Archive for August, 2010

Women’s Equality Day

August 27th, 2010

Yesterday, the White House released a proclamation by President Obama, declaring Aug. 26, 2010 “Women’s Equality Day.”

This kind of message should be great news for all Americans–especially people with families. What is baffling to me is that conservatives often follow the out-dated talking points about distinct gender roles. Meanwhile, over the past 30 years, middle class incomes have largely been stagnant, forcing mothers (who may otherwise choose to be home with their young children) to enter the workplace. So many conservatives, who love to proclaim their commitment to “family values” and the free-market capitalist system, have voted against their own values. They like the old gender roles–daddy goes to work, mommy stays home–but they also allow (through their voting patterns) the large corporation to run the show (via the Republican Party). But it is these same powers that freeze middle-class wages (and low income wages) while increasing executive pay many, many times over. Again, equal pay and equal treatment of women is in the interests of all Americans–liberals, conservatives, men, women, and children.

I know this should  be a out-dated discussion. We would hope that it would not be necessary to have a Women’s Equality Day in the 21st century. But there is a huge need.  Here is an excerpt from the Presidential proclamation that drive this point home:

As we celebrate 90 years of progress on Women’s Equality Day, we also recognize the realities of the present.  Women comprise less than one-fifth of our Congress and account for a mere fraction of the chief executives at the helm of our biggest companies.  Women hold only 27 percent of jobs in science and engineering, which are critical to our economic growth in a 21st-century economy.  And, almost 50 years after the Equal Pay Act was enacted, American women still only earn 77 cents for every dollar men earn.  This gap increases among minority women and those living with disabilities.

Click “more” to read the entire proclamation. It is excellent! » Read more: Women’s Equality Day

Acts of Peace

August 26th, 2010

The American-led war in Afghanistan is not getting better. One report found that,  “The human cost of the armed conflict in Afghanistan is escalating in 2010. In the first six months of the year civilian casualties – including deaths and injuries of civilians – increased by 31 per cent over the same period in 2009″ (source). Since the beginning of the war, over 70,000 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan, and hundred of thousands more have been injured (source). Here are a couple of examples.

Zeriba Taj, Age 3

When the U.S. bombed the caves of Tora Bora in search of Osama bin Laden in December 2001, nearby villages were struck as well. Zeriba Taj, age 3, was hit in the head by fragments of a U.S. bomb. Zeriba’s father and three sisters were killed.

Amina Khan, Age 8

It was the morning of November 17, the second day of Ramadan, when bombs struck the small village of Khanabad. Amina was in the kitchen preparing tea and food for the children who were not fasting. Suddenly, the entire building came crashing down around her. She found herself squatting under a few intact beams. The entire room was dark and filled with rubble. Following a light shining through the wreckage, Amina managed to crawl out of what was left of the kitchen only to find her house, which had once stood a few yards away, in complete ruins.

Amina ran quickly to her uncle’s house for help. Her uncle and the neighbors who came with him could hardly grasp the horror of the scene. There were dismembered body parts strewn around the yard. Amina’s father, Jama Khan, was the only one found alive under the rubble, pinned down by two beams. The neighbors dug him out. Digging deeper, they found his wife, Bibi Gul, his seven other children, his mother, and his brother and wife and their five children: in all, sixteen family members gone in an instant. Now Amina and Mr. Khan have only each other. It is questionable who takes care of whom. Amina says her father is very ill, emotionally and physically, often unable to sleep at night. Amina also complains of headaches and stomachaches and thinks of her mother all the time. Their house was hit by U.S. warplanes in a battle to chase Taliban forces toward their last stronghold in Kunduz.

These stories are tragic. And it is also tragic to see the fatality number for coalition forces.

» Read more: Acts of Peace

U.S. Policy in Latin America

August 20th, 2010

The history of U.S. relations with Latin America is a story of imperialism, exploitation, and crimes against humanity. Eduardo Galeano’s book, “Open Veins of Latin American,” is an excellent introduction to this history. Greg Grandin’s 2006 book, “Empire’s Workshop,” and Naomi Klein’s more-recent book, “The Shock Doctrine,” cover issues of modern economic and military imperialism in the region. From the Monroe Doctrine to the School of the Americas, the tax dollars of U.S. citizens have been used to sell arms to cruel militias, install and uphold brutal dictators, train anti-communist insurgencies in torture methods, implement trade policies that increase extreme poverty and inequality, and undermine democratic movements. But there are hopeful signs on the horizon.

In recent years, many Latin American nations are declaring their independence from U.S. intervention. They are freeing themselves of debt that make them beholden to U.S. corporate interests, and they are beginning a trend toward regional unification. This resistance is a major challenge to U.S. authority in the region–leading the Council on Foreign Relations to pronounce the Monroe Doctrine “obsolete.”

I have put together some notable points from various source below, including information about President Obama’s track record in Latin America.

» Read more: U.S. Policy in Latin America

Arizona’s Anti-Immigration Law and Private Prisons

August 13th, 2010

What is behind Arizona’s draconian anti-immigration law?

Budget concerns? Probably not. Racism? Perhaps. Last night Rachel Maddow reported on another possibility: The private prison industry.

Check out her 10-minute report on this topic.

“Death Taxes” are for the Living

August 6th, 2010

“We can have concentrated wealth in the hands of a few or democracy–but we cannot have both.”
–Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandels

Since the 2001 tax cuts, there has been a slow phasing-out of the estate tax until the tax was fully repealed at the beginning of this year. Absent any further legislation, the Bush tax cuts will expire at the end of 2010, including the estate tax. (We’re going to see a lot of dead grandparents this year!) There will inevitably be a political storm over extending the Bush tax cuts. Although Obama himself made tax cuts part of the economic stimulus in early 2009, he is widely expected to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire at the end of the year. This should be good news for deficit hawks. If we are going to get back to a balanced budget, the additional tax revenues will be necessary (although not sufficient).

The estate tax (AKA, the inheritance tax) is one of the oldest forms of taxation. It has been in place since 1916 in the U.S., until it was repealed earlier this year. According to the Brookings Institute, the estate tax only affects the wealthiest 2% of the U.S. population (i.e., the majority of those paying the tax had fortunes in excess of $5 million). Of the $550 billion that is transferred from one generation to another, the estate tax brings in $20 billion each year to the U.S. treasury (other sources say that the federal government lost $56 billion in 2010 because of the tax repeal). Estate taxes have rarely contributed more than 2% to federal budget. But this tax is not just about finding another revenue stream for the government. It is a wealth control program that lies at the very heart of American values.

In many ways, America was born out of the idea of rejecting aristocratic power and privileged (even if those forces have always been present). Since our founding, we have sought to put power in check (even–perhaps especially–our government), and to allow equal opportunity for all. We also value “the self-made man,” who earned his/her way to success through hard work, not through nepotism or privilege (in other words, not Paris Hilton!). In short, we wanted a society based more on meritocracy than aristocracy, and inheritances leads to an unequal material starting positions for members of society. Without a control mechanism, family dynasties of the ultra-rich are a threat to these values.

Political commentators, such as Robert Frank of the Wall Street Journal, want to believe that the rich earned their own way. But when $550 billion is passed on each year, with only $20 billion collected, there are plenty of people getting a free ride. When the ultra-rich hand off their fortunes to their descendants, we have a situation where a dynastic ruling class emerges, made up of people who did not earn most of what they have (or at least didn’t get there under the same rules that the rest of us do), and these people are now on the boards of our businesses, buying our elections, and funding lobbyists.

» Read more: “Death Taxes” are for the Living

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

August 1st, 2010

On 10 December 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the full text of which appears below. Following this historic act, the Assembly called upon all Member countries to publicize the text of the Declaration and “to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories.” We still have a long way to go in implementing these important principles.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Preamble

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in cooperation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, therefore,

» Read more: Universal Declaration of Human Rights