U.S. Senate Apologizes for Slavery

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This week, the United States Senate passed a resolution that apologizes for slavery. It’s pretty sad that it took well over one-hundred years to get to this point, but at least it’s something. It should be noted that Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow both co-sponsored the resolution.

To be sure, a Senate resolution can’t under the reality of dehumanization and oppression–or the legacy of slavery’s contemporary manifestations–a fact that the Senate recognizes:

Whereas an apology for centuries of brutal dehumanization and injustices cannot erase the past, but confession of the wrongs committed and a formal apology to African- Americans will help bind the wounds of the Nation that are rooted in slavery and can speed racial healing and reconciliation and help the people of the United States understand the past and honor the history of all people of the United States;

The Senate resolution apologizes for both slavery and Jim Crow:

Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), That the sense of the Congress is the following:

(1) APOLOGY FOR THE ENSLAVEMENT AND SEGREGATION OF AFRICAN-AMERICANS.

The Congress–

(A) acknowledges the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow laws;

(B) apologizes to African-Americans on behalf of the people of the United States, for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow laws; and

(C) expresses its recommitment to the principle that all people are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and calls on all people of the United States to work toward eliminating racial prejudices, injustices, and discrimination from our society.

Of course, the kicker:

(2) DISCLAIMER.–Nothing in this resolution–

(A) authorizes or supports any claim against the United States; or

(B) serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.

It’s disappointing that the resolution excludes the prospect of reparations, but that is likely to be an ongoing battle that needs to be waged by progressives and radicals.

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Levin Calls for Investigation into Torture

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Yesterday, Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin called for an independent panel to consider whether officials who authorized torture and other harsh interrogation tactics should be punished.

Over the past week, Senator Levin has been visible in the debate over whether or not to release Bush administration memos on torture to the public and whether or not to hold their authors accountable.

In response to a report released Tuesday, Levin says that:

In my judgment, the report represents a condemnation of both the Bush administration’s interrogation policies and of senior administration officials who attempted to shift the blame for abuse – such as that seen at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and Afghanistan – to low ranking soldiers. Claims, such as that made by former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz that detainee abuses could be chalked up to the unauthorized acts of a “few bad apples,” were simply false.

The record established by the Committee’s investigation shows that senior officials sought out information on, were aware of training in, and authorized the use of abusive interrogation techniques. Those senior officials bear significant responsibility for creating the legal and operational framework for the abuses. As the Committee report concluded, authorizations of aggressive interrogation techniques by senior officials resulted in abuse and conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody.

The report–released by Levin’s Senate Armed Services Committee–was based on a review of more than 200,000 classified and unclassified documents and interviews with more than 70 people with direct involvement in the issue.

As always with Senator Levin, his objections are framed within an imperialist argument that generally has a favorable view of U.S. power. Just with his criticism of the Iraq War–that was the Iraqis who just weren’t thankful for the U.S. presence–Levin says that abusive interrogation tactics make it difficult for the U.S. to “retain our status as a leader in the world.”

Levin Joining with Republicans to Stop “Cap-and-Trade” Legislation from being Added to Budget Debate

Carl Levin is Working to Pave the Way for a Possible Filibuster of the a Cap-and-Trade Bill

Michigan Democrat Carl Levin recently joined with seven other Democrats and twenty-five Republicans to prevent President Barack Obama from taking quick action on global warming.

Levin signed onto a letter opposing the use of the upcoming budget debate to pass Obama’s global warming legislation. The Senators argue that “enactment of a cap-and-trade regime is likely to influence nearly every feature of the U.S. economy” and as such it should be voted on alone.

However, voting on the bill by itself will make it more difficult for it to pass the Senate. The bill would need to obtain 60 votes, meaning that it would likely be severely weakened in order to get the required votes to prevent a filibuster. Including it in the budget debate would require only a simple majority. The Obama administration is reportedly looking at adding it to the budget process to ensure that it would be passed.

In 2008, Levin was among ten Senators who sought to make failed global warming legislation more friendly to industry.

Carl Levin Co-Sponsors Resolution Supporting Israeli Attack on Gaza

US Senate Supports Israeli Attacks on Gaza

Yesterday, the United States Senate passed a resolution supporting Israel’s ongoing attack on Gaza. The resolution was described as “A resolution recognizing the right of Israel to defend itself against attacks from Gaza and reaffirming the United States’ strong support for Israel in its battle with Hamas, and supporting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.”

While no vote was record for the resolution–it was instead passed by a voice vote–Michigan Senator Carl Levin was a co-sponsor of the resolution. The resolution that was passed was largely the work of the “pro-Israel” group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) who circulated a draft resolution that is quite similar to the final resolution. Following the resolution’s passage, AIPAC expressed strong support for the resolution.

The resolution gives lip service to promoting a “cease-fire in Gaza as soon as possible,” but it is clearly designed to encourage unquestioning support for Israel’s attack on Gaza. Following a long list of “whereas” statements supporting the Israeli version of what is happening now and what has happened over the past several years in Palestine, the resolution makes a number of demands of Hamas but says nothing about Israel’s actions. Instead, it begins by expressing support for Israel’s actions and makes demands that Hamas stop manufacturing rockets, that the Palestinians “diminish the appeal and influence of extremists in the Palestinian territories.” The resolution even goes so far as to praise Israel for its “humanitarian aid to Gaza” during the assault.

Perhaps the most telling words uttered by a Senator in relation to the resolution came from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who said, “The Israelis… are responding exactly how we would.”

A similar resolution is expected to be approved today in the House of Representatives.

New Database Tracks Most Used Words in Congress

An interesting project by the Sunlight Foundation tracks the most used words in Congress, allowing users to track them by state or by individual legislator. It’s an interesting example of what can be done to improve government transparency by using Internet tools.

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The Sunlight Foundation has launched an intriguing new project call Capitol Words. The project analyzes the Congressional Record to track which words are being used by Congress and which members are speaking the most.

The results can be interesting. For example, for legislators from Michigan, Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow spoke the most in 2008 followed by senior Democratic House members John Conyers and John Dingell. Grand Rapids area Representative Vern Ehlers spoke the 10th most often.

It also shows results per legislator. Representative Vern Ehlers most frequently used the words “lakes,” “energy,” “capitol,” and “research.” Senator Carl Levin used “oil,” “energy,” “price,” and “market” the most, while Senator Debbie Stabenow used “jobs,” families,” “country,” and “able.”

While the Capitol Words project is interesting and some practical projects and analyses could be produced from it, it’s probably a bit more of a curiosity than anything else. Still, it’s a good example of the kind of “Web 2.0” applications that can be created to increase government transparency.

Levin Raises Possibility of Torture Indictments

Yesterady, Michigan Senator Carl Levin raised the possibility of government indictments of administration officials involved in the authorization of torture. His comments come on the heels of a Senate investigation that found that the administration authored torture as well as Vice President Dick Cheney’s recent endorsement of torture.

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Michigan Senator Carl Levin has raised the possibility of indicting government officials over the authorization of torture. Yesterday, Levin appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show to discuss the findings of a recent Senate report on torture.

Levin–who chairs the Senate’s Armed Services Committee that produced the report–was asked about recent comments in the media by Vice President Dick Cheney that suggested that he helped give authorization for torture. Levin said that Vice President Cheney condoned torture on television on Sunday when he said that he supports the use of water boarding.

Levin offered considerable criticism of Cheney, however, when questioned about the possibility of prosecutions, he did not mention Cheney. Instead, he said that after gathering supporting information it is the role of his Committee to:

“…turn over to the Justice Department of the next administration–cause clearly this Justice Department is not willing to take an objective look–to turn over to the next Justice Department all the facts we can and we have put together and get our report–the rest of it–declassified. But then it seems to me that it is appropriate that there be an outside commission appointed to take this out of politics that would have the clear subpoena authority to get to the parts of this that are not yet clear. And that is the role of the CIA… which then may or may not lead to indictments or civil action.”

Here’s Levin on the Rachel Maddow Show:

Levin previously issued a statement saying:

“The abuses at Abu Ghraib, GTMO and elsewhere cannot be chalked up to the actions of a few bad apples. Attempts by senior officials to portray that to be the case while shrugging off any responsibility for abuses are both unconscionable and false. Our investigation is an effort to set the record straight on this chapter in our history that has so damaged both America’s standing and our security.”

Report says CAFTA has Failed to Deliver

A new report from the Stop CAFTA coalition charges that CAFTA has failed on numerous fronts and has not improved the lives of workers in the signatory countries. The coalition says that CAFTA’s failings should be used as reason to suspend the agreement and reject future neoliberal trade agreements.

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Earlier this month, the Stop CAFTA Coalition released a report on the effects of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and called for the trade agreement to be suspended by president elect Barack Obama.

The report argues that CAFTA has failed on several fronts and that its failure should be seen as a reason to reject the pending Colombia Free Trade Agreement and focus instead on agreements that focus on human rights, and economic, social, and environmental sustainability.

The report argues that the problems that come with CAFTA–often dismissed by critics as “growing pains” that will even out over time–are problems inherent to the flawed economic theories that shaped the agreement. As with many neoliberal trade agreements, jobs gained have largely been low paying–and often dangerous–jobs at factories owned by multi-national corporations. Similarly, a rise in exports reported by some CAFTA countries has largely benefited multinationals. Intellectual property rights included within CAFTA have stopped local corporations from being able to sell generic medicine to impoverished citizens who cannot afford brand-name drugs. The agreement has also paved the way for destructive environmental projects including open-pit mines and hydroelectric dams. Moreover, CAFTA’s rules make it harder for citizens to challenge these projects.

The report also briefly looks at how the United States has been impacted by CAFTA. The agreement’s passage was hotly debated in the legislature and many unions and NGOs opposed CAFTA. Some of them opposed the agreement on the grounds that it would negatively affect the agricultural and industrial sectors of the US economy. The report concludes that there has been relatively little effect on those sectors. However, it cautions that any gains for the US under CAFTA favor large corporations over small ones, and agri-business over small farms.

Overall, the report concludes that:

“The promises of DR-CAFTA have not been realized in the first three years of its implementation. If DR-CAFTA is not seriously renegotiated, it will continue to harm local economies and people, promote migration, and greatly increase the economic inequalities that persist throughout the region. Without changes to the current economic model and vast improvements to local infrastructure, employment opportunities will continue to be scarce, and the poor will continue to become poorer as the rich continue to become richer.”

The report offers several ideas for alternatives to the neoliberal CAFTA, including ALBA, a cooperative trade agreement focusing on development and mutually beneficial policies, and the Association Agreement with the European Union. In addition, it contains a “Pledge for Trade Justice” that offers elements that must be present to have an agreement based on justice and equality. These include increased transparency, stronger core environmental and labor standards in the body of trade agreements, provisions allowing for locally focused sustainable development, and more.

CAFTA was supported by West Michigan Representative Vern Ehlers who has a history of supporting neoliberal trade agreements including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow both voted against CAFTA.

The Stop CAFTA coalition has released two previous reports on the effects of CAFTA in 2006 and 2007.

Levin Wins Sixth Term

Democratic Senator Carl Levin easily defeated Republican Jack Hoogendyk and was elected to his sixth term.

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Democratic Senator Carl Levin was easily elected to his sixth term last night, beating Republican Jack Hoogendyk while receiving 63% of the vote compared to Hoogendyk’s 34%. Hoogendyk’s campaign was dramatically outspent, with Levin raising $8.1 million compared to Hoogendyk’s $234,000.

There were a handful of third party candidates–who despite receiving next to no attention in the media–received a small number of votes. Libertarian Scotty Boman received 76,128 votes, Green Party candidate Harley Mikkelson received 44,282, US Taxpayers Party candidate Michael Nikitin received 30,987, and Natural Law Party candidate Doug Dern received 18,798 votes. Taken together, the third party candidates received a fraction of the votes cast in the race.

Grand Rapids Press Has Double Standard in Senate Race Coverage

Yesterday, the Grand Rapids Press ran an article about the Michigan Senate election. It offered little information (notably excluding his voting record) about the incumbent candidate Carl Levin.

On Sunday, the Grand Rapids Press featured a story (page A21) on the race for the US Senate in Michigan. The headline reads as, “Mr. Far Outside likes match with Mr. Deep Inside.” The Associated Press (AP) article primarily focuses on the “longevity” of 30-year incumbent Carl Levin and his “conservative” opponent, Michigan state House Representative Jack Hoogendyk.

The only issue that the AP story cites Levin on is the economy, with particular attention to how it impacts Michigan. Levin places the blame of the Michigan economy at the feet of President Bush, but offers no solutions to Michigan’s unemployment. It is unfortunate that the Press article does not provide readers with any information on Levin’s voting record, despite having 30 years in the Senate. Instead, the AP story tells us how long he has been married to his wife and who he defeated in his first Senate race in 1978.

The same reporting style does not apply to Hoogendyk. With the GOP challenger, the AP story at least gives a short list of legislative proposals that Hoogendyk has initiated; “measures to shorten the legislative season, cut lawmakers’ pay, make English the state’s official language and count only legal citizens when congressional seats are apportioned.” One has to ask why this kind of summary of legislative positions was not included in the comments about Senator Levin?

There was also no mention of how much money the candidates have raised and spent for this seat. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Senator Levin has raised over $8 million for this election and spent over $6 million. Hoogendyk has raised only $234,080 and spent $155,633. Levin has received sizable contributions from Blue Cross/Blue Shield ($46,100), GM (40,650) and the Ford Motor Company ($45,699). The 30-year Senator has also received $344,168 for the Israeli Lobby and has been the top recipient of money from this lobby the last three times he has run for re-election.

There are also four other candidates running for this US Senate seat, but they were excluded from the text of the article. The four are Scotty Boman (Libertarian Party), Doug Dern (Natural Law Party), Harley Mikkelson (Green Party), and Michael Nikitin (US Taxpayers Party). the Press did include a short biography of each of the other candidates in a side bar, but this information is limited to party affiliation, profession, and martial status. No information is provided on their platforms.

Levin, Stabenow, and Ehlers Ranked on Environmental Votes

The League of Conservation Voters has released its annual rating of federal legislators and their support for the environment. Grand Rapids area legislators Rep. Ehlers, Sen. Levin, and Sen. Stabenow are ranked on a variety of key votes identified by the organization.

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The League of Conservation Voters has released its annual ranking and evaluation of legislators’ support for the environment. Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow both received “100%” rankings from the League, who says that they voted in support of the environment one-hundred percent of the time.

Grand Rapids area Representative Vern Ehlers–who is often praised as an “environmentalist”–received a 69% ranking for his votes this term. Earlier this year, the League endorsed Ehlers for Congress.

Outside West Michigan, it is worth noting that 7th District Representative Tim Walberg was named one of Congress’ “Dirty Dozen” for being “…one of the most anti-environment members of the 2006 Congressional class.” Holland area Representative Pete Hoekstra and 4th District Representative David Camp–both Republicans–earn 0% ratings.