The earthquake and tsunami that ravaged thousands of coastline villages from Thailand to Somalia this past weekend has prompted an urgent need for relief from the international community. With the death toll at 76,000 and rising quickly, the threat of infectious diseases is increasing rapidly as entire islands go without clean water and medicine.
The Bush Administration initially announced a $15 million aid package in response to the disaster, and upped that to $35 million yesterday in the face of mounting public pressure. Jan Egeland, the UN's emergency relief coordinator, got the ball rolling when he criticized the US's contributions to economically-struggling countries around the world as "stingy" in recent years.
Unfortunately, Egeland's criticism finds support in the numbers: the New York Times reported this morning that the US is among the least generous nations in the world in proportion to the size of its economy when it comes to providing assistance to poor countries.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in 2003 contributions by the US represented only 0.14 percent of the US gross national income, making it the smallest donor percentagewise among developed nations. By contrast, Egeland's native Norway gave 0.92 percent of its gross national income; Denmark, 0.84 percent; the Netherlands, 0.81 percent; Luxembourg, 0.80 percent; and Sweden, 0.70 percent.
The non-partisan group, Americans for Informed Democracy, is calling on US citizens to register their support for the US government to demonstrate far more principled, aggressive and generous leadership in responding to the tsunami disaster than is currently being shown. Click here to sign and send a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell and click here to read eyewitness dispatches from BBC correspondents filing from affected areas around the region as relief efforts get underway.
Beyond the actions of the US government, private citizens can also lend a hand. Given the dire state of affairs, it's hard to imagine a more valuable effort to contribute to at this time. Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam America and UNICEF are three good groups accepting donations for the relief effort. And click here for a larger list of organizations, courtesy of the Washington Post.
Co-written by Patrick Mulvaney.
Looking for some good news this holiday season? Check out Martha Stewart's Christmas 2004 message. The old Martha would have been instructing America's women how to wrap those presents, trim their trees and bake those holiday cookies. The new Martha has issued a different tip: a smart call for sentencing reform.
A realist might say that battlefield conversions don't last once the war is over. But Martha is no fool and her eyes seem to have been opened to the reality of how our society has come to use prisons.
Millions have followed Martha's advice when it comes to recipes. I hope some of them will listen to her call for a makeover of the criminal justice system.
Her statement, which deserves at least as wide a circulation as her recipes, is posted below.
An Open Letter From Martha Stewart
When one is incarcerated with 1,200 other inmates, it is hard to be selfish at Christmas--hard to think of Christmases past and Christmases future--that I know will be as they always were for me--beautiful! So many of the women here in Alderson will never have the joy and well-being that you and I experience. Many of them have been here for years--devoid of care, devoid of love, devoid of family.
I beseech you all to think about these women--to encourage the American people to ask for reforms, both in sentencing guidelines, in length of incarceration for nonviolent first-time offenders, and for those involved in drug-taking. They would be much better served in a true rehabilitation center than in prison where there is no real help, no real programs to rehabilitate, no programs to educate, no way to be prepared for life "out there" where each person will ultimately find herself, many with no skills and no preparation for living.
I am fine, really. I look forward to being home, to getting back to my valuable work, to creating, cooking, and making television. I have had time to think, time to write, time to exercise, time to not eat the bad food, and time to walk and contemplate the future. I've had my work here too. Cleaning has been my job--washing, scrubbing, sweeping, vacuuming, raking leaves, and much more. But like everyone else here, I would rather be doing all of this in my own home, and not here--away from family and friends.
I want to thank you again, and again, for your support and encouragement. You have been so terrific to me and to everyone who stood by me. I appreciate everything you have done, your emails, your letters, and your kind, kind words.
Politics is a game played by rules. And the most important rule regarding close elections is that you don't win by being conciliatory during the recount process. Indeed, the only way a candidate who trails on election night ends up taking the oath of office is by refusing to concede and then confidently demanding that every vote be counted -- even when the opposition, the media and the courts turn against you.
That is a rule that Al Gore failed to follow to its logical conclusion in 2000, and that John Kerry did not even attempt to apply this year. Both men were so determined to maintain their long-term political viability that they refused to fight like hell to assure that the votes of their supporters were counted. That refusal let their backers down. It also guaranteed that, despite convincing evidence that the Democrat won in 2000, and serious questions about the voting and recount processes in the critical state of Ohio in 2004, George W. Bush would waltz into the White House.
Maybe someday, if the Democrats really want to win the presidency, they will nominate someone like Christine Gregoire. Gregoire is the Washington state attorney general who this year was nominated by Democrats to run for governor of that state. She is hardly a perfect politician -- like too many Democrats, she is more of a manager than a visionary; and she is as ideologically drab as Gore or Kerry.
But Gregoire had one thing going for her, and that was her determination to win.
When the initial count showed her trailing Republican Dino Rossi by more than 200 votes, she refused to accept the result. Certain that there were Democratic votes that had yet to be tallied, she demanded a recount. The second review showed her trailing Rossi by 42 votes and -- as in the 2000 fight over recounting presidential ballots in Florida -- the Republicans accused Gregoire of traumatizing the state by continuing to demand that every vote be counted. "It's time to move forward," chirped Rossi, who ridiculed Democratic demands for a fuller, sounder recount. Rossi claimed that Gregoire wanted to count and recount the ballots until she was declared the winner.
In a sense, Rossi was right.
Gregoire did want to keep counting until she won. But, of course, that is the point of the recount process: If you think that the votes are there to assure your victory, you keep demanding that they be counted and tabulated. This is the fundamental rule that neither Gore nor Kerry ever quite got.
As Christmas approached, the pressure on Gregoire to back off was intense. But the Democratic gubernatorial candidate and her supporters continued to press for a full review of the ballots -- paying more than $700,000 for another count and going to court to defend the principle that every voted counts and every vote must be counted.
Two days before Christmas, with a go-ahead from the state Supreme Court, Gregoire got a full count. That reversed previous results and gave her a 130-vote lead over Rossi.
The fight may not be over yet. Rossi is crying foul. But the likelihood is that, in Washington state, the Democrat, not the Republican, will be taking the oath of office in January. There are two reasons why this is the case. First, Christine Gregoire got more votes. Second, she demanded that they be counted.
John Nichols' book on Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President, has just been released by The New Press. Former White House counsel John Dean, the author of Worse Than Watergate, says, "This page-turner closes the case: Cheney is our de facto president." Arianna Huffington, the author of Fanatics and Fools, calls Dick, "The first full portrait of The Most Powerful Number Two in History, a scary and appalling picture. Cheney is revealed as the poster child for crony capitalism (think Halliburton's no bid, cost-plus Iraq contracts) and crony democracy (think Scalia and duck-hunting)."
Dick: The Man Who Is President is available from independent bookstores nationwide and by clicking here.
This past November, I wrote about the right's semantic trickery and proposed an idea for how we could debunk and decode the conservative's Orwellian Code of encrypted language: A Republican Dictionary.
I put together a small list and asked readers to send me their own entries. Response has been overwhelming--more than 375 people have sent definitions.
I published a small sample of the entries I've received in this space earlier this month. Below I'm publishing a second batch of reader submissions to this on-going project. We're going to continue posting additional entries in the weeks ahead, so click here to suggest your contributions.
ALARMIST, n. Any respected scientist who understands the threat of global warming. (Dave Nold, Berkely, California)
ALLIES, n. Foreigners who do what Republicans tell them to do. (Gary Schroller, Bellaire, Texas)
BALANCED, adj. 1. favoring corporations (a more balanced approach to the environment.); 2. favoring conservatives (fair and balanced reporting). (Scott Davis, Grand Prairie, Texas)
CLASS WARFARE, n. Any attempt to raise the minimum wage. (Don Zwier, Grayslake, Illinois)
COALITION, n. One or more nations whose leaders have been duped, pressured or bribed into supporting ill-conceived, unnecessary, under-planned and/or illegal US military operations. (Michael Shapiro, Honolulu, Hawaii)
CONVICTION, n. Making decisions before getting the facts, and refusing to change your mind afterward. (Paul Ruschmann, Canton, Michigan)
CULTURE OF LIFE, n. A reduction of reproductive freedoms. (Sean Sturgeon, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada)
DEMOCRACY, n. My way or the highway. (Daniel Quinn, London, UK)
ECONOMIC RECOVERY, n. When three out of five software engineers who lost their jobs to outsourcing are able to find part-time work at Wal-Mart. (Rob Hotman, Houston, Texas)
ELECTION FRAUD, n. Counting every vote. (Sean O'Brien, Chicago, Illinois)
GIRLY MEN, n. Those who do not grope women. (Nick Gill, Newton, MA)
HARD WORK, n. What Republicans say when they can't think of anything better. (Brian McDowell)
HEALTHY FORESTS, n. No tree left behind. (Ron Russell, San Francisco, California)
JOB GROWTH, n. Increased number of jobs an individual has to take after losing earlier high-paying job. (John E. Tarin, Arlington, Virginia)
JUNK SCIENCE, n. Sound science. (Geoffrey King, Austin, TX)
OFFICE OF FAITH-BASED INITIATIVES, n. Christian Right payoff. (Michael Gendelman, Fair Haven, New Jersey)
OWNERSHIP SOCIETY, n. A society in which no one ever needs to own up to their mistakes or the consequences of their actions. (Sharon Gallagher, New York, New York)
PARTIAL BIRTH ABORTION, n. A non-medical term invented by anti-choice zealots that refers to a broad class of abortion procedures; employed as a first step in reversing Roe v. Wade. (David McNeely, Lutz, Florida)
POLITICAL CAPITAL, n. What a Republican president receives as a result of a razor-thin margin of victory in an election. (Joy Losee, Gainesville, Georgia)
PRESS CONFERENCE, n. A rare event designed for the President to brag about his prowess as a leader while simultaneously dodging difficult questions. (Jim Nidositko, Westfield, New Jersey)
REFORM, n. Rollback of New Deal reforms, laws, standards and social protections. (Nick Gill, Newton, MA)
RESOLUTE, adj. Pig-headed. (Paul Ruschmann, Carlton, MI)
SMALL BUSINESS OWNER, n. rich person (Michael Mannella, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
SOCIAL SECURITY REFORM, n. Leave no Wall Street broker behind. (Ann Klopp, Princeton, NJ)
STAYING THE COURSE, v., The act of being stubborn and unable to admit glaring policy mistakes; being wrong and sticking with the wrong idea regardless of the consequences. (Jillian Jorgensen, Staten Island, New York)
TAX SIMPLIFICATION, n. A way to make it simpler for large US corporations to export American jobs to avoid paying US taxes. (Seth Hammond, Goodwell, Oklahoma)
VERY CLEAR, adj. Modifier used immediately before any preposterous explanation or rationale. (Lance L. Prata, Eastlake Weir, Florida)
What do the CIA, the Pentagon and the UN have in common? They share a prescient view of the world's greatest dangers and their unheralded agreement on key issues facing the planet has received far too little attention in the media.
Since 2000, all three institutions have produced a number of valuable reports arguing that so-called soft issues like poverty, disease and climate change are endangering global stability and the future of the United States.
This rising consensus should compel US policy-makers to concede a most basic point--we need a global development agenda. It isn't a soft-headed, idealistic thing either. Unless we confront issues like poverty and gender inequality, the world will become more destabilized, increasingly violent and less secure.
In December 2000, the CIA's Global Trends 2015 report warned of instability brought on by a shortage of drinking water--"the single most contested resource on the planet," as Time.com described the CIA's findings. The report also warned that nation-states would soon disintegrate, "non-state actors" like Osama bin Laden would emerge as greater threats, that populations would increase by one billion people by 2015, and that HIV/AIDS would represent a major security issue in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the former Soviet Republics. (Another CIA report issued that same year, "Global Infectious Disease Threat," estimated that by 2020 over half of all deaths from infectious disease in the developing world will be caused by AIDS, imperiling government stability, food production, health services, and even nuclear/weapons security in places.)
Some cities in the Arab world would become "impossibly overpopulated hubs of discontent, dramatically under-serviced by such basic infrastructure as drinking water and sewage," as Time.com described the CIA's Global Trends 2015 report's conclusions. "Their population is likely to be young, hungry, sick, disillusioned and very, very angry."
The CIA's report argued that we should increase foreign aid and investment, along the lines of the Marshall Plan, to close a growing divide between rich and poor, which would, in turn, reduce threats to the United States.
The CIA's findings, which remarkably dovetail with the United Nation's Millenium Development Goals, ought to be heard as a rousing call to fund the UN's development agenda--the only truly global Marshall Plan of our time. The UN's Millenium agenda--adopted in 2000--includes reducing by half those suffering from hunger; reducing child mortality for children under five by two-thirds; cutting in half the number of those without access to safe drinking water and establishing universal primary education and halting the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases by 2015.
The statistics don't lie: UNICEF reports that one billion children are living in poverty (or every second child); more than 121 million primary school age children are out of school--the majority of them are girls; and that 10.6 million children died in 2003 before they were five of largely preventable deaths.
The global community knows how to deal with these catastrophes. By spending $150 billion dollars worldwide each year, the UN could actually meet its Millennium Goals over the next decade. (UNICEF puts the figure somewhere between $40 and $70 billion--either way, it's a paltry sum in contrast to the $956 billion spent annually worldwide on military items.)
Indeed, while the CIA and the UN may diverge on rationale and policy implications, the underlying issues in the decade ahead give credibility to the much-derided "soft" side of the global agenda. Supported by Gordon Brown, Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer, the UN Global Millennium Agenda offers an agenda that do-gooders as well as economists, national security strategists and CIA agents can (and should) love.
Meanwhile, earlier this year, the Pentagon tasked two futurologists with assessing long-term threats to the United States--their report, "Imagining the Unthinkable," focused on "worst-case" scenarios and actually cited climate change as a major long-term threat to US national security.
The report's co-author, Peter Schwartz, told NPR's Living on Earth that the "most extreme case would be a scenario of fairly rapid warming in the near future--the next, say, decade or so--that would in turn trigger rapid cooling. "Ultimately, we'd see 'warming' [in] Europe, parts of the northeastern United States and Canada.You'd see severe storms--more torrential rainfall--very short winters, a shift in the location of tornadoes--and 'mega-droughts.'" Conflicts over water and fishing rights would emerge, and refugees would flock to the US in greater numbers.
An even more recent report issued last fall--and authored by the Defense Science Board Task Force, an organization that advises the Secretary of Defense--raised crucial issues. The report, virtually ignored by the mainstream media, found that: "Muslims do not 'hate our freedom,' but rather they hate our policies" and "American direct intervention in the Muslim world has paradoxically elevated the stature of and support for radical Islamists..." The study also concluded that US public diplomacy faces "a fundamental problem of credibility" and that US support for authoritarian regimes in the region has undermined the so-called war on terror by turning ordinary Muslims against the West.
Back in Dec. 2000, John Gannon--Chairman of the National Intelligence Council and one of the authors of the CIA Global Trends 2015 report--urged America to deal with countries that "feel they're being left behind"--thereby confronting the downside of globalization. Yet, four years have passed, and America's political leadership is doing quite the opposite: neglecting the global South and attacking the UN as outdated and useless.
While our mangled Iraq war policy is sowing hatred for America in the Middle East, American policy-makers have failed to heed the rising global consensus that poverty, climate change and the global HIV/AIDS pandemic demand intelligent and collective response and funding.
How many more reports (and threats) must appear before attacking the world's most glaring problems becomes priority number one?
In RFK: A Memoir, the finest of the shelf full of books he produced during a career that was as prolific as it was meaningful, Jack Newfield succeeded in explaining the late Robert F. Kennedy better than any of the late New York senator's many biographers. "Part of him was soldier, priest, radical, and football coach. But he was none of these," wrote Newfield, who had chronicled his subject's transition from President John Fitzgerald Kennedy's "first-brother" to presidential candidate in his own right. "He was a politician. His enemies said he was consumed with selfish ambition, a ruthless opportunist exploiting his brother's legend. But he was too passionate and too vulnerable ever to be the cool and confident operator his brother was."
With Newfield's death Monday night at age 66, there will be a search for the words to describe the late journalist. In the end, if that search is successful, it will find its way back to the words that Newfield employed to describe Kennedy.
Newfield, who most of us came to know as the star reporter for New York's Village Voice newspaper from the 1960s to the 1980s, and who most recently was a regular contributor to The Nation, had many passions – from boxing to baseball to civil rights and civil liberties. But the thing I loved best about Jack Newfield was that he loved politics. When he described Kennedy as a politician, he was not dismissing the man whose majestic 1968 presidential campaign he chronicled in an up-close-and-personal fashion that put the reporter just a short distance away from the scene where that campaign – and so many of the hopes of Newfield's decade, the 1960s – were dashed. Rather, Newfield was honoring Kennedy, about whom the reporter would say, "Though it's really unknowable, I think that if Bobby had lived to be president we would have ended the Vietnam War much sooner, renewed the war on poverty; we would have had a totally different policy toward blacks than Richard Nixon had."
All of those things mattered to Newfield, whose progressive passions were never obscured by his reporter's pen and notepad. Like all great reporters, he knew that slogans like "fair-and-balanced" were merely camouflage for laziness and the lie of relativism. The point was to get at the truth. And Newfield knew that the most important arena in which to go seeking for truth, in all its ugliness and glory, was the political fray.
Newfield understood that politics ought to be a noble endeavor. Yet, he recognized that it seldom was. He had a facility for spotting both the failings of those who gave politics its bad name -- especially those of the political bosses of Brooklyn and Queens -- and the potential of those who sought to redeem the enterprises of electioneering and governing. And he saw redemption in participatory democracy; among the final articles by this veteran of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s was an optimistic report on the increasingly important role that African-American voters would play in the 2004 election.
One of Newfield's last endeavors was the editing of a pair of books of essays, American Rebels and American Monsters. Newfield was on the side of the rebels. He celebrated them when they were beating the monsters in the 1960s, and when they were frequently beaten by those same monsters in the decades that followed.
Jack Newfield saw a world of heroes and villains, and he recognized that when they battled in the political arena it was the job of the journalist to go beyond merely reporting. He understood that the search for truth led, ultimately, to the point where the journalist had to take a side. He took the side of civil rights marchers, of anti-poverty crusaders, of reformers and radicals who believed that the promise of social and economic equity would be made real if the better angels of the American experiment could only be awoken by an article or a book. And so he wrote, passionately, powerfully and with a faith in the potential of a word well chosen to change the world.
Jack Newfield defined journalism for this reporter, and for thousands of others. His passing robs the craft not just of an able practitioner, but of a man who taught the rest of us that the combination of pen and ink could produce the rarest of all commodities: truth, and sometimes justice.
In a decision that was as unsurprising as it was shallow, Time magazine picked George W. Bush as its Person of the Year for the amazing feat of winning reelection as an incumbent president. Leaving aside the fact that since WWII only two incumbent presidents have lost reelection bids, Time is rewarding process over content, style over substance.
The fact is that, with the exception of one day (November 2nd), Bush has had a terrible year. The budget deficit is the highest in our history. The dollar is in free fall. Gas prices have shot through the roof. Job creation is at a post WWII low. The tepid economic recovery has stalled. More and more children are being left behind. The country is bitterly divided. The rest of the world loathes us. Afghanistan is once again the world's leading exporter of heroin. The Iraq war, which was supposed to be a cakewalk, has turned into a quagmire. The American military is stretched to the breaking point as the casualty rate rises and recruitment falls. The Abu Ghraib torture photos are being used by al Qaeda as recruitment posters.
But Bush won, so Time magazine gave him the prize, because: "the president has reshaped the rules of politics to fit his 10-gallon-hat leadership style." It sounds like a polite way of saying, Bush proved you can be a really rotten president and still get reelected. As Texans say, the man is "all hat, no cattle." And Time fell for it hook, line and sinker.
Way off the world's radar and in continued violation of international human-rights law, on September 22 the Vietnamese Government abruptly transferred political dissident Dr. Nguyen Dan Que to Ward 5 Prison of the Public Security Ministry, an isolated and hostile hard-labor camp.
The 1995 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Laureate and the founder of the Nonviolent Movement for Human Rights, Que has spent more than 20 years in prison for political activism in Vietnam. An endocrinologist by training, Que was detained without trial from 1978 to 1988 after he criticized national health care policy. After his release, he established a democratic-rights movement, for which he was arrested in 1990 and sentenced to another 20 years' imprisonment.
An international coalition has sprung up demanding Que's release on both legal and humanitarian grounds. The groups--including the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights Action Network--are calling for an international letter-writing campaign on Que's behalf.
The campaign is critical: As an emergency alert put out by the RFK Center said, "By transferring Dr. Que to a remote labor camp...the Vietnamese Government has violated his right to receive family visitations and adequate medical and psychological care, in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966 and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of 1984, to which Vietnam is a signatory."
Click here to send a letter to Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai asking him to set Que free, click here for more background on Que's work, and click here to support the work of the RFK memorial project.
Is America better off now than it was a year ago? I'm sure everyone has a quick answer, but the Drum Major Institute's Year in Review provides you with the hard facts, evidence, and analysis to back it up.
From changes in rules governing overtime to the proposed gutting of the Community Reinvestment Act, the DMI Review offers a scathing indictment of the national Administration.
In fact, with top-level support for the outsourcing of jobs and federal inaction on the skyrocketing costs of health care and higher education, this Administration showed a staggering disinterest in reversing the squeeze on America's middle class, content to allow our nation to be divided into those with vast wealth and then everyone else.
At the same time, the Year in Review highlights the success of local organizations and policymakers from both parties to expand access to affordable prescription drugs, stall the steady encroachment of big-box mega-stores into middle-class communities, raise the minimum wage, and provide entry for immigrant children to attain a higher education--all of which the President would not do.
The DMI 2004 Year in Review also offers its take on the best and worst in public policy, a recap of the 2004 national election (how divided are we, really?), a 2004 Injustice Index (the real state of the union, by the numbers), report recommendations, a highlight of efforts on the frontlines in five states (from California's struggle against Wal-Mart to Washington, DC's struggle for taxation with representation), and more. Click here to download and circulate the full report.