Monday, October 25, 2004

In memory of Paul Wellstone...

For many Minnesotans, Paul Wellstone, his wife & kids were heroes. Unlike many other politicians, he truly cared about people and won his senate seat through grassroots campaigning in 1990. He used a green bus to campaign around Minnesota & even drove in it to DC when he was sworn to the US Senate in 1991. He was up for re-election in a close race in 2002, when the vote for the Iraq war was proposed. I wrote to him voicing my opposition. Two days later, he e-mailed me back saying he disagreed with it too. Along with our other senator, Dayton, he and 3 other Minnesota congressmembers voted NO. On Oct 25, 2002, 10 days before the mid-term election, he, his wife & daughter were killed in an airplane crash. Like thousands of Americans, I was devastated. I was angry at God & asked "Why him? Why now?" I still tear up when I think of him and admire the hope he has instilled in the lives of people he touched. His campaign workers didn't quit - instead they have created Wellstone Action: a non-profit organization dedicated to continuing Paul and Sheila Wellstone's fight for economic justice and progressive social change. As their sons Mark & david said, "Paul and Sheila Wellstone can never be replaced. But others can be taught to walk in their footsteps. That's the first order of business for Wellstone Action." They organize intensive camps around the country teaching grassroots activity, how to mobilize & organize, how to be successful & even run for office. The camps are always booked & I haven't yet had a chance to enroll. Paul Wellstone, thank you & we will never ever park the green bus....

Iraq continues to be a place for tragic loss of innocent lives. From The Independent: "49 Iraqi soldiers executed in attack designed to send message to US. They were a group of unarmed army recruits, young Iraqis who had volunteered to help build a force capable of providing their country with security when the international troops had returned home.But, to the insurgents, they were seen as traitors working hand -in-hand with the hated powers of occupation. And so, they were one of the most brutal acts of violence in the current rebellion...Although hundreds have died in bombings and mortar attacks, this is the first time they had carried out a planned operation with such a high number of casualties...a group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi...claimed responsibility for the attack...Iraqi politicians, including those in the government, have begun to express doubts about whether, with rising attacks, viable elections can be held at all in January. The United Nations, which is supposed to play a main role in organising the elections under a Security Council resolution, still has fewer than 40 personnel in the country. Attempts to get member countries to supply troops to protect UN personnel so more officials can come has failed to produce any offers...Instead of the hoped-for return of foreign investment and aid organisations which left the country as the violence stepped up,the exodus has grown with the spate of kidnappings with Margaret Hassan, the head of the charity Care International in Iraq, the latest victim."

Today the NY Times reported that "nearly 380 tons of powerful conventional explosives - used to demolish buildings, make missile warheads and detonate nuclear weapons - are missing from one of Iraq's most sensitive former military installations.The huge facility, called Al Qaqaa, was supposed to be under American military control but is now a no man's land...United Nations weapons inspectors had monitored the explosives for many years, but White House and Pentagon officials acknowledge that the explosives vanished sometime after the American-led invasion last year." From Informed Comment: "Josh Marshall is suspicious that this major screw-up has been known to the Bush administration for some time, and that it may have pressured the Iraqi government not to mention it. If Bush cannot even protect our troops from explosives at a sensitive facility in a country he had conquered, how is he going to protect the American public from terrorists who have not even yet been identified? The disappearance of these explosives is yet one more disaster caused by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's mania to send a small military force into Iraq. Rumsfeld over-ruled the officers in the Pentagon, who wanted hundreds of thousands of troops and knew that many would be needed to secure the country after the war...Only two weeks ago, The International Atomic Energy Commission reported that not only had dual-use equipment been stripped from an old Iraq nuclear weapons facility, but even the buildings had been stripped and dismantled. Muhammad al-Baradei said that some of the nuclear material stolen from facilities in Iraq has already begun showing up in other countries. Bush is making us safer? The American public trusts him to fight terror more effectively than Kerry? On what record? Bush appears to have all but just called up Usamah and Khamenei and told them where Saddam's old stuff was in case they needed it for their programs. And he politely made sure that no pesky US troops would be around to impede their access. Bush administration spokesmen are being careful to say that the hundreds of tons of explosives stolen from al-Qaqaa are not themselves useful as fissile material, i.e. they are not enriched uranium or plutonium.But the fact is that one of the first such "missing deadly weapons" scandals to break in Iraq had to do with the disappearance of radioactive materials from Tuwaitha. This theft was known already in the summer of 2003, and worries were expressed that that material could be used to make a dirty bomb....whether the existence of all this equipment and dangerous explosives doesn't prove that Saddam still had an active weapons program. The answer is a categorical "no." A lot of this stuff was left over from the 1980s when there had been such active programs, but which were abandoned after the Gulf War. Ironically, the bits and pieces Saddam still had were useless to a major state. But they could be stolen and cobbled together by a small band of terrorists to deadly effect."

From the Washington Post: "At the request of the CIA, the Justice Department drafted a confidential memo that authorizes the agency to transfer detainees out of Iraq for interrogation -- a practice that international legal specialists say contravenes the Geneva Conventions...The 1949 treaty notes that a violation of this particular provision constitutes a "grave breach" of the accord, and thus a"war crime" under U.S. federal law..."For these reasons," ... It says that even persons removed from Iraq retain the treaty's protections, which would include humane treatment and access to international monitors. During the war in Afghanistan, the administration ruled that al Qaeda fighters were not considered "protected persons" under the convention. Many of them were transferred out of the country to the naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and elsewhere for interrogations. By contrast, the U.S. government deems former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party and military, as well as insurgents and other civilians in Iraq, to be protected by the Geneva Conventions...It is not clear why the CIA would feel the need to remove detainees from Iraq for interrogation...Rashul, a suspected member of the Iraqi Al-Ansar terrorist group,was captured by Kurdish soldiers in June or July of 2003 andturned over to the CIA, which whisked him to Afghanistan for interrogation. Goldsmith [head of the Office of Legal Counsel] ruled that Rashul was a "protected person" under the Fourth Geneva Convention and therefore had to be brought back to Iraq...The CIA was not happy with the decision...when transferring Rashul back to Iraq, then-CIA Director George J. Tenet asked Defense Secretary Donald H.Rumsfeld not to give Rashul a prisoner number and to hide him from International Red Cross officials...As a "ghost detainee," Rashul became lost in the prison system for seven months...His current status is unknown. "What they are doing is interpreting an exception into an all-encompassing right, in one of the most fundamental treaties in history," Byers [a professor and international law expert at the University of British Columbia] said. The Geneva Convention "is as close as you get to protecting human rights in times of chaos. There's no ambiguity here."

Also from Iraq: "Far from a limited number of pro-Saddam resistance groups fighting coalition forces, well-funded cells and militias representing a spectrum of Islamic groups are now spread across Iraq.They include Sunni resistance groups, Ba'athist groups loyal to the ousted Saddam regime, Shi'ite resistance groups, and other terrorists groups that have moved into Iraq from Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Pakistan and Egypt since the occupation began in the spring of last year. The documents show that terrorist and militia activity is spreading across Iraq and is not just limited to Baghdad and Fallujah...In the run-in to the US presidential election, one of Bush's key messages is that a democratic Iraq will make the world a safer place. That claim is key to the White House's justification for the invasion. The more the claim looks suspect, the likelihood is that swing voters - crucial to the outcome of the election race - could turn to Bush's challenger, Senator John Kerry."

Interestingly, Kerry has been using more faith-based language in his rallies to compete with Bush's religiosity. From The Christian Science Monitor: "To convince undecided voters - particularly religious moderates in swing states - that he stands for their deepest concerns, the Democratic candidate is speaking more frequently in the language of faith. Framing the issues in moral terms and showing how religious values undergird his policy choices, Senator Kerry hopes to broaden the values debate and to show that he is as much a man of faith as is President Bush.
But the Democrats are playing catchup on the religion front, and the question is whether this effort, including the speech Kerry gave Sunday devoted to religious ideals and values, will give voters a more satisfying glimpse of the candidate, or be "too little, too late." "A fault line runs through the denominations ... with moral absolutists on the one hand versus those who see shades of gray on the other," according to Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention. "Religion's role is increasing and will only continue to increase." Pollsters say that many religious moderates - whether Catholic, Evangelical, or other - are still up for grabs. "One reason Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania are so competitive is that they ... have a lot of 'centrist' groups"...Recent polls suggest Kerry is making some headway. According to the Pew Research Center, white Catholic voters, who have consistently favored Bush over the past month, now lean toward Kerry by 50 to 43 percent...At the center was the quote from the book of James that he used in the third debate: "It is not enough, my brother, to say you have faith when there are no deeds ... Faith without works is dead." Kerry also speaks of the Good Samaritan as related to issues of health care and poverty, and of "stewardship," as it relates to the deficit and preserving the environment. On Sunday he emphasized seeking the common good and the moral obligation to care for the less fortunate."

The US has a long history of immigration, symbolized by the Statue of Liberty. Over the past two centuries, America [has] accepted tens of millions of immigrants from around the world. What are the candidates' positions on immigration? According to the Christian Science Monitor, "There are at least 8 million illegal aliens living in America today - and their numbers are growing by at least 400,000 a year. Maybe 500,000. No one knows for sure...Public opinion on this issue diverges from the positions of both President Bush and Senator Kerry. Neither presidential candidate calls for a slowdown on legal immigration. Yet a Gallup poll earlier this year found that 49 percent of Americans prefer a decrease in legal immigration, while only 8 percent want an increase of the kind supported by Mr. Bush. It is illegal immigrants, however, who raise the most concern among many voters, as well as security experts. The 9/11 commission, in its 567-page report on the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, noted that in an age of terrorism, "the challenge for national security is to prevent the very few people who may pose overwhelming risks from entering ... the United States undetected." Senator Kerry claims "the borders are more leak[y] today than they were before 9/11. The fact is, we haven't done what we need to do to toughen up our borders. And I will." At the same time, Kerry promises to help illegal aliens who are already here. He vows within 100 days of taking office to rush through legislation that would allow millions of people who have already entered the US illegally to move toward legal status - a move that President Bush quickly criticized as "amnesty." Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, says of Bush and Kerry: "As far as the parts of their immigration plans that are most often discussed, there is no difference. They both favor amnesty for illegal immigration. Bush says his is not, but that is just 'spin.' "