Neighbors For Peace
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Some Questions for The Next President
Neighbors For Peace has multiple commitments. Besides working to end war and occupation in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine, we work on issues of social justice and civil liberties. Since peace and justice cannot exist in the world when private interests suppress the public good, it matters whether our elected officials truly work in the interest of their constituents.
Most U.S. citizens know that radical Christian groups are determining policies on abortion rights, AIDS prevention, and sex education. These policies will likely move in a more liberal direction if Democrats take the White House in 2008. The news-consuming public is also familiar with the Bush Administration’s ties to big business, especially the oil industry. Is that public also aware that while Chevron and Halliburton may lose their place at the front of the Corporate Welfare line, the Military Industrial Complex as a whole will lose very little?
Thanks to this administration’s excessive spending, the private contractors hired by the U.S. military and the Pentagon have opened a black hole of unmonitored transactions. The U.S. taxpayer cannot afford this. What have our presidential hopefuls said about this bleeding of the U.S. treasury? What will they do about our trillion dollar foreign debt? Who will be the new Blackwater and Boeing? Will Democrats, if they take control, stop outsourcing government functions to the private sector?
Democrats’ past voting record prove they will not seek peace in the Middle East. For most of the Arab world, Israel’s occupation of Palestine remains the prime obstacle to regional stability. Yet this occupation is still financially and politically supported by both the Democratically controlled U.S. Congress and the Republican Administration. The Israeli government is the largest recipient of U.S. military aid. And the lip service the U.S. government pays to a “two-state” solution is undermined by their refusal to deal with the democratically elected Hamas government. If Clinton or Obama take the White House, how would our stance on Israel change? Neither candidate has brought attention to the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza.. More importantly, both candidates take money from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC.)
Will the next president allow our mass media to remain under the control of the juggernauts now monopolizing print and electronic news? Microsoft, Google, AT&T, Time Warner and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp will seek more control over how we communicate. They will censor news, ideas and opinions that challenge the validity of their narratives.
As for labor and health issues, WalMart, notorious for employee exploitation and abuse worldwide, is a top contributor to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. So are many of the big HMO Companies that oppose government-funded health insurance. Many of Clinton’s donors see her original stance for Universal Healthcare as bad for their business. Do the candidates support Universal Healthcare or a watered down plan that keeps Insurance Companies in control of patient care?
According to the corporate media, the most important role our next president will play is as “Protector of the Free World.” So it comes as no surprise that most of the candidates, regardless of party, will continue the “War on Terror” to promote pervasive distrust and suspicion. Those with foreign accents and foreign names, who view the Bible as just another book or don’t wear clothes from the local mall ensure long life for the Department of Homeland Security.
The NSA’s domestic surveillance of citizens and non-citizens is a disturbing shift from democracy. What is more disturbing is that telecom companies like AT&T illegally and secretly share private citizens’ information with the NSA. While deploring the NSA activity, do the Democratic candidates actually plan to stop this spying? What candidate talks of repealing the Patriot Act or the even more odious Military Commissions Act? Which one speaks candidly about our increasing loss of freedom or reversing the Bush Administration’s extra-Constitutional executive orders and signing statements? Will they continue its trend of threatening Muslims, peace activists, dissidents and lawyers who fight for civil liberties?
The congressional hearings being conducted on domestic spying and the Justice Department’s politically motivated hirings and firings seem to show a willingness to confront corruption. But when Alberto Gonzales’ blatant perjury made headlines, why did we only hear lukewarm admonitions and threats? Is there no real desire among any of them to stand against outrageous corruption occurring in the executive branch? Is the only goal the 2008 elections? Could it be that the Democrats want to retain the imperial powers that Bush has assumed for the Presidency?
Two years after Hurricane Katrina, weather experts predict more Katrinas and other global warming.-related environmental disasters. Candidates play lip service to curbing the causes of global warming by framing it as a consumer issue, not a political one. In the meantime, climate changes continue to devastate the planet and affect vulnerable populations. But changing our light bulbs and recycling waste won’t offset the pollution created by the manufacture and use of airplanes and cars. Will the next president substantially fine Oil Companies and require them to clean up their spills and waste quickly? Will they deny them recourse to the courts as a stalling tactic? Will they stop logging and timber companies from devastating old growth forests?
Do the presidential candidates address the devastating poverty that millions all over the world face because of so-called “free” trade and globalization? U.S.-backed foreign investment means gross human rights violations by the targeted country’s government, economic exploitation of workers, theft of natural resources and small farmers’ inability to sell their crops. With very few exceptions, we do not hear any campaign promises from the candidates about ending NAFTA and CAFTA, nor any other multilateral agreements the U.S. makes to ensure their favorite corporations dominate a global market.
Over the past year, The Neighbors’ Times has addressed issues that few of the candidates care to discuss. Besides Dennis Kucinich, who has called for the Impeachment of Dick Cheney? Will they promote a war on Iran? How will they protect Internet freedom, or stop ever-growing media monopolies? Do we hear them discuss the suffering in the Congo? How will they resolve the trillion dollar income shift that moves money to the top 1% of the population away from the rest of us? Their answers to those issues would reflect who they truly represent. And if we are to have a democracy, they need to be addressed. Finally, what does it say about this country’s future if these topics remain off limits for public discussion?
The saga of the 110th Congress could easily wind up being another cautionary tale of how politics as usual brought no change to the country’s current direction of increasing militarism, fiscal irresponsibility, and transnational corporations’ control over our society. These are topics we will address in future issues.
Neighbors for Peace continues to call for an immediate end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the problems that U.S. citizens now face with both Congress and the Bush Administration are intrinsically linked to our quest for peace and justice, and cannot be discounted. Two additional items that are of major importance demand attention.
All rational people who care about the future of this country should let this incoming Congress know that they must repeal the Military Commissions Act, an odious violation of human rights, and a clumsy attempt to immunize the Bush Administration and the CIA from prosecution for their policy of torture over the past five years. This Act, which denies Habeas Corpus for anyone - even a U.S. citizen - labeled “enemy combatant” was signed into law in early October. It gives despotic powers to an administration that must promote a myth of “us versus the evildoers” in order to remain relevant. As we mentioned in our previous issue, Habeas Corpus is an 800-year-old legal concept guaranteeing that those who are arrested must have their case reviewed in a court of law. Mr. Bush was not solely responsible for this gross violation of civil liberties. The Republican-led 109th Congress - with some Democrats supporting the bill - passed the Act, placing themselves in the uncomfortable position of being accomplices to this administration’s acts of torture and other war crimes(1).
Secondly, we need to make the impeachment of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney a top priority. This goal already has the support of a sizeable portion of the U.S. population. Yet those who are active in the peace movement need to be clear in their motives for undertaking this project.
We cannot dismiss our living for the past five years under a murderous U.S. leadership whose violent policies will be remembered for generations. But Democrats that now speak only of bipartisanship and cooperation betray a fear of the spin Republicans will place on calls for official investigations into the crimes this administration has committed. If we believe what the corporate media have been communicating, impeachment appears difficult, even ludicrous. Pundits, already parroting the line of “vengeance,” hope that those who are more interested in their political image than in seeking to bring Bush and Cheney to justice will stall or block the necessary hearings.
The references to Bill Clinton’s impeachment could not be clearer, nor could they be more absurd. Although the Clinton administration also had a foreign policy that was quite destructive for Iraq and focused on preserving and building on American hegemony in the world, he was impeached for relatively frivolous reasons. His affair posed no threat to the rule of law in this country, nor to civil and human rights. His lies about his relationship to Ms. Lewinsky did not cause needless deaths. Yet the official Democrat line seems to run parallel to the corporate media spin: future speaker Nancy Pelosi has assured reporters that “impeachment is off the table” and “Democrats are not about ‘getting even.’” Even Representative John Conyers (D-Mich), best known for his sponsorship of the “Downing Street Memos” investigations, has backed away from calling for impeachment.
Our demands cannot be framed in the context of revenge or petty power plays. Impeachment is a process discussed at length in our Constitution and is the traditional remedy prescribed for the abuse of power in the executive office. John Nichols, author of the book, “The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders’ Cure for Royalism,” points out that “the founders intended for impeachment to be utilized whenever necessary in defense of the republic. They did not want the power to impeach treated as a fetish or a fantasy, nor did they intend for its application to be seen as a constitutional crisis. Rather, they wanted impeachment to be recognized for what it is: the cure for the crisis of executive excess.”(2).
We also need to keep in mind that allowing this president to corrupt his office and take powers that are typically appropriated by dictators means that his successor – regardless of political affiliation – will have these same powers, coupled with the potential of expanding them. The outgoing Congress has aided in this corruption of the executive branch by saying a great deal about it, yet doing nothing.
The Constitution’s architects already knew that abuses of office would most likely occur during wartime – and that Congress would be unwilling to take steps to remove the executive. Yet the movement to impeach Bush and Cheney has already begun at the grass roots level, and is now spreading upwards throughout local and state governments. If it continues to grow, we can eventually force this Congress to respond. In light of their own culpability in empowering this administration to break laws, the goal won’t be easy. But the alternative is that we remain complacent and dismiss the democratic process of bringing government officials to account when they fail to serve the public interest. It is also an admission that those who would usurp power for their own purposes have succeeded.
There is little doubt that a thorough investigation of the crimes that Bush and his cohorts have committed will bring overwhelming evidence to public view. These violations of both constitutional and international law have an amazing scope: lying to Congress and the American people about the Iraq invasion; a reckless disregard for the many warnings given of an imminent attack on the U.S. in 2001; fraud; torture; unauthorized wiretapping and spying; unjustified invasion of a sovereign nation; “extraordinary rendition”; and by many accounts, genocide.
There are no justifiable arguments for protecting U.S. officials from the rule of International Law: Besides congressional investigations, there are other venues available for bringing this administration to justice: the World Court, the International Criminal Court and the UN:.
It is presumptuous to rejoice over the gains Democrats have made in the Senate and the House. While we shouldn’t ignore the fact that many candidates running at the local, state and national level won on anti-war, anti-globalization platforms, there aren’t enough of these new progressives to alter the major policies of this government.
Naive hopes that this year’s election results will bring back the democratic freedoms we once took for granted will ensure that we lose what few freedoms and rights remain. Our most important work begins when we realize that any changes to this country’s direction begin with our own commitment and energy to creating those changes.
1. 34 Democrats in the House and 12 in the Senate voted for the bill.
2. John Nichols, “Founders Saw Impeachment as a Cure”, Common Dreams News Center (www.commondreams.org); republished from Madison Capital Times, September 22, 2006;
Summary of Article By Jack Rasmus
from Z Magazine February, 2007 Issue
From 1942 to the mid-seventies, there occurred a great leveling of income in the United States. Working class families received a share of the gains in productivity. Social Security was expanded. Health insurance plans were negotiated. Unions represented 35 per cent of the work force. Public universities were nearly free. The tax burden for workers rose slowly, while rich people and corporations still paid a fair share.
From the early 1980’s on, income inequality widened, deepened and accelerated. Today well over $1 trillion dollars is being transferred every year from the 90 million working class families to corporations and the richest households. This widening gap has finally become the subject of public debate. Even pro-business publications like the Wall Street Journal have acknowledged the phenomenon. There is concern that it will affect social cohesion and seriously undermine democracy. Some politicians, too, have begun to pick up on this theme. They sense the growing discontent of millions, who continually hear (from Bush and company) how great the economy is supposed to be doing but know that they themselves are losing ground.
Today’s income inequality is not about the upper twenty per cent of the population gaining an ever-increasing share of national income while the middle, the working class and the poor stagnate or decline. It is about the wealthiest 1 per cent—even the top 0.1 and 0.01 per cent. These now receive between 19 and 21.5 per cent of the annual GDP. In 1980, the figure was only 8 per cent. Today’s figure is close to the 22 per cent of national income that the top 1 per cent received in 1928—just before the stock market crash of 1929. Since 2000, the number of millionaires has risen from 6 to 7.5 million. Meanwhile, the bottom 50 per cent of all households own only 2.5 per cent of the country’s wealth. Real weekly earnings for 100 million workers are less today than when Ronald Reagan took office: a virtual quarter-century wage freeze.
The most telling statistic comes from the U.S. Department of Commerce. The 8.3 per cent drop in labor’s share of the GDP represents an annual shift in income today of about $1,080 billion. That now occurs every year. and it is rising. This figure, however, does not include additional income transfers from labor to corporations as a consequence of employers shifting a greater share of the costs of health care to their workers; the burden placed on workers by the discontinuing of pension plans since the 1980’s; and the transfer of hundreds of billions more every year in workers’ payrolltax payments from the Social Security Trust Fund to the U.S. general budget.
Discussion of income inequality today nearly always refers to government data sources. A major failing here is that the statistics are based on interview surveys of the very rich. It is naive to assume that such people would reveal details of their finances to government interviewers—after manipulating tax shelters, as most do, and paying lawyers and accountants to hide their income. Several of these official sources leave out capital gains from their totals. None of them make upward adjustments in income to account for the squirreling away of trillions of dollars in offshore tax shelters since the early 1980’s. Moreover, none of them consider the relative shift in income from workers to corporations.
Most of the income held by the top one per cent passes through corporations. However, none of the current discussion on the widening income gap gives an adequate picture of the corporations’ role.
A first step in the right direction has been made by two French economists, Thomas Picketty and Emmanual Saez. In their paper, “Income Inequality in the United States, 1913-2002,” they created a database from IRS sources on taxes paid by family units. Their findings represent an advance over official government sources. Unfortunately, their study has unavoidable limitations. Income from tax shelters, tax evasion, and fraud does not show up in the IRS data. Corporate retention of profits may be contributing to the underestimation of capital incomes; but this question is not addressed.
Between 1976-1980, great opportunities for defending and even advancing working class incomes were possible, but they were dissipated and lost. Now that the Democratic Party has gained more power, the potential exists for the kind of economic development that occurred between 1946 and 1950. Or will their right-wing associated make this impossible?
(Part 2 in the next issue will cover the specific corporate policies that have shaped the U.S. economy since 1980.)