Sunday, January 30, 2005
By Robert Scheer, AlterNet
Posted on January 25, 2005, Printed on January 30, 2005
By now many commentators, including "realist" conservatives, seem to agree that President Bush's inaugural speech was radical, if not downright bizarre, in its insistence that the United States can and will deliver freedom to Earth's more than 6 billion human residents. "If Bush means it literally, then it means we have an extremist in the White House," said Dimitri Simes, president of the Nixon Center.
What critics here and abroad are glossing over, however, is that as a political marketing device, Bush's address was absolutely brilliant. It takes a true demagogue to remorselessly cheapen the lovely word "freedom" by deploying it 27 times in a 21-minute speech, while never admitting that its real-life creation is more complicated than cranking out a batch of Pepsi-Cola and selling it to the natives with a catchy "Feeling Free!" jingle.
In Bush's neocon lexicon, the fight for freedom has been transmogrified from a noble, but complex and often elusive, historical struggle for human emancipation into a simplistic slogan draped over the stark contradictions and tragic failures of this administration's foreign policy.
"America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one," Bush intoned. Perhaps if we had been in a coma the last four years we could take that as a serious expression of idealism in the vein of, say, Jimmy Carter.
But having seen in recent months how "America's vital interests" have sanctioned torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, war profiteering by Halliburton and lies to the American people about the Iraqi threat, it is hard not to cynically assume that "fighting for freedom" is just a new way to frame the same old hollow arguments.
It all sounds so simple coming out of Bush's mouth. In his feisty speech, two-thirds of which focused on spreading freedom abroad, there was not a single sentence that might actually tip us off as to when, where and by what criteria our support for the international struggle for freedom will be manifested.
At her confirmation hearings last week, Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice offered a little more information, naming six countries as "outposts of tyranny" that would get special attention from the U.S. in the next four years: Cuba, Myanmar, North Korea, Iran, Belarus and Zimbabwe. But how was this unsavory sextet chosen – with a dartboard? She could just as easily have snapped off the names of six of our allies – Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Russia, Kuwait, Uzbekistan and Egypt – equally undemocratic, but which have arguably done more to increase the threat of global terrorism than Rice's squad of baddies.
The fact is, however, that when totalitarian nations like China and Saudi Arabia play ball with U.S. business interests, we like them just fine. But when Venezuela's freely elected president threatens powerful corporate interests, the Bush administration treats him as an enemy.
A State Department spokesman has assured the world that the speech "doesn't mean we abandon our friends." But he added that "many of our friends realize it's time for them to change anyway." I guess that means we can expect Riyadh to allow women to drive any decade now.
Many questions remain. Because Bush said we would stand against all bullies, for example, it would follow that we should actively support the rebels in Chechnya against Bush's friend, autocrat Vladimir V. Putin. Before we do, however, we might want to recall the last time the United States overtly aided a rebellion in the Muslim world: the "freedom fighters" of Afghanistan, which included Osama bin Laden and other Islamic fanatics.
Speaking of which, what happened to the "war on terror"? Well, it appears that because he can't catch bin Laden or bring peace to Iraq or stability to Afghanistan, as repeatedly promised, the president has decided to turn his lemons into lemonade and parlay a difficult security issue into a moralistic crusade.
As the admen say, never confuse the thing being sold for the thing itself. Bush's passion for "freedom" extends only as far as it is useful as a political sales pitch.
© 2005 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/21081/
January 30, 2005
The Geo-Green Alternative
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
One of the most striking things I've found in Europe these past two weeks is the absolute conviction that the Bush team is just itching to invade Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. Psssssssst. Come over here. A little closer. Now listen: Don't tell the Iranians this, but the Bush team isn't going to be invading anybody. We don't have enough troops to finish the job in Iraq. Our military budget is completely maxed out. We couldn't invade Grenada today. If Iran is to forgo developing nuclear weapons, it will only be because the Europeans' diplomatic approach manages to persuade Tehran to do so.
For two years the Europeans have been telling the Bush administration that its use of force to prevent states from developing nuclear weapons has been a failure in Iraq and that the Europeans have a better way - multilateral diplomacy using carrots and sticks. Well, Europe, as we say in American baseball, "You're up."
"I think this is an absolute test case for Europe's ability to lay out its own idea for a joint agenda with the United States to deal with a problem like Iran," said the Oxford historian Timothy Garton Ash, author of "Free World: America, Europe and the Surprising Future of the West." "O.K., we think bombing Iran is a bad idea. What is a good idea?" For the Europeans to be successful, though, Mr. Ash said, they can't just be offering carrots. They have to credibly convey to Iran that they will wield their own stick. They have to credibly convey that they will refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council for real sanctions, if it is unwilling to strike a deal involving nuclear inspections in return for normalized economic relations with the West.
"Very often there is the notion that Europe is the soft cop and the U.S. is the hard cop," Mr. Ash said. "Here it must be the other way around. Europe has to talk as credibly about using economic sanctions as some in Washington have talked about using military force."
The U.S. has to help. The carrot the Iranians want for abandoning their nuclear program is not just unfettered trade with the West, but some kind of assurances that if they give up their nuclear research programs, the U.S. will agree to some kind of nonaggression accord. The Bush team has been reluctant to do this, because it wants regime change in Iran. (This is a mistake; we need to concentrate for now on changing the behavior of the Iranian regime and strengthening the reformers, and letting them handle the regime change.)
If multilateral diplomacy is to work to defuse the brewing Iran nuclear crisis, "the Europeans have to offer a more credible stick and the Americans need to offer a more credible carrot," Mr. Ash said. But the Europeans are not good at credibly threatening force.
That's why this is a serious moment. If Britain, France and Germany, which are spearheading Europe's negotiations with Iran, fail, and if the U.S. use of force in Iraq (even if it succeeds) proves way too messy, expensive and dangerous to be repeated anytime soon, where are we? Is there any other way the West can promote real reform in the Arab-Muslim world?
Yes, there is an alternative to the Euro-wimps and the neocons, and it is the "geo-greens." I am a geo-green. The geo-greens believe that, going forward, if we put all our focus on reducing the price of oil - by conservation, by developing renewable and alternative energies and by expanding nuclear power - we will force more reform than by any other strategy. You give me $18-a-barrel oil and I will give you political and economic reform from Algeria to Iran. All these regimes have huge population bubbles and too few jobs. They make up the gap with oil revenues. Shrink the oil revenue and they will have to open up their economies and their schools and liberate their women so that their people can compete. It is that simple.
By refusing to rein in U.S. energy consumption, the Bush team is not only depriving itself of the most effective lever for promoting internally driven reform in the Middle East, it is also depriving itself of any military option. As Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, points out, given today's tight oil market and current U.S. consumption patterns, any kind of U.S. strike on Iran, one of the world's major oil producers, would send the price of oil through the roof, causing real problems for our economy. "Our own energy policy has tied our hands," Mr. Haass said.
The Bush team's laudable desire to promote sustained reform in the Middle East will never succeed unless it moves from neocon to geo-green.
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
By Jules Siegel, AlterNet
Posted on January 29, 2005, Printed on January 30, 2005
"And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee." – John Donne, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII, 1623
We have by now all seen much of this material before, but reading it all in one piece, told by human voices in this book-length interview, is not easy to take. "Guantánamo: What the World Should Know" (Chelsea Green) – by Michael Ratner and Ellen Ray – becomes a heart-stopper once you cross the line and realize that you could be any of these victims.
Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights, is co-counsel in Rasul v. Bush, the historic case of Guantánamo detainees now before the U.S. Supreme Court. His interviewer, Ellen Ray, is President of the Institute for Media Analysis, and a widely published author and editor on U.S. intelligence and international politics.
It's hard to say which is more disgusting, the descriptions of the torture or the bone-chilling analyses of how the president of the United States gave himself the powers of an absolute military dictator. Under Military Order No. 1, which the president issued without congressional authority on November 13, 2001, George W. Bush has ordered people captured or detained from all over the world, flown to Guantánamo and tortured in a lawless zone where, the White House asserts, prisoners have no rights of any kind at all and can be kept forever at his pleasure. Despite the at-best marginal intervention of the American courts so far, there is no civilian judicial review, no due process of any kind.
While any military force will routinely violate the civil rights of anyone who gets in its way, Ratner's descriptions of how victims wound up in Guantánamo reveal wanton cruelty and callousness that will nauseate any sane human being.
Ratner writes: "A lot of the people picked up by warlords of the Northern Alliance were kept in metal shipping containers, so tightly packed that they had to ball themselves up, and the heat was unbearable. According to some detainees who were held in the containers and eventually released from Guantánamo, only a small number, thirty to fifty people in a container filled with three to four hundred people survived. And some of those released said that the Americans were in on this, that the Americans were shining lights on the containers. The people inside were suffocating, so the Northern Alliance soldiers shot holes into the containers, killing some of the prisoners inside."
Some prisoners were captured in battle; many others were picked up in random sweeps for no reason at all except being in the wrong place at the wrong time. As usual in these kinds of operations, some were turned in as a result of petty revenge or as an excuse to steal their property. When asked in court to explain the criteria for detention, the government had no answer. There were no criteria, it appears. "The government even made the ridiculous argument before the Supreme Court that the prisoners get to tell their side of the story, by being interrogated," Ratner reports.
Ratner notes that 134 of the 147 prisoners later released from Guantánamo were guilty of absolutely nothing. Only thirteen were sent on to jail. He believes it is possible that a substantial majority of the Guantánamo prisoners had nothing to do with any kind of terrorism. One prisoner released after a year claimed he was somewhere between ninety and one hundred years old, according to Ratner. Old, frail and incontinent, he wept constantly, shackled to a walker.
So what did the authorities get from those who survived? We will never know, but we can guess from at least one incident in this book. Ratner reports that the Guantánamo interrogators showed some of his clients' videotapes supposedly depicting them with Osama bin Laden. At first they denied being in the videos, but they confessed after prolonged interrogation under harsh conditions. Yet British intelligence proved to the American government that the men were actually in the United Kingdom when the tapes were made.
If many of these people who died in custody or were tortured had committed no crime, there is no doubt that they were all victims of crime, whether guilty or not. Despite White House arguments to the contrary, torture is a crime under international and United States law.
Under United Nations Convention Against Torture, an international treaty that almost every country in the world, including the United States, has ratified, torture is an international crime. The United States has made it a crime even if it occurs abroad.
"The Convention Against Torture also establishes what is called universal jurisdiction for cases of torture," Ratner explains. "So, for example, if an American citizen engaged in torture anywhere in the world and was later found in France, let's say, that person could be arrested in France and either tried for torture there or extradited to the place of the torture for trial. To the extent U.S. officials were or are involved in torture in Guantánamo or elsewhere, they should be careful about the countries in which they travel."
He continues, "In addition, torture committed by U.S. soldiers or private contractors acting under U.S. authority is a violation of federal law, punishable by the death penalty if the death of a prisoner results from the torture. Even if one argues that al Qaeda suspects are not governed by the Geneva Conventions, the Convention Against Torture and other human rights treaties ratified by the United States prohibit torture as well as other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.
"The convention is crystal clear: under no circumstances can you torture people, whatever you call them, whether illegal combatants, enemy combatants, murderers, killers. You cannot torture anybody ever; it's an absolute prohibition."
While many well-meaning people on both left and right profess to be shocked by the stories that continue to pour out of Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib and other detention centers, they usually fail to understand that these atrocities are
well-rooted in American culture.
"None of what is known to have happened in Guantánamo is alien to American prisoners." says Paul Wright, Editor, Prison Legal News. Sexual assault, long term sensory deprivation, abuse, beatings, shootings, pepper spraying and the like are all too familiar to American prisoners. Coupled with overcrowding, this is the daily reality of the American prison experience."
Perhaps the only real difference is that the White House argues more forcefully than usual that no court can forbid it to arbitrarily detain and torture anyone it designates an unlawful enemy combatant, a definition that it has applied not only to foreigners but also to American citizens. We have seen how the drug exception to the Constitution has nullified basic American rights such a freedom from illegal search and seizure. But the war on drugs was merely a test run. Some rights remained intact. Now comes the permananent war against terrorism in which all human rights are
Rasul v. Bush could be a legal turning point, but it remains to be seen whether or not the White House will respect any inconvenient court decision, no matter how high the bench. Michael Ratner and Ellen Ray could be merely eloquent early witnesses to the inevitable future. Thus ends democracy in the United States. The most hope that one can express is a question mark. Thus ends democracy in the United States?
© 2005 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/21105/
Saturday, January 29, 2005
A Warming Climate
Friday, January 28, 2005
FOR THE PAST four years members of the Bush administration have cast doubt on the scientific community's consensus on climate change. But even if they don't like the science, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, one of their closest allies in Iraq and elsewhere, has given the administration another, more realpolitik, reason to rejoin the climate change debate: "If America wants the rest of the world to be part of the agenda it has set, it must be part of their agenda, too," the prime minister said this week.
Mr. Blair's speech came at an interesting moment, both for the administration's energy and climate change policies and for the administration's diplomatic agenda. In the next few weeks, the House will almost certainly vote once again on last year's energy bill, a mishmash of subsidies and tax breaks that finally proved too expensive even for a Republican Senate to stomach. After a House vote, there may be an attempt to trim the cost of the bill and add measures to make it acceptable to more senators -- including the growing number of Republicans who have, sometimes behind the scenes, indicated an interest in climate change legislation. Indeed, any new discussion of energy policy could allow Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) to seek another vote on their climate change bill, which would establish a domestic "cap and trade" system for controlling the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.
If domestic politics could prompt the president to look again at the subject, international politics certainly should. Administration officials assert that mending fences with Europe is a primary goal for this year; if so, the relaunching of a climate change policy -- almost any climate change policy -- would be widely interpreted as a sign of goodwill, as Mr. Blair made clear. Beyond the problematic Kyoto Protocol, there are ways for the United States to join the global discussion, not least by setting limits for domestic carbon emissions.
Although environmentalists and the business lobby sometimes make it sound as if no climate change compromise is feasible, several informal coalitions in Washington suggest the opposite. The Pew Center on Global Climate Change got a number of large energy companies and consumers -- including Shell, Alcoa, DuPont and American Electric Power -- to help design the McCain-Lieberman legislation. A number of security hawks have recently joined forces with environmentalists to promote fuel efficiency as a means of reducing U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Most substantively, the National Commission on Energy Policy, a group that deliberately brought industry, environmental and government experts together to hash out a compromise, recently published its conclusions after two years of debate. Among other things, it proposed more flexible means of promoting automobile fuel efficiency and suggested determining in advance exactly how high the "price" for carbon emissions should be allowed to go, thereby giving industry some way to predict the ultimate cost of a cap-and-trade system.
They also point out that legislation limiting carbon emissions would immediately create incentives for industry to invent new fuel-efficient technologies, to build new nuclear power plants (nuclear power produces no carbon) and to find cleaner ways to burn coal. Technologies to reduce carbon emissions as well as fossil fuel consumption around the world are within reach, in other words -- if only the United States government wants them.
© 2005 The Washington Post Company
Friday, January 28, 2005
By ROBERT WRIGHT
LAST week President Bush again laid out a faith-based view of the world and
again took heat for it. Human history, the president said in his inaugural
"has a visible direction, set by liberty and the author of liberty."
Accordingly, America will pursue "the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our
- and Mr. Bush has "complete confidence" of success. Critics on the left and
right warned against grounding foreign policy in such naïve optimism (a
without tyrants?) and such unbounded faith.
But the problem with the speech is actually the opposite. Mr. Bush has too
little hope, and too little faith. He underestimates the impetus behind
and so doesn't see how powerfully it imparts a "visible direction" to
history. This lack of faith helps explain some of his biggest foreign policy
and suggests that there are more to come.
Oddly, the underlying problem is that this Republican president doesn't
appreciate free markets. Mr. Bush doesn't see how capitalism helps drive
toward freedom via an algorithm that for all we know is divinely designed
and is in any event awesomely elegant. Namely: Capitalism's pre-eminence as
wealth generator means that every tyrant has to either embrace free markets
or fall slowly into economic oblivion; but for markets to work, citizens
access to information technology and the freedom to use it - and that means
having political power.
This link between economic and political liberty has been extolled by
conservative thinkers for centuries, but the microelectronic age has
it. Even China's deftly capitalist-yet-authoritarian government - which
embraces technology while blocking Web sites and censoring chat groups - is
to fail in the long run. China is increasingly porous to news and ideas, and
its high-tech political ferment goes beyond online debates. Last year a
official treated a blue-collar worker high-handedly in a sidewalk encounter
and set off a riot - after news of the incident spread by cell phones and
You won't hear much about such progress from neoconservatives, who prefer to
stress how desperately the global fight for freedom needs American power
it (and who last week raved about an inaugural speech that vowed to furnish
this power). And, to be sure, neoconservatives can rightly point to lots of
oppression and brutality in China and elsewhere - as can liberal
human-rights activists. But anyone who talks as if Chinese freedom hasn't
China went capitalist is evincing a hazy historical memory and, however
obliquely, is abetting war. Right-wing hawks thrive on depicting tyranny as
of nature, when in fact nature is working toward its demise.
The president said last week that military force isn't the principal lever
he would use to punish tyrants. But that mainly leaves economic levers, like
sanctions and exclusion from the World Trade Organization. Given that
involvement in the larger capitalist world is time-release poison for
this involvement is an odd way to aid history's march toward freedom. Four
decades of economic isolation have transformed Fidel Castro from a young,
dictator into an old, fiery dictator.
Economic exclusion is especially perverse in cases where inclusion could
work as a carrot. Suppose, for example, that a malignant authoritarian
developing nuclear weapons and you might stop it by offering membership in
the W.T.O. It's a twofer - you draw tyrants into a web of commerce that will
ultimately spell their doom, and they pay for the privilege by disarming.
What president could resist that?
Correct! President Bush is sitting on the sidelines scowling as the European
Union tries to strike that very bargain with Iran.
It's possible that skepticism about the European initiative is justified -
that Iran, in the end, would rather have the bomb than a seat in the W.T.O.
there's one way for the Bush administration to find out: Outline a highly
intrusive arms inspection regime and say that the United States will support
W.T.O. membership if the inspectors find no weapons program (or if Iran
fesses up) and are allowed to set up long-term monitoring.
There are various explanations for Mr. Bush's position. Maybe some in the
administration fear losing a rationale for invading Iran. Maybe the
is ideologically opposed to arms control agreements (a strange position,
post-9/11). But part of the problem seems to be that Mr. Bush doesn't grasp
liberating power of capitalism, the lethal effect of luring authoritarian
regimes into the modern world of free markets and free minds.
That would help explain the amazing four-year paralysis of America's North
Korea policy. Reluctant to invade, yet allergic to "rewarding" tyrants with
incentives and international engagement, the president sat by while North
Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il, apparently built up a nuclear arsenal. Now,
Iran no more than a few years from having the bomb, we're watching this
movie again. And it may be a double feature: the inertia we saw in North
followed by the war we've seen in Iraq. With Iraq and Iran in flames (live,
on Al Jazeera!) and Mr. Kim coolly stockpiling nukes, President Bush will
hit the axis-of-evil trifecta.
Pundits have mined Mr. Bush's inaugural address for literary antecedents -
Kennedy here, Lincoln there, a trace of Truman. But some of it was pure Bill
Clinton. Like Mr. Bush, Mr. Clinton said that history was on freedom's side
and stressed that freedom abroad serves America's interests. But he also saw
- and explicitly articulated - something absent from Mr. Bush's inaugural
vision: the tight link between economic and political liberty in the
age, the essentially redeeming effect of globalization. That's one reason
Mr. Clinton defied intraparty opposition to keep commerce with China and
In the wake of John Kerry's defeat, Democrats have been searching for a new
foreign policy vision. But Mr. Clinton laid down as solid a template for
policy as you could expect from a pre-9/11 president.
First, fight the spread of weapons of mass destruction, which means, among
other things, making arms inspections innovatively intrusive, as in the
Chemical Weapons Convention that President Clinton signed (and that Dick
Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, et. al., opposed). Second, pursue terrorist
overtly and covertly (something Mr. Clinton did more aggressively than the
pre-9/11 Bush administration). Third, make America liked and respected
(as opposed to, say, loathed and reviled). Fourth, seek lasting peace in the
Middle East (something Mr. Bush keeps putting off until after the next war).
And finally, help the world mature into a comprehensive community of
nations - bound by economic interdependence and a commitment to liberty, and
in the global struggle against terrorism and in law enforcement generally.
But in pursuing that last goal, respect and harness the forces in your
favor. Give history some guidance, but resist the flattering delusion that
its pilot. Don't take military and economic weapons off the table, but
appreciate how sparingly you can use them when the architect of history is
side. Have a little faith.
Robert Wright, a fellow at Princeton University's Center for Human Values
and at the New America Foundation, is the author of "Nonzero: The Logic of
Bush Faces New Skepticism From Republicans on Hill
By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 28, 2005; Page A01
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va., Jan. 27 -- When President Bush flies to this Allegheny mountain resort Friday to meet congressional Republicans, he will encounter a party far less malleable and willing to follow his lead than it has been for the past four years.
Bush is accustomed to getting his way with Congress and finished his first term without suffering a major defeat. But mid-level and rank-and-file Republicans have begun to assert themselves on issues including intelligence reform, immigration and a major restructuring of Social Security, the centerpiece of his second-term agenda.
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), who has offered a variety of Social Security ideas that differ from the president's, assured Bush at a meeting Wednesday in the White House residence that he is still fighting on his side.
"I've just opened up a new front," Thomas added, according to a participant.
Such independence was much rarer when the party's prospects for keeping control of Congress were tied to Bush's political health, and his reelection was everyone's priority. But now that Bush has run his last campaign, he is being bolder in calling for legislative action than many lawmakers who must run every two years are willing to be.
That leaves the success of his second-term agenda very much in doubt.
In hallway conversations, over glasses of wine and even in front of television cameras, Republican lawmakers are expressing trepidation about some of Bush's plans, putting him in the undesirable position of having to sell himself to his own party when he could be focusing on Democrats and independents.
Many House Republicans are hesitant to do anything that might jeopardize their chances in the midterm elections in 2006, while in the Senate at least half a dozen members have begun jockeying for the White House.
It's the 'no interest like self-interest' rule, and it's every man for himself," said an aide to a Senate Republican committee chairman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to maintain good relations with the White House. "He's discovering the fine line between having a mandate and being a lame duck."
White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. went to the Capitol on Wednesday as the guest speaker at a regular leadership meeting and to talk about the need for Republicans to be reformers and work together. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) said he thinks it is important for Bush to confront the issue of immigration and provide leadership on broad legislation.
Participants said that the tone was respectful and that Card reiterated the administration's commitment to Bush's temporary-worker program and immigration enforcement issues.
After lawmakers took a six-hour train ride from Washington to the Greenbrier resort here, White House senior adviser Karl Rove worked the crowd and gave the first of several presentations, devoting most of his introductory remarks to Social Security. Rove, discussing the issue at the request of congressional leaders, said that taking it on is important and will be popular.
Bush will make his pitch personally to congressional Republicans at a luncheon Friday.
Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman has begun conferring with lawmakers daily in a bid to sell the president's agenda. He said a main mission is to be a good listener for those who have qualms about Bush's plan to partially privatize Social Security, and to back up worried lawmakers with the party's research, regional media, booking and grass-roots operations.
"Off-year elections are won through the party's ability to motivate the base and persuade swing voters, and this is good politically from both perspectives," Mehlman said.
The skeptics remain vocal, however. During a visit to the White House this week by Finance Committee Republicans, Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (Maine) told Bush she would be concerned about doing anything that would undermine the guaranteed benefit of Social Security.
"We'll keep you in the open-minded camp," replied the ever-optimistic Bush, according to two people who attended the meeting. Later, she told reporters she will oppose the diversion of payroll taxes to individual accounts, the crux of the president's plan as his aides have discussed it so far.
Fifty-five of the Senate's 100 members are Republicans. Sixty supporters would be needed to overcome a delaying tactic known as a filibuster, so Snowe's voice is critical to the GOP. She said in an interview that it was "clear that he [Bush] was soliciting input, recognizing that it is a volatile and sensitive subject where there are disparate views."
"I always tell my colleagues that the Founding Fathers had a great idea, and that was checks and balances," she said.
The White House got a taste of the legislative branch's coming assertiveness late last year, when two committee chairmen temporarily held up a restructuring of the intelligence services -- which the president said he wanted -- because of concerns about a Bush-backed compromise.
Thomas, the House's chief tax writer and a fearless power broker, used an appearance at a National Journal forum earlier this month to announce that he plans to consider a much broader and deeper review of Social Security than Bush has envisioned.
"You people," he said, gesturing toward several former White House officials, "propose; the Congress disposes." He said Bush's failure to veto any bill so far "means we have some latitude in putting together a package that saves Social Security that is perhaps broader than the theme that he is primarily focusing" on.
That theme is a mechanism to allow younger workers to divert part of their payroll taxes into a personal stock-and-bond account. Thomas wants to use the occasion to consider eliminating the payroll tax and to add a savings program for long-term care. At least some House leaders have hailed Thomas's broadside because they believe that Bush's idea alone would fail but that Thomas's expanded ideas might make the plan more attractive to businesses and older Americans.
Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), a Bush backer and chairman of a Social Security subcommittee, contends that the differences between Bush's needs and those of the GOP in Congress are not enough to create a real fissure. "It isn't about the president personally anymore," Santorum said. "But at the same time, we all know that if the president's not popular and we're not being successful as a party, it hurts us all."
Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said the divergence of interests between a White House and a legislative majority of the same party "is natural and happens almost inevitably in a second term."
While the White House thinks Social Security legislation will be dead if it is not signed this year, Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) said such an undertaking will take some time, "and it should -- it really should."
© 2005 The Washington Post Company
January 28, 2005
Little Black Lies
By PAUL KRUGMAN
ocial Security privatization really is like tax cuts, or the Iraq war: the administration keeps on coming up with new rationales, but the plan remains the same. President Bush's claim that we must privatize Social Security to avert an imminent crisis has evidently fallen flat. So now he's playing the race card.
This week, in a closed meeting with African-Americans, Mr. Bush asserted that Social Security was a bad deal for their race, repeating his earlier claim that "African-American males die sooner than other males do, which means the system is inherently unfair to a certain group of people." In other words, blacks don't live long enough to collect their fair share of benefits.
This isn't a new argument; privatizers have been making it for years. But the claim that blacks get a bad deal from Social Security is false. And Mr. Bush's use of that false argument is doubly shameful, because he's exploiting the tragedy of high black mortality for political gain instead of treating it as a problem we should solve.
Let's start with the facts. Mr. Bush's argument goes back at least seven years, to a report issued by the Heritage Foundation - a report so badly misleading that the deputy chief actuary (now the chief actuary) of the Social Security Administration wrote a memo pointing out "major errors in the methodology." That's actuary-speak for "damned lies."
In fact, the actuary said, "careful research reflecting actual work histories for workers by race indicate that the nonwhite population actually enjoys the same or better expected rates of return from Social Security" as whites.
Here's why. First, Mr. Bush's remarks on African-Americans perpetuate a crude misunderstanding about what life expectancy means. It's true that the current life expectancy for black males at birth is only 68.8 years - but that doesn't mean that a black man who has worked all his life can expect to die after collecting only a few years' worth of Social Security benefits. Blacks' low life expectancy is largely due to high death rates in childhood and young adulthood. African-American men who make it to age 65 can expect to live, and collect benefits, for an additional 14.6 years - not that far short of the 16.6-year figure for white men.
Second, the formula determining Social Security benefits is progressive: it provides more benefits, as a percentage of earnings, to low-income workers than to high-income workers. Since African-Americans are paid much less, on average, than whites, this works to their advantage.
Finally, Social Security isn't just a retirement program; it's also a disability insurance program. And blacks are much more likely than whites to receive disability benefits.
Put it all together, and the deal African-Americans get from Social Security turns out, according to various calculations, to be either about the same as that for whites or somewhat better. Hispanics, by the way, clearly do better than either.
So the claim that Social Security is unfair to blacks is just false. And the fact that privatizers keep making that claim, after their calculations have repeatedly been shown to be wrong, is yet another indicator of the fundamental dishonesty of their sales pitch.
What's really shameful about Mr. Bush's exploitation of the black death rate, however, is what it takes for granted.
The persistent gap in life expectancy between African-Americans and whites is one measure of the deep inequalities that remain in our society - including highly unequal access to good-quality health care. We ought to be trying to diminish that gap, especially given the fact that black infants are two and half times as likely as white babies to die in their first year.
Now nobody can expect instant progress in reducing health inequalities. But the benefits of Social Security privatization, if any, won't materialize for many decades. By using blacks' low life expectancy as an argument for privatization, Mr. Bush is in effect taking it as a given that 40 or 50 years from now, large numbers of African-Americans will still be dying before their time.
Is this an example of what Mr. Bush famously called "the soft bigotry of low expectations?" Maybe not: it isn't particularly soft to treat premature black deaths not as a tragedy we must end but as just another way to push your ideological agenda. But bigotry - yes, that sounds like the right word.
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
The New York Times
January 28, 2005
By BOB HERBERT
In a lot of ways New York is a wonderful city. For my money, it's the greatest. But like most American cities, it's weathering fiscal hard times. Despite Mayor Michael Bloomberg's upbeat tone at yesterday's budget presentation, it's a city that can't afford its share of the basic upkeep for its schools, its libraries, its day care centers and so forth.
It's a city of some eight million people that dangerously shortchanges its Fire Department because money is hard to come by. It's a city that has been unable, due to budget constraints, to reach contract agreements with crucial city employees, including firefighters, police officers and teachers.
In short, it's tapped out. Over the past couple of years the city has relied more and more on corporations, wealthy individuals and foundations to pay for municipal services and functions that the city can no longer afford to provide.
The mayor proposed more than a half-billion dollars in budget cuts yesterday as part of an array of proposals (some of them fanciful) to close a budget gap of about $1.5 billion. This is an election-year budget. You can bet heavily that next year's budget will be worse.
New York State is in worse fiscal shape than the city. Much worse, actually. For one thing, Mayor Bloomberg has been far more responsible when it comes to fiscal matters than Gov. George Pataki, who seems to have studied at the George W. Bush School of Economics.
The state, for example, has the primary responsibility for financing local school systems. But the governor and other state officials, already faced with daunting deficits, are clueless about how to comply with a court order to come up with billions of dollars in additional state aid for New York City's chronically underfinanced schools.
Gambling has been one of the governor's favorite strategies for raising school funds. For the longest time he has promoted the idea of bolstering school aid through the use of video lottery terminals - a wretchedly destructive little system known to its detractors as video crack.
The point here is that neither the city nor the state has a dime to spare. Subway lines are falling apart because 19th-century signal systems have been neither upgraded nor protected. Plans for critically needed school construction are being deferred. After-school programs, which are literally lifelines for many youngsters, have to be shut down because they are not "affordable."
And yet. Ah, yes. If there's one thing in this unhappy fiscal environment that Mayor Bloomberg will absolutely go to the mat for (carrying along the governor and any other powerful figures he can muster), it's that football stadium for his fellow billionaire, Robert Wood Johnson IV, owner of the New York Jets.
At $1.4 billion, this playground for the richest among us would be the most expensive sports stadium in the history of the world. The city and the state, which can't afford toilet paper for the public schools, would put up a minimum of $600 million and undoubtedly much more. The smart money says the public will take at least a billion-dollar hit on this project so Woody Johnson can hold court amid a sea of luxury boxes hard by the Hudson on the Far West Side of Manhattan.
How foolish is this project? They're planning to build a 75,000-seat stadium without any parking facilities to go along with it. Can you imagine what the West Side will look like on a game day? (The mayor's people got into a snit last October when officials in New Jersey wouldn't let Hizzoner land his helicopter at the Jets' current home in the New Jersey Meadowlands. He wanted to arrive too close to game time, the officials said. They suggested he come by bus.)
If you're not rich and you don't already have season tickets to Jets games, you will have very little chance of ever seeing the team in its new digs. The waiting list for tickets is 10 years.
But if there's any justice at all, this stadium will never see the light of day. To take the public's money, which should be used for schoolkids, for subway riders, for hospital patients - for any number of projects that might truly serve the public's interest - and hand it over to a billionaire who will use it as seed money to further his already fabulous interests is obscene.
I presume there will be naming rights for Woody's wonderful new playground. I can see the sign now: Bloomberg's Boondoggle.
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company |
Thursday, January 27, 2005
I'm herewith resigning as a member of the liberal media elite.
I'm joining up with the conservative media elite. They get paid better.
First comes news that Armstrong Williams got $240,000 from the Education
Department to plug the No Child Left Behind Act.
The families of soldiers killed in Iraq get a paltry $12,000. But good
Mr. Williams helped out the first President Bush and Clarence Thomas during
the Anita Hill scandal. Mr. Williams, who served as Mr. Thomas's personal
at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission when the future Supreme Court
justice was gutting policies that would help blacks, gleefully attacked
Hill, saying, "Sister has emotional problems," and telling The Wall Street
Journal "there is a thin line between her sanity and insanity."
Now we learn from the media reporter Howard Kurtz that the syndicated
columnist Maggie Gallagher had a $21,500 contract from the Health and Human
Department to work on material promoting the agency's $300 million
initiative to encourage marriage. Ms. Gallagher earned her money, even
Bush in print as a "genius" at playing "daddy" to the nation. "Mommies feel
your pain," she wrote in 2002. "Daddies give you confidence that you can
the pain and get on with life."
Genius? Not so much. Spendthrift? Definitely. W.'s administration was
running up his astounding deficit paying "journalists" to do what they would
to do for free - just to be friends with benefits, getting access that
tougher scribes are denied. Consider Charles Krauthammer, who went to the
House on Jan. 10 for what The Washington Post termed a "consultation" on the
inaugural speech and then praised the Jan. 20th address on Fox News as
says Media Matters, a liberal watchdog group.
I still have many Christmas bills to pay. So I'd like to send a message to
the administration: THIS SPACE AVAILABLE.
I could write about the strong dollar and the shrinking deficit. Or defend
Torture Boy, I mean, the esteemed and sage Alberto Gonzales. Or remind
of the terrific job Condi Rice did coordinating national security before
9/11 - who could have interpreted a memo titled "Bin Laden Determined to
Inside the United States" as a credible threat? - not to mention her
indefatigable energy obscuring information that undercut the vice
My preference is to get a contract with Rummy. It would be cost effective,
compared with the $80 billion he needs to train more Iraqi security forces
be blown up. For half a mil, I could write a doozy of a column promoting
Rummy's phantasmagoric policies.
What is all this hand-wringing about the 31 marines who died in a helicopter
crash in Iraq yesterday? It's only slightly more than the number of people
who died in traffic accidents in California last Memorial Day. The president
set the right tone, avoiding pathos when asked about the crash. "Obviously,"
he said, "any time we lose life it is a sad moment."
Who can blame Rummy for carrying out torture policies? We're in an
information age. Information is power. If people are not giving you the
you want, you must customize to get the intelligence you want to hear.
That's why Rummy also had to twist U.S. laws to secretly form his own C.I.A.
A Pentagon memo said Rummy's recruited agents could include "notorious
whose ties to the U.S. would be embarrassing if revealed, according to The
Washington Post. Why shouldn't a notorious figure like Rummy recruit
I could write a column denouncing John McCain for trying to call hearings
into Rummy's new spy unit, suggesting the senator is just jealous because
sexy enough to play James Bond.
The president might need my help as well. He looked out of it yesterday when
asked why his foreign policy is so drastically different from the one laid
out in Foreign Affairs magazine in 2000 by Ms. Rice - a preview that did not
emphasize promoting democracy and liberty around the world. "I didn't read
the article," Mr. Bush said.
And why should he? Robert McNamara never read the Pentagon Papers. Why
should W. have to bone up on his own foreign policy?
Freedom means the freedom to be free from reading what you promise voters
and other stuff. I could make that case, if the price were right.
Posted 01:30 PM
In the context of the Social Security debate, the record-high budget deficits are discouraging in large part because Bush would like to add an additional $2 trillion to the debt to pay for privatization. But I think the deficit should be considered in this debate in a slightly different way.
We learned yesterday, for example, that last year's record deficit is about to get worse.
Additional war spending this year will push the federal deficit to a record $427 billion for fiscal 2005, effectively thwarting President Bush's pledge to begin stanching the flow of government red ink, according to new administration budget forecasts unveiled yesterday.
Administration officials rolled out an $80 billion emergency spending request, mainly for Iraq and Afghanistan, conceding that the extra money would probably send the federal deficit above the record $412 billion recorded in fiscal 2004, which ended Sept. 30. Bush has pledged to cut the budget deficit in half by 2009, a promise the administration says it can keep. But at least for now, the government's fiscal health is worsening.
For that matter, it's on track to keep getting worse, as our long-term fiscal health continues to deteriorate.
On the other hand, there's the Social Security system, which Bush believes is in "crisis" because it's poised to "bankrupt."
"As a matter of fact, by the time today's workers who are in their mid-20s begin to retire, the system will be bankrupt. So if you're 20 years old, in your mid-20s, and you're beginning to work, I want you to think about a Social Security system that will be flat bust, bankrupt, unless the United States Congress has got the willingness to act now. And that's what we're here to talk about, a system that will be bankrupt."
What, in Bush's mind, constitutes Social Security "bankruptcy"? It's always been a ridiculous claim, but using White House definitions, the system will be "bankrupt" when liabilities outnumber assets. Social Security, in other words, will be bankrupt -- in Bush's mind -- because it may be unable to meet all of its obligations at some point down the road.
I think you see where I'm going with this.
read more »
If Social Security is on track for bankruptcy, under the White House's defintion, then Bush has already bankrupted the federal government because in each of the last several years, his budgets have spent far more than they've received.
As my friend Liam recently asked me, "Since [Bush's] definition of bankrupt seems to be running a deficit, why not confront him with the current accounts deficit in the federal budget? If he is unable to get a grip of that, why should the American people believe he could be reasonably expected to deal with Social Security?"
Indeed, as luck would have it, Social Security is in far better shape than the federal budget. We've known about minor, long-term shortfalls in Social Security and have acted accordingly. The system is stronger now than it has been in years and is on track to be in good health for several future decades without any effort at all.
The federal budget, meanwhile, is not only deep into the red, it's a mess that's getting much worse.
...CBO Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin said tax cuts and spending enacted by Congress last year will contribute $504 billion to the government's overall forecast debt between 2005 and 2014. Additional debt over that decade should total $1.36 trillion, well above the $861 billion figure the CBO projected in September.
"We're doing a little bit worse over the long term," Holtz-Eakin said, "and it's largely due to policy" changes.
A senior administration official told reporters that Bush's budget -- to be announced Feb. 7 -- will show the government on track to cut the deficit in half from the White House's initial deficit projection for 2004.
But the CBO projections cast significant doubt on that claim. In total, the CBO projected that the government will amass an additional $855 billion in debt between 2006 and 2015, but Holtz-Eakin cautioned that the figure almost certainly understates the problem. The total assumes no additional money will be spent in Iraq or Afghanistan over the next decade. Perhaps more important, the CBO, by law, must assume Bush's first-term tax cuts will expire after 2010, sending the government's balance sheet from a $189 billion deficit that year to a $71 billion surplus in 2012.
So, here's what I'd like someone to ask Bush: If you believe Social Security should be described as "in crisis" and poised to go "flat bust" and "bankrupt," how would you describe what you've done to the federal budget?
January 27, 2005
Read My Ears
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Having spent the last 10 days traveling to Britain, France, Germany and Switzerland, I have one small suggestion for President Bush. I suggest that when he comes to Europe to mend fences next month he give only one speech. It should be at his first stop in Brussels and it should consist of basically three words: "Read my ears."
Let me put this as bluntly as I can: There is nothing that the Europeans want to hear from George Bush, there is nothing that they will listen to from George Bush that will change their minds about him or the Iraq war or U.S. foreign policy. Mr. Bush is more widely and deeply disliked in Europe than any U.S. president in history. Some people here must have a good thing to say about him, but I haven't met them yet.
In such an environment, the only thing that Mr. Bush could do to change people's minds about him would be to travel across Europe and not say a single word - but just listen. If he did that, Mr. Bush would bowl the Europeans over. He would absolutely disarm and flummox people here - and improve his own image markedly. All it would take for him would be just a few words: "Read my ears. I have come to Europe to listen, not to speak. I will give my Europe speech when I come home - after I've heard what you have to say."
If Mr. Bush did that none of the European pundits would be able to pick apart his speeches here and mock the contradictions between his words and deeds. None of them would comment on his delivery and what he failed to mention. Instead, all the European commentators, politicians and demonstrators would start fighting with one another over what to say to the president. It might even force the Europeans to get out of their bad habit of just saying, "George Bush," and everybody laughing or sneering as if that ends the conversation, and Europe doesn't have to declare what it stands for.
Listening is also a sign of respect. It is a sign that you actually value what the other person might have to say. If you just listen to someone first, it is amazing how much they will listen to you back. Most Europeans, though, are convinced that George Bush is deaf - that he cannot listen or hear. Just proving that he is not deaf, and therefore the Europeans don't have to shout, would do wonders for Mr. Bush's standing.
What would Mr. Bush hear? Some of it is classic Eurowhining, easily dismissible. But some of it is very heartfelt, even touching. I heard it while doing interviews at the Pony Club, a trendy bar/beauty parlor in East Berlin. And more and more I think it explains why many Europeans dislike Mr. Bush so intensely. It's this: Europeans love to make fun of naïve American optimism, but deep down, they envy it and they want America to be that open, foreigner-embracing, carefree, goofily enthusiastic place that cynical old Europe can never be. Many young Europeans blame Mr. Bush for making America, since 9/11, into a strange new land that exports fear more than hope, and has become dark and brooding - a place whose greeting to visitors has gone from "Give me your tired, your poor" to "Give me your fingerprints." They look at Mr. Bush as someone who stole something precious from them.
Tim Kreutzfeldt, the bar owner, said to me: "Bush took away our America. I mean we love America. We are very sad about America. We believe in America and American values, but not in Bush. And it makes us angry that he distorted our image of the country which is so important to us. It is not what America stands for - and this makes us angry and it should make every American angry, because America lost so much in its reputation worldwide." The Bush team, he added, is giving everyone in the world the impression that "somebody is coming to kill you."
Stefan Elfenbein, a food critic nursing a beer at our table, added: "I know many people who don't want to travel to America anymore. ... People are afraid to be hassled at the border. ... We all discuss it, when somebody goes to America [we now ask:] 'Are you sure?' We had hope that Kerry would win and would make a statement, 'America is back to what it was four years ago.' We hoped that he would be the symbol, the figure who would say, '[America] is the country that welcomes everybody again.' [But] now we have to wait four more years, hopefully for somebody to give us back the country we knew and liked."
Yes, yes, there are legitimate counters to all these points. But before anyone here will listen to Mr. Bush make those counterpoints, he will have to really listen to them first.
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
By PAUL STARR
AS Republicans revel in President Bush's inauguration and prepare for his
agenda-setting State of the Union address next week, many Democrats would
to consider almost anything but the substance of politics as the reason for
their defeat last November. If only John Kerry had been a stronger
If only the message had been framed differently. If only the party's
strategists were as tough as the guys on the other side.
The limits of candidates and campaigns, however, can't explain the
Democrats' long-term decline. And while the institutional decay at the
party's base -
the decline of labor unions and ethnically based party organizations - has
played a role, the people who point to "moral values" may not be far off.
have paid a historic price for their role in the great moral revolutions
that during the past half-century have transformed relations between whites
blacks, men and women, gays and straights. And liberal Democrats, in
particular, have been inviting political oblivion - not by advocating the
but by letting their political instincts atrophy and relying on the legal
To be sure, Democrats were right to challenge segregation and racism,
support the revolution in women's roles in society, to protect rights to
and to back the civil rights of gays. But a party can make only so many
enemies before it loses the ability to do anything for the people who depend
it. For decades, many liberals thought they could ignore the elementary
demand of politics - winning elections - because they could go to court to
these goals on constitutional grounds. The great thing about legal victories
like Roe v. Wade is that you don't have to compromise with your opponents,
or even win over majority opinion. But that is also the trouble. An
unreconciled losing side and unconvinced public may eventually change the
And now we have reached that point. The Republicans, with their party in
control of both elected branches - and looking to create a conservative
on the Supreme Court that will stand for a generation - see the opportunity
to overthrow policies and constitutional precedents reaching back to the New
That prospect ought to concentrate the liberal mind. Social Security,
progressive taxation, affordable health care, the constitutional basis for
and labor regulation, separation of church and state - these issues and more
hang in the balance.
Under these circumstances, liberal Democrats ought to ask themselves a big
question: are they better off as the dominant force in an ideologically pure
minority party, or as one of several influences in an ideologically varied
party that can win at the polls? The latter, it seems clear, is the better
Rebuilding a national political majority will mean distinguishing between
positions that contribute to a majority and those that detract from it. As
year's disastrous crusade for gay marriage illustrated, Democrats cannot
allow their constituencies to draw them into political terrain that can't be
at election time. Dissatisfied with compromise legislation on civil unions
and partner benefits, gay organizations thought they could get from judges,
beginning with those on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, what the
electorate was not yet ready to give. The result: bans on same-sex marriage
passing in 11 states and an energized conservative voting base.
Public support for abortion rights is far greater than for gay marriage, but
compromise may be equally imperative - especially if a reshaped Supreme
reverses Roe v. Wade by finding that there is no constitutional right to
abortion and throws the issue back to the states. Some savvy Democrats are
thinking along these lines, as Hillary Clinton showed this week when she
urged liberals to find "common ground" with those who have misgivings about
And if a new Supreme Court overturns affirmative-action laws, Democrats will
need to pursue equality in ways that avoid treating whites and blacks
Some liberals have long been calling for an emphasis on "race neutral"
economic policies to recover support among working-class and middle-income
voters. Legal and political necessity may now drive all Democrats in that
Republicans are leaving themselves open to this kind of strategy. Their
party is far more ideologically driven and more beholden to the Christian
than it was even during the Ronald Reagan era. This is the source of the
party's energy, but also its vulnerability. The Democrats' opportunity lies
becoming a broader, more open and flexible coalition that can occupy the
In the long run, Democrats will benefit from their strength among younger
voters and the growing Hispanic population. But the last thing the Democrats
is a revived interest group or identity politics. As the response to Senator
Barack Obama's convention speech showed, the party's own members are looking
for an expansive statement of American character and national purpose.
Secure in their own lives at home, Americans can be a great force for good
in the world. That is the liberalism this country once heard from Woodrow
Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy - and it is the only form of
liberalism that will give the Democratic Party back its majority.
Paul Starr is the co-editor of The American Prospect and the author, most
recently, of "The Creation of the Media."
The New York Times Company |
NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
POIPET, Cambodia - When I describe sex trafficking as, at its worst, a
21st-century version of slavery, I'm sure plenty of readers roll their eyes
It's true that many of the girls who are trafficked around the world go
voluntarily or under coercion too modest to be fairly called slavery. But
are girls like Srey Rath.
A couple of years ago, at age 15 or 16 (she's unsure of her birth date),
Srey Rath decided to go work in Thailand for two months, so that she could
her mother a present for the Cambodian new year.
But the traffickers who were supposed to get her and four female friends
jobs as dishwashers smuggled them instead to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of
There, three of the girls, including Srey Rath, were locked up in a karaoke
lounge that operated as a brothel and ordered to have sex with customers.
Rath indignantly resisted.
"So the boss got angry and hit me in the face, first with one hand and then
with the other," she remembers. "The mark stayed on my face for two weeks."
That was the beginning of a hell. The girls were forced to work in the
brothel 15 hours a day, seven days a week, and they were never paid or
Nor were they allowed to insist that customers use condoms.
"They just gave us food to eat, but they didn't give us much because the
customers didn't like fat girls," Srey Rath said.
The girls had been warned that if they tried to escape they could be
murdered. But they were so desperate that late one night, after they had
up in the 10th-floor apartment where they were housed, they pried a strong
board off a rack used for drying clothes. Then they balanced the board,
was just five inches wide, from their window to a ledge in the next
building, a dozen feet away.
Srey Rath and four other girls inched across, 10 floors above the pavement.
"We thought that even if we died, it would be better than staying behind,"
Srey Rath said. "If we stayed, we would die as well." (I talked to another
the Cambodians, Srey Hay, and she confirmed the entire account.)
Once on the other side, they took the elevator down and fled to a police
station. But the police weren't interested and tried to shoo them away at
- and then arrested them for illegal immigration. Srey Rath spent a year in
a Malaysian prison, and when she was released, a Malaysian policeman drove
her away - and sold her to a taxi driver, who sold her to a Thai policeman,
who sold her to a Thai brothel.
Finally, after two more months, Srey Rath fled again and made it home this
time to the embraces of her joyful family. An aid group, American Assistance
for Cambodia, stepped in to help Srey Rath, outfitting her with a street
cart and an assortment of belts and keychains to sell. That cost only $400,
now she's thrilled to be earning money for her family.
Over the last five years, the U.S. has begun to combat sex trafficking, with
President Bush's State Department taking the lead. But there's so much more
that could be done, particularly if the White House became involved. More
scolding and shaming of countries with major sex trafficking problems, like
and Malaysia, would go a long way to get them to clean up their act.
It's mostly a question of priorities. No politician defends sex trafficking,
but until recently no one really opposed it much either. It just wasn't on
the agenda. If, say, 100 people in each Congressional district demanded that
their representatives push this issue, sex trafficking would end up much
on our foreign policy agenda - and the resulting ripple of concern around
the globe would emancipate tens of thousands of girls.
You'll understand the stakes if you ever cross the border from Thailand to
Cambodia at Poipet: look for a cart with a load of belts. You'll see a
teenage girl who will try to sell you a souvenir, and you'll realize that
talk about sex "slavery" is not hyperbole - and that the shame lies not with
the girls but with our own failure to respond as firmly to slavery today as
our ancestors did in the 1860's.
The New York Times Company |
The New York Times
January 26, 2005
By MARK LANDLER
DAVOS, Switzerland, Jan. 26 - As the world's most rarified talk-shop opened for business here today, two things were as clear as the Alpine air: the sinking dollar and soaring deficits in the United States are Topic A at this year's conference of the World Economic Forum.
And anyone hoping for an answer to when either will stabilize is likely to come away disappointed.
Economists, politicians and business executives voiced deep unease about the imbalances in the global financial system, which are reflected in the dollar's steep fall against the euro and other currencies.
But most expressed skepticism that the Bush administration would reduce the trade and budget deficits, which have fed those imbalances. Some said they doubted that China, which is financing much of the American debt, would bow to pressure to allow its currency to rise against the dollar this year.
"The U.S. current-account deficit is a problem for the whole world," said Jacob A. Frenkel, an economist and former governor of the Bank of Israel. "I don't see the budget deficit being taken seriously."
The Bush administration, which had dispatched Vice President Dick Cheney and then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to past Davos meetings to defend the Iraq war and other foreign-policy initiatives, has not sent a senior economic policy maker to this gathering. That absence has lent the proceedings themselves an imbalanced tone.
"In fairness, it's a transition period in Washington," said Representative Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, who supplied the American voice on a panel about American leadership. But he added, "The administration doesn't really have anyone they trust enough to send here."
Mr. Frank, the ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, said he worried that the United States was not paying enough attention to the risks of its growing indebtedness. The repercussions of a weak dollar, he said, had barely registered with the White House.
Other critics were blunter. "There's nobody home on economic policy in America right now," said Stephen S. Roach, the chief economist at Morgan Stanley and a reliable doomsayer at these gatherings.
The twin burdens of household and public debt in the United States, he said, are unsustainable. Describing American consumers as "an accident waiting to happen," he asked, "when does the music stop?"
With the dollar weak and the euro already trading above $1.30 - near its economically tenable limit for Europe - Mr. Roach said the United States could not rely on currency markets to right the trade imbalance between it and the Asian countries who finance American deficits by buying Treasury bills.
The answer, he said, lies with the Federal Reserve, which he said would have to raise interest rates aggressively to curb the spending binge. Whether the Fed could do that without setting off a recession is an open question, especially given the impending retirement of its chairman, Alan Greenspan.
Few here held out much hope for international coordination of the kind that stabilized the dollar in the 1980's, when the Reagan administration helped negotiate the Louvre and Plaza Accords.
"The Bush administration doesn't listen to people," said Laura D. Tyson, a former chairman of the council of economic advisors in the Clinton White House. "There's no hope of changing U.S. fiscal policy."
Professor Tyson, who is dean of the London Business School, said European leaders needed to stop worrying about the actions of other countries and set about streamlining their own economies. She pointed to recent wage negotiations in Germany, in which the unions agreed to longer hours and more flexible work rules, as a hopeful sign of change.
Certainly, Europe cannot rely on Asia to take the pressure off the euro. While people here said they were guardedly optimistic that China would eventually allow its currency, the yuan, to rise against the dollar, few were willing to hazard a guess as to when - or to what extent.
"That will need a political commitment and a political will, and I don't see that happening this year," said Takatoshi Ito, an expert in international economics at the University of Tokyo.
Some economists warned that the burgeoning trade deficit and weak dollar could cast a shadow over negotiations to liberalize world trade, which have been dragging for various reasons in the last year.
China's record trade surplus with the United States could fuel protectionist forces in the United States, said C. Fred Bergsten, the director of the Institute for International Economics in Washington. He said he could foresee moves to slap import barriers on Chinese wood and shrimp.
"This is a poisonous environment for trade policy and for domestic politics in the United States," Mr. Bergsten said.
In the last couple of years, with the White House's march to war in Iraq, Davos itself has been a rather poisonous environment for Americans. Those tensions have ebbed this year, although some non-Americans here were talking about the emergence of new alliances - like one between China and the European Union - that leave the United States on the sidelines.
"In recent years, our leaders have felt more comfortable talking to European leaders," said Yuan Ming, the director of the Institute for American Studies at Peking University. "The United States could be our biggest partner, but it could also be our biggest troublemaker."
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
The New York Times
January 25, 2005
By EDMUND L. ANDREWS
and JOHN O'NEIL
WASHINGTON, Jan. 25 - White House officials predicted this afternoon that the budget deficit would hit a record $427 billion this year, including an additional $80 billion that President Bush will ask for mostly to cover the costs of the war in Iraq.
White House officials said today that they were still on track to fulfill Mr. Bush's campaign promise of cutting the budget deficit in half by 2009.
But the administration is already well behind on its goal. The White House predicted last summer that the budget deficit would decline in 2005 and continue to sink after that.
The officials said Mr. Bush would ask Congress next month for the extra $80 billion when he submits his budget next month for fiscal 2006. The new request would bring total costs of the war to more than $200 billion by the end of this year, with spending likely to continue at near current levels through at least 2006.
The new estimate calls for the budget to climb slightly, and a new report earlier today by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office shows that deficits will remain above $350 billion through 2009 and climb sharply after that.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that continued costs of the war in Iraq and other aspects of the war on terrorism could add $285 billion over the next five years.
The congressional agency also noted deficits would climb much more sharply in the subsequent five years. Extending Mr. Bush's tax cuts would cost $1.8 trillion over the next 10 years. Preventing an expansion of the alternative minimum tax, a parallel tax that was designed to prevent wealthy people from taking advantage of loopholes, would cost about $500 billion.
Even without the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and despite expectations of strong economic growth over the next two years, the Congressional Budget Office said the federal budget outlook worsened since last year.
Congressional analysts predicted that interest costs on the federal debt will double over the next decade to more than $300 billion a year.
Democrats quickly seized on both the administration's announcement and the new congressional report, accusing Mr. Bush of making things worse by pushing for big tax cuts at a time of war.
"The administration remains in denial about these fiscal results," said Representative John W. Spratt, Democrat of South Carolina and the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee.
The White House defended its fiscal record, and the presidential spokesman, Scott McClellan, said at a news briefing today that the president's deficit-reduction plan was "based on strong economic growth and spending restraint."
"By taking the steps that we have to get our economy growing stronger and creating jobs, we're also seeing increased revenues coming in," he said. "And by working with Congress to exercise responsible spending restraint, we've got a plan to cut the deficit in half over five years."
The Congressional Budget Office predicted that excluding the White House's request for $80 billion in additional money, the federal government would run a deficit of $368 billion this year.
The deficit for the 2004 budget year was $412 billion, representing 3.6 percent of the nation's economy. The deficit projection for this year, excluding growth in military spending and other budget changes, would represent 3 percent of the American gross domestic product, the budget office said.
Last year's deficit was the largest ever in terms of dollars, although the deficits run under President Ronald Reagan in the 1980's were larger as a percentage of the economy. President Bush pledged during last year's campaign to cut the deficit, and aides have said that his new budget will include a number of spending cuts.
But spending on military operations seems likely to continue to grow.
The request for $80 billion would bring projected spending on the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan to $105 billion for the 2005 fiscal year - a figure that far exceeds the administration's prewar estimates of overall costs.
The Congressional Budget Office also projected the 2006 budget deficit at $296 billion, and released a 10-year fiscal projection that estimated budget shortfalls over the next decade at $855 billion, down from its projection last year of $2.3 trillion. But the new report noted that the 10-year figure, like the projection for the coming year, would predict larger shortfalls if the full amount actually being spent on the conflicts were included.
Long-term budget estimates are notoriously unreliable, being based on assumptions both about economic activity and policy decisions yet to come. The budget agency stressed that the figures were not meant as a hard and fast prediction, but as a benchmark that policy makers could use to inform decisions about new proposals.
The estimates also exclude the cost of measures the president plans to introduce when he submits his budget to Congress next month. Those include the partial privatization of Social Security, which would require up to $2 trillion over the next decade to make up for money being diverted into personal accounts; the extension of tax cuts passed in Mr. Bush's first term, which would cut revenues by an estimated $1.8 trillion over 10 years; and the $350 million pledged by President Bush for tsunami relief efforts.
The budget agency said that its figures were based on a prediction of strong economic growth in the next two years, based on an assumption that the economy has been performing under its capacity in recent years. But for later in the decade it predicts a slowing of growth as more members of the Baby Boom generation leave the work force and health care costs rise with the aging population.
And as in other years, the figures exclude the effect of the surplus being run by Social Security, which uses the excess to buy government bonds that it plans to use to pay benefits later in the century. The actual difference between non-Social Security revenues and spending projected for 2005 is $541 billion, not including the expected costs for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The actual spending gap in 2004 was $567 billion.
Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, indicated that her party would likely support the White House's request for more money for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Democrats "have pledged to give our armed forces the support the need," she said. But she promised that the Bush administration would face tough questions about its policies in Iraq, in particular over the failure to train and equip more Iraqi troops.
Ms. Pelosi said the new deficit figures "confirm that President Bush and Congressional Republicans have completely abandoned fiscal responsibility."
The chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, called the deficit "too high" and said the Congressional Budget Office's report showed that it was time to "get serious about putting our financial house in order, beginning with short-term deficit reduction and then long-term control of entitlement spending."
"If we do nothing, our kids and grandkids will be overwhelmed by the costs of our inaction," Senator Gregg said.
Brian Riedl, a budget analyst with the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the figures showed strong growth in tax revenues, but even sharper growth in the government's spending on health care. Starting in 2006, when the new Medicare prescription drug benefit goes into effect, the cost of Medicare and Medicaid will for the first time exceed the cost of Social Security, Mr. Riedl said.
The Congressional Budget Office's report projected that spending for Medicare will rise at a rate of 9 percent a year through 2015, and for Medicaid at 7.8 percent a year.
As mandatory costs for the health programs and Social Security go up, along with interest payments to finance the rising national debt, the percentage of the budget going to discretionary programs - that is, everything else - will shrink over the next decade, according to the new forecast.
Edmund L. Andrews reported from Washington for this article, and John O'Neil from New York. David E. Sanger contributed reporting from Washington.
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
The New York Times
January 24, 2005
OP-ED QUARTET: A COLUMNIST'S FAREWELL
By WILLIAM SAFIRE
The Nobel laureate James Watson, who started a revolution in science as co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, put it to me straight a couple of years ago: "Never retire. Your brain needs exercise or it will atrophy."
Why, then, am I bidding Op-Ed readers farewell today after more than 3,000 columns? Nobody pushed me; at 75, I'm in good shape, not afflicted with political ennui; and my recent column about tsunami injustice and the Book of Job drew the biggest mail response in 32 years of pounding out punditry.
Here's why I'm outta here: In an interview 50 years before, the aging adman Bruce Barton told me something like Watson's advice about the need to keep trying something new, which I punched up into "When you're through changing, you're through." He gladly adopted the aphorism, which I've been attributing to him ever since.
Combine those two bits of counsel - never retire, but plan to change your career to keep your synapses snapping - and you can see the path I'm now taking. Readers, too, may want to think about a longevity strategy.
We're all living longer. In the past century, life expectancy for Americans has risen from 47 to 77. With cures for cancer, heart disease and stroke on the way, with genetic engineering, stem cell regeneration and organ transplants a certainty, the boomer generation will be averting illness, patching itself up and pushing well past the biblical limits of "threescore and ten."
But to what purpose? If the body sticks around while the brain wanders off, a longer lifetime becomes a burden on self and society. Extending the life of the body gains most meaning when we preserve the life of the mind.
That idea led a lifetime friend, David Mahoney, who headed the Dana Foundation until his death in 2000, to join with Jim Watson in forming the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives. They roped me in, a dozen years ago, to help enliven a moribund "decade of the brain." By encouraging many of the most prestigious neuroscientists to get out of the ivory tower and explain in plain words the potential of brain science, they enlisted the growing public and private support for research.
That became the program running quietly in the background of my on-screen life as language maven, talking head, novelist and twice-weekly vituperative right-wing scandalmonger.
I had no pretensions about becoming a scientist (having been graduated near the bottom of my class at the Bronx High School of Science) but did launch a few publications and a Web site - www.Dana.org - that opened some channels among scientists, journalists and people seeking reliable information about the exciting field.
Experience as a Times polemicist made it easier to wade into the public controversies of science. Dana philanthropy provides forums to debate neuroethics: Is it right to push beyond treatment for mental illness to enhance the normal brain? Should we level human height with growth hormones? Is cloning ever morally sound? Does a drug-induced sense of well-being undermine "real" happiness? Such food for thought is now becoming my meat.
And what about what the cognition crowd calls "executive transfer" in learning? Does an early grasp of the arts - music, dance, drama, drawing - affect a child's ability to apply that cognitive process to facility in math, architecture, history? New imaging techniques and much-needed longitudinal studies may provide answers rather than anecdotes and affect arts budgets in schools.
So I told The Times's publisher two years ago that the 2004 presidential campaign would be my last hurrah as political pundit, and that I would then take on the full-time chairmanship of Dana. He expressed appropriate dismay at losing the Op-Ed conservative but said it would be a terrible idea to abandon the Sunday language column. That's my scholarly recreation, so I agreed to continue. (Don't use so as a conjunction!)
Starting next week, working in an operating and grant-making foundation, I will have to retrain parts of my brain. That may not make me a big man on hippocampus, but it means less of the horizon-gazing that required me to take positions on everything going on in the world; instead, a welcome verticalism will drive me to dig more deeply into specific areas of interest. Fewer lone-wolf assertions; more collegial dealing. I hear that's tough.
But retraining and fresh stimulation are what all of us should require in "the last of life, for which the first was made." Athletes and dancers deal with the need to retrain in their 30's, workers in their 40's, managers in their 50's, politicians in their 60's, academics and media biggies in their 70's. The trick is to start early in our careers the stress-relieving avocation that we will need later as a mind-exercising final vocation. We can quit a job, but we quit fresh involvement at our mental peril.
In this inaugural winter of 2005, the government in Washington is dividing with partisan zeal over the need or the way to protect today's 20-somethings' Social Security accounts in 2040. Sooner or later, we'll bite that bullet; personal economic security is freedom from fear.
But how many of us are planning now for our social activity accounts? Intellectual renewal is not a vast new government program, and to secure continuing social interaction deepens no deficit. By laying the basis for future activities in the midst of current careers, we reject stultifying retirement and seize the opportunity for an exhilarating second wind.
Medical and genetic science will surely stretch our life spans. Neuroscience will just as certainly make possible the mental agility of the aging. Nobody should fail to capitalize on the physical and mental gifts to come.
When you're through changing, learning, working to stay involved - only then are you through. "Never retire."
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
Monday, January 24, 2005
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