Headlines: Protesters Confront Rumsfeld; House Weakens Emissions Bill

Democracy Now Headlines: CODEPINK Protesters Confront Rumsfeld; House Weakens Emissions Bill

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Dozens Killed as Sri Lankan Military Bombs Hospital

Sri Lankan government forces have bombed the lone hospital in a northern war zone for the second time in as many days. At least fifteen people were killed and another forty wounded in today’s shelling, one day after at least forty-nine people were killed in the first attack. One of the bombs landed in a hospital ward filled with patients wounded in yesterday’s strike. Human rights groups say the Sri Lankan military is violating a pledge not to shell the tiny area controlled by the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Admin Might Not Release Torture Photos

The Obama administration is wavering on a vow to release several dozen photos depicting the torture and abuse of prisoners in CIA and military jails overseas. Last month, the Justice Department chose not to challenge an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit seeking the photos’ release. But on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the administration has “great concern” about the photos and declined to say whether they’ll be kept under wraps.

Senate Panel Holds Hearing on Torture

Lawmakers are holding the first congressional hearing today on the torture of foreign prisoners since last month’s release of Bush administration memos authorizing the torture. A Senate Judiciary subcommittee will hear from witnesses including former FBI agent Ali Soufan and former Condoleezza Rice aide Philip Zelikow. Soufan is expected to challenge Bush administration claims the torture techniques used on foreign prisoners were successful in gaining intelligence. According to ABC News, Soufan will tell lawmakers the interrogation of alleged al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah went awry after the CIA ordered him to follow the torture plan devised by military psychologist and private contractor James Mitchell.

Judge Orders Release of Gitmo Prisoner

A Yemeni national has been ordered released from the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay. On Tuesday, a federal judge said the government has failed to prove twenty-five-year-old Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed had ties to al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Ahmed has been jailed at Guantanamo since 2002.

Geithner: Social Security Not “Untouchable”

A new government report is warning the Social Security and Medicare programs are nearing insolvency sooner than predicted. On Tuesday, the Obama administration said the Medicare fund that covers hospital bills for senior citizens could run out of money by the year 2017. And it said the Social Security trust fund could be depleted by the year 2037, four years earlier than previous warnings. Republicans have long used the warnings of Social Security insolvency to push for its privatization. But the figures are controversial, in part because they fail to account for Treasury Department loans on Social Security’s estimated $2.5 trillion surplus. Economists have also long pointed out Social Security could remain solvent by minimal tax adjustments. On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner indicated the White House would be open to Republican attempts to undo Social Security, saying, “The President explicitly rejects the notion that Social Security is untouchable politically.”

Afghan Commission Reports Toll of 140 in US Attack

In Afghanistan, a government commission has concluded 140 civilians were killed in last week’s US bombing of two villages in Farah province. If confirmed, it would be the worst single mass killing of Afghan civilians by US forces since the invasion of 2001. Surviving relatives have begun accepting compensation payments, receiving $2,000 for family members killed and $1,000 for the wounded.

Army Sgt. Charged for Killing of 5 Comrades

In Iraq, an Army sergeant has been charged in Monday’s killing of five other American service members at a military base near Baghdad. Sergeant John Russell faces five counts of premeditated murder and one count of aggravated assault. Military spokesperson Major General David Perkins said Russell had previously had his gun taken away and had opened fire at a clinic where he’d been urged to receive counseling.

Maj. Gen. David Perkins: “The commander of the suspect, that being Sergeant Russell, had taken his weapon away. He had experienced or had been referred to counseling approximately the week beforehand. And through that process, his commander had determined that it would be best for him not to have a weapon. The suspect was apprehended outside the clinic shortly after shots were heard.”

Russell is on his third tour of duty in Iraq.

Saberi Addresses Media Following Release from Iranian Jail

In Iran, the Iranian American journalist Roxana Saberi has spoken out for the first time since her release. Saberi was freed on Monday after being held since January on charges of being an American spy.

Roxana Saberi: “I’m, of course, very happy to be free and to be with my parents again, and I want to thank all the people all over the world, which I’m just finding out about, really, who, whether they knew me or not, helped me and my family during this period. I don’t have any specific plans for the moment; I just want to be with my parents and my friends and to relax.”

Ending Boycott, US Wins Seat on UN Human Rights Council

At the United Nations, the US has won a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. The vote puts an end to a boycott started by the Bush administration over the council’s criticism of the Israeli government. After the vote, UN Ambassador Susan Rice welcomed the United States’ new seat but echoed Bush administration concerns.

UN Ambassador Susan Rice: “While we recognize that the Human Rights Council has been a flawed body that has not lived up to its potential, we are looking forward to working from within with a broad cross-section of member states to strengthen and reform the Human Rights Council and enable it to live up to the vision that was crafted when it was created.”

Tillman Parents Calls for Review of McChrystal’s Role in Cover-Up of Son’s Death

The parents of the slain Army Ranger and professional football player Pat Tillman are calling for a review of the new US commander in Afghanistan’s role in the cover-up of their son’s death. The military initially said Tillman was killed by Taliban fighters but later conceded he died by friendly fire. Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, named this week to replace General David McKiernan, has been accused of urging top generals to ignore the evidence surrounding Tillman’s death. In a statement, Pat Tillman’s mother, Mary Tillman, called for “careful scrutiny” of Lt. Gen. McChrystal at upcoming confirmation hearings.

House Weakens Emissions Bill

On Capitol Hill, House Democrats have weakened a landmark greenhouse gas emissions bill in what they call a necessary move to win broader support. The measure would cap US emissions at a certain level and allow polluters to buy pollution credits that would ostensibly cancel out their emissions. On Tuesday, bill sponsor and House Energy Committee chair Henry Waxman said the bill’s emissions cap has been reduced from 20 to 17 percent, and its required percentage for drawing electricity from renewable sources dropped from 25 to 15 percent. Waxman said the reductions were necessary to win the support of Democrats backed by coal and other major industries.

NY State Assembly Backs Gay Marriage

Here in New York, the State Assembly has approved a measure that would legalize same-sex marriage. The vote was 89-to-52. The bill now goes to the State Senate, where it faces a tougher challenge.

$12B in Withdrawn Madoff Funds Could Be Retrieved

The New York Times is reporting investors withdrew some $12 billion from accounts at Bernie Madoff’s firm last year. Half of that $12 billion was taken just three months before Madoff was arrested in December on allegations of operating a Ponzi scheme. Madoff is currently in jail awaiting sentencing next month. Under federal law, the trustee handling Madoff’s bankruptcy can sue the investors to retrieve the money they withdrew.

CODEPINK Protesters Confront Rumsfeld

Video has emerged showing two protesters confronting former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at the White House Correspondents’ dinner on Saturday night. As Rumsfeld entered the building, Desiree Fairooz and Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK were there to greet him.

Desiree Fairooz: “War criminal! War criminal! War criminal! Arrest this man! Arrest the war criminal! I wish I had some handcuffs right now to arrest this man! He is responsible for the death of millions of people! War criminal! Arrest this man! War criminal! War criminal! Arrest this man! War criminal! You’re protecting a man responsible for the deaths of millions of Iraqis! Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you!”

After Desiree Fairooz was taken away by security, Medea Benjamin continued to walk alongside Rumsfeld down a staircase. She announced his arrival to a crowded room by again calling him a “war criminal.”

Medea Benjamin: “Here comes the war criminal, Donald Rumsfeld! War criminal! He killed people in Iraq! War criminal! Donald Rumsfeld, war criminal! He killed people in Iraq! War criminal! There’s the war criminal! War criminal!”

Torture Memo Author Protested in Hawaii

In Hawaii, more than fifty people gathered outside a federal court building in Honolulu to protest the Bush administration torture memo author Jay Bybee. The demonstration was held as Bybee heard cases in his position as a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The group World Can’t Wait has called for protests against Bybee in every city where he hears cases.

Israel Arrests Journalist Amira Hass

In Israel, the Israeli journalist Amira Hass was arrested Tuesday after returning from the Gaza Strip. Hass has been reporting from Gaza for several years. She was arrested on charges of residing in an enemy state and ordered to stay out of Gaza for thirty days.

Prosecutors Win Conviction on Third Try in Sears Tower Case

And in Miami, five defendants have been convicted of a plot to blow up Chicago’s Sears Tower. One of the defendants was acquitted. It was the government’s third attempt to convict the so-called “Liberty City Six” after two mistrials. The case has been criticized for lacking any physical evidence and relying on an FBI informant who reportedly devised the plot for which the defendants were convicted.

West Michigan Legislators Received Millions for Pet Projects in 2007

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Back in January, Mediamouse.org reported that West Michigan’s legislative delegation–Representative Vern Ehlers and Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow had secured millions of dollars in “earmarks” contained within appropriations bills passed by the legislature. Earmarks, which are spending provisions requested by individual members of Congress that target taxpayer dollars to specific projects and recipients, are inserted into government spending bills with little discussion and debate.

The numbers we cited back in January were preliminary, but now Citizens Against Government Waste’s annual “Congressional Pig Book” has a complete list generated by examining the 12 appropriations bills passed in 2007. West Michigan legislators secured millions of dollars for a variety of projects including subsidies for military contractors, funding for various projects, research, assistance to various youth projects, and assistance to city governments. While some of the projects were probably worth funding, a more transparent means of doing so needs to be used. Moreover, the fact that despite all the attention that has been focused on earmarks in recent years they continue to be awarded, shows that simple transparency is not enough and that legislation regulating or banning the practice is needed.

Legislators Rated on Animal Protection Issues

The Humane Society Legislative Fund has released its annual “Humane Scorecard.” The scorecard reports how legislators in the United States House of Representatives and Senate have acted on animal protection issues. The scorecard primarily tracks co-sponsorship of animal protection legislation in the House and the Senate.

Legislators representing Grand Rapids–Representative Vern Ehlers and Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow–generally were rated highly by the Humane Society. Senator Levin received a “Humane Champion” award for having a 100% rating on the scorecard and sponsoring the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act that created federal-level felonies for violating the federal law on animal fighting. Levin also co-sponsored the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act and a law designed to prevent animal researchers from using stolen cats and dogs. Additionally, he signed onto a letter to the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee seeking more funding for animal protection. Senator Stabenow received a 75% rating. The Humane Society rated her lower for failing to co-sponsor the law preventing animal researchers from using stolen pets.

In the US House of Representatives, Representative Vern Ehlers received a 67% rating. Ehlers co-sponsored the Dog and Cat Fur Prohibition Enforcement Act that would require all garments trimmed with fur to list the source of the fur. He also voted for the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act that would create felonies for violation of federal animal fighting laws, a bill that prohibits the commercial sale and slaughter of wild horses, and a bill that prevents the import of sport-hunted trophy polar bears from Canada. However, Ehlers did not co-sponsor the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act that would limit the sale of horses for human consumption, nor did he sign onto a letter to the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee seeking additional funding for animal protection.

Representative Agema Hunts in Russia while House Discusses State Budget

West Michigan area Representative Dave Agema (Republican, Grandville) is in Russia on a two-week snow sheep hunting expedition while his colleagues in the Michigan House of Representatives are debating a plan to address Michigan’s $1.75 billion budget deficit. The story was reported in the Grand Rapids Press today, and while such items are usually best ignored, it is worth noting in light of Agema’s overall extremism. Agema has repeatedly attacked immigrants, suggested that public school teachers be armed, and has dismissed the torture of detainees in Iraq. Somehow, the fact that he is skipping out on a critical budget discussion to go on a Russian snow sheep hunting expedition–which can cost upwards of $20,000 according to the Press–seems fitting.

Agema’s chief of staff said that he informed the House several months ago and that he was assured that this would be a good time to go. Nevertheless, Agema’s absence is listed as “unexcused” and there has been the usual partisan sniping over whether or not he told the House leadership of his planned absence. Fortunately, while this is the type of borderline irrelevant news that political reporters love to cover, a Press reporter did do a follow-up to Agema’s call for allowing teachers to be armed in which it reported that Agema’s plan has been largely dismissed by school administrators.

West Michigan Representative Agema to Hold Hearing on How “Illegal Immigration” Impacts West Michigan

State Representative David Agema of Grandville is holding a hearing for West Michigan residents next Monday on how “illegal immigration impacts their community” in Georgetown Township. Agema has previously sought legislation that would make Michigan “a more difficult place for illegals to survive.”

Michigan State Representative David Agema–who represents the 74th District and who lives in Grandville–is planning a hearing in Georgetown Township on Monday to gather testimony on “illegal immigration impacts their community.” Agema–who has a history of making anti-immigrant statements–is hosting the hearing as part of his work with the Michigan Border Security and Immigration Task Force. That task force is made up entirely of Republicans and includes Representatives Phil Pavlov of St. Clair Township, Chuck Moss of Birmingham, and Dave Robertson of Grand Blanc. In a press release announcing the hearing, Agema stated that “immigration has a great impact on the economy in West Michigan” and that legal status and proper identification are necessary to “protect us.” In the past, Agema has also co-sponsored legislation to make English the “official language” in Michigan as well as legislation that would prohibit states from giving contracts to companies that employ undocumented immigrants.

In response to Monday’s hearing, immigrant rights proponents are planning to have people attend the meeting to explain that West Michigan values the contributions of immigrants. According to an announcement submitted to Media Mouse:

State Rep Agema (R, Grandville) is sponsoring this hearing to gather testimony from citizens concerned about the problems of illegal immigration. Let’s attend the meeting to counter this approach. Let’s tell the all-Republican task force that West Michigan values the contributions of immigrants and wants the government to legislate a reasonable way for immigrants to be here legally.

The hearing will take place at 1515 Baldwin St in Jenison at the Georgetown Township Hall at 11:00am.

However, it is important to understand that this is not the first time that Agema has organized against “illegal immigration” and indeed made this a key component of his election campaign and his public statements. Back in June of this year, Agema declared that he wanted to pass legislation that would make Michigan “a more difficult place for illegals to survive.” In a Grand Rapids Press article that reported his statement, Agema equated undocumented immigrants with terrorists, stating “I don’t want illegals, whether they be Hamas, Hispanics or Jamaicans, to get driver’s licenses in this state.” Agema also claimed that undocumented immigrants are draining government resources stating “I think the people of Michigan are pretty sick of illegals taking education and health care and so forth,” although Agema offers no proof to support his statement. He has advanced this xenophobic view of immigrants in other cases, asserting that “a lot of illegals come here, get a legal driver’s license, start working, and take the people of Michigan’s jobs away.”

It is also worth noting that Agema has made similarly outrageous statements about the Iraq War, asserting at a “Support the Troops” Rally” earlier this year at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) that there was nothing “inhumane” about the treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison because their heads were covered and not chopped off. Similarly, Agema argued that the “Rules of Engagement” in Iraq are unclear and that if a soldier is shot at they need to be able to “shoot where they [the enemy] are, if they are shooting from a mosque, destroy the mosque–they were hiding weapons in there anyway.”

Ehlers Votes Against Measure Aimed at Reducing College Costs

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The House of Representatives yesterday voted by a 273-149 margin to pass the College Cost Reduction Act of 2007. The bill seeks to reduce college costs by investing $18 billion over the next five years in college aid. Interest rates on federally subsidized loans would also be decreased from 6.8% to 3.4% over five years. According to House Democrats, the bill has no cost to taxpayers and is funded by cutting “excess subsidies” paid by the federal government to lenders in the student loan industry. Grand Rapids area Representative Vern Ehlers voted against the measure, as did West Michigan’s Holland area Representative Pete Hoekstra.

The vote should be seen within the context of a report earlier this year that declared Ehlers to be a “Public Enemy of the Middle Class” for his voting record in the House of Representatives. The March 2007 report by Americans United for Change named Ehlers for his “full frontal, unapologetic assault on the middle class agenda.” The group highlighted Ehlers’ votes against increase the federal minimum wage and legislation making it easier to form unions and bargain with employers.

Levin Introduces Measure Calling for Withdrawal from Iraq by April 2008

The legislation–offered as an amendment to the 2008 Defense Authorization Bill–calls for the United States to begin withdrawing soldiers from Iraq within 120 days of passage. The “withdrawal” would be complete by April 2008. However, Levin’s proposal would maintain an unknown number of soldiers in Iraq to protect US interests.

photo of carl levin announcing amendment

Michigan Democratic Party Senator Carl Levin and Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed formally announced yesterday that he is introducing a proposal aimed at removing troops from Iraq by April 30, 2008. The so-called Levin-Reed Amendment, was co-sponsored by Democratic Senators John Kerry (ME), Joe Biden (DE), Barrack Obama (IL), and Hillary Clinton (NY), as well as Republican Senators Gordon Smith (OR), Chuck Hagel (NE), and Olymia Snowe (ME).

The legislation–offered as an amendment to the 2008 Defense Authorization Bill–calls for the United States to begin withdrawing soldiers from Iraq within 120 days of passage. The bill further calls for a deadline of April 30, 2008 for a significant number of US soldiers to be removed from Iraq. Senator Levin criticized the United States’ occupation of Iraq, stating in a news release that “the open-ended occupation of a Muslim country by western countries has played into the hands of Al Qaeda.” However, Levin’s legislation would maintain this occupation for nine more moths, while also allowing an unknown number of soldiers to remain for “specified limited missions” including “counterterrosim” and protecting United States’ infrastructure after the April 30, 2008 “deadline.” Recent estimates have suggested that the United States’ war on Iraq, which has killed at least 655,000 civilians, may be killing 10,000 Iraqis per month.

As he has in the past, Senator Levin again used his legislation to advocate for United States-imposed “benchmarks” arguing that “there is too little pressure on Iraqi leaders to do what they have to do.” Levin’s news release announcing the amendment said:

If there is any hope of forcing the Iraqi political leaders to take responsibility for their own country, it is to have a timetable for the reduction of American forces and the redeployment of those forces to more limited support missions, instead of being everybody’s target in the middle of a civil war. Passage of this bipartisan amendment will hopefully prod the Iraqi government to reach a political settlement, which everybody agrees is necessary to end the violence.

Levin further argued that “without setting a date to begin a phased reduction of troops and a phased redeployment of troops there is much too little pressure on the Iraqi leaders to do what only they can do: which is to work out a political settlement.” There was no discussion about whether the United States has the legal authority to impose its “benchmarks” on Iraq.

The Levin-Reed amendment, despite gaining more support in recent days, will likely face a difficult battle in the Senate. Already, Republicans have vowed to block Levin’s amendment. Yesterday Republicans blocked an amendment designed to give troops serving in Iraq additional rest between tours by refusing to end debate on the amendment.

Iraq Options Debated in Congress, None will End the Occupation

Debate over Iraq policy has increased in the past few weeks, with Democrats offering a number of legislative proposals aimed at changing policy. Unforunately, these proposals–along with Republican calls for a “new strategy”–would allow the slaughter in Iraq to continue until at least April 1, 2008.

photo of us soldier stopping an iraqi woman

Over the past couple of weeks, much has been made in the media about legislative proposals from Democrats and Republicans alike that are designed to “change the United States policy” in Iraq. According to numerous press reports, Democrats are considering a number of different amendments and legislative proposals to change Iraq policy, while the White House and neo-conservative proponents of the war are reportedly aggressively lobbying to keep soldiers in Iraq.

Recent statements by Republican Senators have also gained considerable attention in the media. In late June, Republican Senator Richard Lugar said that the US strategy in Iraq is not working and that there must be a “draw down” of US troops. Republican Senator George Voinovich sent a letter urging President Bush to develop a “comprehensive plan for our country’s gradual military disengagement,” while Senator Pete Domenici called for “a new strategy that will move our troops out of combat operations and on the path of coming home.” All of these statements are a part of what many Democrats are hoping will be an increase in votes for Democratic proposals aimed at changing Iraq policy in upcoming votes. However, it is worth noting that most of these statements are just that–statements–and do not offer any sincere legislative proposals. Certainly with the case of Grand Rapids area Congressman Vern Ehlers who has repeatedly described the United States as having “destroyed” and “messed up” Iraq while offering no proposals to change the policy and continuing to vote for funding the war as an example, it is clear that until votes are counted, these Republicans should not be counted on or trusted by either Democrats or the antiwar movement.

Unfortunately, most of the proposals being considered–even by allegedly “antiwar” Democrats–fail to do anything to support an immediate end to the occupation and thus fail to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people under the occupation. In the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi is expected to introduce legislation later this month that would call for withdrawal of US forces by April 1, 2008. After the collapse of a previous measure making a similar claim–in large part due to the Democrats’ abandoning all of their demands–the prospects for success are unclear. The Webb Troop-Readiness amendment would increase the amount of time soldiers spend at home between deployments, effectively meaning that the military would not be able to sustain “the surge” and possibly creating a climate in which both Republicans and Democrats could begin to push responsibility for the failure in Iraq onto the military. Democratic Senators Levin (Michigan) and Reed are expected to introduce a measure calling for the start of withdrawal to being within 120 days of passage and conclude by April 1, 2008, effectively continuing the slaughter in Iraq for another nine months. Its unclear as to whether or not the bill would include provisions blaming the Iraqis for failing to meet US “benchmarks” or requiring that they meet “benchmarks” for withdrawal, as Levin has been a strong proponent of such benchmarks in the past. Senator Feingold is advocating a proposal similar to Levin’s but with the added provision that funding would be cut by April 1, 2008. Senator Hillary Clinton is promoting a proposal that would revoke the 2002 authorization for the war, but it does nothing to bring an end to the war. A final bi-partisan bill proposed by Senators Salazar and Domenici would require that the President adopt the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group as US policy. The bill would have no specific call for withdrawal, and like the Iraq Study Group report, would advocate an imperial Middle East policy.

Many of the proposals are rooted in an imperialist view of the world with the assumption that the United States has the authority–both legally and morally–to enforce its will on Iraq. None of the proposals take into account the wishes of the Iraqi people, nor their daily suffering under the occupation. There is no discussion of the illegality of the war under international law, the 655,000+ Iraqis that have been killed, the complete decimation of Iraq’s infrastructure, the presence of private security forces, or the permanent bases built in Iraq. Instead, the proposals are geared towards what is deemed to be politically expedient in the United States–making the Democrats appear to be an antiwar party while at the same time allowing Republicans to disassociate themselves from Bush’s policy in Iraq.

The national antiwar movement, much of which has long advocated an immediate end to the occupation of Iraq and advocated withholding funding as a means of ending the war, has expressed caution and criticism over the Democratic plans. In an email sent to its members and supporters on Monday and titled “Don’t Mend It, END It!” the group United for Peace and Justice the group expressed the following concerns:

Too many members of Congress may support a troop reduction but settle for a modified version of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. They may vote to bring “combat” troops home, but allow Bush to keep tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers in Iraq to “fight terrorism,” protect U.S. installations and train Iraqi troops. And they are doing nothing to address the growing numbers of U.S. mercenaries involved in the occupation — mercenaries now outnumber troops in Iraq.

UFPJ is concerned that many members of Congress will be willing to open the door to a permanent U.S. military presence in Iraq in exchange for the near-term withdrawal of some troops. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Defense Secretary Robert Gates and some allies in the Bush administration are seeking to build bipartisan political support for a long-term U.S. presence in Iraq by moving toward withdrawing significant numbers of troops from Iraq by the end of President Bush’s term” (July 3, 2007). This is a dangerous development.

Prominent antiwar groups including Code Pink,/a> and Military Families Speak Out have also continued to speak out in support of a rapid withdrawal from Iraq.

For his part, President Bush claims to be unconcerned about the debate in Congress. At a speech today in Cleveland, Bush said he welcomes “a good, honest debate about the consequences of failure, the consequences of success in this war,” but that he believes that more time is needed for “the surge” to have an effect. He further argued that Congress should “wait for General Petraeus to come back and give his assessment of the strategy that he’s putting in place before they make any decisions.” Petraeus’ assessment is due in September, although Petraeus has said that “the surge” may not be able to be evaluated by September. In comments before his speech, Bush said troop levels “will be decided by our commanders on the ground, not by political figures in Washington,” suggesting that the Democrats and the antiwar movement will need to seriously pressure the Bush administration to change policy.

Former Republican Senate Candidate Promotes Rightwing Anti-Immigrant Hysteria

Mike Bouchard, a former Republican Senate candidate who ran against Debbie Stabenow in 2006, recently wrote a guest editorial in the Detroit News that advances the rightwing view that immigrants can be equated with violent criminals and terrorists.

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Mike Bouchard, the former Republican Senate candidate who ran against Democratic Party Senator Debbie Stabenow for one of Michigan’s Senate seats, wrote an editorial yesterday in the Detroit News that advocates “securing the borders” and equates immigrants with criminals and terrorists.

Bouchard, who is currently an Oakland County sheriff, wrote that the immigration legislation recently defeated in the Senate would have amounted to “amnesty” for “criminals.” Bouchard asserts that the immigration reform bill would have given people “a pathway to citizenship with relative ease” despite the fact that the proposed “path to citizenship” was complex and far from being a general “amnesty.” Moreover, the guestworker program touted by the bill’s proponents had been criticized by some as being a means through which foreign workers would be systematically exploited.

Most disturbingly, in his editorial Bouchard advances the idea that undocumented immigrants are potentially dangerous criminals that might be here to “cause harm to the American way of life.” He quickly moves from describing how undocumented immigrants must commit identify theft into an attempt to associate undocumented immigrants with more serious crimes. In the editorial, Bouchard highlights two incidents in which immigrants committed terrorist attacks or crimes:

As part of an amnesty program in 1986, Mahmoud “The Red” Abouhalima was granted legal status in the United States, even though his application information was fraudulent. Little did we know that “The Red” was a terrorist who eventually became one of the leaders in the attacks against the World Trade Center in 1993. Moreover, his conveniently acquired legal status allowed him the freedom to travel and participate in terrorist training overseas.

Even closer to home is a recent incident where a Romanian refugee entered the United States illegally — twice. His story ended after he beat, cut and kidnapped a couple from Rochester Hills before turning the gun he stole on himself.

Neither of these incidents are representative of the contributions of immigrants to society, instead they simply highlight the common rightwing technique of seizing on isolated events to attempt to link undocumented immigrants with violent crime.

Bouchard ends his editorial with a lengthy quotation from Theodore Roosevelt in 1919 that has been frequently cited by rightwing commentators opposing immigration:

In the first place we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the man’s becoming in very fact an American, and nothing but an American. …There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag we have room for but one language here, and that is the English language…and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.

Absent from Bouchard’s citation of the quote is the context in which it was written, or further information about Roosevelt’s positions on immigration. It is clear from the quote that Roosevelt’s comments were xenophobic, as was much of the United States’ immigration policy during the “third wave” of immigration from the 1880s to the 1920s. It was the period of the heaviest immigration to the United States, with around 25 million immigrants coming to the United States. The United States government attempted to oppose much of the immigration during this period, passing legislation including the Chinese Exclusion Act that was designed to restrict immigration. For his part, Roosevelt spoke of the “threat of Japan (http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/trjapan.htm)” and argued that the United States must not allow Japanese immigration. Roosevelt was also president when the Chinese Exclusion Act was extended indefinitely,/a>. Moreover, during the era, it was common for immigrants to be set against white workers and immigrants of color were frequently the victims of verbal–and in some cases–physical attack.

Similarly missing from Bouchard’s overall analysis is any explanation of why people immigrants are seeking entry into the United States. Bouchard makes no mention of the realities of immigration to the United States, which in the case of immigration from Mexico and Central America, is driven in large part by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other neoliberal policies often enacted at the behest of the United States.

Realities of the Recent Vote for War Funding

The National Priorities Project has produced a new 2-page fact sheet outlining some of the realities of the recent Congressional vote for $100 billion in war funding. The total amount spent thus far–approximately $456 billion–is far more than the $50-$60 billion predicted by the Office of Management and Budget or even the $100-$200 billion predicted by the White House’s economic advisor. Moreover, the current amount does not include “future costs” on programs such as veterans healthcare and disability payments. One study has placed that cost at more than $2 trillion.

According to the National Priorities Project, if the $456 billion would have been spent locally:

  • 5.7 million people could have been provided with health care coverage each year since the war began; AND
  • 1 million affordable housing units could have been built; AND
  • 430,000 school teachers could have been hired since the war began; AND
  • 4.7 million students could have received tuition and fees for four years at a state university.