Friday, January 30, 2009
One of the great aspects of the American political system is that it provides a kind of scientific way of going about implementing policy. If it doesn’t work, we can eliminate that method from ever being used again. Here is a list of some failed policies and institutions that the United States has supposedly gotten rid of:
The U.S. has been a struggling for over two-hundred years to erase all of these monstrous things. Alas, they all exist in this country today, and they have all shown their failings continually, most recently under the Bush administration.
But some would say that to accuse the Bush ideology of being one that supports something like slavery would be irrational. In the twenty-first century, how can there be any group of people (excluding the fringes) that supports anything so archaic and hideous? Support for these ideas has not died; it has merely evolved.
The problem is in conservatism inherently, whether it is neoconservatism, neoliberalism, libertarianism, or any other system that glorifies the past. History has repeatedly shown that a tradition of expansion and free markets fosters growth to the elite class, but sets up the marginalized for long periods of intense suffering. There is a danger in looking to the past, then, as the basis for an ideology, because the past, especially the American one, is filled with persecution, genocide, and oppression.
When Bush and his cronies lied to the country about the reasons for the invasion of Iraq, they had a long tradition of preemptive invasions to support their action. Besides continuous land-snatching from Native Americans, we stole land from Mexico to increase slave-owning territory, went to war with Spain to gain their colonies, dropped two atomic bombs to scare the Soviets, and sent troops into Latin American countries to topple democratic regimes in favor of right-wing dictatorships. Conservatism vindicated Bush because the past vindicated the imperialism he employed. Only now, the imperialism is called “nation-building.”
Democratic imperialism would be nowhere, though, without the help of some government-supported multinational corporations. Conservative free trade policies allow companies to practically enslave their workers and exploit them for every penny. But Bush could have cared less. It is the American tradition to exploit the poor and to allow corporations to hijack other countries’ resources for self-gain. Bush was merely acting on that tradition of widespread wage-slavery as a tenet of conservatism.
The impingement on our civil liberties created a civil totalitarian society, whether through the Patriot Act, faith-based programs, or anti-gay and anti-choice policies. America has an obvious history of oppressing minorities, from the genocide of Native Americans to the enslavement of African Americans to the subjugation of women. Limited rights has turned us into a statist state in the most basic sense, since the partnership of corporations and government has taken away freedoms of expression and enforced policies that keep down minorities. “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” because it is intrinsically impossible for American conservatives to care about oppression and freedom, especially when there’s money to be made.
Conservatism in general is filled with mistakes, but the biggest one is the lack of vision. Those who revere Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand imagine a world where capitalism drives all aspects of life, though like Stalinist and Maoist communism—two systems that depended on pragmatism rather than vision—this has proven to be a failure. George W. Bush certainly was no visionary, and he was doomed from the beginning to make terrible mistakes that conservatism set him up for.
The Bush administration showed the country the dangers of looking to the past, and all it cost us was our entire economic system, our civil liberties, our environment, and our national security. For all intents and purposes, Bush did not do anything wrong. The American people did, though, by accepting the spoon-fed information offered by the government and corporate media. Our system of government can be scientifically analyzed, but we first have to make sure we are analyzing the right specimen. Like it or not, we looked to past messes and created a new one. It’s time to clean it up.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Monday, January 19, 2009
By DEB RIECHMANN – 40 minutes ago
WASHINGTON (AP) — In his final acts of clemency, President George W. Bush on Monday granted early prison releases to two former U.S. Border Patrol agents whose convictions for shooting a Mexican drug dealer fueled the national debate over illegal immigration.
Bush, responding to heavy pressure from Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike, commuted the prison sentences of Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean. The two guards from El Paso, Texas, each were sentenced to more than 10 years for the shooting, which they tried to cover up. They will be released within two months.
Opposition to their convictions, sentencing and firings has simmered ever since the shooting occurred in 2005.
"After four years of fighting this, it's taken a toll on me and my daughter, and really the whole family," said Joe Loya, Ramos' father-in law, who has received tens of thousands of supportive e-mails and spent much of the past two years traveling the country to speak about the case. "We wouldn't give up. ... I knew sooner or later God would come through — that finally it would happen."
He said his daughter, Monica Ramos, called from New York after learning the news that her husband soon would be released from a federal prison just outside Phoenix.
"She could hardly speak," Loya said.
The border agents' case became a rallying cause for conservatives concerned about border protection. On talk shows, people sympathetic with the agents argued that the men were just doing their jobs, defending the U.S.-Mexico border against criminals.
Bob Baskett, Compean's attorney in Dallas, cited widespread congressional support from the bipartisan congressional delegation from Texas. "I think the president did the right thing," he said. "An awful lot of people did an awful lot of work to get this done."
David Botsford, a lawyer for Ramos in Austin, Texas, said he had been guardedly optimistic that the commutations would be granted because of the support from Congress and the thousands of people who had sent letters of concern. The president has shown "he's a compassionate man," Botsford said.
Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, who called the agents' convictions a "grotesque injustice," said he and other lawmakers initially had hoped to have the agents pardoned. "When it became evident there was resistance at the White House to a pardon, that's when we shifted gears to ask for a commutation," he said.
Culberson helped gather signatures from 31 of the 34 current members of the Texas congressional delegation and two former delegation members for a letter asking Bush for the commutations. Culberson hand-delivered the letter to the White House last week.
"I was beginning to really be concerned that with literally only hours left in the president's term, this might not happen," he said. "With this one decision, President Bush has done more to improve his popularity than any single thing he could do."
Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, applauded the president's decision: "I do not condone the actions of these two men, but I believe the mandatory 10-year sentencing guidelines used in this case were excessive."
Compean and Ramos were convicted of shooting admitted drug smuggler Osvaldo Aldrete Davila in the buttocks as he fled across the Rio Grande, away from an abandoned van load of marijuana. He remains in a low-security prison in Fort Worth, Texas.
The border agents claimed at their trials that they believed the smuggler was armed and that they shot him in self defense. The prosecutor in the case, a U.S. attorney who was appointed by Bush in 2001, said there was no evidence linking the smuggler to the van of marijuana. The prosecutor also said the border agents didn't report the shooting and tampered with evidence by picking up several spent shell casings.
White House officials said Bush didn't pardon the men for their crimes, but commuted their sentences because he believed they were excessive and that they had already suffered the loss of their jobs, freedom and reputations.
Compean, 32, and Ramos, 39, were sentenced to 12 years and 11 years in prison, respectively. They each have served about two years. Under the terms of Bush's commutation, their prison sentences will expire on March 20, but their three-year terms of supervised release and the fines will remain intact.
During his presidency, Bush has granted a total of 189 pardons and 11 commutations. That's fewer than half as many as Presidents Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan issued during their two-term tenures. Bush technically has until noon on Tuesday when President-elect Barack Obama is sworn into office to exercise his executive pardon authority, but presidential advisers said no more were forthcoming.
In an earlier high-profile official act of forgiveness, Bush saved Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, from serving prison time in the case of the 2003 leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity. Libby was convicted of perjury and obstructing justice. Bush could still grant him a full pardon, although Libby has not applied for one.
Clinton issued a total of 457 pardons or commutations in eight years in office. Bush's father, George H. W. Bush, issued 77 in four years. Reagan issued 406 in eight years, and President Jimmy Carter issued 563 in four years. Since World War II, the largest number of pardons and commutations — 2,031 — came from President Harry Truman, who served 82 days short of eight years.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
Israel declared a unilateral cease-fire Saturday in its 22-day offensive that turned Gaza neighborhoods into battlegrounds and dealt a stinging blow to the Islamic militants of Hamas. But Israeli troops will stay in the Palestinian territory for now and Hamas threatened to keep fighting until they leave.
Monday, January 12, 2009
There are people starving in the streets right outside of Madoff's multi-million-dollar apartment, and the legal system has the gall to let ol' Bernie live like a king.
From the AP:
In a separate decision, another magistrate signed off on an extension for the deadline to indict Madoff until Feb. 11. That means Madoff will remain free for at least another month, provided he does not violate conditions of the bail.Disgusting. Absolutely disgusting.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Iran in the past two years has acquired numerous banned items -- including circuit boards, software and Global Positioning System devices -- that are used to make sophisticated versions of the improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, that continue to kill U.S. troops in Iraq, according to documents released by the Justice Department and a new study by a Washington research institute. The deadly trade was briefly disrupted after the moves against Dubai companies in 2006, but it quickly resumed with a few changes in shipping routes and company names, the officials said.This should be the last straw for people who think that a free market will help the security of any nation. It should also put to rest the myth that Bush has kept us safe for the past eight years.
Just ask the troops who were killed by the bombs sold to Iran under his watch.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
Sunday, January 4, 2009
I can't wait until this guy is out of office. What astounds me is that he and Cheney put on their blinders and kept them on even after the country went to hell.
See Paul Krugman's latest column about how the GOP is a party of whiners: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/02/opinion/02krugman.html?_r=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss
Thursday, January 1, 2009
"THE dictatorship has been defeated. The joy is immense. And yet, there still remains much to do. We won’t deceive ourselves by believing that everything will be much easier from now on; perhaps it will be much more difficult."
This is what Commander in Chief Fidel Castro told the people on January 8, 1959, the day of his entry into Havana. Many people could never imagine the immense challenge that they would live to experience.
Suffice it to say that just a few days later, Fidel proclaimed the right to self-determination in terms of relations with the United States and immediately, the aggressions, attempts on his life and anger on the part of U.S. politicians began, evidence of which can be seen in speeches and articles of the time, as in an editorial of Time magazine, the mouthpiece of the most conservative sectors, entitled: "Fidel Castro’s neutralism is a challenge for the United States."
But the Cuban people could not be neutral in the face of the United States. The triumph of the Revolution that January 1959 signified for the Cuban nation, for the first time in its history, the real possibility of exercising the right to self-determination. From that moment on, neither the U.S. president, Congress nor its ambassadors could continue making decisions on what could or could not be done in Cuba. The bitter dependence had been brought to an end; a dependence that saw U.S. governors and ambassadors enjoying a degree of power in Cuba that was far greater than the actual power that they had – with respect to decision-making – within the U.S. federal government or in relation to any of the 50 states that make up the U.S.A.
When full national independence was achieved, the Revolution began to exercise that right by immediately applying the program that Fidel had announced during the Moncada trial of 1953 and which is contained in his historic self-defense speech History Will Absolve Me.
Cuba established the economic and social regime that it believed was most just and established a socialist state with participatory democracy, equality and social justice.
The country’s economy was characterized by limited industrial development, essentially depending on sugar production and a latifundia agricultural economy, where landowners controlled 75% of the total arable land.
Most of the country’s economic activity and its mineral resources were managed by U.S. capital, which controlled 1.2 million hectares of land (a quarter of the productive territory) and most of the sugar industry, nickel production, oil refineries, the electricity and telephone services and the majority of bank credits. Likewise, the U.S. market controlled approximately 70% of Cuban imports and exports, within a system of highly dependent volumes of exchange: in 1958, Cuba exported products worth 733 million pesos and imported 777 million pesos worth of goods.
The prevailing social picture was characterized by a high unemployment and illiteracy, a precarious healthcare, social assistance and housing system for the vast majority of the population, as well as abysmal differences in living conditions between urban and rural populations. There was a high degree of polarization and unequal distribution of income; in 1958, 50% of the population earned just 11% of total income, while a 5% minority controlled 26%. Racial and gender discrimination, begging, prostitution and social and administrative corruption were widespread.
Addressing the social and economic problems in Cuban society could no longer be put off and could only be resolved if the Cuban people had control of their own wealth and natural resources. Thus, using the 1940 Constitution and in line with international law, Cuba exercised its right to take control of these resources and assumed total responsibility for this action. The island paid compensation to all nationals from third countries (Canada, Spain, Britain, etc.) with the exception of U.S. nationals, given that that government rejected the provisions outright and transformed the Cuban government’s decision into a pretext for unleashing a war unprecedented in the history of bilateral relations between the two nations.
Not only did the Revolution hand over land to campesinos who, up until then, had been subjected to semi-feudal conditions of production and forced to live in extreme poverty, but it also determined that that all the country’s resources should be allocated to national economic development and improving the material and living conditions of the population. To give just one example, in the 1980s alone, approximately 60 billion pesos were allocated to the construction of productive and social facilities.
The process of industrialization underway paved the way for economic and productive diversification. Under the Revolution and up until the economic crisis which began with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the East European socialist bloc between 1989 and 1991 – what we in Cuba call the Special Period – the country’s capacity for producing steel grew 14-fold, fertilizer increased six-fold, the oil refining industry quadrupled (not counting the new refinery in Cienfuegos), the textile industry grew seven-fold, tourism three-fold, to mention but a few. The state also created complete ranges and new industries such as machinery, mechanics, electronics, the production of medical equipment, a pharmaceutical industry, construction materials, a glass industry and ceramics, as well as making investments to increase and upgrade the sugar, food and light industries. In addition to these endeavors, we have the development of biotechnology, genetic engineering and other branches of science.
The country has also made great efforts in terms of improving its infrastructure. Electricity generation has risen eight-fold and water storage capacity has increased 310 times, from 29 million cubic meters in 1958 to nine billion-plus cubic meters today. There has been diversification with respect to roads and freeways and modernization of ports and other areas. Social needs have been covered fairly well, except for housing, which has been Cuba’s biggest problem.
The progressive growth and diversification of productive potential and the application of a widespread social program has allowed the nation to confront the problem of unemployment. In 1958, with a population of six million inhabitants, approximately one third of the economically active population was unemployed. Of this figure, 45% of the unemployed lived in rural areas while, out of 200,000 women in work, 70% were employed as domestic servants. Today, with 11 million inhabitants, the number of people in work is in excess of 4.5 million. Over 40% of workers are women and today they represent more than 60% of the nation’s technical and professional sectors.
In 1958, the number of illiterate and semi-illiterate people in Cuba stood at two million. The average academic level of 15-plus year-olds was third grade, more than 600,000 children did not attend school and 58% of teachers were unemployed. Just 45.9% of school-age children were enrolled and half of them did not attend classes. Only 6% of those enrolled finished elementary education. Universities were available to just 20,000 students.
The education sector received immediate attention from the revolutionary government. Its first task was to develop a masse literacy campaign with the participation of the population. An extensive network of schools was constructed throughout the country and more than 300,000 teachers and professors were in fulltime employment in this sector. The average academic level for those aged 15-plus year-olds rose to ninth grade. One hundred per cent of school age children are enrolled in schools, some 98% complete elementary education and 91% complete junior high. One in every 11 citizens is a university graduate and one in eight has technical-professional qualifications. There are 650,000 students in the country’s universities today and all education is free of charge. Education and vocational skills are also guaranteed for 100% of children with physical or mental disabilities, who attend special schools.
The precarious situation in 1958 with respect to public health was characterized by an infant mortality rate of 60 per 1,000 live births and a maternal mortality rate of 118 per 10,000. The mortality rate for those suffering from gastroenteritis was 41.2 per 100,000, and from tuberculosis, 15.9 per 100,000. In rural areas, 36% of the population suffered from intestinal parasites, 31% from malaria, 14% from tuberculosis and 13% from typhoid. Life expectancy at birth was estimated at 58.8 years.
Around 61% of hospital beds and 65% of the nation’s 6,500 doctors were concentrated in the capital. In the other provinces, medical coverage was one doctor for every 2,378 inhabitants and there was just one hospital for all the country’s rural areas.
Today, healthcare is free of charge and Cuba has more than 70,000 doctors, providing coverage of one for every 194 inhabitants. Almost 30,000 of them are providing services in over 60 different countries. A national network of more than 700 hospitals and polyclinics has been created. Thanks to a widespread vaccination campaign (every child currently receives vaccines against 13 different illnesses) diseases such as polio, diphtheria, measles, whooping cough, tetanus, rubella, mumps and hepatitis B have been almost entirely eradicated. The infant mortality rate is 5.3 for every 1,000 live births and life expectancy exceeds 77 years.
There is also a series of advanced medical services that are not considered as "basic" in the international arena, and are provided completely free of charge, such as intensive care units in pediatric and general hospitals, cardiovascular surgery, transplant services, special perinatal care, treatment for chronic renal failure, and special services for occupational and physical rehabilitation.
The revolutionary state did not focus its attention solely on economic and social measures. It also embarked on efforts to establish an internal legal system to facilitate the right to self-determination via the population’s direct participation in discussions, analyses and the passing of the country’s principal laws. The most notable of these was the 1976 Constitution, supported by 97% of Cubans aged 16 and over through a referendum, as well as other momentous laws like the Penal Code, the Civil Code, the Family Code, the Children and Young People’s Code, the Labor and Social Security Code and many others.
Likewise, the self-determination of the Cuban people is expressed through the right to defend the nation against foreign aggression. Today, more than four million Cubans – workers, campesinos, and university students – are organized in militia groups have access to weapons in their campuses, factories and in rural areas.
However, since 1959, Cuba has had to confront the hostility of 10 U.S. administrations that have attempted to limit its right to self-determination through the use of aggression and the unilateral imposition of a criminal economic, commercial and financial blockade.
One of the universally accepted principles of international law is that state cannot be allowed to coerce another in order to deny it the right to exercise its sovereign rights. Article 24 of the UN Charter states that, in the context of international relations, nations must refrain from using threats or force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.
Over the past 45 years, the United States has prohibited any trade with Cuba, including foodstuffs and medicines; it cancelled the Cuban sugar quota; prohibited its citizens from traveling to Cuba via the imposition of heavy sanctions; prohibited the re-export of U.S. products or items containing U.S. components or technology to Cuba from third countries; prescribed that banks in third countries should maintain Cuban bank accounts in dollars or use that currency in their transactions with the Cuban nation; has systematically intervened to prevent or hinder trade with or financial assistance to Cuba on the part of governments, institutions and citizens from other countries and international organizations.
In the 1960s these reprisals forced Cuba to structurally reconstitute its economic relations when and establish its essential markets in countries in the former East European bloc – specifically in the Soviet Union – which meant that the country had to embark on an almost total re-conversion of its industrial technology, means of transport, and provisions, etc.
When Cuba lost its natural markets in Eastern Europe, the U.S. government intensified its blockade via the 1992 Torricelli Act, which used the pretext of "democracy and human rights" to prohibit U.S. subsidiaries located in third countries and subject to the laws of those nations from engaging in commercial or financial operations with Cuba (particularly in respect to food and medicines), and punishing these by prohibiting the entry into U.S. ports for 180 days of vessels transporting goods to or from Cuba or on behalf of Cuba, measures that – given their extraterritorial nature – do not just prejudice Cuba but also harm the sovereignty of other nations and the international freedom of transportation.
On March 12, 1996, the U.S. government passed the Helms-Burton Ac, further aggravating relations between the two countries and assuming the right to sanction citizens of third countries in U.S. courts, as well as determining their expulsion or denying them and their families entry visas into the United States, with the aim of hindering Cuba’s efforts to recover its economy and hampering its possibilities of securing a greater insertion in the international market. That was also a way of attempting to pressure the Cuban people into relinquishing their efforts of self-determination.
More recently, it has adopted the Bush Plan, an attempt to transform Cuba into a colony through an annexationist program and the sibylline intention to intervene via a pretext of "transition," a scenario in which the State Department would entrust one of its leaders as "governor," when the Cuban revolutionary state disappears. This plan, with which George W. Bush decided "to precipitate the day when Cuba becomes a free country," has intensified the blockade and pressure on the Cuban people by repressing family relations between Cubans resident in the United States and their families on the island; grants million-dollar resources to terrorist groups in Miami, as well as to mercenary subordinates in the U.S. Interests Sections in Havana; and promotes formulas to destabilize the country and redouble international pressure on the island.
That hostility on the part of the U.S. has included other notorious manifestations of aggression, ranging from the military aggression through the Bay of Pigs in 1961, the dirty war carried out by counterrevolutionary gangs heavily supplied by the U.S. CIA, bacteriological warfare on agricultural crops (sugar, tobacco, and citric fruits), animals (swine fever), and humans (hemorrhagic dengue), to sabotage plans, bombings using pirate planes, and assassination attempts on the country’s principal leaders.
The actions of terrorist organizations executing military attacks on Cuba from U.S. territory are notorious, and are publicized and fomented by the Miami media. Groups are constantly recruiting adventurers who are willing to head off to Cuba as agents and saboteurs, who openly declare that they have no fear whatsoever of being brought to justice in U.S. courts.
That is why Cuban patriots have had to leave aside their personal interests to serve those of the nation, even sacrificing their family relationships, in order to infiltrate the ranks of those terrorist groups in order to discover their activities and, with this information, prevent the bloodshed of Cuban and U.S. people. They are willing to pay the price of the political irrationality of the U.S. government, as is the case of the five Cuban heroes unjustly incarcerated in U.S. jails for combating terrorism.
The above is compounded by the heavy military mechanism created by the United States around Cuba and its constant tension-generating activities, as well as the illegal occupation of the Guantánamo Naval Base on Cuban territory (today converted into a horrific prison camp), a part of Cuba rented out by force to the United States in the early 20th century and which the U.S. government refuses to return.
In the early 90’s, with the disappearance of the Soviet Union, isolated and reviled by the international reaction, Cuba absorbed the terrible blow of losing the bulk of its markets in a matter of months and an abrupt descent in its gross domestic product. But the island confirmed that it shone with its own light and that it had never been a satellite of anyone, given that it was able to face that juncture on account of the extraordinary resistance of the majority of Cubans, who have acted on the basis of authentic motivations, values and ethical principles.
The Cuban people have made a conscious decision to support the country’s leadership, not only because they identify the system with their own interests, but also because of the responsible manner in which the state took on the crisis, reorganized its forces and designed a recovery strategy, despite the U.S. blockade and conditions imposed by its European allies.
The sacrifices provoked by that situation have been hard, but it has been possible to endure them because of the undisputed social advances attained, because of the confidence deposited in the country’s leading institutions and because of people’s appreciation that their government is not a decadent one or one that is in management crisis or lacking in strategies, but has confirmed that the population has remained at the center of all its work, even in the most difficult circumstances.
Fifty years have gone by and the liberation process has reached this point following the same direction indicated that night, 50 years ago, when Fidel, speaking to the huge crowd awaiting him in what was the dictatorship’s headquarters, affirmed that everything could be more difficult in the future, because we would have to fight to make the Revolution.
That is the challenge of the struggle currently underway to eradicate vices and exalt virtues, with Fidel as a soldier of ideas serving as a compass in the fight for freedom and independence.Cuba’s enemies are backing their all on the opposite of that. In this world, where politics is a caricature, they cannot comprehend that, in its thinking and action, this Revolution is a process of continuity, and that Fidel will continue to be the leader of the Revolution of today and tomorrow, because, beyond responsibilities and titles, he will continue to be the counselor of ideas to which we will always have recourse, because he has transcended political life to insert himself in an intimate way in the family life of the vast majority of Cubans.
--Lázaro Barredo Medina
The Israeli government is using the deaths of over 400 Palestinians to vindicate their failed war in Lebanon. Meanwhile, though centrist parties are gaining support, Netanyahu, of the conservative Likud Party, is still the front-runner for Prime Minister. This is the same guy that threatens that there will be a world war with Iran.
With national elections approaching on Feb. 10, the Israeli assault on Gaza has boosted support for Barak's Labor Party, the standard-bearer for Israel's peace camp, by making it look tough.
The poll showed overall support for moderate and centrist parties going up, while support for hard-line and religious parties went down — leaving each side with half the seats in parliament if elections were held today.
The survey, carried out by the Dialog company, showed jumps in the approval ratings for Israel's top three leaders — Barak, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert...
"We are spoiled and impatient — we like our wars short," said Israeli historian Tom Segev. If fighting goes on too long, or if it ends with an inconclusive cease-fire, Segev said, Israelis will turn on the government as they did after the Lebanon war.
"The mood will change fast," he said.
Neoconservatism is still alive and well in the Middle East.