Wednesday, June 30, 2004

The United States should increase the size of the Army

Why you're right:

1. The Army is so overburdened that much of it is not combat-ready. According to a senior army official, "four Army divisions -- 40 percent of the active-duty force -- will not be fully combat-ready for up to six months" of 2004, as they recoup from operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Washington Post)

2. The Army is now unable to respond to emerging threats. North Korea, for example, is continuing to aggressively build its military capability. If there was a situation that required intervention, the United States would "only be able to respond to an emergency in North Korea with air and naval power or nuclear weapons." Ret. Gen. Barry McCaffrey thinks this is an "unacceptable...strategic risk." (Washington Post)

3. The Army is forced to extend the length of troop deployments, hurting morale. In April, the Army "broke a promise to some active-duty units, including the 1st Armored Division, that they would not have to serve more than 12 months in Iraq." (AP)

4. The Army is forced to rely on untrained troops. Just to meet its current obligations, the military has been forced to call up 5600 individual reservists who "do not perform regularly scheduled training." (AP)

Why they're wrong:

Some might suggest that, instead of increasing the size of the Army, the United States should simply stop fighting wars of choice. The problem with the argument is that we need to base our policy now on the world as it is, not as it should be. We are in Afghanistan, and Iraq, and there are emerging threats around the world. We have an obligation to those enlisted now to make sure that the Army is big enough to met our responsibilities without overtaxing individual soldiers.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Today’s economy doesn’t feel like a recovery for most Americans

Why you’re right:

1. The jobs being created are lower quality than those being lost. A widely cited CIBC World Markets report found that higher wage industries such as manufacturing, transportation, and natural resources are shedding jobs. Since the current economic expansion began in 2001, the total number of jobs in higher wage sectors has decreased by 2%, while the number in lower wage sectors has increased by 1.2% Meanwhile, more of the employed are working part-time or working for themselves. The study concludes that, given these changes, “it will take 20% more jobs than in the last extension to generate the same salary gain.” (PR Newswire)

2. Real wages are still shrinking. Although weekly wages appeared to grow .3% in the month of May, adjusting for inflation yields a wage decline of .4% in May, and.5% during the last year. On average, then, it has become more difficult for people to afford goods and services. (Washington Post)

3. Healthcare costs are rising. Annual employer-based health insurance premiums have risen 37% for individuals and 41% for families since 2000. Out-of-pocket costs associated with these plans are up 52% for individuals and 49% for families during the same period. Almost 20% of household personal income now goes towards healthcare costs. (Kaiser Family Foundation, Urban Institute)

Why they’re wrong:

Cheerleaders of the recovery stress the recent positive trend in job creation as evidence that economic prosperity is returning to Americans across the socioeconomic spectrum. But neither the unemployment rate nor the number of “discouraged workers” who have given up on the job search is falling. Employment and wages are the foundation of long-term economic health, and, until these numbers improve meaningfully, the recovery will continue to be incomplete.

Monday, June 28, 2004

The U.S.-led CPA did not adequately prepare for the transfer of power in Iraq

Why you're right:

1. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) failed to adequately train Iraqi security forces. The CPA set a goal of training a 35,000 person Iraqi army. But, according to the most recent data available, only 7,116 have been fully or partially trained. Only 32% of the Iraqi police force have been fully or partially trained. U.S. officials concede that overall Iraqi security forces are "inadequately trained and poorly led." (Brookings, USA Today)

2. The U.S. has not efficiently distributed funding for Iraqi reconstruction. Of the $18.6 billion that Congress allocated to reconstruction in September 2003, only $400 million had been spent by June. Meanwhile, 10 companies that have been awarded contracts have been fined over $300 million since 2000 for bid rigging, fraud, delivery of faulty military parts and environmental damage. (Christian Science Monitor, AP)

3. The CPA undermined the legitimacy of the new government. In order to assure Iraqis, President Bush insisted that top officials in the interim government would be appointed by U.N. Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. But, according to the New York Times, the new interim prime minister – Iyad Allawi – was presented Brahimi by the United States as "'a fait accompli' after President Bush's envoy to Iraq, Robert D. Blackwill, 'railroaded' the Governing Council into coalescing around him." Brahimi was "deeply troubled by Dr. Allawi's ties to the C.I.A. and by the likelihood that Iraqis would regard him as too close to the United States." (New York Times)

Why they're wrong:

The transfer of sovereignty to Iraq is worth celebrating. But one shouldn't equate the former act with strategic success. Violence still plagues Iraq in part because of our failure to build a stable physical and bureaucratic infrastructure. Recognizing that isn't unpatriotic. It's essential to solving Iraq's problems in the future.

A better idea:

American Progress' new plan – "Iraq After June 30: A Strategy for Progress." (Link)

Friday, June 25, 2004

The war in Iraq made al-Qaeda stronger

Why you're right:

1. The war in Iraq reenergized al-Qaeda. The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) says, "the war in Iraq has focused the energies and resources of al-Qaeda and its followers." The group estimates al-Qaeda now "has 18,000 potential operatives and is present in more than 60 countries." (BBC)

2. The war in Iraq weakened the global counter-terrorism coalition. President Bush frames the war in Iraq as part of the broader, international effort to combat terrorism. But the war in Iraq was fought without an international consensus. IISS found that, as a result, the war had the effect of "diluting...the global counter-terrorism coalition."(BBC)

3. The war in Iraq unfocused counterterrorism efforts. According to an Army War College report, fighting the war in Iraq made the war on terror "dangerously indiscriminate and ambitious." As a result, America's counterterrorism campaign "is strategically unfocused, promises more than it can deliver, and threatens to dissipate U.S. military resources in an endless and hopeless search for absolute security." (Washington Post)

4. Since the war in Iraq, international terrorism is on the rise. According to a State Department report, "the number of significant international terrorism episodes rose slightly last year, and that the number of those injured in all international terrorism episodes went up by more than 50 percent." (New York Times)

Why they're wrong:

Supporters of the war in Iraq – including President Bush and Vice President Cheney – continue to say that it weakened al-Qaeda because Iraq had a relationship with al-Qaeda. But the independent bipartisan 9-11 commission reviewed the evidence and concluded there was no "collaborative relationship" between Iraq and al Qaeda. (Washington Post)

Thursday, June 24, 2004

The Bush administration's AIDS policy is a failure

Why you're right:

1. Bush has underfunded his own AIDS initiative. In his 2003 State of the Union address, Bush promised to spend $15 billion over 5 years to combat AIDS. Two years later he has requested just $4.8 billion dollars. Just $350 million has been distributed to countries in need. (2003 State of the Union, USA Today, Health GAP Coalition)

2. Bush is undermining global AIDS organizations. Bush plans to slash funding for the Global Fund, the international coaltion dedicated to reducing the spread of aids, by 65% in 2005. As a result of the dramatic decrease in U.S. funding, the Global Fund will be "functionally bankrupt" in next year. (Health GAP Coalition, Global AIDS Alliance)

3. Bush as failed to provide access to generic AIDS drugs. The United States refuses to purchase generic drugs that have been approved by the United Nations that provide affordable care for people who have HIV/AIDS. Instead the United States has attempted to discredit their safety. (PBS)

4. Bush stresses abstinence over more effective programs. The administration has blocked international efforts to provide teen sex education "because of [Bush's] belief in chastity before marriage." Bush's policies have lead to cuts in funding "for life-saving drives to encourage condom use." A recent study in Minnesota found that an abstinence only education program in school doubled the number of students who said they were likely to have sex during high school. (Guardian, Minnesota AIDS projects)

Why they're wrong:

Supporters of the administration's AIDS policy stress that the president has spent a lot of money on the issue. Certainly, this is better than nothing. But nothing shouldn't be the standard. At the very least, the president should live up to the standard he set for himself. Bush promised that he would devote $15 billion to AIDS over 5 years and he isn't following through. Bush says that the United States is "setting the example for others to follow" in supporting the Global AIDS funds and is slashing funding.(Bush Speech)

A better idea:

Fully fund a comprehensive and cooperative AIDS program that includes sex education and access to affordable anti-viral drugs.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Patients should be able to sue HMOs in state courts

Why you're right:

1. Allowing HMOs to be sued in state court would give HMOs the right incentives. It is always in an HMO's short-term financial interests to deny medical treatment. Allowing patients to sue HMOs in state court balances those incentives with significant financial penalties if an HMO's decision to deny treatment results in an adverse medical result. In federal court, plaintiffs are less likely to recover for their injuries - and when they do recover they recover less. As a result, when federal courts is the only option for plaintiffs, HMOs don't have to be as concerned about making the right decisions. (Washington Post)

2. Allowing HMOs to be sued in state court subject HMOs to punitive damages. Only state courts make punitive damages available to plaintiffs. Compensatory damages, the only type available in federal court, provide redress to the person that suffered an injury. But only punitive damages are specifically intended to deter the activity from happening again. Each time an HMO is successfully sued in state court it make it less likely that HMOs will deny medically necessary treatment again. (Word IQ)

Why they're wrong:

1. HMOs are very profitable even when subject to state law suits. Last year – before the Supreme Court ruled that patient's couldn't sue in state court – HMO profits were up 52%. In the first three quarters of 2003 the industry racked up $6.7 billion in profits. (CBS Market Watch)

2. Federal Courts are severely overcrowded. Prohibiting state courts as a forum for suits against HMOs will put more even more stress on federal courts. But federal courts are already overburdened. There are over 34,000 cases that have been pending in federal court for over three years. (Federal Court Management Statistics)

A better idea:

The recent Supreme Court decision prohibiting patients from suing HMOs in state court based on a federal law. Congress should amend the law to allow patients to file state suits.

Monday, June 21, 2004

CBS is a shill for the right-wing

Why you're right:

1. CBS refused to run an ad from The ad – which they were planning to run during the 2004 Super Bowl – explored the mounting budget deficits since George W. Bush has been president. At the time CBS said, "Our policy is long-standing and clear. We do not run contentious messages that are clearly divisive." (Ad Week)

2. CBS agreed to run an ad from right-wing group. CBS ran an ad yesterday by the right wing group Citizens United, attacking former President Clinton's counterterrorism record. (Newsday)

3. CBS agreed to run the administration's Medicare ad. The ads – produced at taxpayer expense by the Bush presidential campaign's media firm – was partisan and misleading. The ad prompted a General Accounting Office investigation into whether the ad constituted improper expenditure of taxpayer money for political purposes. (American Progress, GAO)

4. CBS refused to run a mini-series chronicling Ronald Reagan's life. The network bowed to pressure from conservatives who felt that it wasn't a flattering enough portrayal of the former president. Even CBS admitted that everything in the film was verifiably accurate. (NYT)

Why they're wrong:

CBS tries to avoid criticism for the anti-Clinton advertisement by claiming it aired on CBS affiliates which are not obligated to abide by network policies. But it is much more expensive and logistically complicated to buy ads on every affiliate than to make a single purchase with the national network. By restricting ads on network advertising time but placing no restrictions on affiliate time CBS is giving a distinct advantage to moneyed business interests over grassroots advocacy organizations. At the same time – since viewers can't differentiate between a network and an affiliate ad – CBS's policy does not seem to uphold any discernable principle.

A better idea:

CBS should let everyone run advocacy ads on their network – not just right-wingers.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

American CEOs make too much money

Why you’re right:

1. CEOs are paid 300 times the average worker. While the average worker earned $517 per week in 2003, the average CEO for a large company earned $155,769 a week. In 1982 CEOs made just 42 times the average worker. (Business Week)

2. CEO salaries aren’t determined fairly. CEOs have their salaries set by corporate boards packed with cronies. Corporate boards are also “interwoven” – meaning that frequently CEOs set each others salary. According to New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer CEO pay is out of control because it is a “rigged marketplace.” (Time)

3. Highly paid CEOs don’t perform better. According to Paul Hodgson, an executive compensation expert with The Corporate Library “in the vast majority of U.S. companies, the pay-performance link is not only broken, it was never forged in the first place.” A CEO can expect their salary to rise even if the company they are leading performs poorly. (Ivey Business Journal)

Why they’re wrong:

Some argue that because CEO pay is determined in the free marketplace it is fair. The problem with this argument is that it naively assumes a perfect market. But such a market doens't exist. There are few long-term performance measures used to evaluate CEO pay. And CEO salaries are not set by disimpassioned economists but by close associates who have a personal and professional interest in seeing CEO pay rise no matter how the company performs. (Ivey Business Journal)

A better idea:

Responsible companies should cap the ratio between the average worker and CEOs at 15-1 or less. The grocer Whole Foods, for example, caps their CEO's pay at 14-1 and still manages to be a very successful company. (Time)

Friday, June 18, 2004

The Bush administration said Saddam Hussein was tied to the 9/11 attacks

Why you're right:

1. Bush explicitly stated that Hussein was involved in 9/11. In a letter to Congress on the day the war started, Bush wrote that he was acting pursuant to authority permitting him to act against "those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001." USA Today wrote that it was an effort "to tie Iraq specifically to the 9/11 attacks." (Bush Letter, USA Today)

2. Cheney said that Hussein provided a base for 9/11 perpetrators. On Meet the Press on 9/14/03, Cheney said Iraq was the "geographic base of the terrorists who had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11." (Meet the Press)

3. Bush said that it was impossible to distinguish between al-Qaeda and Saddam. On 9/25/02, Bush said "you can't distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror." Clearly, if Saddam was not involved in 9/11 and al Qaeda was, that would be a clear way to distinguish them. (White House)

Why They're Wrong:

The White House line is that they simply said there were contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Although the White House did make such claims, the record shows they went much farther. They are responsible for everything they said, not just the comments that afford them the most political cover.

A Better Idea:

Bush and Cheney should admit they were wrong.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

The administration is failing in Afghanistan

Why you're right:

1. The administration has failed to provide the resources necessary to secure Afghanistan. There are just 12,000 soldiers in Afghanistan – just about the size of the public-safety force during the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. The force is about 1/10 of the size as in Iraq even though Afghanistan has more people and a larger geographic area. The failure to provide adequate security allowed the country to spiral into violence, resulting in more than 2,000 death since the end of the 2001 war and threatening the elections scheduled for this fall. (Salt Lake City Tribune, CIA Factbook, San Francisco Chronicle,Washington Post)

2. The administration has no strategy for reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. According to a June 2004 General Accounting Office report the administration has "lacked a comprehensive reconstruction strategy." Key components of plans necessary to guide reconstruction "were incomplete or were not drafted until the latter half of fiscal 2003." As a result the U.S. Agency for International Aid (USAID) received very little money and was "unable to develop and plan for long-term resource-intensive reconstruction projects." (GAO)

3. The administration has not controlled opium production within Afghanistan. 3600 tons of opium was produced in Afghanistan last year – 2/3 of the world’s supply. Opium production brought in $2.3 billion dollars of Afghanistan last year, half of its gross domestic product. As long as there is an opium problem in Afghanistan there will be a terrorism problem. A significant portion of the drug money is funneled to al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. (U.N. Press Release, Guardian)

Why they’re wrong:

1. Defenders of the administration’s Afghanistan policies boast that Bush freed 25 million people from the oppressive regime of the Taliban. But in the current environment many Afghans aren’t free in any meaningful sense of the word. Many Afghans do not feel free to let their children play outdoors, to travel within their own country or even to vote because of fears of violence. We should not be satisfied to deliver the Afghan people from the tyranny of the Taliban to the tyranny of anarchy.

2. Some simply dismiss any problems in Afghanistan because “it is better now than when the Taliban was in power.” This is true. But is this an appropriate standard for success? American has an obligation to Afghanistan to set its goals higher.

A better idea:

It is imperative we dedicate the resources necessary to solve the problems in Afghanistan. Otherwise, Afghanistan could reemerge as a breeding ground for terrorists.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

There is no evidence that Saddam Hussein had any connection to al-Qaeda

Why you're right:

1. Bush weapons inspector David Kay says there is no evidence. David Kay was on the ground for months investigating the activities of Hussein's regime. He concluded "But we simply did not find any evidence of extensive links with Al Qaeda, or for that matter any real links at all." He called a speech where Cheney made the claim there was a link "evidence free." (Boston Globe)

2. The 9/11 Commission says there is no evidence. The staff report of the 9/11 commission concluded that there was "no credible evidence" that Hussein and al-Qaeda were collaborating. According to the commission, Bin Laden was hostile to Hussein's secular government and Hussein never responded to requests for help in providing training camps or supplies. (9-11 Commission)

3. Colin Powell says there is no evidence. In January, Colin Powell said there was no "concrete evidence" of a connection between Hussein and al-Qaeda. (MSNBC)

4. The U.N. says there is no evidence. Michael Chandler, The chairman of the Security Council group monitoring sanctions against al-Qaeda said there was "no evidence of a link between the terrorist organization and the former Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein." (U.N. Wire)

Why they're wrong:

1. Cheney and Bush point to the presence of the terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi within Iraq. But this is only half an argument. It's like saying that the United States collaborated with al-Qaeda because there were al-Qaeda operatives within the United States before 9-11. For Zarqawi's presence to be meaningful there would have to be evidence that he was collaborating with the Iraqi government. But CIA director George Tenet has said definitively that there was no operational direction or control of Zarqawi by the Iraqi government. In fact, there is scant evidence that Zarqawi was directly connected to al-Qaeda. (Charleston Post and Courier, ABC News)

2. Cheney cites as the "best evidence" of a Hussein/al-Qaeda connection a Weekly Standard article by Steven Hayes. The conclusions of that article were completely discredited by the department of defense. (Rocky Mountain News, Department of Defense)

A Better Idea:

Bush and Cheney should stick to the facts and stop repeating false claims until people start to believe them.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

The administration's energy bill would do more harm than good

Why you're right:

1. The energy bill would give away billions in tax dollars to the energy industry. Bush's energy bill – which Republican House leadership is trying to push through this week – includes $23.5 billion dollars in tax breaks to the coal, oil and gas industries. The 15 companies that would benefit most from these provisions had after-tax profits of $56 billion between 1999 and 2002. (League of Conservation Voters, Washington Times)

2. The energy bill would damage the environment. It is well publicized that the energy bill would open up the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. But the bill would also exempt oil and gas construction activities from the Clean Water Act, exempt a drilling technique pioneered by Halliburton from the Safe Drinking Water Act, and extend the deadline for power plant compliance with the Clean Air Act. (League of Conservation Voters)

3. The energy bill would make us more dependent on fossil fuels. The bill weakens fuel efficiency standards by extending a loophole that, according to the Bush administration's own analysis, would waste 9-17 billion gallons of gas. It also fails to make significant investments in renewable energy. Less than 1/3 of the incentives go to efficient and renewable sources. (League of Conservation Voters)

Why they're wrong:

Supporters of the energy bill argue that it is necessary to increase domestic fuel production to control soaring gas prices. But according to the National Geological Survey, the amount that could be recovered economically from the Arctic National Refuge would total roughly 3.2 billion barrels, only about a six-month U.S. supply. Moreover, it would take 10 years for that oil to reach the pump. In short, it would do nothing solve our current problems with high gas prices. (National Resources Defense Counsel)

Monday, June 14, 2004

Most of the materials collected by the 9/11 Commission should be immediately declassified

Why you're right:

1. Declassifying the material will make us safer. The mandate of the 9/11 Commission is to "provide recommendations designed to guard against future attacks." Their recommendations will be based on the materials they have collected. If most of this information is made public, independent experts will be able to evaluate their recommendations and suggest improvements. If most of the information is kept secret for 25 years – as the Bush administration is proposing – we will have no way to evaluate the factual interpretations and recommendations of the commission for an entire generation. (9-11 Commission)

2. Keeping the materials classified will breed conspiracy theories. This was the experience with the Kennedy assassination investigation. The commission's conclusions were not viewed as credible because the information was sealed. It undermined people's trust in government. It is essential that we not repeat this mistake because many people, including the families of the 9/11 victims, are looking to the 9/11 commission as a source of closure. (WSJ)

3. Declassifying the materials will avoid unnecessary litigation. Much of the material would have to be declassified anyway under the Freedom of Information Act. Many people will request the information. That could lead to costly litigation as the government attempts to keep the information secret. (WSJ)

Why they're wrong:

The administration argues that the information should remain secret for the purpose of national security. But Chairman Tom Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey, acknowledges that much of the data the administration has classified does not contain vital secrets. Sources, methods and other information that, if made public, would have a demonstrably negative effect on our national security should remain classified. All other information should be made public – even if it is a source of embarrassment for a public official.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

The Bush administration has undermined No Child Left Behind

Why You’re Right:

1. The Bush administration has severely underfunded No Child Left Behind. This year, the Bush administration is spending $9.4 billion less than what is needed for No Child Left Behind. The administration plans further cuts in education funding for 2006 and beyond. (New York Times, House Appropriations Committee)

2. Students promised extra help aren’t getting it. The hallmark of No Child Left Behind is to provide extra help to students that aren’t meeting standards. But only a small percentage of students eligible for free tutoring – no more than 16% – are getting it. A big problem: the administration’s decision to rely on private tutoring companies isn’t working. Most aren’t willing to supply tutors under the program. (Education Week)

3. The Bush administration has been excessively rigid applying the law to states. For example, the Bush administration initially required schools to have students with limited English proficiency met the same reading standards as native speakers. It took the administration over two years to give schools flexibility for non-English speaking students. This has lead even some of No Child Left Behind’s strongest advocates to question the administration’s commitment to the law. (The Education Trust)

Why They’re Wrong:

1. President Bush routinely attacks critics of No Child Left Behind as lacking a commitment to high standards. The opposite is true. Critics of the law are demanding high standards not only from student and teachers but from federal administrators. That means not only setting ambitious goals but providing funding and guidance to help schools meet those standards.

2. Defenders of No Child Left Behind funding note that education funding in the Bush administration has reached "record levels." There are two problems with that argument. First, federal spending on education is so small that any increase, on a percentage basis, will be significant. Second, it ignores the fact that - while the Bush administration has provided more federal education dollars - it also has imposed more mandates on school. Whether or not the total funding is higher is irrelevant. The problem is the funding isn't enough for schools to accomplish what is being asked of them.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Congress should not renew the PATRIOT Act

Why you're right:

1. Congress doesn't know how the PATRIOT Act is being used. When Congress passed the PATRIOT Act in the days after 9/11 they weren't certain they were making the right decision. To give themselves a chance to reconsider, they made the most controversial provisions expire in 2005. But despite multiple, explicit requests from Congress, John Ashcroft has refused to make even basic disclosures about how many provisions of the PATRIOT Act are being used. Without that information, there is no way that members of Congress can honestly and objectively conclude that the PATRIOT Act should be extended. (Epic Legal Brief, Ashcroft Memo)

2. The PATRIOT Act allows the Justice Department to seize anything without meaningful judicial review. Expiring provisions of the PATRIOT act allow the government to seize anything they want if they decide the object or record would assist in a terrorism investigation. Judges have no authority to reject the request as long as it is submitted in its proper form. (PATRIOT Act, Section 215)

3. The PATRIOT Act permits secret wiretaps of people with no connection to terrorism or any other crime. Expiring provisions of the PATRIOT Act make it possible for the government to secretly wiretap someone's phone - outside of the standard legal system - even if that person has no connection to terrorism or espionage. John Ashcroft refuses to disclose any information about how this provision is being used. (PATRIOT Act, Section 214)

Why they're wrong:

Supporters of extending the PATRIOT Act argue that we need to give the government every tool possible to prevent terrorism. But the PATRIOT act doesn't make use safer it puts us at risk.

1. The PATRIOT Act puts us at risk because it wastes resources. The PATRIOT Act allows extensive and expensive investigations to take place with little or no evidence of wrong doing. That means the government can waste money pursuing a hunch or advancing a political agenda. As a result, when evidence of wrongdoing does emerge there are less resources available to pursue it.

2. The PATRIOT Act puts us at risk by damaging relationships. By removing most evidentiary requirements, The PATRIOT Act facilitates the targeting of innocent Arabs and Muslims. By creating a culture of distrust, it damages the ability of the government to work cooperatively with those communities to prevent terrorism.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Top administration officials sanctioned torture

Why you're right:

1. Top Pentagon officials sanctioned torture. A memo prepared in March 2003 for Donald Rumsfeld argued "the president, despite domestic and international laws constraining the use of torture, has the authority as commander in chief to approve almost any physical or psychological actions during interrogation, up to and including torture." High-level Pentagon lawyers asserted that inflicting pain, whether physical or mental, on prisoners was not torture if it wasn't severe. This is a significant departure from the Army definition which defines torture as "the use of force, mental torture, threats, insults, or exposure to unpleasant and inhumane treatment of any kind." Even if the pain inflicted was severe the memo advised the President could legally authorize torture if he deemed it a "necessity." (Wall Street Journal, Army Manual)

2. Top Justice Department officials sanctioned torture. An August 2002 memo signed by Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee argued that torturing suspected terrorists in captivity "may be justified" and international laws against interrogation "may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations." Like the Pentagon memo it both authorized torture and defined it narrowly. Bybee wrote that for something to be considered torture it "must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." (Washington Post)

3. Top White House officials sanctioned torture. In January 2002, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales wrote a memo to the President arguing that the threat of terrorism "renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners." Responding to a draft of the memo, Secretary of State Colin Powell argued that dropping the protection of the Geneva Conventions for certain prisoners, as Gonzales suggested would "reverse over a century of U.S. policy and practice." But Gonzales did not change his recommendation to the President. (Newsweek)

Why They're Wrong:

1. Defenders of the administration argued that these memos applied to al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners and not Iraqis who were subject to the abuse at Abu Ghraib. But the treatment of alleged members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, most of whom where held in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, had a profound impact on the treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib. In fact, the unit in charge of Abu Ghraib was "run by a military intelligence unit that brought to Iraq aggressive rules and procedures it developed for conflict in Afghanistan." (New York Times)

2. Defenders of the administration also argue that the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison - and potentially other locations - were the deeds of a few rogue soldiers. But the military is a hierarchy. The actions of soldiers on the ground reflects guidelines that emanate from the top.

A Better Idea:

The administration should release all relevant guidelines, orders, directives and other documents related to the treatment of prisoners by the military - a step they refuse to take. (Washington Post)

Monday, June 07, 2004

Cheney still has financial ties to Halliburton

Why you're right:

1. Cheney still has stock options in Halliburton. In September 2003, Cheney told a national TV audience that "since I left [as CEO of] Halliburton to become George Bush's vice president, I've severed all my ties with the company, gotten rid of all my financial interest." Cheney, however, still owns 433,000 of stock options in Halliburton. The Congressional Research Service found that this constitutes "a continuing financial interest in the company." (CNN)

2. Cheney still receives a salary from Halliburton. Along with stock options, Cheney still receives a six-figure "deferred" salary from Halliburton each year. (CBS)

3. Cheney's office has "coordinated" the awarding of government contracts to Halliburton. Since taking office, Halliburton has been awarded billions in federal contracts. Cheney has adamantly denied any involvement in the awarding of federal contracts, insisting "as Vice President, I have absolutely no influence of, involvement of, knowledge of in any way, shape or form of contracts led by the [Army] Corps of Engineers or anybody else in the Federal Government." But an internal Pentagon e-mail obtained by Time Magazine revealed that a $7 billion contract was "coordinated w [the] VP's [Vice President's] office." (Time)

Why they're wrong:

1. Cheney claims that his stock options do not constitute a financial interest in Halliburton because he has pledged to give the proceeds to charity. But charitable giving has financial and personal benefits. Money given to charity is tax deductible. Further, chartable giving improves ones standing in the community. The bottom line: it is in Cheney's interest, financially and personally, for Halliburton's stock price to increase.

2. Cheney claims that his deferred compensation does not constitute a financial interest because he has purchased an insurance policy that ensures he still gets paid if the company goes bankrupt. Most insurance policies, however, have deductibles. Further, to collect on a large insurance policy it is usually necessary to litigate, or at least retain legal counsel, to prove that the conditions of the policy has been met. Cheney's position is the equivalent of arguing that someone who has car insurance has no incentive to drive safely because, should they get into an accident, they are covered.

3. A Pentagon spokesman says that the word "coordinate" in the internal Pentagon email was "a catch all phrase" that signified "it's time for this contract to be executed." But even that specious explanation means he lied when he said he has no advance knowledge in any way about Halliburton's contracts because his staff did have knowledge.

A Better Idea:

Cheney should divest or forfiet all financial interests in Halliburton. He should also disclose any and all communications between his office and the Pentagon regarding Halliburton.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Wal-Mart is bad for America

Why you're right:

1. Wal-Mart destroys more jobs than it creates. A new Wal-Mart destroys jobs by putting local merchants out of business. The jobs Wal-Mart creates are fewer, lower-paying and mostly part-time. (Good Jobs First)

2. Wal-Mart burdens public health care programs. Most jobs at Wal-Mart have little or no health benefits. Wal-Mart encourages its workers to seek public assistance for their health care. In Georgia, 10,000 children of Wal-Mart employees were enrolled in the public health insurance program. (NOW with Bill Moyers, AFL-CIO)

3. Wal-Mart exploits workers. The average hourly worker makes just $18,000 dollars a year. Meanwhile, in 2002, the corporation raked in $6.6 billion in profits. Wal-Mart has known for years that many of its stores violate child labor laws and state regulations requiring work breaks - but has done little, if anything, to stop it. (Mother Jones, New York Times)

4. Wal-Mart degrades the environment. The federal government charged Wal-Mart with violating the Clean Water Act in 17 locations across the country. Run-off from Wal-Mart construction sites polluted drinking water, streams and lakes. To settle the charges Wal-Mart agreed to pay a $1 million dollar fine. (EPA)

Why They're Wrong:

Proponents of Wal-Mart tout their low prices - and the positive impact they have on the purchasing power of consumers. But Wal-Mart is able to provide low prices because they are heavily subsidized by taxpayers. In addition to relying on public health care for their employees, Wal-Mart has benefited from over $1 billion in economic development subsidies. (Good Jobs First)

A Better Idea:

Make corporations like Wal-Mart help pay for public assistance programs from which they benefit. Instead of providing taxpayer subsidies to Wal-Mart, invest in businesses that provide stable jobs with adequate wages and health benefits.

The new Medicare prescription drug cards hurt seniors

Why you're right:

1. Most seniors who enroll will pay more. Most seniors will pay more using a Medicare drug card than they could buying retail with no card at all. (House Government Reform Committee Study)

2. Corporations can lock seniors in, jack up prices. Once enrolled, Seniors can only change cards once, at the end of 2004. Corporations offering drug cards can change their prices - up or down - every week. (Washington Post)

3. Cards leave seniors vulnerable to fraud. The Consumer's Union calls considers the cards one of the most complicated government programs ever. Seniors must choose between 33 National and 40 regional cards, each with different prices on hundreds of drugs. Already, 17 states have reported scams that try to get seniors to buy fake cards or reveal personal information. (Seattle Times)

4. Seniors who enroll must pay a fee. In order to pay more for their drugs, seniors will be required to pay up to $30 per year to enroll. (Washington Post)

Why they're wrong:

Proponents are likely to focus on the benefits of the discount cards for very low income seniors - who actually receive a $600 subsidy. This is beyond dispute. But there is no reason to subject the vast majority of seniors who will not recieve the subsidy to such a flawed program for low income seniors to recieve this benefit. The target subsidy should be paired with an effective strategy that benefit all seniors. (AARP)

A Better Idea:

Allow the government to negotiate bulk discounts with drug companies. Doing so would make drugs available to seniors at half of what they would pay with a Medicare prescription discount card. (House Government Reform Committee Study)