Thursday, April 28

Happy Abu Ghraib Day!

Today is the one year anniversay of the moment when America lost it's innocence in the war on terror. It was one year ago that the graphic pictures revealing widespread abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq were revealed, and so far the results of improvement appear to be somewhat...mixed.

According to USAToday, the tragedy was simply a matter of under staffing and has been handled.
In the wake of 11 investigations and reports into what went wrong at Abu Ghraib and other detention facilities, the Army recognized it had too few soldiers assigned to one of the more mundane jobs - prisoner control. So it is rushing to add more than 3,000 MP soldiers trained to handle detainees.
Amnesty International has a different view.

"People around the world will be recalling the horrific images they saw a year ago and wondering what happened to those prisoners," said Amnesty secretary general Irene Khan, noting that only a handful of low-ranking US soldiers had been prosecuted or disciplined over the outrage.

"But what was the role of those higher up, including, for example, the US secretary of defence?" she demanded, referring to Donald Rumsfeld.

Meanwhile the Associated Press reports that Human Rights Watch says that Abu Grhaib was only one part of a larger pattern.
Muslims in U.S. custody have been tortured and mistreated at dozens of detention facilities around the world, according to a Human Rights Watch report issued a year after notorious Abu Ghraib prison abuse photos were made public

In the report, released Wednesday, the human rights watchdog summarized allegations of abuse at U.S. facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan and Cuba — and reiterated a call for a probe into which U.S. officials may have had roles in the mistreatment.Iraq

The New York-based organization urged the U.S. attorney general's office to appoint a special counsel to investigate, and called on Congress to create a commission to probe the issue.

"Abu Ghraib was only the tip of the iceberg," Reed Brody, special counsel for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

Government data show 108 people have died in U.S. custody in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, including deaths attributed to natural causes. Twenty-seven deaths have been investigated as criminal homicides involving possible abuse.

The report cited those figures and detailed other allegations of abuse including beatings, sleep deprivation and exposure to extreme cold in Afghanistan, and subjecting detainees in Iraq to sleep deprivation as well as placing them in stressful positions.

Many, including American Politicians, have claimed that "the Geneva Conventions should not be extended to terrorists, as that would give them the same status as soldiers who represent a legitimate foreign nation". The fact is however that the humane treatment of prisoners is not simply an issue under control of the Geneva Conventions, the 8th Amendment of the U.S Constitution states that:
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
This is also supported by Title 18, Chapter 113C of the U.S. Codes which specifically prohibits torture, while Section 893, Article 94 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice prohibits Cruelty and Maltreatment. So the arguement that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to these persons is moot, torture and inhumane treatment is illegal in all cases, this is additional to the issue that coerced information gathered using such techniques can be highly inaccurate and completely inadmissable in any court of law, therefore any persons subjected to this treatment can not be prosecuted and due to the "fruits of the poison tree" standard, neither can any other terrorist who happened to be discovered as a result of tainted information. It may seem that such "get tough" policies are harder on the terrorist, but the truth is that it actually allows them the possibility of getting away without any genuine punishment at all - other than being unlawfully detained in make-shift "camps" indefinately, with no access to due process, and no method to determine who is a genuine terrorist and who is not.

Clearly this abuse has occured not just at Abu Ghriab, it has occured and is continuing to occur in multiple theaters of conflict. Certainly this is more than simply the actions of a few rogue MPs on the night shift, but the likelyhood that a genuine independant investigation of the root causes of the Abu Ghraib and other abuse scandals remains remote - all that remains is the current lawsuit against Donald Rumsfeld and other high ranking members of the military initiated as a result of FBI Documents obtained via Freedom of information requests filed by the ACLU...

Perhaps, by the next anniversay of Abu Ghraib Day we'll know if this suit will generate results which may restore the honor of the American Soldier and United States, and then again... perhaps it will not.


Wednesday, April 27

GOP Finally Blinks!

Well, you can color me surprised, as the GOP has apparently decided the heat on DeLay is starting to burn and contrary to my earlier prediction, have decided to reverse recent changes to the House Ethics Committee rules which have caused Democrats to block the Committee from meeting, and kept growing ethics issues surrounding DeLay from being investigated. This is probably a good move for the GOP as it will give plenty of time to have these DeLay problems swept under the rug long before the 2006 election.

GOP to Reverse Ethics Rule Blocking New DeLay ProbeJanuary Change Led Democrats to Shut Down Panel

By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 27, 2005; Page A01

House Republican leaders, acknowledging that ethics disputes are taking a heavy toll on the party's image, decided yesterday to rescind a controversial rule change that led to the three-month shutdown of the ethics committee, according to officials who participated in the talks.

Republicans touched off a political uproar in January by changing a rule that had required the ethics committee to continue considering a complaint against a House member if there was a deadlock between the committee's five Republicans and five Democrats. The January change reversed this, calling for automatic dismissal of an ethics complaint when a deadlock occurs.

Democrats rebelled against that and other changes -- saying Republicans were trying to protect House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) from further ethics investigations -- and blocked the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, as the ethics panel is officially known, from organizing for the new Congress.


A congressional aide said that changing the rules will mean "a couple of great days for Democrats" but that Republicans have calculated this will deny them long-term use of the ethics issue heading into next year's midterm elections


It's pretty clear that the GOP wants to neutralize the DeLay ethics issues long before the mid-term elections and from watching Faux News it's pretty clear that this rule change is a weapon that cuts both ways. They will probably investigate and sanitize DeLay (just as they did three times last year), then they'll go after Stephanie Tubbs-Johnson, Sheila Jackson Lee and Nancy Pelosi for a similar, but far less credible, ethics violation.

Tuesday, April 26

The Endless Tour

Proving yet again that the true definition of insanity is to continue repeating a strategy that has only produced failure - President Bush has decided to extending his barnstorming Bamboozapalooza Tour across the nation as support for his Social Security plan plummets.

And to help drum up support, the President has apparently decided to bring the increasing popular Tom DeLay along with him...

Bush Extends Social Security Tour as Support in Polls Dwindles

April 26 (Bloomberg) -- President George W. Bush's strategy for wrapping up his 60-day, 60-stop tour to whip up support for revamping Social Security is simple: ignore the calendar and keep on stumping.

As the scheduled May 1 conclusion of his speaking tour approaches, Bush is planning to extend his campaign-style travels across the country in an effort to reverse the dwindling public support for his plan. An ABC News-Washington Post poll released yesterday showed that 64 percent of Americans now disapprove of his handling of Social Security, up from 56 percent in March.

Even as the president struggles to accomplish his original goal of selling voters on making individual investment accounts the centerpiece of any changes in the program, some of his chief allies in Congress, such as Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, are urging him to change his focus. They say Bush should be emphasizing the issue of the retirement program's solvency rather than private accounts, and should present a detailed plan to lawmakers.

``He made a strategic mistake talking about the accounts in isolation,'' said Graham, who has taken the lead on negotiations with Democrats on the issue. ``If you have behind you `ownership' as the banner, that's not what people look at Social Security as being. They look at Social Security as a safety net.''

The president is in Galveston, Texas, today -- joined by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the Texas Republican who is battling ethics allegations -- to continue making the case that Social Security is facing a funding crisis. The Senate Finance Committee is opening hearings on keeping the program solvent at the same time.

`Next Phase'

The 60-day campaign ends May 1 and the president then will move into what White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan calls ``the next phase'' of talking about solutions to stem future funding shortfalls in the system.

``The president is going to continue to travel across the country,'' McClellan said April 18. Bush has declined to offer a detailed plan beyond the private accounts, saying it's up to Congress to offer proposals. Democrats are refusing to come to the table without specifics from the administration.

The decision to continue campaign-style trips underscores the dilemma Bush faces. It will be almost impossible to recruit congressional backing until the president wins more public support. As of now, leaders of both parties say there is little prospect for any bi-partisan accord, which is essential to enactment of any major Social Security legislation.

``Social Security reform is stuck in the mud on Capitol Hill,'' said Stu Rothenberg, editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report, a Washington-based newsletter reporting on electoral politics. ``The only way to move this issue forward is to create a groundswell at the grassroots.''

So far, the groundswell for Bush's plan has failed to materialize, judging by polls and comments from lawmakers.


``It doesn't look good,'' said Karlyn Bowman, a public opinion analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, a policy research organization in Washington. No recent poll shows Bush with an approval rating higher than 35 percent on Social Security, she said. ``The issue is fading,'' she said. Voters ``seem a little bored with it.''

Bush made Social Security his top domestic priority in his Feb. 2 state of the union speech. On March 2 he and Treasury Secretary John Snow announced the 60-day, 60-city cycle of town- hall meetings and roundtable discussions with supporters to promote private accounts as a key element of the solution. The administration set up a Web site to chronicle their progress.

``We've seen a clear shift in the course of the last month or so from the question: `Is there a problem?' to the question: `How do we fix it?''' Snow said in kicking off the road show.

Hard Sell

The administration is still trying to answer those questions. During an April 18 Bush trip to South Carolina, McClellan said that after the 60-day period ends, the administration would embark on a campaign that ``will focus more on solutions.''

Opponents say the president is being forced to prolong his bid for public approval because opposition to private accounts proved stronger than the president's advisers anticipated.

``The administration is still trying to sell the same old idea, just in different ways, and the public is still not buying,'' said David Certner, director of federal affairs for the AARP, the nation's biggest seniors group and an opponent of Bush's proposal. ``Unless the administration decides to go in a different direction, we're going to have a continued stalemate.''

Bush's plan would allow workers younger than 55 to divert up to a third of their payroll taxes into accounts invested in stocks and bonds. He has acknowledged that won't plug a $3.7 trillion funding gap the program faces over the next 75 years.

Hearings in Congress

Today's Senate Finance Committee hearings on Social Security will include testimony by some of the nation's leading advocates for private accounts.

The hearing gives the White House a fresh chance to reach the American public. Among those who will testify is Robert Pozen, chairman of Boston-based MFS Investment Management, whose proposal for restructuring benefits has been highlighted by Bush in speeches. Pozen proposes graduated benefit cuts for middle-and high-income individuals while maintaining the current formula for the poor to address funding shortfalls.

They also give opponents a staging opportunity. Americans United to Protect Social Security, the main opposition group that includes the AFL-CIO, is planning to stage rallies in 33 states including one outside the Capitol, said Brad Woodhouse, a coalition spokesman.

Earlier this month in a visit to Kirtland, Ohio, Bush said the campaign to win public approval ``is just starting.''

``I'm going to be relentless on the subject,'' Bush said April 15. ``The American people are wise. They just need to know the facts.''

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat who represents Washington, D.C., in the House, said that won't change Democratic opposition. ``I'm inclined to invite him to stay out there,'' she said in an April 22 conference call with reporters. ``Never have the American people had such an education in Social Security and what it means to them. He's helping us make our point.''

Last Updated: April 26, 2005 00:05 EDT

Sunday, April 24

Dead Peasant LLC!

There are many many ways to run a business.

Most people would argue that the best businesses are those that show the most profit, however I think the best businesses are those that can simultaneously be profitable and enrich the values of their customers and employees lives. There are some companies that do this, companies that rather than have management take an authoritarian and dictactorial stance, realize that some of the most knowledgeable people available for making strong and innovative business decisions are the people out their doing the work. The grunts. Companies that really do take to heart and mind the concept that the "customer is always right'. And then there are some other kinds of companies...

While listening to Ring of Fire, the radio show hosted by Robert Kennedy Jr., I discovered that some companies have decided that their employees are worth more dead than alive. In Texas, Walmart has apparently begun a practice of secretly taking out life insurance policies on it's employees who work in high risk areas. Rather than provide them with protection, bullet resistant glass, additional employees when someone is working alone. or security cameras - companies such as Stop N Go (who who also adopted the practice) have decided that from a cost benefit analysis, they're better off letting that employee remain in harms way and instead put their money into an insurance premium with the company being the beneficiary -- as if the loss of that employee is the same thing as losing a peice of property like a lamp or broken window. It's as if we've returned to the age of serfdom, where worker/peasants were as disposable as any other type of equipment used by the company.

Could you imagine if a Police or Fire Dept took the same strategy? We won't give the officers any vests or guns with bullets or we won't actually put any water in the hoses - but we'll be sure to recoup two or three years worth of the their salary after we send them into the worst neighborhoods and the biggest fires, minus funeral costs of course.

Y'know if somebody walks up to you on the street, tells you a bunch of lies, takes all the money out of your wallet and spits on your shoes -- you'd call the cops [government], right?

Seems like some people [extreme conservatives and libertarians] seem to believe that if they walk into a office as a employee or customer - and the guy behind the desk tells you a bunch of lies, takes money out of your wallet and spits in your face -- you're only option is to go work and shop somewhere else (Where they just might do the exact same thing to you all over again in order to stay "competitive"...). It's all a matter of choice, they say.

But a lot of people don't want to work at a dangerous job, they only do it because it's their only viable choice. Companies like Walmart export manufacturing jobs overseas - usually to China where they own a dozen or so factories - in order to get the cheapest labor. This takes good paying (and safe) jobs away from U.S. workers. Because of this, the economy of scale such a large company can use to buy in bulk, and the fact that Walmart forces their employees to pay for their own healthcare (if they can afford it, which many of them can't and often means they instead use state services such as Medicare for healthcare - which is paid for by taxpayers), Walmart can undercut the prices of other smaller retail competitors and put them out of business. Better paying jobs with good benefits gradually disappear - and all that's left in many small towns around the nation is to work for pennies on the dollar at Walmart, and apparently risk your life doing it. For many people in this situation, "choice" is an illusion.

My own mother shops at Walmart. I try to talk her out of it on moral grounds, but she's on a fixed income -- so she constantly tells me she doesn't have a choice, she can't afford to shop anywhere else. Therefore, she continues to subsidize the exportation of jobs and the devaluation of peoples lives and work - but what else can she do?

But that as it may...there are several possible solutions to this problem that don't neccesarily require the government. The chief among them is civil suits by the survivors - so far Walmart in Texas has had to pay out over $10 Million in such suits.

It's also possible that the insurance companies might wish to limit their liability in this regard by dramatically raising premiums if those companies don't take basic precautions to protect the life of it's employees, in the same way that premiums are higher for people who choose to drive sports cars, or without seatbelts. Put people's lives in danger: pay higher premiums. Take steps to keep them safe, and the costs go down. I can live with that option.

As far as what the government has done - the Bush Administration has proprosed making it easier for the companies by forcing the kinds of class actions suits I mention above to go through federal court, which are far less receptive to them, rather than state court. It has also proposed caps on amount of punative judgements of $250,000 - which is probably less money than such a company can receive from death benefits in the first place. Deliberately putting your employees lives at risk would then be just the price of doing business, something you can simply write off in your taxes - like the losses a company takes as a result of shoplifting.

Now that's what I call "looking out for the bottom line".