorities, and let them know they have the power to make whatever decision is best for their country. Some members of the interim government, including people close to Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, have shown some interest in putting off the voting if there is a chance of winning more Sunni participation, and others are said to be leaning that way in private.

The run-up to the election is taking place at a time when there's speculation about whether President Bush intends to use the arrival of a new, elected government as an occasion to declare victory and begin pulling out American troops. If such an idea is lurking in even the most remote corner of Mr. Bush's mind, he should at least do everything within his power - including welcoming a postponement - to prevent those elections from being something more than just the starting gun for a civil war.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The Village Voice > Riding the Wave Disaster politics in the wake of the tsunami; Bush takes aim at the U.N.

Riding the Wave
Disaster politics in the wake of the tsunami; Bush takes aim at the U.N.
by James Ridgeway
January 4th, 2005 1:45 PM

"The Biblical proportions of this disaster become clearly apparent upon reports of miraculous Christian survival. Christian persecution in these countries is some of the worst in the world."
- Bill Koenig, Christian fundamentalist,, 1.3.05WASHINGTON, D.C.— Playing politics with disaster victims does not make a pretty picture, but aid relief in South Asia is being carried out against a background of crass opportunism. Although its slow and tepid reaction might at first appear to be a setback for a "stingy" Bush administration, in fact, the tsunami opens a new ball game—allowing the conservative government to one-up the U.N. (which it intensely dislikes), reinforce an alliance with Japan and India, project military force in the Indian Ocean at a point where Al Qaeda is on the move, and restore the world's faith in the lovable U.S. military.
The Asian catastrophe comes at a difficult time for the U.N. Echoing a longtime conservative theme, the Bush administration is engaged in an all-out attack on the international institution—trying to get rid of not only Secretary-General Kofi Annan but also Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency. The seriousness of the attack on Annan was underscored by The New York Times' revelation of a secret meeting at the New York apartment of Clinton U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke to shore up support for Annan.
The tsunami offers the U.S. another opportunity to undermine the U.N. Instead of routing its aid through the international organization, which is directed by its members to coordinate disaster relief and equipped with full-time employees to do the job, Bush announced that four nations—the U.S., Japan, Australia, and India—would lead the relief effort. He then dispatched a veritable armada of U.S. warships, planes, helicopters, and marines to take the lead in doing the job. Former U.K. International Development Secretary Clare Short saw it as "yet another [American] attempt to undermine the U.N." And indeed, the U.S. pointedly ignored the U.N., with Secretary of State Colin Powell hoping that "people will see that the United States is willing to reach out to the Muslim world in this time of need."
The armada dispatched to the eastern reaches of the Indian Ocean offers immediate aid to the stricken areas of Sumatra. It includes aircraft carriers and other naval vessels, with a total crew complement of 6,500 sailors and marines. Its deployment represents one of the biggest military operations in Asian waters since Vietnam. In doing so, the U.S. is extending military force into Muslim Indonesia, which is fighting its own war on terror against Al Qaeda. Around the tip of Indonesia to the east opens the Strait of Malacca, by all odds one of the world's most crucial shipping channels, the passage through which ships bring oil from the Middle East to China and Japan.
Since the election, the administration has put the U.N. under siege, demanding the resignation of Annan because of alleged corruption—including wrongdoing by Annan's son—in the oil-for-food program in Iraq. In the past, the U.S. has blocked funding for U.N. population programs, and through such congressional figures as Jesse Helms has gone out of its way to frustrate U.N. operations. Before the Iraq war, the U.S. manipulated Security Council countries, spying on them and trying to pressure them into voting for the invasion. Currently, in addition to getting rid of Annan, the U.S. wants to fire ElBaradei at a time when Bush seeks to persuade public opinion that the Iranians are secretly going forward with plans for nuclear development, i.e. the bomb.
The secret meeting in early December at Holbrooke's New York apartment, to get liberals to circle the wagons and fight for the life of the U.N., was called amid a congressional investigation of the oil-for-food program, charges that U.N. officials were running prostitution rings in Africa and kidnapping and raping young women, and criticism of U.N. management by staff unions. Minnesota Republican senator Norm Coleman has called for Annan's resignation.
"The intention was to keep it confidential," Holbrooke told The New York Times. "No one wanted to give the impression of a group of outsiders, all of them Americans, dictating what to do to a secretary-general." Which, of course, is exactly what he is doing. He said the group gathered in his apartment were all people "who care deeply about the U.N. and believe that the U.N. cannot succeed if it is in open dispute and constant friction with its founding nation, its host nation, and its largest contributor nation." He added, "The U.N., without the U.S. behind it, is a failed institution."
The U.S. has shamelessly used the U.N. during and after the Cold War. Among other things, as James Bamford points out in his recent book A Pretext for War, having the U.N. in New York made it easier for the National Security Agency to tap the conversations of officials from all over the world. When Bush was laying out the disinformation campaign as a prelude to going to war in Iraq, the NSA used its super-secret eavesdropping equipment to tap the phones of chief U.N. arms inspector in Iraq Hans Blix—including his cell and the HQ for the U.N. inspection team in Baghdad. The transcripts were given to British officials. Clare Short, then a member of the Blair cabinet, later said, "I have seen transcripts of Kofi Annan's conversations. In fact, I have had conversations with Kofi in the run-up to war, thinking, 'Oh dear, there will be a transcript of this and people will see what he and I are saying.'" Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Annan's predecessor, remarked at one point, "The perception is that you must know in advance that your office, your residence, your car, your phone is bugged."
Smoke and mirrors
Kicking back at his Texas ranch over the holidays, Bush was attacked for the initial piddling response to the tsunami, but then, upping the amount to $350 million and potentially to a billion, he looked good.
By Monday the U.N. reported that total donations were up to $2 billion, and Bill Clinton and Bush's father were joining up to get more money. But as The Guardian (U.K.) points out, those who pledge money often don't come through. The $2 billion includes $500 million from Japan and $530 million from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Robert Smith, spokesman at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told The Guardian on Monday, "We should be very cautious about these figures. Let's put it this way: Large-scale disasters tend to result in mammoth pledges which . . . do not always materialize in their entirety. The figures look much higher than they really are. What will end up on the ground will be much less."
OCHA's Rudolf Muller noted, "There is definitely double accounting going on. A lot of the money will be swallowed up by the military or will have been diverted from existing loans."
In the case of the U.S., where the $350 million will come from is unclear. Officials at the U.S. Agency for International Development claimed that its emergency funds were exhausted—and that was when Bush was still talking about pledging only $35 million.
Officials point out that while it might appear that governments are offering more money, what actually happens is that they switch aid money between existing sources and other projects. Most of the time, the promised amounts haven't materialized. As an example, The Guardian cites Bam, the Iranian city destroyed by an earthquake a year ago. At the time, foreign nations and organizations promised $1.1 billion, but only $17.5 million ever came through. When Mozambique faced huge flood damage in 2000, nations promised $400 million, but less than $200 million materialized. In 1988, Hurricane Mitch killed 9,000 people and left 3 million homeless in Honduras and Nicaragua. Governments promised $3.5 billion, and development banks pledged $5.2 billion more. But only a third of that was received.
In the aftermath of the tsunami, some of the money, especially in the case of the military, might be reallocated from existing funds. Jasmine Whitbread, international director at Oxfam, said, "We are concerned that humanitarian aid could be sucked from other crises, such as Sudan and Congo, where the needs are just as great."
Additional reporting: David Botti and Nicole Duarte

N.Y. Times > Editorial > Malpractice Mythology

Tort reform," the Bush administration's answer to the problem of high medical malpractice costs, makes sense from only one aspect: the political. The genius of tort reform, which focuses on putting a cap on the awards from malpractice suits, is that it offends only one big-money lobbying group: trial lawyers, who are important financial supporters of the Democratic Party. Meanwhile, it helps or holds harmless Republican special interests in the insurance, drug and health care industries. The only problem is that it hurts the hapless patients who suffer grievous harm at the hands of incompetent doctors.
We hold no brief for the current medical liability system, which does a poor job of compensating most victims of medical malpractice. An authoritative study of thousands of patients in New York State found that the vast majority who were harmed by medical errors or negligence never filed suit, whereas the vast majority of those who did file suit were not actually harmed by negligent doctors. Some studies suggest that, once a suit is filed, the courts do a reasonably good job of sorting out who deserves compensation, while other research has found that juries are swayed more by the severity of a plaintiff's injuries than by evidence of negligence. But in a medical system that is coming under increased fire for failing to deliver consistent quality in hospital care, it is clear that only a small number of people are being compensated for malpractice.
The problem with the president's approach, which would limit noneconomic damages to a paltry $250,000, is that it would punish many of those most deserving of compensation. If there is a problem with frivolous lawsuits, that is best addressed by raising the hurdles for filing a malpractice suit, perhaps by requiring an expert judgment on the merits of a case before it can proceed through the courts. But surely $250,000 hardly makes up for the physical and emotional damage done to people who have suffered total paralysis, permanent blindness or severe brain injury because of medical errors. Instead, Congress ought to consider requiring guidelines for judges and juries to help determine what compensation is reasonable in a given circumstance. Similar guidelines could help ensure that punitive damages are high enough to deter bad conduct; $250,000 would hardly amount to a wrist slap.
Politicians endorsing tort reform say a crisis of escalating malpractice insurance premiums is forcing doctors out of business. The extent to which this is an actual problem is murky. Insurance companies have substantially raised premiums for malpractice coverage for doctors in high-risk specialties like obstetrics and neurosurgery in some states, leading at least some doctors to curtail their services, retire or move. The White House laments that patients in some areas are thus forced to travel long distances to find, for example, obstetrical care. But when the Government Accountability Office visited five of the hardest hit states in 2003, it found only scattered problems and was unable to document wide-scale lack of access to medical care.
Most states that are burdened with high premiums have already set their own caps, generally at more reasonable levels than those proposed by the president. It would seem more useful to consider making it harder for insurance companies to gain rate increases. The best response, one that would benefit the public in general, would be to weed out the small number of negligent doctors responsible for generating most of the malpractice awards.
None of the tort reform proposals deal with the underlying need to identify harmed patients and provide them with fair, prompt compensation. Experts have suggested a number of approaches, including special health courts with judges trained to deal with malpractice issues, required mediation, mandatory reporting of errors by doctors and prompt offers of compensation. But there is a lot of uncertainty about what would work best.
Although the administration has been sponsoring some projects to reduce medical errors or speed the resolution of claims, these have faded behind the full-court political press to impose "tort reform." Instead of fixating on an idea that would do little to solve anything but the health care industry's desire for fewer big court awards, Congress should push for a wide range of demonstration projects aimed at solving the malpractice problem by actually cutting down on malpractice.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

The Village Voice > What Did Rumsfeld Know? ACLU releases documents of U.S. torture of detainees by more than 'a few bad apples'

Nat Hentoff
What Did Rumsfeld Know?
ACLU releases documents of U.S. torture of detainees by more than 'a few bad apples'
by Nat Hentoff
January 4th, 2005 10:55 AM Write to Us
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The secretary of defense: Is he above the law?
photo: Master Sgt. James M. Bowman, U.S. Air Force/USDDU.S. officials who take part in torture, authorize it, or even close their eyes to it, can be prosecuted by courts anywhere in the world [under international law].
Kenneth Roth, executive director, Human Rights Watch, December 27, 2002
U.S. Navy documents released today by the American Civil Liberties Union reveal that abuse and even torture of detainees by U.S. Marines in Iraq was widespread. . . . ACLU executive director Anthony D. Romero [said] "this kind of widespread abuse could not have taken place without a leadership failure of the highest order."
American Civil Liberties Union, December 14, 2004
The president insists that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will remain in office, and on December 19, Bush's chief of staff, Andrew Card Jr., said on ABC News' This Week that "Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a spectacular job and the president has great confidence in him."
However, on December 9, Senator Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico, wrote Rumsfeld to express his "deep concern over issues related to detainees being held in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Recent reports indicate that not only were detainees mishandled and interrogated in a manner inconsistent with the Geneva Conventions, but that subsequent internal reports of abuse appear to have been suppressed . . .
"While the abuse of detainees is unacceptable under any circumstance, reports of the suppression of evidence regarding abuse are extremely disturbing. . . . Please inform me of the actions you intend to take." As of this writing, there has been no response.
For two years—in this column, as well as from human rights groups and the press, particularly the reporting of Dana Priest in The Washington Post—there has been mounting evidence of torture of prisoners by American forces, including "ghost prisoners" in secret CIA interrogation centers.
These reports include stories of "extreme interrogation techniques" used by Special Operation Forces (Navy SEALs, Delta Force, et al.) under the direction of Donald Rumsfeld and his close associates in the Defense Department. Rumsfeld has long encouraged the use of Special Operation Forces.
But now, with the release by the ACLU of actual government documents not intended for the public to see, the president is confronted with irrefutable evidence of continued violations of not only the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the U.N. Convention Against Torture, but also our own torture statute forbidding such practices.
As for the suppression of evidence, there is this December 8 report in The New York Sun by Paisley Dodds of the Associated Press on the documents released by the ACLU:
"[U.S.] Special Forces [accused of abusing prisoners in Iraq] . . . monitored e-mail messages sent by [troubled Defense personnel in the field] and ordered them 'not to talk to anyone' in America about what they saw."
U.S. Navy documents released by the ACLU include "interviews with Navy personnel [about] routine abusive treatment of detainees by U.S. Marines in Iraq. . . . In one interview, a Navy medical officer described the regular process by which Iraqis classified as Enemy Prisoners of War would be taken to an empty swimming pool, handcuffed, leg-cuffed, and have a burlap bag placed over their head.
"They would then remain in kneeling position for up to 24 hours awaiting interrogation. Despite this description, the [navy medical] officer stated that he 'never saw any instances of physical abuse' towards the detainees."
And from Richard Serrano in the December 15 Los Angeles Times:
"Marines in Iraq conducted mock executions of juvenile prisoners last year, burned and tortured other detainees with electrical shocks, and warned a Navy corpsman they would kill him if he treated any injured Iraqis."
That was one of the stories based on documents released by the ACLU through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that was joined by Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense, Veterans for Peace, and the Center for Constitutional Rights.
The latter organization has compiled a massively documented indictment of Donald Rumsfeld, former CIA director George Tenet, and other U.S. officials and military personnel for war crimes perpetuated against Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib.
The charges have been filed at the German federal prosecutor's office at the Karlsruhe Court in Karlsruhe, Germany, where, "under the doctrine of universal jurisdiction, suspected war criminals may be prosecuted irrespective of where they are located." (Emphasis added.) (Also see James Ridgeway's "'War Crimes' Murmurs," Mondo Washington, December 22-28, 2004.)
After the photographs of the repellent Abu Ghraib abuses were circulated around the world, the president attributed those atrocities to "a few bad apples" in the lower ranks of the military.
One of those "bad apples" is Lynndie England, the soldier smiling, pointing to the genitals of a prisoner at Abu Ghraib, and holding a naked prisoner by a leash. She could face a prison term of up to 38 years. But how long will Donald Rumsfeld and other august officials in the Defense Department, along with administration lawyers who have provided contorted permission to these crimes, avoid accountability?
How many members of Congress will join Senator Jeff Bingaman in his attempt to open the Defense and Justice departments to the rule of American law? Will we hear from New York senators Schumer and Clinton, who have been silent on the question of torture? Or will a judgment on Rumsfeld et al. be made only in Germany?
Will the president speak about an FBI agent's account, released by the ACLU on December 20, of interrogations at Guantánamo in which detainees were shackled hand and foot in a fetal position on the floor and kept in that position for 18 to 24 hours at a time until most had "urinated or defacated [sic]" on themselves?

Friday, January 07, 2005

N.Y.Times > Editorial > Alberto Gonzales tell the Senate Judiciary Committee in his opening statement yesterday that he doesn't approve of torture

It was nice to hear Alberto Gonzales tell the Senate Judiciary Committee in his opening statement yesterday that he doesn't approve of torture and that as attorney general, he'll uphold the law. But things went rapidly downhill after that. By the time the hearing ended, Mr. Gonzales, now the White House counsel, had turned it into one of those depressing exercises in avoiding straight answers and evading accountability. The spectacle brought to mind the hearings last spring when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his team dutifully denounced the horrors of Abu Ghraib and then refused to accept any responsibility.
Mr. Gonzales said the Abu Ghraib photos "sickened and outraged" him. But he would not acknowledge that he or any other senior administration official was to blame, even though he was a central figure in the policy decisions that laid the groundwork for the abuse at Abu Ghraib and other American military prisons.
In broad terms, Mr. Gonzales offered the politically necessary repudiation of the Justice Department memo that said Mr. Bush could authorize Americans to torture prisoners with impunity and that redefined torture to exclude almost any brutality.
But it took a half-dozen questions by almost as many senators to get Mr. Gonzales to say declaratively that he now rejects that specific view, which the administration allowed to stand for nearly two years, until it was disclosed by news accounts. And then he equivocated astonishingly when asked whether American soldiers or intelligence agents could "legally engage in torture under any circumstances."
"I don't believe so, but I'd want to get back to you on that and make sure I don't provide a misleading answer," said Mr. Gonzales, who went through many hours of preparation for these very questions.
Blaming a faulty memory, Mr. Gonzales would not provide anything close to a clear account of his role in the formulation of the policy on the treatment of prisoners. At one point, he said the 2002 memo was just the opinion of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. Then he called it the "binding interpretation" of anti-torture statutes and treaties. Later, Mr. Gonzales called it "an arguable interpretation of the law."
Even his vows of allegiance to the rule of law were rather peculiar. He said that as White House counsel, he had represented "only the White House," while as attorney general, he "would have a far broader responsibility: to pursue justice for all the people of our great nation, to see that the laws are enforced in a fair and impartial manner for all Americans." We thought that was also the obligation of the president and his staff.
Mr. Gonzales is said to face a sure confirmation. But thanks to the members of the committee, including some Republicans, who met their duty to question Mr. Gonzales aggressively, the hearing served to confirm that Mr. Bush had made the wrong choice when he rewarded Mr. Gonzales for his loyalty. The nation deserves an attorney general who is not the public face for inhumane, illegal and clearly un-American policies.

Monday, January 03, 2005

MSNBC > Reuters > African American political pioneer Chisholm dies

African American political pioneer Chisholm dies

African American political pioneer Chisholm dies
NEW YORK, Jan. 3 — Political pioneer Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to Congress and a champion of women's rights, died Saturday in Florida, congressional officials said. She was 80.
Details of her death were not yet known, but a former member of her staff told The New York Times she had suffered several recent strokes.

Chisholm, a slender, sharp-tongued former teacher, served seven terms representing a poverty-stricken district in Brooklyn and was one of the first women ever to seek the presidential nomination of a major party, winning 151 delegates to the 1972 Democratic National Convention in Miami. She served in Congress until 1982.
''She was a great trailblazer, not only for African Americans but for women,'' civil rights activist Al Sharpton, who sought the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, told Reuters.
Chisholm, one of the founders of the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Organization for Women, hired an all-women staff during her first term in Congress and spoke out for civil rights, women's rights and against the Vietnam War.
Chisholm's 1968 congressional campaign slogan was ''unbought and unbossed,'' which she also used as the title of her 1970 book about her historic election.
The daughter of a factory worker and a seamstress from the Caribbean islands, Chisholm attended Brooklyn College and went on to earn a master's degree in elementary education at Columbia University.
Chisholm taught at a nursery school and eventually became a nursery school director and an educational consultant to New York's bureau of child welfare before turning to politics.
After registering a shock victory to win her seat in Congress, Chisholm wasted little time in raising her voice.
Placed on the House Agriculture Committee, Chisholm challenged the assignment as irrelevant to constituents in her urban district.
''Apparently all they know here in Washington about Brooklyn is that a tree grew there,'' she said in a statement at the time referring to Betty Smith's well-known book.
She was soon reassigned to the Veterans Affairs Committee and later to the Education and Labor Committee.
''She was a hero to those of us who wanted to see blacks advance to their rightful place in politics,'' George Dalley, chief of staff to New York Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel, said Monday.
Sharpton said he had known Chisholm since he was an 18-year-old working as a youth director on her presidential campaign.
''If not for her I don't think Condoleezza Rice would ever had existed,'' he said, referring to President Bush's national security adviser and secretary of state designate.
''She broke the barrier down for black women in the highest circles of power in Washington and she did it with dignity and did it effectively and did it with no fear.''
Funeral arrangements for Chisholm were expected to be made public Tuesday, according to a spokeswoman at the Leo C. Chase & Son Funeral Home in St. Augustine, Florida.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Newsday > HE'S A MAN OF INFLUENCE Rep. Charles Rangel may be Democrats' best bet at countering Bush's economic agenda in the House


January 2, 2005

WASHINGTON - Returning home from the Korean War in 1952, Charles Rangel thought he had reached the pinnacle of success.

He had a pocket full of money, a chest covered with medals and a scrapbook filled with newspaper clippings chronicling his battlefield heroics that saved the lives of 40 fellow soldiers.

Rangel was impressed with himself, he says.

But that feeling was fleeting as he realized that as a high-school dropout his future would lead him from one low-paying dead-end job to another.

"I had no clue where I wanted to be," Rangel said recently, recalling the pivotal decision he made more than 50 years ago about becoming a lawyer, altering the course of his life.

"I knew where I did not want to be, and that was poor, in poverty and never knowing what a new suit was."

Today Rangel, 74, of Harlem, is one of the most respected members of Congress - and one of its snazziest dressers, too. From his perch as the senior Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, which has broad authority on tax policy and social programs like Medicare and Social Security, Rangel has been a liberal counterbalance to a conservative-leaning Congress.

"Charlie Rangel is not only one of the most powerful members of Congress, he is one of the most effective advocates for the powerless I have ever known," said former President Bill Clinton in a statement for this story. "People who don't have lobbyists to argue their case in Washington have Charlie."

When Congress reconvenes here on Tuesday, Rangel will likely be thrust into the national spotlight as House Democrats look to him for guidance as they wrestle with President George W. Bush on his ambitious plans to overhaul the tax code and partially privatize Social Security.

"Charlie Rangel is the master of tax issues in the Congress," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. " ... His leadership is absolutely essential to middle-income taxpayers and all of America's seniors."

Bush is expected to seek an overall simplification of the tax structure beginning with permanently abolishing the estate tax and eliminating various exemptions like the deductibility of state and local taxes.

The president also is expected to push for a partial privatization of the New Deal-era Social Security program that would allow younger workers to put some of that money into individually managed personal investment accounts.

But there as yet have been no specific proposals.

"We have no idea where the battle is going to be," said Rangel, who has served on Ways and Means since 1975. "The president has indicated that he's going to have a panel and they will present a plan and that plan will have options. We're leaving it to the president to meet with the Democrats."

Limited influence

Although Rangel may be his party's most influential member on taxes and Social Security, his sway could be marginal at best with Republicans in firm control of the White House and both houses of Congress.

"His influence is really going to depend upon the manner in which the Republicans run the House," said Ron Walters, a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland at College Park. "Republicans may want to pursue their agenda unfettered without compromising."

And that's precisely what the GOP-dominated House is likely to do, said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, a Washington-based advocacy group that opposes all tax increases.

"The Republicans can pass anything they want without a single Democratic vote, and they do it every day," Norquist said, adding that Rangel will likely be further marginalized because he's viewed as a "partisan bomb-thrower" within the Republican ranks.

"If he's the [Democrats'] point guy on taxes he strengthens the Republican case that you should never trust a Democrat on tax issues."

But even if the GOP is inclined to press ahead with the president's program without input from Democrats, the monumental scope of fundamentally restructuring the tax system and Social Security will displease enough Republicans to require a bipartisan approach, Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said.

King said any move to eliminate deductions for mortgage, local and state taxes would likely result in plenty of GOP defectors - himself included - strengthening Rangel's hand as a power broker.

"Charlie will be key," King said. "He can hold Democrats in line and attract Republicans without making it sound like Bush-bashing."

Frequent sparring partners on the television talk shows, King - a conservative, advocate of smaller government from the suburbs - and Rangel - an uptown liberal defender of government programs - couldn't be further apart ideologically. Yet King has the utmost respect for Rangel as a statesman.

"Even though we disagree on most national and international issues, we've never had a personal disagreement," King said. "He's a very easy guy to work with."

Despite a public reputation for being hyper-partisan and quick to lob a rhetorical grenade into the Republican camp, Rangel's tactics are decidedly less confrontational when the microphones and cameras are turned off.

"He's got well-honed political instincts and actually works very well behind the scenes," Time Warner chairman Richard Parsons said in a telephone interview.

Parsons and others who have worked closely with Rangel through the years say he is an effective advocate for his cause because he uses his charming wit to seek out a compromise that all sides can live with.

"With great good nature he's also irreverent at the same time," said former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.

New York City Councilman Bill Perkins (D-Harlem) agreed, saying, "He can tell you no and still make you smile."

Charismatic statesman

Perkins said Rangel, an enchanting storyteller with his raspy voice and colorful language, knows that the art of brokering a deal requires a consensus builder who has the patience to overcome the obstacles preventing a compromise.

Such skills have served Rangel well on Ways and Means, where the minority side comprises all aspects of the Democratic coalition from Northeast union-backing liberals to conservative-tilting Southerners to Midwestern moderates.

"It's a style of participatory leadership," said Rep. Stephanie Tubbs (D-Ohio) of Rangel during caucus meetings. "He mostly sits back and listens. He gives us an opportunity to have some input in the process."

Uphill battle

Rangel says he's too old to let the GOP's management style of the House frustrate him, but he admits it does make his time in Congress "not as exciting" as it once was. But the way he sees it, there's no way the president will be able to accomplish what he wants on taxes and Social Security without having to deal with some Democrats, and that means having to deal with him.

"When you start taking away all the deductions and expense, you're going to find some very angry people," he said. "That means you're going to have to do it in a way where the losers say, 'Damn, where can I turn, everyone is against me.'"

And the only way that's going to happen, Rangel said, "is if [Democrats] are part of putting together the bill."

Rangel said he knows the fight he's about to wage isn't going to be easy, but he's accustomed to working hard and surpassing expectations.

When Rangel decided to become a lawyer - they were the only people his grandfather, an elevator operator at the criminal courts building in Manhattan, showed respect for - everyone laughed at the high school dropout. His grandfather, too.

But Rangel finished his remaining two years of high school in one, earned his bachelor's degree in three years instead of four, secured more than a dozen scholarships to law school and landed an appointment as an assistant U.S. attorney when he graduated.

Rangel says he knows what it takes to achieve goals.

"But in order to win," he said, "I guess it takes a lot of -- and vinegar and a little lack of reason."