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Hollywood Gender Gap Persists in 100 Top-Grossing 2008 Films

In cinematic content, females appear to be cold, hungry, and alone. At least that is what our recent gender analysis reveals about the 100 top-grossing theatrically released fictional films in 2008. We evaluated more than 4,300 on-screen speaking characters and more than 1,200 above-the-line personnel (directors, writers, producers). Among our current findings:

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20 Principles for Successful Community Organizing

I’ve been a rabble-rouser and social activist for 45 of my almost 66 years, and have made my living as a professional civil rights, labor, and community organizer, as well as a performer. In my new political memoir, Creative Community Organizing: A Guide for Rabble-Rousers, Activists, and Quiet Lovers of Justice (Berrett-Koehler, 2010), I relate stories from some of the great social reform campaigns in recent American history, of which I’ve been privileged to play a part--including the Southern Civil Rights Movement, the Harlan County coal miner’s strike, and the fight to abolish for-profit prisons and immigrant family detention. The book has lessons that I hope will inspire and motivate a new generation of community organizers and young activists--and anyone else who seeks to make an impact in their communities, from musicians and soccer moms, to teachers and politicians.

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White House Focuses on Violence Against Women

The Obama Administration announced a new position on June 26 -- White House advisor on issues of domestic violence and sexual assault. Fittingly, the announcement came from Vice-President Joe Biden, who, when he was senator and chair of the Judiciary Committee, had been the original drafter of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  Named to the new position is Lynn Rosenthal, who was key to galvanizing support across the country for the reauthorization of VAWA in 2005.

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We Are Witnessing the Remaking of America

In the darkness of predawn, we walked silently through the streets of Washington to take our places on the mall. As the day began, there was no noisy jubilation, only the sound of forward movement, a determination to secure a spot to witness history. Mine was about midpoint among, we believe now, a million and a half witnesses. I stood next to a middle-aged man wiping tears from his face as his wife leaned into him; behind a mixed group of young men -- black, Asian, white -- in awe of the spectacle; in front of a group of older black women, quietly insisting the younger, taller ones stoop down so they could see. They responded quickly with a smile. I’ve never been in a more congenial, optimistic, unified throng.

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The DNA of Violence

A jury has convicted Atlanta courthouse killer Brian Gene Nichols, and Atlanta has heaved a sigh of relief. Nichols was sentenced Saturday to seven life sentences and four sentences of life without parole plus 485 years for the crimes he committed on March 11, 2005.

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Why Larry Summers Is a Bad Choice for an Obama Administration


As President-elect Obama moves quickly to assemble his team, women leaders monitoring his choices have put up a red alert about a reported short-list choice as secretary of the Treasury. Veronica Arreola, an educator and advocate for women in the sciences, explains why.

I am the president of the Larry Summers fan club. As the director of the Women in Science and Engineering program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, you might find that odd.

After his infamous statement in 2005 that women and girls had an intrinsic handicap towards math, explaining my job was a moot point. Everyone in my circle of friends and around the country knew the importance of running an academic support program for women majoring in science and engineering at a Research I institution. Despite the fact that women are going to college in record numbers and increasingly majoring in sciences, there are still those out in the world who think women just can't hack it in the end. It also was an easier sell to donors and funders about the importance of the WISE office and our mission. So thank you, Larry for making my case so eloquently.

After his departure from the Harvard presidency he faded from the limelight. This week his name, along with New York Federal Reserve Chairman Timothy Geithner, has been bandied about as secretary of the treasury in the incoming Obama administration (can I just say how amazing it is to say that? The Obama administration!). Could the man who sold America on change seriously be considering appointing a man who suggested that Malia, Sasha and all of our daughters have a genetic disposition from not being able to math? Sadly yes.

As the head of the U.S. Treasury, Larry Summers would be in charge of advising on economic and tax policy in this country and abroad. This is a man who believes that women's inability to do math has MORE impact on the lack of women in science and engineering than discrimination. The lack of women in science and engineering is important to our economy in at least two ways. First, our country is sorely in need of scientists and engineers. The fact that women represent just 12 percent of the science and engineering workforce (cited from Obama's Change.gov website) means that we are underutilizing women's skills in this area--a fact that Summers just might take issue with because you know, we can't do math.

Second, science and engineering fields have some of the lowest wage gaps and engineering women earn 95 cents to a man's dollar. Equal pay was a cornerstone of the Obama campaign and is on his Women's Agenda. Discrimination has been reduced, but it is still a factor in why women only earn 77 cents to a man's dollar and as low as 52 cents for women of color. In order to turn this economy around and allow everyone to participate and benefit, we must have someone in charge of the economy who understands how women are affected in the market and work place.

Even without his appointment, Larry Summers is a top advisor to President-elect Obama and that is troubling in itself. When I think about who I want at the president-elect's ear on economic issues, I do not picture a person who scoffs at discrimination, who suggests that Africa is under-polluted, or says that using sweatshop labor in Asia is justified. Is that the type of change we want to see in the next administration? We don't want to feel as though we could have saved ourselves the heartbreak and voted for John "All women need is more training for fair pay" McCain.

President-elect Obama has a lot of work ahead to sell me and my colleagues on Summers.

The Age of Unbridled Consumption Just Ended

An economic storm is descending, and for many, the storm will be bad. While the Bush Administration and Congress wrestle with how to bail out Wall Street, and argue about how softly CEOs of failed financial institutions should be allowed to land, average citizens must leap into the new reality without benefit of 24-karat parachutes.

Certainly, there isn't any golden or even silver lining to losing your job, your savings, your home. But for those of us not hit with catastrophic losses, an economic downturn might force us into painful, but ultimately useful, adjustments to our priorities. Should we be fortunate enough to hold onto both nest and nest egg though the storm, we might eventually come out the other side with clearer skies and a clear sense of what's important.

Our economy in recent decades has been propped up by an alarming degree by profligate consumer spending and wasting of resources prompted by an avaricious credit industry. Even before the crisis, it was obvious that the traditional American Dream of comfort and security had been displaced by a "more is better" focus that promotes not quality of life, but rather the unbridled production and consumption of stuff. There was never any chance that could continue indefinitely.

Recently, the Global Footprint Network issued a report stating that by September 23, humanity had consumed all the new resources the planet will produce for the year. For the rest of 2008, we are in the ecological equivalent of deficit spending, drawing down our resource stocks -- in essence, borrowing from the future. Sound familiar? We can't hope to keep to our economic budget if we can't keep to our ecological budget.

Some years ago -- just as the Bush Administration was settling into office and, as it has turned out, contemplating how best to thwart any meaningful efforts to address climate change -- my organization, New American Dream, commissioned two globe-trotting amateur videographers to document how American consumer demands affected the lives of people in parts of the globe American consumers are unlikely ever to see. The short films came back to us filled with images of environmental and social ills stemming in large part from a global trade system designed to shield end consumers from seeing the true consequences of consumer choices.

The filmmakers visited coffee farmers, banana pickers, and lobster divers. Factory workers in so-called "free trade zones" told stories of how free trade wasn't working out so well for them. Along the coasts of Central and South America, shrimp pens displaced local fishing communities and obliterated natural mangrove forests. In the Amazon, logging trucks rumbled through roads carved into formerly pristine rainforests.

Several of the films touched also on U.S. energy policy -- specifically, how our thirst for oil affects local communities both in places where oil is extracted and places where greenhouse gas emissions contribute to altering the local climate. In Ecuador, the filmmakers met indigenous Huaorani people whose health and way of life have been severely compromised by oil drilling on their lands. In sub-Saharan Africa, they documented what happens to once-thriving farming communities when the rain doesn't fall.

Those films addressing climate change most clearly highlighted the special burden faced by women. One video showed women and girls making 5 to 10 kilometer treks to gather firewood for use as cooking fuel. It showed how, during the dry months, women arose at four in the morning to wait in long lines around depleted community wells for basins of sandy water. Water rationing was so intense during those times that most clothes washing is suspended until the first rainfall.

The "more is better" version of the American dream is unsustainable environmentally, fueling a level of resource consumption that the planet cannot keep up with. It is personally unsustainable, drawing American families into a work-and-spend treadmill that depletes savings and clutters lives. And now we see it is unsustainable economically, as well.

Whatever economy emerges from this crisis will need to put less emphasis on "more" stuff and greater emphasis on more of what matters -- like healthy communities, a healthy planet and a higher quality of life. In righting the economic ship, the end game shouldn't be to plug up a broken vessel, but to move to something more seaworthy -- one that sails within both personal and ecological limits.

This article was originally posted by The Women's Media Center at www.womensmediacenter.com. The WMC is a non-profit organization founded by Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinem, and Robin Morgan, dedicated to making the female half of the world visible and powerful in the media.

Sarah Palin Has Pollsters Scratching Their Heads

The Sarah Surge is unmistakable. GOP presidential nominee John McCain's support rose markedly after he named Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate -- although after two solid weeks of Palin-all-the-time media attention, McCain still hasn't broken 50 percent.

Republicans now are far more fervent backers of McCain, a candidate that the religious right and social conservatives opposed in past races and were lukewarm about in this one. Post-Palin, Republicans' strong backing of McCain nearly has doubled, from 39 percent in July to 71 percent in September, in a Newsweek poll.

Palin also appears to generate a backlash. The Newsweek poll showed that 29 percent of all voters said Palin would make them more likely to vote for McCain but 22 percent said it made them less likely.

It's hard to decipher the path of voters who had strongly backed Hillary Clinton in the primaries.

One widely quoted Clinton activist who had criticized the Democratic Party's treatment of Hillary last summer and had publicly backed McCain now has withdrawn that support. Reba Shimansky said in a statement that "the Palin selection may have energized the GOP base but it hurts him with independents. I would have voted for McCain if he made a sensible choice for VP like Ridge, which would have shown that he was willing to stand up to the rightwing crackpots in his party." Now, she'll sit out the general election.

Some national polls -- notably a Washington Post-ABC survey two weeks ago -- showed a big movement of white women from Obama to McCain. That was not reflected in another national survey by pollsters at the Wall Street Journal/NBC.  The Gallup pollsters entered the fray to say that in their daily overnight tracking polls, they have not detected any major movement by female voters.

Just before the Democratic convention, in Gallup's August 20-22 survey, white women broke 47-40 percent for McCain over Obama. After the unveiling of Palin and her speech to the GOP convention, the support of white women moved up slightly toward McCain, 51-40, in the September 5-8 survey, with no loss in backing for Obama. That resembled the movement by white men for McCain, which went from 56-36 to 59-34 percent in the same time period. The Newsweek poll this weekend showed a bigger bounce for McCain among white women: from 44 to 39 percent in July to 53 to 37 percent in early September.

Only now is Palin becoming known to the general population. She got off-the-chart applause for her convention speech, delivering sarcasm and zingers with a self-confidence she also showed in her first national TV interview with Charles Gibson.

Activists on both sides are the first to respond, knowing her personal views and, to a lesser extent, her record as mayor and as governor. The social conservatives are signing up in droves to volunteer for McCain-Palin. Feminist activists and those on the center-left began donating in record amounts to the Obama-Biden campaign, raising its fundraising take for August to $66 million.

Another insight to the Palin phenomena comes from the Democratic firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.

Palin gets higher favorable marks from men than women. Their recent survey shows that 45 percent of men rate her favorably, 31 percent unfavorably. Women hold a 42 percent favorable, 36 percent unfavorable view.

There definitely is a gender breakdown by race and marital status, however.

Married women give Palin a favorable vote by 49 percent, versus 37 percent who don't like her. It's the reverse for women who never married, are divorced or widowed: 32 percent like her, 38 percent don't.

Greenberg Quinlan also finds the same slight movement to McCain of older white women. He leads among white married women, 55-42 percent, and unmarried women back Obama by a narrowing margin, 49-45 percent.

But national tracking polls tell only part of the story. A poll of swing states by Quinnipiac University showed Palin had minimal impact in states where the economy is tough, such as Ohio.  Palin was helping McCain expand his lead in Florida and narrow the margin in Pennsylvania, but Obama was holding his own in Ohio and still leading in Pennsylvania.

And, in Ohio, Palin had a favorability rating of only 41 percent.

Cops Enforcing Immigration Laws Bust County Budgets

When local cops enforce federal immigration laws, the police department may not only incur significant costs, but may also fail to attend to more serious crimes and delay response times to most emergency calls, according to a report released by the Immigration Policy Center (IPC).

Take the case of Maricopa County, Ariz. Since Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio transformed his department into an immigration-enforcement agency, following a partnership made by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on January 19, 2007, his office has incurred a $1.3 million deficit in just three months.

Maricopa's police officers began working 4,500 extra hours every two-week pay period during the first month of the partnership, as compared to 2,900 extra hours the previous month, the report said. In April 2007, police officers worked more than 9,000 overtime hours and cost the county's taxpayers $373,757.

Maricopa County is not an isolated case. More and more cities across the country that allow the police to carry out federal immigration laws get themselves in a similar economic quagmire. Many of them find that it is much more expensive than they thought.

Recently, the initiative against illegal immigration in Prince William County, Va., raised its costs to $6.9 million for the budget year that starts July 1, because of overcrowding at the county jail.

Immigrant rights advocates also say that even cities like Valley Park, Mo. and Hazleton, Pa. -- where local enforcement takes a more aggressive approach than simply relying on ICE to perform federal immigration operations -- may fall into deep budget pits soon. "This kind of local enforcement just leaves counties broke, aside from many other negative consequences," said Michele Waslin, senior policy analyst for IPC. "It makes the community frightened and forces many businesses to close down."

While police officers arrest undocumented immigrants, Waslin says that they fail to catch the human smuggling rings. "I don't think that cops who become immigration agents are effective to help in stopping the flow of illegal immigration," she said.

The two-page IPC report, based mainly on the findings of a series of investigative stories published in Phoenix-based East Valley Tribune, also revealed that since Maricopa County cops started looking for undocumented immigrants, the county's arrest rate for serious crimes -- including robberies, aggravated assaults and sex crimes -- decreased dramatically -- and these crimes received little or no investigation. Arpaio's office in 2005 cleared 10.5 percent of its investigations with arrests. When immigration operations began, according to the report, that number dropped to 6 percent.

In July 2007, the county's police only made arrests on 2.5 percent of their investigations. Because more officers need to be added to the immigration team, the report said that Arpaio pulled deputies off patrol beats and used them to staff the human smuggling unit, resulting in more delays when responding to 911 and other emergency calls. Patrol districts, trails and lake divisions as well as the central investigations bureau all lost deputies. Allegations of racial profiling have also stung the county, as Arpaio's team increasingly conducts large-scale operations without any evidence of criminal activity in Latino neighborhoods or sites where day laborers convene.

"Some of these will ultimately lead to costly lawsuits," Waslin added. "In any way, the idea of cops doing federal immigration enforcement is very problematic. It's not just going to work.

When An Immigrant Mom Gets Arrested

Behind the thick glass that runs the length of the Yuba County Jail's visitation corridor, Tatyana Mitrohina's eyes glisten, and then fill with tears as she recounts the last time she saw her son. "During the visit, he climbed into my arms and fell asleep with his head on my shoulder while I walked around with him," she remembers.

Two months after that visit, Mitrohina was sent to the Yuba County Jail in Marysville, California, hours away from her 2-year-old son, who is in foster care. She was convicted on charges that she had hit him. While she does not deny the charges, she does say she had expected to be released from jail and to get counseling and start to rebuild her life with her child. But with the increasing collaboration between local authorities and federal immigration officials, Mitrohina found that she would not get that second chance. The government had slated her to be deported to Russia, the country she left as a teenager.

"When I first got here, I would break down crying once a week, just thinking about everything that's happened," says Mitrohina, who is 30 years old.

Immigration and child welfare advocates say that Mitrohina's story -- the loss of her child, her incarceration and detention, and her struggle to care for her child -- represents a new and dangerous terrain at the intersection of three government systems -- deportation, incarceration and foster care -- that are tearing apart poor families and families of color.

While rates of detention and deportation have increased exponentially in recent years, what is happening to immigrant families is not a new story. It has been played out time and again in the lives of Black families who, in the past 20 years, have faced an increase in drug-related arrests and sentences that place Black parents in jail and their children in foster care. As immigrant families find themselves targeted by a combination of public policies, it is becoming clear that their experiences and those of Black families, women and children are troublingly similar.

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Immigration and the Right to Stay Home

Editor's Note:This June in Juxtlahuaca, Mexico -- in the heart of Oaxaca's Mixteca region -- dozens of farmers left their fields, and women weavers their looms, to declare their right to stay home. David Bacon is the author of "The Children of NAFTA" (University of California Press, 2004). He sits on the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Committee of the Bay Area Immigrant Rights Coalition.

JUXTLAHUACA, OAXACA, MEXICO -- For almost half a century, migration has been the main fact of social life in hundreds of indigenous towns spread through the hills of Oaxaca, one of Mexico's poorest states. That's made the conditions and rights of migrants the central concern for communities like Santiago de Juxtlahuaca.

Today the right to travel to seek work is a matter of survival. But this June in Juxtlahuaca, in the heart of Oaxaca's Mixteca region, dozens of farmers left their fields, and women weavers their looms, to talk about another right, the right to stay home.

In the town's community center two hundred Mixtec, Zapotec and Triqui farmers, and a handful of their relatives working in the U.S., made impassioned speeches asserting this right at the triannual assembly of the Indigenous Front of Binational Organizations (FIOB). Hot debates ended in numerous votes. The voices of mothers and fathers arguing over the future of their children, echoed from the cinderblock walls of the cavernous hall.

In Spanish, Mixteco and Triqui, people repeated one phrase over and over: the derecho de no migrar - the right to not migrate. Asserting this right challenges not just inequality and exploitation facing migrants, but the very reasons why people have to migrate to begin with. Indigenous communities are pointing to the need for social change.

About 500,000 indigenous people from Oaxaca live in the US, 300,000 in California alone, according to Rufino Dominguez, one of FIOB's founders. These men and women come from communities whose economies are totally dependent on migration. The ability to send a son or daughter across the border to the north, to work and send back money, makes the difference between eating chicken or eating salt and tortillas. Migration means not having to manhandle a wooden plough behind an ox, cutting furrows in dry soil for a corn crop that can't be sold for what it cost to plant it. It means that dollars arrive in the mail when kids need shoes to go to school, or when a grandparent needs a doctor.

In Oaxaca the category of extreme poverty encompasses 75 percent of its 3.4 million residents, according to EDUCA, an education and development organization. For more than two decades, under pressure from the World Bank and U.S. loan conditions, the Mexican government has cut spending intended to raise rural incomes. Prices have risen dramatically since price controls and subsidies were eliminated for necessities like gasoline, electricity, bus fares, tortillas, and milk.

Raquel Cruz Manzano, principal of the Formal Primary School in San Pablo Macuiltianguis, a town in the indigenous Zapotec region, says only 900,000 Oaxacans receive organized healthcare, and the illiteracy rate is 21.8%. "The educational level in Oaxaca is 5.8 years," Cruz notes, "against a national average of 7.3 years. The average monthly wage for non-governmental employees is less than 2,000 pesos [about $200] per family [per month], the lowest in the nation. Around 75,000 children have to work in order to survive or to help their families."

"But there are no jobs here, and NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement] made the price of corn so low that it's not economically possible to plant a crop anymore," Dominguez asserts. "We come to the U.S. to work because we can't get a price for our product at home. There's no alternative."

Without large scale political change most local communities won't have the resources for productive projects and economic development that could provide a decent living. Towns like Juxtlahuaca, don't even have waste water treatment. Rural communities rely on the same rivers for drinking water that are also used to carry away sewage. "A typical teacher earns about 2200 pesos every two weeks [about $220]," says Jaime Medina, a reporter for Oaxaca's daily Noticias. "From that they have to purchase chalk, pencils and other school supplies for the children,"

Because of its indigenous membership, FIOB campaigns for the rights of migrants in the U.S. who come from those communities. It calls for immigration amnesty and legalization for undocumented migrants. FIOB has also condemned the proposals for guest worker programs. Migrants need the right to work, but "these workers don't have labor rights or benefits," Dominguez charges. "It's like slavery."

At the same time, "we need development that makes migration a choice rather than a necessity -- the right to not migrate," explains Gaspar Rivera Salgado, a professor at UCLA. "Both rights are part of the same solution. We have to change the debate from one in which immigration is presented as a problem to a debate over rights. The real problem is exploitation." But the right to stay home, to not migrate, has to mean more than the right to be poor, the right to go hungry and homeless. Choosing whether to stay home or leave only has meaning if each choice can provide a meaningful future.

In Juxtlahuaca Gaspar Rivera Salgado was elected FIOB's new binational coordinator. His father and mother still live on a ranch half an hour up a dirt road from the main highway, in the tiny town of Santa Cruz Rancho Viejo. There his father Sidronio planted three hundred avocado trees a few years ago, in the hope that someday their fruit would take the place of the corn and beans that were once his staple crop. He's fortunate -- his relatives have water, and a pipe from their spring has kept most of his trees, and those hopes, alive. Fernando, Gaspar's brother, has started growing mushrooms in a FIOB-sponsored project, and even put up a greenhouse for tomatoes. Those projects, they hope, will produce enough money that Fernando won't have to go back to Seattle, where he worked for seven years.

This family perhaps has come close to achieving the derecho de no migrar. For the millions of farmers throughout the indigenous countryside, not migrating means doing something like it. But finding the necessary resources, even for a small number of families and communities, presents FIOB with its biggest challenge. This was the source of the debate at its Juxtlahuaca assembly.

Gaspar Rivera-Salgado says, "we will find the answer to migration in our communities of origin. To make the right to not migrate concrete, we need to organize the forces in our communities, and combine them with the resources and experiences we've accumulated in 16 years of cross-border organizing." Fernando, the greenhouse builder and mushroom farmer, agrees that FIOB has the ability to organize people. "But now we have to take the next step," he urges, "and make concrete changes in peoples' lives."

Organizing FIOB's support base in Oaxaca means more than just making speeches, however. As Fernando Rivera Salgado points out, communities want projects that help raise their income. Over the years FIOB has organized women weavers in Juxtlahuaca, helping them sell their textiles and garments through its chapters in California. It set up a union for rural taxis, both to help farming famiies get from Juxtlahuaca to the tiny towns in the surrounding hills, and to provide jobs for drivers. Artisan co-ops make traditional products, helped by a co-operative loan fund.

The government does have money for loans to start similar projects, but it usually goes to officials who often just pocket it, supporters of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which has ruled Oaxaca since it was formed in the 1940s. One objective debated at the FIOB assembly was organizing community pressure to win some of these resources. But any government subsidy is viewed with suspicion by activists who know the strings tied to it.

Another concern is the effect of the funding on communities themselves. "Part of our political culture is the use of regalos, or government favors, to buy votes," Gaspar Rivera Salgado explains. "People want regalos, and think an organization is strong because of what it can give. But now people are demanding these results from FIOB, so do we help them or not? And if we do, how can we change the way people think? It's critical that our members see organization as the answer to problems, not a gift from the government or a political party. FIOB members need political education."

Political abstention isn't an option, however, warns Juan Romualdo Gutierrez Cortez. "We aren't the only organization in Oaxaca - there are 600 others. If we don't do it, they will." But for the 16 years of its existence, FIOB has been a crucial part of the political opposition to Oaxaca's PRI government. Gutierrez, a school teacher in Tecomaxtlahuaca, was FIOB's Oaxaca coordinator until he stepped down at the Juxtlahuaca assembly. He is also a leader of Oaxaca's teachers union, Section 22 of the National Education Workers Union, and of the Popular Association of the People of Oaxaca (APPO).

In June of 2006 a strike by Section 22 led to a months-long uprising, led by APPO, which sought to remove the state's governor, Ulises Ruiz, and make a basic change in development and economic policy. The uprising was crushed by Federal armed intervention, and dozens of activists were arrested. According to Leoncio Vasquez, an FIOB activist in Fresno, "the lack of human rights itself is a factor contributing to migration from Oaxaca and Mexico, since it closes off our ability to call for any change." This spring teachers again occupied the central plaza, or zocalo, of the state capital, protesting the same conditions that sparked the uprising two years ago.

Gutierrez himself was not jailed during the uprising, although the state issued an order for his detention. But he's been arrested before. In the late 1990s he was elected to the Oaxaca Chamber of Deputies, in an alliance between FIOB and Mexico's leftwing Democratic Revolutionary Party. Following his term in office, Gutierrez was imprisoned by Ruiz' predecessor, Jose Murat, until a binational campaign won his release. His crime, and that of many others filling Oaxaca's jails, was insisting on a new path of economic development that would raise rural living standards, and make migration just an option, rather than an indispensable means of survival.

Despite the fact that APPO wasn't successful in getting rid of Ruiz and the PRI, Gaspar Rivera-Salgado believes that "in Mexico we're very close to getting power in our communities on a local and state level." He points to Gutierrez' election as state deputy, and later as mayor of his hometown San Miguel Tlacotepec. Other municipal presidents, allied with FIOB, have also won office, and activists are beginning to plan a FIOB campaign to elect a Federal deputy.

FIOB delegates agreed that the organization would continue its alliance with the PRD. Nevertheless, that alliance is controversial, partly because of the party's internal disarray. "We know the PRD is caught up in an internal crisis, and there's no real alternative vision on the left," Rivera Salgado says. "But there are no other choices if we want to participate in electoral politics, so we're trying to put forward positive proposals. We're asking people in the PRD to stop fighting over positions, and instead use the resources of the party to organize the community. We can't change things by ourselves. First, we have to reorganize our own base. But then we have to find strategic allies.

"Migration is part of globalization," he emphasizes, "an aspect of state policies that expel people. Creating an alternative to that requires political power. There's no way to avoid that."

Immigration Reform Groups Strategize for Presidential Campaign

As the election campaign gathers steam, immigrant rights groups are paying attention to what the candidates are saying (and not saying) when it comes to immigration. In a teleconference organized by New America Media, three spokespeople from major immigrant rights groups defined their priorities for the presidential campaign and beyond.

Recent polls suggest immigration is not necessarily the number one issue for the general election, but that it is a wedge issue and one that could increase in importance as the campaign progresses. For example, it can be key in states with large Latino populations, such as Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Florida. Several Asian American organizations are seeking to mobilize Asian American voters in ten states (Hawaii, California, Illinois, Louisiana, Nevada, Michigan, Minnesota, Washington and New York).

The groups are paying close attention to the candidates' statements on the campaign trail and trying to determine what legislative opportunities exist. Ali Noorani, the newly appointed head of the National Immigration Forum, emphasized the important role the media plays in "shining a very clear light on Senator McCain and Obama's statements." Holding candidates accountable for their statements is crucial as they become more caught up in the fervor of campaign rhetoric, with "Senator McCain one day saying something nice about immigration reform when he is speaking to Latinos, but the next day saying something negative," Noorani said. The media needs to closely monitor for consistency because "the next six months defines what we may very well achieve as we head into 2009 with a new Congress and a new administration," according to Noorani.

Karen Narasaki, President and Executive Director of the Asian American Justice Center, called Senator McCain's current focus on enforcement a misguided approach. His "comprehensive" approach from two years ago was preferable, she said. The most worrisome snafu in the immigration system that is the backlog, with almost four million people estimated to be waiting, according to Narasaki.

"Every year there is a set amount of visas that are available," she explained. "If they don't get used, they don't roll over into the future. They just disappear and die. State departments get backed up in processing those visas, and if they don't get allocated, they just die. The least we can do is work on the visas that were allocated in the current system." For Asian Americans, there is a backlog of five to six years, and for Mexican nationals, there is a seven to 10 year wait if you are the spouse or minor child of a permanent legal resident, Narasaki added.

According to Narasaki, these statistics are unacceptable. "You cannot sustain that. You cannot keep families separated for that long." Visa recapture legislation such as H.R. 5882, is "one of the few bills that have the actual opportunity of getting done this year because of bipartisan support." Narasaki said this is also an opportunity to hold Congress' "feet to the fire" and see if those who claim that they are for immigrants, just against illegal immigration, really mean what they say.

Legislation to clear the backlog of bureaucracy is much needed, as the current failure of national reform has left local municipalities grappling with a patchwork quilt of shortsighted attempts at solutions. Clarissa Martinez, Senior Director of State and Local Advocacy Policy for the National Council of La Raza, remarked that the "failure of comprehensive immigration reform has caused the shift to many state and local bodies trying to intervene on the issue, which we think are chaotic results."

"Instead of one set of policy to deal with immigration," she said, "we have multiple county and city governments trying to deal with issue." Over the last two years, local pundits and nativist groups have fabricated a "conventional wisdom" that a politician must be either evasive or punitive with regards to immigration, she said. But she hoped that the tremendous energy in immigrant communities could be used to change that.

Ali Noorani suggested immigrant rights groups are "not only focusing on candidates themselves, but the apparatus around candidates and local campaign offices. The more and more we are able to infiltrate these campaigns with requests and demands from the community, the more they see it as their demand they need to represent what they are hearing back to candidate."

Noorani said he was not afraid that a piecemeal approach to immigration reform now might actually hurt the chances of comprehensive immigration reform later. The xenophobia and anti-immigration laws of the last 20 years must be demolished gradually, Noorani said, and it would be a false assumption to believe that one legislative win would sufficiently dismantle that wall of anti-immigration legal precedent. "Now we have earned the ability to remove that wall piece by piece," he added.

Editor's note: this piece has been corrected after publication.

The Success of Women Documentary Filmmakers

The news regarding women directors of fictional films in Hollywood continues to be bleak: in 2007, only 6 percent of these films were directed by women. But the non-fiction film world is a whole different story. While no one has exact figures, anecdotally most experts in the documentary community believe that women directors make up at least 50 percent of the directing ranks. Take a look at all the major film festivals that include documentaries and you will see women's names as prominent as the men's.

Lisa Jackson is a woman on a mission. She is determined to relay testimony from the thousands of women of the Congo who were raped and mutilated during many years of war. Like the team of producer Abby Disney and director Gini Retiker -- who tell how the courageous women of Liberia stood up and said no more to war -- Jackson is part of a growing movement of women filmmakers who, as Cara Mertes of Sundance notes, are making an impact by "matching their passion for storytelling with an issue."

They are pushing the boundaries of the documentary form by taking on daunting, large-scale topics and exploring them through intimate, relatable stories. Abby Disney was in Liberia for the inauguration of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first African female head of state. Moved by the legions of women behind the Sirleaf victory, Disney felt compelled to bring the story to the public so it would not disappear. She used her own funds to start a production company and hooked up with Retiker to make Pray the Devil Back to Hell. She is now exploring the best distribution mechanism for the film, which recently premiered and took the best documentary feature prize at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film has already made its way to such countries in conflict as Georgia and Sudan, where women use screenings to help create their own peace movements.

Jackson, a 35-year doc veteran, had no funding when she began filming The Greatest Silence. She cashed in her own frequent flyer miles to get to Kinshasa. Once there, she got a U.N. ID from a friend and made her way east. As she said in a recent interview "I was a one-person band. I shot it, did the sound, directed, and edited it." Her experience told her "that once I got over there and started filming, I would get support. People would see the women's faces and hear their stories and realize what a compelling subject it was." Now these women's stories have gone mainstream. Jackson's film premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival (where it was awarded a special prize), aired on HBO and will be shown June 19 at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival in New York.

So how come women documentarians have achieved a success that has eluded those in the fiction business? It could be because "a lot of the funders in the broadcast world are also women," says Sean Farnel, the programming director at Hot Docs, one of the big documentary festivals in Canada. It's true. Everywhere you look there are women -- from Sheila Nevins and her team that run HBO's documentary division; to the three-year-old women-run producing/funding entity Chicken and Egg Pictures, which, in a variety of ways, has supported 37 women-directed films (including Lioness and Going on 13, which both premiered recently at the Tribeca Film Festival); to Women Make Movies, which has been distributing, promoting and producing films by and about women since 1972.

Another reason is not so upbeat: documentaries have lower budgets, smaller staffs and, in turn, less prestige. Cara Mertes, director of the documentary film program at the Sundance Institute, says that the doc field "is notoriously not a good way to make a living and men tend to be interested in things where there is a lot of potential for a pay-off so they will gravitate towards fictional films."

Women have been an integral part of formation of the documentary genre, with veterans like Barbara Kopple, Kim Longinotto, Chris Hegedus and Lourdes Portillo leading the way. In the 1970s, women picked up cameras to document the feminist tumult happening around them. They have traversed the abortion rights struggle since Roe with films like Dorothy Fadiman's definitive series (including The Fragile Promise of Choice and From Danger to Dignity); Jane: An Abortion Service by Kate Kurtz and Nell Lundy; and On Hostile Ground by Liz Mermin and Jenny Raskin.

Now, when abortion doesn't get as much media attention, women filmmakers keep focus on the issue with evolving views. Gillian Aldrich and Jennifer Baumgardner used women's voices and experiences to make I Had an Abortion. Faith Pennick felt compelled to make Silent Choices, about African-American women and abortion, after a friend said that "abortion is a white women's issue and black women have more important things to worry about." Pennick knew full well that "if Roe v Wade were overturned tomorrow it's going to be black and brown women who will be affected first and hardest." Angie Young took her camera to South Dakota while working against that state's attempt to ban abortion. As only someone who grew up post-Roe can do, she is making The Coat Hanger Project to speak to her peers who know little if anything about abortion rights.

Documentaries have always been a crucial way to get information out about media neglected issues and lives, especially from the world's poorer countries. This function has been helped along in recent years by the rise of the Internet and improved technologies like smaller digital cameras and computer home editing programs.

Several films telling women's stories with international focus have been able to garner attention precisely because of little competing coverage from mainstream media. Women have been using docs to engage the media at least since the early 1990s, when Alice Walker went on the Today show and spoke about female genital mutilation in conjunction with the documentary Warrior Marks. When Lourdes Portillo's film Senorita Extraviada was released in 2002, it prodded the media to cover the missing and murdered young women in Juarez, Mexico.

The list of films women make to awaken the world is too plentiful to name them all here. There is the Oscar-winning Born into Brothels (co-directed by Zana Briski) about the children of prostitutes in Calcutta and God Sleeps in Rwanda (directed by Kimberlee Acquaro and Stacy Sherman) about five women rebuilding their lives after the Rwandan genocide; more recent are The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo (directed by Lisa F. Jackson), Pray the Devil Back to Hell (directed by Gini Retiker) about how women were integral in the fight for peace in Liberia, and The Sari Soldiers (directed by Julie Bridgham), which highlights six women on different sides of the Nepali conflict trying to remake their country and has its U.S. premiere June 20 at the New York Human Rights Watch International Film Festival.

But making these documentaries -- like many ventures centering on women -- is very hard to fund. Even a film with the high profile subject of women in the U.S. Senate was nearly impossible for one entertainment business insider. Mary Lambert had spent most of her life in the music video world working with stars like Madonna and Janet Jackson. She was drawn to make a documentary about the women in the Senate when her sister Blanche Lambert Lincoln won election from Arkansas. What she thought would be a simple project "has proved to be one of the most difficult things I have done in my life."

14 Women, like so many others featured at film festivals around the world, does not yet have distribution for either TV or the theaters. But such filmmakers are undaunted, believing deeply in the importance of the stories they are telling. They use grass roots outreach and innovative techniques on the Internet to give their films lives beyond the festival circuit. Carol Ciancutti-Leyva, whose film Absolutely Safe examines safety problems with breast implants, reached out through women's studies program to create a conversation among young women and men. "Breast implants are just a symptom in the culture," she says. "The bigger picture is something much larger. "Amy Sewell and Susan Toffler have decided to self-distribute their film -- what's your point, honey? -- which looks at seven young women and the future of women's political leadership. Abby Epstein and Ricki Lake, the director and producer of The Business of Being Born, felt compelled to "provide more resources and information to people who were stirred up by the film. We are slowly growing our website into a birth resource guide for more holistic childbirth options," says Epstein "and we are coming out with a book and sequel DVD next year."

In a movie world dominated by escapist fare, women documentarians are making sure that women's voices and experiences are part of the conversation. Seek out their films on TV stations like A&E, Discovery, HBO, Showtime, Sundance, IFC, and especially PBS. Others can be found on Netflix or for purchase on the web, or join Women's Independent Cinema where for $21 a month (plus shipping) you can get four films by women (one fiction, one doc and two shorts) sent right to your home. These documentaries may be hard to find, but it will be worth the effort.

Shaky Economic Times Are Shakier for Women

Over the last three months, primary voters in increasing proportions have said this presidential election is about the economy. In November, if recent trends hold, women will vote in greater numbers than men. As both parties turn from the business of primaries to crafting their messages for the fall, they will need to address the economic realities of these women voters.

In a recent survey of Americans' economic insecurities, the largest difference in attitudes between women and men emerged on Social Security. Large proportions of both groups worry that social security benefits may be reduced or eliminated, but women are especially concerned, whatever their income level. Even women with very high family incomes ($92,000 and above) are worried. In fact it's at this highest income range that the gender differences are largest -- only about 30 percent of men at that level worry about Social Security's future, compared with 53 percent of women. It's also one area of economic security where white women are nearly as worried as minority women: across all income levels, 55 percent of white women and 58 percent of minority women worry that Social Security may be cut back.

What explains why even higher income women are so concerned about the future of Social Security?

Three seemingly immutable facts drive women's economic concerns, across class and race. First, women have the children and generally rear them to adulthood, whether men help out financially or not. Second, women earn less than men. Third, women live longer than men. These life conditions mean that women meet more demands with fewer resources -- they need to stretch their limited resources to accommodate more mouths to feed and more years to live. To be sure, many women share in men's higher earnings, through marriage for example, but not all women do, and not for their entire adult lives. Many women have learned that marriage is far from a sure ticket to life-long economic security.

Given these realities, shaky economic times always worry women more than men, and for good reason. Unemployment rates are nearly always highest for single mothers -- perhaps because they face more constraints on which jobs they can accept or encounter more discrimination in the labor market or both. In a survey of American Workers conducted in 2007 by Yankelovich at the request of the Rockefeller Foundation, one woman in five reported she lacked money to fill a prescription, one in eight said she could not afford to take a child to a doctor, and one in 14 said she went hungry in the past year. Women experienced these hardships at about twice the rate of men in the nationally representative survey.

Amidst these pressing daily concerns, women also worry they are not saving enough for retirement -- 63 percent of women overall, including 71 percent of those who didn't finish high school and 50 percent of those who graduated from college.

Women know that for them Social Security is a critical bulwark against poverty in old age. Half of retired women in the survey count Social Security benefits as a major source of income, compared with 38 percent of men. Among workers, men have more alternative sources of retirement income: 61 percent of men say they have a work-based pension plan available, only 51 percent of women do. Perhaps in an attempt to build their retirement income, women are increasing their work effort at older ages. Both older women and men are working more since the 2001 recession ended, but women aged 55 and up have increased their participation in the labor market consistently since 1980, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Women over 55 were also the only demographic group whose labor force participation increased during the last recession.

Unlike most pension benefits (many of which are now paid as lump sums at retirement), Social Security benefits are provided monthly as long as the recipient lives. And because these benefits are adjusted to keep up with the cost of living, they retain their value throughout women's longer lives.

Besides providing crucial income to retired women, Social Security benefits also help many women raising children whose fathers became disabled or died. In this situation the insurance aspects of Social Security come into play and benefits for dependents or survivors are calculated as if the worker had lived to a normal retirement age. More than 3 million American children are receiving benefits because their parents could no longer work. The Social Security Administration sent the first checks to survivors of the 9/11 attacks in fewer than 30 days. While benefits such as these go to all children at all family income levels, they are disproportionately important to children in low-income and minority families, whose parents often have riskier jobs or poorer health.

Across class and race, women rely on Social Security. This election season, with economic issues becoming paramount as our economy falters in another no-growth or negative-growth period, women would do well to find out which candidate -- whether running for the White House or the Senate or House of Representatives -- is most likely to sustain and strengthen the system that is so important to them.

With this commentary by leading economic strategist Heidi Hartmann, WMC Media Track 2008 begins a series of dispatches on perspectives of issues that the press and the candidates must address in order to win women voters this November.

Will the Success of Sex and the City Force Hollywood to Stop Ignoring Women?

Unless you've been under a rock for the last week or so you know that the women from the TV show Sex and the City are back, this time on the big screen. Four years after we said goodbye to Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte, the women have taken the movie industry and the country by storm, besting all projections with an opening weekend take of almost $56 million dollars.

Sex and the City made almost $27 million on its opening day, which is the same amount that The Devil Wears Prada made in its opening weekend. It earned the highest opening box office for a romantic comedy ever. The most stunning news is that it won the weekend by beating Indiana Jones, a feat not even the most optimistic observers predicted. Variety reported that "Sex and the City whips Indiana Jones" and went further, stating that the "film's performance took Hollywood by utter surprise, shattering the decades-old thinking that females, particularly those over 25, can't fuel a big opening or go up against a male-driven summer tentpole."

Carrie & Co. have sent Hollywood into a frenzy -- and according to website Deadline Hollywood "looking through their film and TV libraries to see what else they can produce for the fortysomething-and-older female" -- thinking that maybe women, even those over 40, are a real potential audience. Finally.

Whatever your thoughts on the actual content of Sex and the City, you can't help but acknowledge that this is a cultural watershed moment for women's films; that's true for a couple of reasons.

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Verdict in Bell Shooting Is No Big Surprise

Even before the first witness was called in the Sean Bell trial, a defense attorney for one of the three officers charged with gunning down Bell flatly said that he thought his client and the other two officers would be acquitted in the killing of Bell. This was not typical attorney bluster. The defense attorney was right.

At first glance, there was good reason to think that he was off base in his prediction and that the cops that fired the volley of shots that killed Bell would be convicted. An anguished New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg publicly questioned the shooting. Two of Bell's companions gave eyewitness testimony that the officers acted like Wild West cowboys and opened up without warning. And most importantly Bell was unarmed and seemingly posed no threat to the officers.

But expectations, witness testimony, seemingly unimpeachable evidence, and the official condemnation of the deadly shooting by city officials obviously weren't enough. There's equally good reason why it almost never is.

When cops go on trial for overuse of deadly force, their victims are generally young blacks and Latinos. The attorneys that defend them are top gun defense attorneys and have had much experience defending police officers accused of misconduct. Police unions pay them and they spare no expense in their defense. The cops rarely serve any pre-trial jail time, and are released on ridiculously low bail.

If the cops are tried by a jury, police defense attorneys seek to get as many middle-class whites on the panel as possible. The presumption is that they are much more likely to believe the testimony of police and prosecution witnesses than black witnesses, defendants, or even the victims.

Prosecutors have a big task in trying to overcome pro-police attitudes and the negative racial stereotypes. Two Penn State University studies on racial perceptions and stereotypes, one in 2003 and a follow-up study in 2008, found that many whites are likely to associate pictures of blacks with violent crimes, and in some cases where crimes were not committed by blacks they misidentified the perpetrator as an African American. Defense attorneys played hard on that perception and depicted Bell and his companions as thugs and drunkards who posed a threat to the officers.

Defense attorneys for the New York cops didn't have the advantage of a potentially pro-police jury. They requested and got a bench trial. But this wasn't a disadvantage to the defense. In a racially and emotionally charged case such as the Bell shooting, they figured they'd stand a better chance trying to massage and hone their evidence and testimony to a judge.

There is also no ironclad standard of what is or isn't acceptable use of force. It often comes down to a judgment call by the officer. In the Rodney King beating case in 1992 in which four LAPD officers stood trial, defense attorneys turned the tables and painted King as the aggressor and claimed that the level of force used against him was justified.

The four New York City cops tried for gunning down African immigrant, Amadou Diallo in 1999, also claimed that they feared for their lives. The jury believed them and acquitted them.

In Cincinnati, a municipal judge summarily acquitted white Cincinnati police officer, Stephen Roach of criminal charges in the slaying of 19-year-old Timothy Thomas during a traffic pursuit in 2001. The shooting ignited three days of riots. The judge bought Roach's tale that he feared for his life and fired in self-defense.

In the Bell case, the officer's attorneys used the same tact and argued that the officers feared for their lives when they fired. In his initial call to a supervising police lieutenant one of the charged officers, Gescard Isnora said he thought one of the suspects had a gun, made a suspicious move, and that the car they were in bumped him.

Isnora did not take the stand during the trial and say that. But fellow officer Michael Carey did and testified that the officers shouted warnings before blazing away at the unarmed Bell.

The code of silence is another powerful obstacle to convicting cops charged with crimes. Officers hide behind it and refuse to testify against other officers, or tailor their testimony to put the officer's action in the best possible light.

Prosecutors often are barred from using statements made during internal investigations of officer misconduct in court proceedings on grounds of self-incrimination. This knocks out another potentially crucial prosecution weapon. Federal prosecutors that retried the officers that beat King learned a vital lesson from the abysmal failure of local prosecutors to convict them. They did not rely exclusively on the videotape but on expert testimony on the use of force to prove that the officers went way over the top against King. Yet, they still only managed to convict two of the four officers.

Nailing cops for bad shootings is virtually impossible for even the most diligent prosecutor. The Bell case again proved that to be the case.

Economist Fears Historic Loss of Assets for Minorities

Editor's Note: The current economic downturn could lead to the greatest loss of assets for communities of color that's ever happened, says Alan Fisher, executive director of the California Reinvestment Coalition since 1992, which advocates for the right of low-income communities and communities of color to have fair and equal access to banking and other financial services. Alan Fisher was interviewed by NAM Editor and host of UpFront, Sandip Roy.

Whether we call it a recession or not, what's the effect of what's happening in the economy on the low-income communities who are part of your coalition?

I think low-income people and people of color have been struggling for many years now. The "recovery" has not helped them. Recent reports say that income levels for families are the same dollar-wise as they were in 2000, which means they are worth much less now. Food prices are going up, gas prices are going up and we have a huge housing crisis.

How many people are impacted by the housing crisis?

The housing crisis doesn't just impact those who are in the homes that are in trouble -- who in California may be half a million households -- but it impacts all of their neighbors and their city. Their neighbors' houses lose value, as their houses lose value. The cities are losing tax base, our whole state has been relying on home sales to keep going. The state says it has an $18 billion deficit in a fiscal year that ends June 30. I think we are in a deep crisis and whatever the economists may call it, regular people are suffering and having great difficulty.

Can you give an example of how regular people are suffering and what are the first signs of recession in these communities?

I think the signs of recession are people having to cut back on the basic things that they buy, on less meat, not being able to buy clothes for their children -- but much of this has been masked because of easy access to credit cards. Many people are in huge debt on their credit cards and have substituted those, or have taken out payday loans, to try to keep going. So, it's a dangerous situation that's been masked by the wealth of the most wealthy -- corporate profits -- while the people who are our neighbors are in tremendous trouble.

But wouldn't something like a recession rip this mask off, with the way people have been relying on credit cards and payday lenders to get by?

I think, whether we call it a recession or not, that it would be something that happens as people are unable to pay their credit card bills, as people are being forced to go into bankruptcy. With the new bankruptcy laws, it's even more punitive. Yet at the same time bankruptcies are going up.

Homelessness is also on the rise. There are many people who are tenants in homes, and if those homes are foreclosed on, then, even though they pay their rent every month, they are forced out. They don't get their security deposit back, and where do they go to look for housing? Rental prices are going up, so it's a tremendous squeeze on families.

There has been so much coverage of homeowners, but we haven't seen much on what has been the impact of the economic downturn on tenants.

I think we are just beginning to hear that. It's sort of hidden because you don't see it in the same aggregated fashion. We know it's happening; we're hearing it more and more. We're hearing from homeless organizations that it's impacting folks that are becoming homeless, but there are no numbers at this point that I know of.

Are you seeing a new profile of homeless people? Are homeless organizations reporting on new kinds of people who are becoming homeless and are coming to them for help?

I think it's just starting, so I haven't heard that yet. I've heard concerns about tenants and we've tried to get state legislature to do something about tenants, but the opposition from the mortgage industry and the bankers pushed it out of the bill.

Why are the mortgage industries opposing measures about tenants?

Because they want the houses, they want people out immediately, and they want to try to sell them again and recoup their money. As you can see from the Bear Stearns rescue, the concern is about the corporations at the federal level because of campaign financing. So no one cares that people are being forced out of their homes because these people aren't the big contributors; they might be written off as not even voting.

Where else would you be looking for to see the cracks, the great pressures that communities are going to be subjected to as result of the downturn?

What's caught my eye is that the city of Vallejo, Calif. almost went bankrupt, and it's still on the edge of that. They went bankrupt because they were paying their workers a decent wage. The governor took away the vehicle tax money when he first came into office, which meant that police and fire -- the most basic things that every city needs to have -- got cut.

You hear about libraries that are being closed down. They're talking about closing the parks; education and health care are being cut back by the governor. I think it's the whole infrastructure of society that's under attack. In a way, it's so large that it's hard for people even to take in what it means.

With the foreclosure crisis, for example, I've heard that one of the interesting things was that it was affecting both African-American communities and Latino communities really hard, but in different ways. African Americans were being affected mostly because they were existing homeowners who had refinanced their homes, not understanding the terms. For Latinos it was more of a language issue. First-time buyers had locked themselves into mortgages that they were not going to be able to pay. The results were the same -- both of them were losing homes -- but the way they were getting there was different. In cases of the economic downturn and recession, do you see that affecting different communities differently?

I think, as you are saying, the reasons for things may be different. The Asian-American and Pacific-Islander community -- the Korean Americans and Vietnamese Americans may be coming to home ownership later, like Latinos. It will have a broad impact, but I think each community is different in how it's going on.

But I know it's generally agreed that there's tremendous concern that this could be the greatest loss of assets for communities of color that's ever happened. We've all seen an increase in home ownership, but it was filled with fraud and greed on the part of the real estate industry and so people are in trouble now.

These communities are also reliant on payday lenders, especially poor communities, and I know your organization studies that. Have you seen any spike in payday lender abuse as a result of this downturn?

One of the difficulties with all of the statistics is that they're late. So, all we know about really is last year and that doesn't show a huge increase. But we are hearing that people are increasingly going to payday lenders, which are the lenders of last resort. We have a bill that we hope can make it through the legislature, to cap their interest rates.

The Federal Reserve has been taking some steps to avoid foreclosures; the state government is doing something. How would you grade their efforts?

I think the state government, the Federal Reserve, the federal legislature, the federal government are all making efforts that will have no large impact on the homeowner. Clearly, the federal government and the Federal Reserve had looked at large corporations and are concerned about that infrastructure. The predictions, which are probably very low, are that two million people could lose their homes. There's nothing that's comparable to that and many of the bills that would have really made a difference have been cut back in the legislature. There was an effort to try and soften the impact of bankruptcy on people, and that was soundly defeated by the corporate interests. There's been nothing that really can help people, and meanwhile thousands of people are losing their homes every week.

Race Is Still the X Factor for Obama

There's a good and bad note for Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama in the recent exit polls of white voters in Democratic primaries. The good note is that by a lopsided majority of six to one, whites said that race was not a factor in considering whether to back Obama or not. That pretty much conforms to virtually every poll that's been taken since Obama tossed his hat in the presidential ring a year ago. His red state Democratic primary and caucus wins and the handful of endorsements he's gotten from the red state Democratic senators and governors seem to bolster the poll findings as well as his camp's contention that the majority of whites have bought his race neutral change and unity pitch.

The bad note for him, though, is buried in the racial rose-tinged poll numbers. In fact, it was actually buried there even as he rolled up big numbers in his primary victories in Georgia, Mississippi, Maryland, Virginia, Alabama, and South Carolina, and the District of Columbia. Blacks make up a substantial percentage of the vote in those states, and he bagged eighty to ninety percent of their vote. But much less noted was that Clinton got almost sixty-five to seventy percent of white votes.

It wasn't just the reverse racial numbers for Clinton and Obama. Obama does incredibly well in netting the vote of college-educated, upscale whites. But Clinton does just as well in bagging support from lower-income, downscale, and rural white voters. This has huge potential downside implications for Obama in a head to head battle with John McCain in the red states. A significant percent of the voters there are lower income, rural and less educated whites. Obama banks that he can pry one or two of the red states from the GOP. Yet, if he can't convince Clinton's white vote supporters, and they are Democrats, to back him, the chances are nil that he'll have any more success with Republican and independent white voters in these states.

A hint of that came in the Democratic primary in Ohio. Clinton beat out Obama in the primary, and she did it mainly with white votes. But that wasn't the whole story. Nearly one quarter of whites in Ohio flatly said race did matter in voting. Presumably that meant that they would not vote for a black candidate no matter how politically attractive or competent he was.

An even bigger hint of the race difficulty could come in Pennsylvania's April 22 primary. The voter demographics in the state perfectly match those in Ohio. A huge percent of Pennsylvania voters are blue collar, anti-big government, socially conservative, pro defense, and intently patriotic, and there's a tormenting history of a racial polarization in the state. Pundit James Carville has even described Pennsylvania as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, with Alabama in between. Carville's characterization is hyperbolic, but devastatingly accurate. Take the state's two big, racially diverse cities out of the vote equation, and Pennsylvania would be rock solid red state Republican. While polls show some fluctuation in Clinton's decisive lead over Obama there, she still has a solid lead.

The near unanimous backing that whites give to the notion of voting for a black candidate for president also deserves to be put to a political test to see how much truth there is to it. The question: "Would you vote for a black candidate for president?" is a direct question, and to flatly say no to it makes one sound like a bigot, and in the era of verbal racial correctness (ask Don Imus), it's simply not fashionable to come off to pollsters sounding like one. That's hardly the only measure of a respondent's veracity. In a 2006 study in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, a Yale political economist found that white Republicans are 25 percentage points more likely to cross over and vote for a Democratic senatorial candidate against a black Republican foe. The study also found that in the near twenty year stretch from 1982 to 2000, when the GOP candidate was black, the greater majority of white independent voters backed the white candidate.

Republicans and independents weren't the only ones guilty of dubious Election Day color-blindness. Many Democrats were too. In House races, the study found that Democrats were nearly 40 percent less likely to back a black Democratic candidate than a white Democrat.

Obama's Democratic primary and caucus wins certainly show that many white voters will vote for him. They obviously feel that he has the right presidential stuff. But a large number of whites aren't quite ready to strap on their racial blinders even for a candidate who has leaned way over backward to run a race neutral, bipartisan, unity campaign. The big question is just how many whites will refuse to strap on the racial blinders on Election Day. That's still the X factor for Obama.

Three Words Progressives Can Use to Win Elections

This excerpt was adapted from Chapter One of Framing the Future: How Progressive Values Can Win Elections and Influence People.

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.


In this poem, Langston Hughes famously evokes the spirit of the American dream. It is our soaring common vision -- a portrait of an America without tyranny, without injustice.

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed --
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.


The American dream is not about a society where government secures the greatest good for the greatest number. Our dream is personal. It's about a poor child delivering newspapers and one day ending up as the publisher. It's about an unskilled worker attending night school and becoming a successful manager. It's about individuals and families practicing their religion without interference, getting ahead through hard work, and being able to retire in security and comfort. The American dream is a prayer, a vision, a fervent hope that every individual may be given a fair chance to build a successful life.

The progressive-liberal-Democratic base of voters would gladly accept a communitarian philosophy. I, too, wish that American culture were more oriented toward altruism and community. But it isn't. A realistic progressive philosophy is one that accepts our national culture of individualism and -- nevertheless -- seeks to make the American dream accessible to all. How can we envision such a philosophy?

Balance Is Justice

Imagine a balance scale -- the old-fashioned kind with two pans, one suspended from each end of a bar. It's the kind of scale that symbolizes equal justice under law. In a progressive world, the role of government is to help balance the scale when powerful individuals or organizations compete against weaker ones. Government should function as a counterweight on the scale of justice. The greater the disparity of power between competing interests, the greater weight the government must provide to the weaker side.

It is not government's job to ensure that everyone wins every competition -- that would be a logical impossibility. Instead, government must ensure that, whenever possible, competition is both fair and humane. In other words, justice is the purpose of government, and in an individualistic society, balance is the means of achieving justice.

A system in balance rewards hard work, efficiency, and innovation -- which benefit all of society, and discourages crime, corruption, and schemes to game the system -- which rob all of society. But isn't balance an awfully broad principle? How do we apply it? Let's break down public policy into three situations, where: (1) government has no proper role; (2) government acts as a referee; and (3) government acts as a protector.

Freedom

Where government has no proper role, because public action would violate individual rights, progressive policy should be based on freedom. By freedom, I mean the absence of legal interference with our fundamental rights -- freedom of speech, religion, and association; the right to privacy; the rights of the accused; and the right of all citizens to vote. Compared to an individual, government wields tremendous power, so a progressive policy adds great weight -- in the form of strong legal rights -- to the individual's side of the scale.

Freedom is the cornerstone of America's value system. For two centuries, America has been defined by its commitment to freedom. One poll found that Americans believe -- by a margin of 73 to 15 percent -- that freedom is more important than equality. But because it's so popular, freedom is the most misused of all political terms.

Neoconservatives have incessantly proclaimed to Americans that both the war in Iraq and the "war on terror" are in defense of our freedom. Don't believe it. Our freedom is not in jeopardy -- neither the Iraqis nor al-Qaeda are attempting to invade America and control our government. U.S. military and police actions might be said to protect our security, but not our freedom. So don't use the word freedom when discussing terrorism or Iraq -- it just provides a false justification for war.

Similarly, conservatives equate freedom with capitalism. Don't believe it. Our nation's market economy is not free from government control -- actually, it is dominated by government. Markets are based on a dense web of laws enforced by multiple layers of federal, state, and local agencies. Businesses are not free to sell diseased meat, make insider stock trades, pollute our air and water, or discriminate on the basis of race, gender, or ethnicity. So don't be fooled by the terms free market, free enterprise, or free trade, because they all support right-wing policies.

Most astonishing, I think, is the way religious extremists use the word freedom to mean the very opposite. They argue that freedom gives them the right to use the power of government to impose their religious views on the rest of us. When they pressure school boards to mandate the teaching of intelligent design in schools, when they erect monuments to the Ten Commandments in courthouses, when they work to ban all abortions, when they seek to promote prayer in public schools, right-wingers assert it's an exercise in religious freedom. Please, don't believe it. Freedom is the absence of government intervention.

When defined too broadly, freedom becomes an empty platitude that can be wielded as a bludgeon to pummel any side of any political argument. My freedom to operate a monopoly tramples on your freedom to buy cheaper products. My freedom to drive an unsafe vehicle tramples on your freedom to travel the same roads in safety. My freedom to smoke in a bar tramples on your freedom to breathe clean air. "Freedom to ..." and "freedom from ..." gets us nowhere.

Besides, progressives have had plenty of opportunities in the past few years to rally for freedom solely in defense of individual rights. To name just a few:

  • When the National Security Agency conducts warrantless eavesdropping on the phone calls and e-mails of innocent Americans, it's a violation of our freedom.
  • When the FBI's TALON database shows that the government has been spying on peaceful domestic groups, including Quakers, the Campus Antiwar Network, and Veterans for Peace, it's a violation of our freedom.
  • When the federal government arrests an American citizen, Jose Padilla, on American soil and holds him for years without the most basic rights afforded the accused, keeping him in almost complete isolation and preventing him even from talking to a lawyer during his first twenty-one months in a military prison, it's a violation of our freedom.
  • When, just forty-five days after the September 11 attacks, with almost no debate, Congress approves the USA Patriot Act, broadly increasing government power to search medical, tax, and even library records without probable cause, and to break into homes to conduct secret searches, it's a violation of our freedom.


After years of warrantless wiretapping, illegal imprisonments, and torture, we should all be saying the F-word with regularity. No, no, I mean freedom. Why do progressives seem allergic to this word?

Opportunity

Where government acts as a referee between private, unequal interests, progressive policy should be based on opportunity. By opportunity, I mean a level playing field in social and economic affairs -- fair dealings between the powerful and the less powerful, the elimination of discrimination, and a quality education for all. Competing interests usually hold unequal power, so progressive policy adds weight -- guarantees of specific protections -- to the weaker interest. For example, unskilled low-wage workers have no leverage to bargain for higher pay. That's why it is up to the government to impose a reasonable minimum wage. Quite simply, when social and market forces do not naturally promote equal opportunity, government must step in.

Opportunity means, more than anything, a fair marketplace. Although progressives tend to stress the rights of consumers and employees against businesses, opportunity also means fairness between businesses -- especially helping small enterprises against large ones -- and fairness for stockholders against corporate officers. Individual ambition, innovation, and effort -- harnessed by the market system -- are supposed to benefit society as a whole. But that can happen only when the competition is fair.

The concept of opportunity is an easy sell to progressives. Hubert Humphrey said, "The struggle for equal opportunity in America is the struggle for America's soul." Amen to that.

And yet, since the Reagan years, we've been losing that struggle:
  • Wage inequality has grown. From 1979 to 2003, income for those in the bottom tenth of wage earners increased less than 1 percent, and millions actually earn less today than they did then, adjusting for inflation. During that same period, salaries for Americans in the top tenth increased 27 percent.
  • The richest have gained the most. Between 1996 and 2001, the richest 1 percent of Americans received 21.6 percent of all the gains in national income. CEO pay, especially, has skyrocketed. Today, the richest 10 percent of Americans own 71 percent of all the wealth -- the top 1 percent own 33 percent of all assets.
  • Poverty has increased. Although the number of Americans living in poverty steadily declined from 1993 to 2000, at least five million have fallen below the poverty line since George W. Bush took office.
  • Educational inequality has worsened. Economic (and often racial) segregation of schools has increased, with schools in poorer areas having less money per student and paying less per teacher while dealing with larger class sizes, crumbling facilities, and inadequate equipment. Students who need more resources are given less.


Equal opportunity has taken it on the chin. The gauzy mist of the American dream is being blown away by a gust of savage reality. That's because the right wing opposes opportunity.

Conservatives have fought against ending discrimination, even though equal treatment is a precondition for equal opportunity. They don't even pretend to support equal opportunity in commerce; instead, conservatives lobby for government favors, no-bid contracts, and economic development giveaways. And right-wingers seek to destroy anything that allows individuals to stand up to larger economic forces, with labor unions, consumer protections, and antimonopoly policies under constant attack.

Our mission is clear. It is to guarantee that all Americans are able to realize their goals through education, hard work, and fair pay. We must provide every person, not just the privileged few, with an equal opportunity to pursue a better life -- equal access to the American dream.

Security

Where government acts to protect those who cannot reasonably protect themselves, including future generations, progressive policy should be based on security. By security, I mean protecting Americans from domestic criminals and foreign terrorists, of course, but also insuring the sick and the vulnerable, safeguarding the food we eat and products we use, and preserving our environment.

There is always a threat that larger or unexpected forces will attack any one of us, so progressive policy adds weight, in the form of government institutions and programs, that helps protect us from harm. For example, society has a responsibility to protect the elderly, the disabled, widows, and orphans and that's why an aptly named federal program has functioned in that role for more than a half-century -- Social Security.

Progressives support the concept of security, of course. But as I've traveled around the country giving workshops to progressives, I notice that we usually detour around the word. To ignore security is to lose the argument.

And this is an argument we want to have. To quote the President, "Bring it on." Since 2001, conservatives have devastated national and individual security:
  • The Bush Administration's doctrine of preemptive war, its utter contempt for our traditional allies, its violations of the Geneva Conventions, and its refusal to comply with important treaties have sacrificed America's moral standing in international affairs. As a result, our nation is now far less able to protect Americans and American interests worldwide.
  • The right-wing attack on Social Security is just one small facet of a coordinated, cold-blooded plan to dismantle New Deal and Great Society programs that protect our health, our safety, and our environment.
  • The profligate spending and massive tax breaks for the wealthy enacted by a conservative-controlled Congress greatly restrict our nation's ability to deal with threats to our security -- from emergency preparedness to protection of the vulnerable in our communities.


In every important way, the right wing has made our country less secure. So let's keep the upper hand in this debate. Whether we're talking about Iraq or drug-related crime, progressives are for commonsense policies that will make Americans safer.

The All-American Philosophy

Now that you think about it, don't the principles of freedom, opportunity, and security sound kind of familiar?
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
This famous line from the Declaration of Independence is more than a set of high-sounding platitudes -- it is an assertion of American political philosophy. And it's a progressive philosophy.

By "Life," Thomas Jefferson did not mean simply the right to survival, which would suggest that being beaten almost to death is OK. He meant a right to personal security. By "Liberty," Jefferson was referring to the kinds of freedoms that were ultimately written into federal and state Bills of Rights, blocking the government from infringing upon speech, religion, the press, and trial by jury, as well as protecting individuals from wrongful criminal prosecutions. And how do we translate Jefferson's "pursuit of Happiness"? It cannot mean that everyone has the God-given right to do whatever makes them happy. Read "happiness" together with the earlier part of the same sentence, "all men are created equal." Jefferson is not saying that people have an unbridled right to pursue happiness; he is saying they have an equal right to pursue happiness. In today's language, we'd call that equal opportunity.

We progressives haven't forgotten the principles that inspired our nation. But we have misplaced them. And worse, we've allowed right-wing extremists to hijack our ideals and wave them like a flag, rallying Americans to their distinctly un-American cause.

It is time to right that wrong. Let's fit our progressive policies with a classic (and popular!) philosophical frame: freedom, opportunity, and security for all.

Does Obama Profit from White Guilt?

Virginia Congressman Tom Davis flatly said that whites could rid themselves of 400 years of guilt by voting for Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama. Davis's proof of this was a voter survey in his district that purportedly showed that white voters by a good margin backed Obama over Clinton. Davis was recently cited and commended by the Lehrer Hour Duet of Mark Green and David Brooks. His quip may have been flippant, or said tongue-in-cheek. But then again maybe he actually believes that whites are so guilt-ridden they vote for Obama.

If so, he's hardly the first to say that. Black conservative pundit Shelby Steele kicked up a fuss when he argued pretty much the same thing in his book on Obama. He cast him as the breathing embodiment of black victimhood and white guilt over it.

And from across the pond Trevor Phillips, controversial chairman of Britain's Equality and Human Rights Commission, also recently weighed in on the white guilt equals Obama surge conversation. He claimed that Obama is cut whole cloth from white guilt and that if elected he would set back race relations by letting whites that vote for him puff their chests out, pat themselves on the back, and proclaim that racism is dead as a door nail.

Davis, Steele, and Howard got it wrong. After all how do you measure guilt, whether it is racial or personal? Psychologists say guilt stems from a deep feeling on the part of an individual that they committed a wrong through neglect, dislike, or injury to another. It manifests itself as anxiety, remorse, anguish, and depression. Obama is a candidate for president, not an innocent victim that someone splattered on the side of the road in an accident, or a child or relative that someone harmed and now feels an acute need for atonement.

Moreover, he's hardly the first African-American politician who's gotten elected wholly or with substantial white votes. The list stretching back years to L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley to Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick is legion. Former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. in his run for U.S. Senate is oft cited as a victim of white polling voting booth duplicity. Yet he still got more than forty percent of the white vote in his election defeat. Obama's fresh face, new politics pitch for hope, change, and unity has touched a real nerve with whites, especially young whites. This has nothing to do with race, let alone any guilt over slavery or lynchings (not even concepts in their thinking).

The deluge of court rulings, legislature knock downs of affirmative action statutes, the frantic sprint by colleges and government agencies, including moderate Democratic president Bill Clinton, to water down affirmative action programs, and the overwhelming cheer by white voters in Northern states of anti-affirmative action measures should have long since killed any notion that the majority of whites are hopeless bleeding hearts when it comes to giving a preferential leg up to blacks and minorities.

Now having piled all the dismissals, qualifiers and retorts to the racial guilt theory about Obama, the nagging question is not so much whether some whites think that punching the ticket for Obama salves some vague, plumed in the mental depth stirrings of racial guilt over the treatment of blacks. It's why race is still such a taboo subject and pricks so many fears and sensibilities that the media and much of the public has given Obama a feather touch when it comes to a laser scrutiny of his past, politics, performance record in the Illinois legislature and the Senate, as well as demand to know how he'll implement the changes he says he's about once in the White House.

This writer has continually argued that if there's a racial tilt it falls on not holding him to a tough standard of scrutiny. This does a horrible disservice to voters. In turn voters, and that especially includes fanatically loyal Obama backers, do a horrible disservice to themselves in not demanding that a hard standard of accountability be applied to him.

The media mania over loose cannon statements by Obama's radical, afro-centric spiritual mentor Jeremiah Wright hardly fits that bill. That's just standard cheap, tawdry, shock journalism to grab headlines, sell papers, and get the gossip tongues wagging.

Ultimately, the debate over whether Obama benefits from racial guilt is facile, dime store psychology, and ultimately irrelevant (a guilty vote is still a vote). What's relevant is for the media and the public to do its job and dissect Obama's positions as it does with any other credible and bona fide candidate for the highest office in the land. Until it does that the gates will always be wide open for the Davis's and Steeles to scream that he's where he is because of racial shame. In fact, Obama, instead of publicly cringing at even the most tepid criticism, should scream loudest of all against any media and public preferential treatment. He should be the last one to want anyone to think that he's a balm for any white supposedly tormented by racial guilt.

Mendacity Under Fire

"The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al-Qaeda," U.S. President George W. Bush told reporters last week, is "because there was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda."

This is what logicians call a tautology, or a "useless repetition," as the dictionary defines it, but it is also an indication of how the Bush administration is defending itself against a growing number of scandals and deceptions in which it finds itself enmeshed.

Repetition and blaming the media, an old standby, of which Vice President Dick Cheney and Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld are particularly fond dating back to their service under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford 30 years ago, are back in vogue.

Thus it was that Cheney, the most aggressive administration proponent of the theory that Saddam Hussein had not only been working hand in glove with Osama bin Laden for years, but that he was also behind the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York back in 1993, complained that New York Times coverage of the 9/11 Commission's finding that there was no such link was "outrageous" and probably "malicious."

And thus it was that Rumsfeld charged that media coverage of the abuses of detainees held by the U.S. in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere was not only wrong, but dangerous. "The implication that's out there is the United States government is engaging in torture as a matter of policy, and that's not true," he declared, despite the cascading leaks of Pentagon, Justice Department, and White House memoranda suggesting ways in which domestic and international bans on torture can be circumvented or ignored in the "war on terror."

And, in a distinct echo of the charges leveled by diehard hawks over the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam under the Nixon/Ford watch, he suggested that reporters and editors, "sitting in an air-conditioned room some place," not the military (and certainly not the policymakers) would be to blame if Washington lost in Iraq.

"This much is certain," he said Thursday. "Coalition forces cannot be defeated on the battlefield. The only way this effort could fail is if people were to be persuaded that the cause is lost, or that it's not worth the pain -- or if those who seem to measure progress in Iraq against a more perfect world convince others to throw in the towel."

The tactic on which the administration appears to have settled in dealing with what is clearly an unraveling of whatever shred of credibility it retains is simply to insist -- as it has for so long anyway -- that it never made any mistakes or exaggerated or misrepresented or lied about anything in any way, and to hope that, if it repeats itself sufficiently loudly and often, people will come to believe it.

"At this point, the White House position is just frankly bizarre," Daniel Benjamin, a senior counter-terrorism official in the Clinton White House, told the Los Angeles Times in response to Bush's declaration about Al Qaeda and Hussein. "They're just repeating themselves, rather than admit they were wrong."

Bush, of course, was responding to the finding by the bipartisan 9/11 commission that, while bin Laden "explored possible cooperation with Iraq" when he was based in Sudan through 1994, "Iraq apparently never responded," and no "collaborative relationship" was ever established.

Proceeding from his tautology, Bush insisted that "this administration never said that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and al-Qaeda. We did say there were numerous contacts between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda."

That rendition, of course, raises a host of questions, among them definitional -- does the existence of "numerous contacts" amount to a "relationship," particularly when one side fails to respond to the other?

"When I was 15 and kept asking Mary Beth for a date, and she would always politely refuse, I think I would have been hard put to describe that as a 'relationship' as much as I wanted to brag about one," noted one Congressional aide this week.

But, more important, the Bush's statement simply flies in the face of the record. Just before invading Iraq, for example, Bush himself asserted that Iraq had sent bomb-making and document-forgery experts to "work with al-Qaeda" and also "provided al-Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training" -- a relationship that goes far beyond mere "contacts."

And, although he denied that his administration had ever suggested Hussein connivance in the 9/11 attacks themselves, his March 19, 2003, letter to Congress officially informing it that hostilities had begun asserted that the war was permitted under legislation authorizing force against those who "planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001."

Cheney, always the most aggressive in asserting a link between Hussein and both al-Qaeda and 9/11, repeatedly made similar charges and last fall endorsed the contents of an article in the neo-conservative Weekly Standard -- consisting largely excerpts of a classified document prepared by the Pentagon's shady Office of Special Plans (OSP) as "the best source of information" -- that concluded that "Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein had an operational relationship from the early 1990s to 2003." Under pressure from the Central Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon later issued a release describing the article's conclusions as "inaccurate."

Cheney, along with neo-conservative members of the Defense Policy Board, the Wall Street Journal editorial writers, and The Weekly Standard, also has been the administration's biggest champion of the single-sourced Czech intelligence report of a meeting in Prague between a senior Iraqi intelligence official and the ringleader of the 9/11 hijackers, Mohammed Atta, five months before the attacks.

The meeting, according to the commission, which had access to contemporaneous video shots of Atta, his cell phone records, and the testimony of the Iraqi official who has been in U.S. custody since last July, never took place.

Yet Cheney said Thursday that he was still not convinced, suggesting cryptically that he may have access to intelligence the commission was not able to see. "That's never been proven," he said. "It's never been refuted."

Of course, Cheney's treatment of this issue gets us right into the epistemological puzzles in which Rumsfeld specializes -- that "there are known unknowns" and "unknown unknowns," which are those "we don't know we don't know" -- speculations that seemed increasingly appropriate in light of the latest revelations by Human Rights First that the U.S. is holding an unknown number of detainees in as many as a dozen facilities in the Middle East, South Asia, aboard naval vessels in the Indian Ocean and elsewhere whose existence has not been disclosed to either the International Committee of the Red Cross or to Congress.

Indeed, Rumsfeld's angry admonitions against the dangers of media coverage of torture and abuses in U.S.-run prisons came at a press conference in which he admitted that one Iraqi prisoner -- one of 13 so-called "ghost detainees" tracked by Human Rights Watch -- had been kept off prison rosters for some seven months, apparently to keep the Red Cross in the dark about whereabouts. If true, that would constitute a clear violation of Article 75 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, according to Deborah Pearlstein of Human Rights First. Rumsfeld assured reporters that the detainee in question had been treated "humanely" at all times.

Pressed by the White House, the Republican leadership in Congress, meanwhile, prevented Democratic lawmakers from issuing subpoenas for some of the administration's memoranda on its interrogation and detention policies and its contention, in at least two leaked memos, that the president can overrule international conventions, U.S. laws, and even the Constitution in his war-making powers as commander-in-chief.

Such unconstrained power is, of course, entirely consistent with the notion that a relationship between al-Qaeda and Hussein existed because the president says so.

The Red Thread of Abuse

There have been human rights abuses enough before, but last year saw "a pervasive culture of attack on global values, standards and institutions," Amnesty International secretary-general Irene Khan told IPS in an interview after the launch of the annual Amnesty report in London Wednesday. "And that has been fuelled very heavily by a security agenda pushed by the U.S."

That agenda has brought a situation where powerful governments can operate outside the rule of law, Khan said, making the fundamental situation in Abu Ghraib so similar to Guantanamo Bay, she said. "There is a red thread that runs from Guantanamo Bay to Abu Ghraib to Bagram."

The global security agenda promoted by the U.S. administration "is bankrupt of vision and bereft of principle," Khan said at the launch of the report. "Violating rights at home, turning a blind eye to abuses abroad and using pre-emptive military force where and when it chooses has damaged justice and freedom, and made the world a more dangerous place."

Khan pointed out that Amnesty had handed a report to the U.S. government highlighting abuses within Iraq, but had received no response. "It seems accountability in Washington D.C. is better generated by Kodak." But evidence of the abuses is only "the natural outcome of the policy openly followed by the U.S. administration to pick and choose which bits of international law it will apply and where, and to put itself outside the reach of judicial scrutiny or international accountability."

But it is not the United States alone that is responsible for major violations. The annual Amnesty report says "violence by armed groups and increasing violations by governments have combined to produce the most sustained attack on human rights and international humanitarian law in 50 years."

Amnesty condemned the armed groups responsible for atrocities such as the March 11 bombing in Madrid and the bomb attack on the United Nations building in Iraq on August 19, 2003 which killed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello.

It said attacks on civilians and on institutions established to provide solutions to conflict and insecurity, such as the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross represent a "significant new threat to international justice."

Abuses were widespread, the report shows. The report details widespread armed conflict in Africa, along with repression of political opponents, persecution of human rights defenders, violence against women, and limited access to justice for the most marginalised in society.

Within the Americas "human rights continued to be violated in the name of security, the report says. "Most governments interpreted the concept of security narrowly, failing to address effectively the threat to human security posed by hunger, poverty, disease, environmental degradation and other such factors." In Asia and the Pacific region "human rights protection remained inadequate across the region and in some countries human rights violations increased as a result of renewed or ongoing armed conflicts," the Amnesty report says. In Europe governments brought in 'anti-terrorist' legislation, launched attacks on refugee protection and imposed restrictions on freedom of association and expression.

In the Middle East the death toll continued to rise with the war on Iraq and the ongoing conflict in Israel and the occupied territories. In these countries and in Algeria, Morocco and Saudi Arabia attacks by armed groups escalated against civilian and government targets.

But a reverse pull seems evident in countering many of the wrongs and unravelling the red thread. "The pictures at Abu Ghraib have shaken public opinion," Khan told IPS. "They have shaken the U.S. Congress. We have asked for an open, independent and impartial inquiry by the U.S. Congress." Finally that pull towards the unravelling could come more from people than from governments. "We are finding new ways in which people are coming together," Khan said. "There is a movement for global justice. We have seen it in Mumbai, in Brazil, in Madrid, where people have come up very spontaneously. Ordinary people believe in human rights, and not that you can cut human rights for security."

The new report, like its earlier reports, raises again the question what exactly Amnesty can do by way of action over its reports.

Amnesty is strengthening its "world-wide web of ordinary people," deputy chief of Amnesty Kate Gilmore told IPS. "Amnesty has the support of two million people, and there are many more who support us tacitly, who are telling their governments that we will not tolerate you being a party to the erosion of global values." The campaign is being fed by the "power of truth and empirical data," she said. Amnesty advocates implementation of international human rights law "but we did not invent it," she said. "Governments made these promises, and Amnesty invites governments to be promise-keepers." Pressure on governments will finally come from ordinary people who set up "a constituency of insistence" for the implementation of rights.

"From the United States to al-Qaeda each is claiming its constituency," Gilmore said. "Amnesty is working with another constituency dedicated to the rights of others, not the self. It is through this constituency that humanity can be advanced."

Blame Al Jazeera

WASHINGTON, May 25 (IPS) - When the U.S. state department shyly released a human rights report two weeks ago amidst an international outcry over U.S. soldiers' abuse of Iraqi prisoners, it slipped in some tough talk on media freedom -- against the practice, not for it as would be expected.

Lorne Craner, deputy assistant secretary for democracy and human rights, told reporters that Arab TV network AlJazeera was inciting violence against U.S. troops in occupied Iraq.

"AlJazeera, from what I understand from CPA (the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq) and others, is quite different in what they do. They go a lot further than 'New Yorker' Magazine or CBS. And that's my point. We are extremely tolerant, we have been for over 200 years in this country, of criticism, but incitement of violence is something else."

The accusations from Craner, the man whose job includes promoting media freedom worldwide, were the last in a series of high-level U.S. moves to muzzle the TV network, which has so far managed to outpace many U.S. news sources in covering the U.S.-led attack and occupation of Iraq, starting more than one year ago.

Although AlJazeera, which started broadcasting in 1996, irked both the U.S. media and the Bush administration even before Washington invaded Iraq as the first step in its plan to remake the Middle East on a "democratic" model, the attacks turned vicious after the channel aired lived coverage of civilian casualties of the U.S. military's heavy bombardment of the town of Fallujah in April.

AlJazeera correspondent Ahmed Mansour was apparently the only reporter in the city when U.S. forces were enforcing a crippling siege.

According to medics in Fallujah, the U.S. offensive claimed the lives of at least 700 Iraqis, mostly women and children, and left up to 1,500 others injured.

The senior U.S. military spokesman, Mark Kimmitt, suggested that Iraqis who saw civilian deaths on AlJazeera, "change the channel to a legitimate, authoritative, honest news station. The stations that are showing Americans intentionally killing women and children are not legitimate news sources. That is propaganda, and that is lies."

But Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld went further. "I can definitively say that what AlJazeera is doing is vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable."

"But you know what our forces do," he added, "They don't go around killing hundreds of civilians. That's just outrageous nonsense! It's disgraceful what that station is doing."

Secretary of State Collin Powell, the outwardly dovish face of the administration, went further and earlier this month formally demanded that visiting Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr al-Thani tighten the screws on the 24-hour network, which is based in his country.

Powell said in statements after meeting al-Thani in Washington that relations between the two countries were being harmed by AlJazeera's coverage.

The channel has also taken some heat on the ground. On May 21, Rashid Hamid Wali, assistant cameraman and fixer for AlJazeera, was killed by gunfire in the Iraqi city of Karbala, the latest in a string of journalists who have been killed in Iraq.

On several occasions, the channel's correspondents have also been banned from government offices and news conferences in Iraq.

Media analysts here say that Washington's attack on AlJazeera, under the pretext of fighting the promotion of violence, has negative implications both for media freedom and for U.S. political strategy.

"To say that running false stories if they could inflame the conflict is grounds for ending the media outlets' right to report, is to say that no major U.S. media outlet should be allowed to report anymore," said Jim Naureckas, editor of media watch dog magazine 'Extra'.

The 'New York Times', for example, ran a story quoting Iraqi defectors saying the country possessed weapons of mass destruction, which was one of many articles published by the U.S. media that inflamed the conflict, he added.

Washington also risks losing more of its credibility over its attack on the Arab TV network.

"Officials in Washington keep saying they want to encourage democratization in the Middle East, but the Bush administration's moves to throttle AlJazeera certainly indicate otherwise," said Norman Solomon, executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

Others see the U.S. attack as emblematic of its political and military woes in the region.

"The U.S. is losing the war in Iraq and is increasingly isolated politically in the Arab world, so what's its response? Blame the media. The U.S. media wouldn't accept such an argument from Bush the candidate, so why accept it from Bush the commander in chief?" said Reese Erlich, a foreign correspondent who has covered the Middle East extensively for 20 years.

The best way to control AlJazeera and other media outlets that defy Washington's control is to stop atrocities on the ground, analysts say.

"There are ways that the U.S. government could legitimately reduce the negative coverage it gets on AlJazeera. For instance, if President Bush wants AlJazeera to stop airing grisly footage of dead Iraqi civilians, as commander in chief he could order U.S. troops to stop killing them," Erlich said.

Silencing Spanish Media

A group representing reporters and editors at Spain's state-run news agency, EFE, says the agency knew about evidence pointing to involvement by Islamic terrorists in the Mar. 11 train bombings in Madrid that very morning, but kept it under wraps due to pressure from the government of Prime Minister José María Aznar.

"EFE knew, from the very morning of the attacks in Madrid, about the existence of a cell-phone configured in Arabic and about the van found in Alcalá de Henares, and knew that one of the dead was a terrorist," the committee of EFE employees said in a press release.

But "Reporting or broadcasting information pointing to involvement by extremist Islamic terrorists that was obtained from primary sources by our national news service writers was expressly prohibited," the committee said Monday.

The heads of the Madrid Press Association (APM) met Wednesday with the committee of EFE employees, who are now demanding that the agency's news director, Miguel Platón, resign.

The EFE writers accuse Platón of imposing "a regime of manipulation and censorship in this company over the last few days, to favour the interests of the Popular Party (PP) with a view to the Mar. 14 elections."

They maintained that the government's manipulation of information was aimed at ensuring a victory at the polls last Sunday by the conservative PP, which ended up being trounced by the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE).

A little over an hour after 10 explosions tore through three commuter trains during the morning rush-hour last Thursday, killing 200 and injuring 1,500, the government blamed the Basque separatist group ETA, and was echoed by the Spanish media, political parties, trade unions and social organisations.

Decades of terrorist attacks staged by ETA in demand of an independent Basque homeland and two similar aborted attempts made it logical that the group would be viewed as a likely suspect.

The on-line editions of Spain's main newspapers carried headlines that day with different versions of "Massacre by ETA". The first IPS report in Spanish was also titled "ETA Votes with Bombs and Dead Civilians", while the headline of the agency's first article in English was "ETA Main Suspect in Rail Blasts, More Than 170 Killed".

Not until Thursday evening did the government announce that in the town of Alcalá de Henares, the starting-point of several of the trains carrying explosives, police found a stolen van carrying detonators and an audiotape of Koranic verses in Arabic.

Investigators also found a sports bag containing an unexploded bomb, a detonator and a cell-phone configured in Arabic at one of the sites of the explosions.

Shortly after the government reported the discovery of the van, a London-based Arabic-language newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported that it had received an e-mail in the name of a group with links to the al-Qaeda Islamic terrorist network claiming responsibility for the blasts.

Nevertheless, Aznar personally called the directors of El País, Jesús Ceberio, in Madrid, and El Periódico, Antonio Franco, in Barcelona, to tell them there was not the slightest doubt that ETA was responsible.

"It was then that I, under the conviction that the prime minister of my country was incapable, in the exercise of his duty, to give me assurances about something he was not completely sure about, decided on the headline: 'ETA's M-11'," Franco wrote in an editorial that was posted on the Catalan newspaper's website.

"The prime minister gave his word to the heads of the media so they would present the attacks as the work of the ETA terrorist group," wrote El País in an editorial on Sunday, the day of the elections, in which the PP, previously expected to win handily, was defeated by Spain's socialists.

The association of foreign journalists, to which the IPS correspondent in Madrid belongs, also complained that a dozen of its members had received phone calls from the State Secretariat of Communication, "explicitly requesting that our reports state that ETA was the perpetrator of the attacks."

The association of employees (APM) of the Madrid public TV station also complained of "outright manipulation", "censorship", "falsification of news", and the "concealing" of information.

"In the future, we demand that ethical standards be respected, so journalists are able to work freely and provide truthful information," APM president Fernando González Urbaneja told IPS.

On the day of the attacks, Foreign Minister Ana Palacios sent instructions to Spanish embassies around the world. According to El País, her memo stated: "You should use any opportunity to confirm ETA's responsibility for these brutal attacks, hence helping to dissipate any type of doubt that certain interested parties may want to promote."

"The Interior Ministry has confirmed that ETA was responsible" she added in the message, which she later said was aimed at "providing guidance" to embassies at their request.

Even the United Nations Security Council issued a resolution on the day of the attacks blaming ETA, on the insistence of Madrid, which said it had irrefutable evidence of involvement by the Basque separatist group.

The embarrassed Security Council is now preparing to annul the resolution.

Senior European officials also complained this week that their governments felt misled by the Aznar administration's insistent blaming of ETA.

EU Foreign Policy chief Javier Solana, a Spaniard, said in interviews with Spanish television that it seemed certain that ETA was involved because of the characteristics of the attack and the kind of explosive that was used.

The government erroneously reported on the day of the blasts that the explosive was Titadyne dynamite, which ETA used in earlier attacks after stealing several tons of it in France.

"It is clear that there was pressure," Enrique Bustamante, international relations expert and member of PSOE prime-minister-elect José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's advisory team, told IPS.

"This was the first time that the head of government called all of the major media and that censorship and control of information was applied in the official news agency (EFE)."

When the SER radio station, the most popular in Spain, reported that "99 percent" of the evidence found by the military intelligence National Information Centre pointed to extremist Islamic groups, "the phone immediately rang, and a 'denial' came from the director of the Centre himself," said Bustamante.

While the government repeated "ETA" over and over again, like a kind of mantra, the evidence that increasingly suggested Islamic involvement continued to pile up.

Analysts say the public's anger at the way the government handled the information arising from the investigation, as well as the fact that Spaniards overwhelmingly opposed Spain's support for the U.S.-led war on Iraq, led to the Sunday defeat of the PP.

Despite the fact that surveys indicated that over 80 percent of Spaniards were opposed to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Aznar administration dispatched 1,300 Spanish troops to take part in the occupation.

The Madrid train bombings, apparently staged by one of the radical Islamic groups that have threatened to take reprisals against the allies of the George W. Bush administration in that war, reactivated the public's memory of its opposition to the war.

While the Spanish media continued to echo the government line that ETA was responsible, thousands of Spaniards took to the streets on Saturday, Mar. 13 to repudiate the attacks and protest the government's manipulation of the facts.

Outside PP offices in cities around Spain, demonstrators shouted "We Said 'NO' to the War!" and "Your War, Our Corpses".

Bustamante pointed out that the spontaneous outpouring of anger and grief was "prompted by cell-phone, e-mail and Internet messages" that circulated widely throughout Spain.

Bush Lies Uncovered

For those still puzzling over why the Bush administration decided to invade Iraq, two key players offered important, but curiously unnoticed, clues this week.

Statements made by both men confirmed growing suspicions that the Bush administration's drive to war in Iraq had very little, if anything, to do with the dangers posed by Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or his alleged ties to terrorist groups like al-Qaeda -- the two main reasons the U.S. Congress and public were given for the invasion.

Separate statements by Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), and U.S. retired Gen Jay Garner, who was in charge of planning and administering post-war reconstruction from January through May 2002, suggest that other, less public motives were behind the war, none of which concerned self-defense, pre-emptive or otherwise.

The statement by Chalabi, on whom the neo-conservative and right-wing hawks in the Pentagon and Vice President Dick Cheney's office are still resting their hopes for a White House-friendly transition to self-rule, will certainly interest congressional committees investigating why the intelligence on WMD before the war was so far off the mark.

In a remarkably frank interview with the British newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, Chalabi said he was willing to take full responsibility for the INC's role in providing misleading intelligence to George Bush, Congress and the U.S. public to persuade them that Hussein posed a serious threat to the United States that had to be dealt with urgently.

The Telegraph reported that Chalabi merely shrugged off accusations his group had deliberately misled the administration, saying, ''We are heroes in error.''

"As far as we're concerned, we've been entirely successful," he told the newspaper. "That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. The Bush administration is looking for a scapegoat. We're ready to fall on our swords if he wants."

It was an amazing admission, and certain to fuel growing suspicions on Capitol Hill that Chalabi, whose INC received millions of dollars in taxpayer money over the past decade, effectively conspired with his supporters in and around the administration to take the United States to war on pretenses they knew, or had reason to know, were false.

Indeed, it now appears increasingly clear that defectors handled by the INC were sources for the most spectacular and detailed -- if completely unfounded -- information about Hussein's alleged WMD programs, offered not only to U.S. intelligence agencies, but also to U.S. mainstream media, especially the New York Times, according to a recent report in the New York Review of Books.

Within the administration, Chalabi worked most closely with those who had championed his cause for a decade, particularly neoconservatives close to Cheney and Rumsfeld -- Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith and Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby.

Feith's office was home to the Office of Special Plans (OSP) whose two staff members and dozens of consultants were given the task of reviewing raw intelligence to develop the strongest possible case for war. OSP also worked with the Defense Policy Board (DPB), a hand-picked group of mostly neoconservative hawks, which was chaired until just before the war by Richard Perle, a long-time Chalabi friend.

DPB members, particularly Perle, former CIA director James Woolsey and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, played prominent roles in publicizing reports by INC defectors and other alleged evidence developed by OSP that made Hussein appear as scary as possible.

Chalabi even participated in a secret DPB meeting just a few days after the Sept. 11 attacks in which the main topic of discussion, according to the Wall Street Journal, was finding a way to use 9/11 as a pretext for attacking Iraq.

The OSP and a parallel group under Feith, the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group, have become central targets of the congressional investigation, according to aides on Capitol Hill, while unconfirmed rumors circulated here this week that members of the DPB are also under investigation.

The question, of course, is whether the individuals involved were fooled by Chalabi and the INC or whether they were willing collaborators in distorting intelligence.

It appears that Chalabi, whose family has extensive interests in a company that has already been awarded more than $400 million in reconstruction contracts, is signaling his willingness to take all of the blame, or credit, for the faulty intelligence.

But other statements made by Jay Garner this week in an interview with The National Journal suggest that the administration had its own reasons for the war. Asked how long U.S. troops might remain in Iraq, Garner replied, ''I hope they're there a long time," and then compared U.S. goals in Iraq to U.S. military bases in the Philippines between 1898 and 1992.

''One of the most important things we can do right now is start getting basing rights with (the Iraqi authorities)," he said. ''And I think we'll have basing rights in the north and basing rights in the south ... we'd want to keep at least a brigade."

Garner added, ''Look back on the Philippines around the turn of the 20th century: they were a coaling station for the navy, and that allowed us to keep a great presence in the Pacific. That's what Iraq is for the next few decades: our coaling station that gives us great presence in the Middle East."

While U.S. military strategists have hinted for some time that a major goal of war was to establish several bases in Iraq, particularly given the ongoing military withdrawal from Saudi Arabia, Garner is the first to state it so baldly. Until now, U.S. military chiefs have suggested they need to retain a military presence just to ensure stability for several years, after which they expect to draw down their forces.

If indeed Garner's understanding represents the thinking of his former bosses, then the ongoing struggle within the administration over ceding control to the United Nations becomes more comprehensible. Ceding too much control, particularly before reaching an agreement establishing military bases will make permanent U.S. bases much less likely.

Jim Lobe writes about U.S. foreign policy for Tom Paine, AlterNet, and Foreign Policy in Focus.

Will Dubya Dump Dick?

While Democratic rivals battle for the presidential nomination in a succession of grueling primary elections, Vice President Dick Cheney appears to be fighting to secure his spot on the Republican ticket behind President George W. Bush.

The vice president, whose supposed moderation and 35-year Washington experience reassured Bush voters worried about the callowness and inexperience of Bush in 2000, is increasingly seen by Republican Party politicos as a millstone on the president's re-election chances in what is expected to be an extremely close race.

The reasons are for their worries are evident. Ongoing disclosures about Cheney's role in the drive to war in Iraq and other controversial administration plans reveal him as not the much-touted moderate but an extremist who constantly pushed for the most radical policies. But more than just an extremist, Cheney is also viewed as a kind of eminence grise who exercises undue influence over Bush to further a radical agenda, a perception confirmed by recent revelations by former treasury secretary Paul O'Neill, who described Cheney as creating a "kind of praetorian guard around the president" that blocked out contrary views.

In addition, Cheney's association with Halliburton, the giant construction and oil company he headed for much of the 1990s and that gobbled up billions of dollars in contracts for Iraq's postwar reconstruction, is also becoming a major political liability. Democrats in Congress and on the campaign trail are already using Halliburton's rhythmic, four-syllable name (HAL-li-bur-ton, HAL-li-bur-ton) as a mantra that neatly taps into the public's growing concerns overn Iraq and disgust with crony capitalism and corporate greed, all at the same time.

Reports of a discreet "dump Cheney" movement, launched by intimate associates of Bush's father (former president George H. W. Bush), were already surfacing two months ago. Cheney's detractors include national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and former secretary of state James Baker, who now has a White House appointment as Bush Jr's personal envoy to persuade official creditors to reduce substantially Iraq's $110 billion foreign debt. Both men battled frequently with the vice president when he was defense secretary in the first Bush administration.

In addition to fears about possible impact on Bush's re-election chances, Scowcroft and Baker have privately expressed great concern over Cheney's unparalleled influence over the younger Bush's foreign policy, and the damage that it has wreaked on U.S. relations with longtime allies, particularly in Europe and the Arab world.

The underground campaign explains many of Cheney's recent actions, including holding unprecedented rounds of press interviews in January, as well as his trip this week to Switzerland and Italy (marking only the second time the vice president has traveled abroad in three years). "I think he knows that he's in trouble," said a prominent anti-Cheney Republican activist this week. "I don't think there's any other way to explain why he would sit for a puerile interview for the [Washington Post's] Style section. You know he despises that sort of thing." Cheney's travel and sudden and abundant press availability was noted in Tuesday's New York Times, which described his behavior as "a calculated election-year makeover to temper his hardline image at home and abroad".

But Cheney's appearances may, in fact, have merely confirmed his image as a zealot. In an interview he gave National Public Radio (NPR) last week, Cheney not only insisted that major stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) may still be found in Iraq, he also claimed that two semi-trailer trucks found in that country during last year's U.S.-led war constituted "conclusive evidence" of WMD programs. Both assertions were almost instantly refuted by none other than the administration's outgoing chief weapons inspector, David Kay. In a series of statements published after Cheney's NPR broadcast, Kay said he had concluded that the WMD stockpiles were destroyed in the early 1990s, and that the two trailers in question were intended to produce hydrogen for weather balloons or possibly rocket fuel.

In the same NPR interview Cheney also insisted there was "overwhelming evidence" of an "established relationship" between former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and the al-Qaeda terrorist group, citing Saddam's alleged harboring of a suspect in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York. But the notion of such an "established relationship" in any operational sense has now been almost uniformly dismissed by the intelligence community, and even Bush and other senior White House officials have dropped the issue.

In another interview, Cheney told USA Today he was not worried about his image as the administration's Machiavelli, skilled in the quiet arts of persuading his "Prince" to pursue questionable policies, adding, remarkably, "Am I the evil genius in the corner that nobody ever sees come out of his hole? It's a nice way to operate, actually."

But whether Cheney likes it or not, he is increasingly seen as a master manipulator, by Democrats, by Republican internationalists such as Baker and Scowcroft, and, perhaps most significantly for purposes of Bush's re-election prospects, by a growing number of traditionally Republican right-wingers and libertarians worried about the impact of the exploding costs of the "war on terror" on the country's fiscal health, individual liberties and armed forces. These Republicans also blame Cheney for being the administration's key supporter of the neo-conservative agenda, which promotes a never-ending war against radical Islam.

"So Dick Cheney turns out to be a true radical -- not a moderate Republican," notes Georgie Anne Geyer, a nationally syndicated columnist, who compares the vice president to Cardinal Richelieu of 17th-century France in a cover article for this week's edition of American Conservative magazine. "While there is little mystery about what he has actually done, there remains the mystery of how a man from Wyoming should be the epicenter of a scheme so strange, so Machiavellian, so profoundly disaggregated from the American context," she writes. "But no one should expect Dick Cheney and his group [of neo-conservatives] to change. They will not."

In a case of particularly bad timing, Cheney's image as a manipulative schemer was furthered again this week, just as he was trying to reassure Europeans about his moderation and commitment to multilateralism. A new book on Tony Blair, authored by Financial Times correspondent Philip Stephens, depicts Cheney as the surprise guest at key meetings between Bush and the British prime minister. He quotes one Blair aide complaining that Cheney "waged a guerrilla war" against London's efforts to seek United Nations approval before the war. The book concludes that Cheney constantly "sought to undermine the prime minister privately", and quotes him telling another senior official more than six months before the war, "Once we have victory in Baghdad, all the critics will look like fools."

With the presidential elections looming in November, a "victory" in Iraq still looks rather tenuous, and with recent polls showing Cheney's favorability rating at less than one-half of that of Bush -- a mere 20 percent and falling -- so might the vice president's claim to the No 2 spot on the Republican ticket.

Jim Lobe writes on foreign policy for AlterNet, Foreign Policy in Focus, and TomPaine.com.

The Untouchable Midwife

Vimla Valmiky may have helped usher in the birth of scores of babies from the higher-caste Hindus, but every time she gets "the same uneasy feeling that they cleanse up after me to purify not just the baby and the mother, but the whole house by sprinkling the holy water all over the place," she says.

A traditional birth attendant who studied till Grade 5, the vibes she gets are all too real in this country born as a �democratic'� and independent state. The more than 260 million Dalits who live in India today are the most marginalised among the lot of scheduled castes. She is here with some 20 other women, all of different ages and occupations, among the 25,000 or so Dalits from 20 states that have come together to be heard at the World Social Forum where caste as an issue will be one of the five main themes for its panels and protests. According to Xavier Joe Freddie from the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, a non-Dalit himself: "For some the journey started on December 6, 2003, with the launch of the historical Dalit Swadhikar Rally, a national rally of Dalits for the assertion of rights."

The rally started from four different points of India -- Jammu, Kanyakumari, Kolkata and Delhi -- and ended in Mumbai on Jan. 16. The Indian government, always sensitive to international criticism, in September 2001 moved to block caste from the agenda of the U.N. Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa, arguing that it was already tackling a problem that was not racism. Fifty-something, fragile Sahu Devi, with her salt and pepper hair, has ventured out of her village in Barmer, Rajasthan state for the very first time. "It took me four days to get here," she explains as she squats on the dusty ground, unperturbed by the heat or the dust. She does not really know why she's here, but when prodded by others, she goes on: "To watch, listen and learn and then go back and tell others what the experience was like."

On the other hand, young Khatu Devi, who especially dressed up for the occasion in a bright yellow sari, a set of red bangles and a bindi, is loud and articulate. "We have come here to tell others to what extent are we discriminated. We want our rights and we think this forum is a place we can tell the world about our woes." She seems well briefed. She works in a mine and for the next 10 days or so that she's taken off she will not be earning 50 rupees a day or cooking or taking care of her children or fetching the water. "But the price is not too high considering what we are getting in the bargain -- bringing about a change in the mindset of the people," she says optimistically. Ghumpat Lal Mehra, who has been listening carefully to the women, feels it's time to interject. He says these women face double discrimination. They are not only poor women but to add to their problems, they are Dalits. "So, on the one hand they are untouchables, but on the other, the thakurs (upper-caste people) can touch them for their pleasure."

According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch, more than 100,000 atrocities, including murder and rape, are committed each year against Dalits, who in the view of Hindu traditionalists should not be allowed even to sit on the same bus seats as higher-caste Indians. But the prize comment comes from Mahesh Panpalia: "Tomorrow if a thakur offers me water from the same pitcher, I'd be so stunned I wouldn't know what to do." Ghumpat Lal Meher, a Dalit, goes on: "And God forbid if I take a sip, all hell will break." They can't imagine the dawn of such a day, not in the near future at least. They tell me of how in the past, not so distant past, say a few months back, Dalits actually ventured to fill water from pond that have been off limits -- and had to bear the brunt of that act. "Kerosene oil was poured over them and they were roasted alive." So while they clamour for jobs, better prospects, elimination of bonded labour and a respectable share in the crop that they grow on the land "which has been given to us by the government" but which their feudal lords refuse to accept, they feel that real liberation can come only "if we can bring about a change with regards to the untouchability issue".

Future Uncertain as Saddam Unearthed

WASHINGTON - U.S. President George W. Bush celebrated a second victory in Iraq here Sunday with confirmation that occupation forces had captured fugitive former president Saddam Hussein on Saturday evening at a farmhouse outside Tikrit.

But even the normally cocky U.S. commander-in-chief, who addressed the nation by television from the White House, stressed that the former Iraqi dictator's arrest will not mean a quick end to the occupation's armed resistance.

�The capture of Saddam Hussein does not mean the end of violence in Iraq,� Bush declared solemnly at the conclusion of a short statement that described Saddam's detention as �crucial to the rise of a free Iraq�.

Bush's resignation to more resistance reflected much of the reaction to the day's news, as lawmakers and analysts described the capture as a potentially major breakthrough that would not necessarily, however, prove decisive.

Indeed, some specialists warned even before Sunday's announcement that Saddam's death or detention would prove largely irrelevant to the difficult problems faced by U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq, both because loyalty to Hussein -- or even to his Ba'ath Party -- had ceased to be a catalyst for the insurgency long before and because the complex internal political situation in Iraq has begun to fuel more tension and violence in any event.

Some even suggested that Saddam's capture might actually create new problems for the occupation by empowering sectors in the country's Shi'a community to test the occupation and back up their demands for direct elections to a new Iraqi government with more militant tactics.

�Now that it is perfectly clear that (Hussein) is finished,� noted Iraq specialist Juan Cole, who teaches history at the University of Michigan, �the Shiites may be emboldened�.

�Those (Shiites) who dislike U.S. policies or who are opposed to the idea of occupation no longer need be apprehensive that the U.S. will suddenly leave and allow Saddam to come back to power.�

�They may therefore now gradually throw off their political timidity, and come out more forcefully into the streets when they disagree,� Cole wrote on his website Sunday.

Saddam, of course, had been target number one for U.S. invasion forces, who actually tried to kill him in two �decapitation� air strikes in the course of the war. U.S. commanders expressed great confidence that they were closing in on the former president after his two sons, Uday and Qsay, were killed in a four-hour shootout at a house where they were hiding in Mosul.

But over the days and weeks that followed, the trail apparently went cold, although U.S. military officials told reporters consistently they believed Saddam had gone to ground somewhere around Tikrit.

In the end, that proved to be correct; tipped off by Iraqi informants, U.S. commanders said they found him in what they described as a 2 x 2.5 m. �spider hole� built under a farmhouse outside the city where Saddam grew up.

The bearded fugitive reportedly offered no resistance to U.S. troops, and Iraqi political leaders who were taken to the scene Sunday described his attitude as defiant. Videotape taken by his U.S. captors showed him being examined by medics, possibly for head lice.

Commanders said they did not broadcast his capture until they could determine positively through DNA testing that it was indeed the former dictator.

Although military commanders have long insisted that resistance to the occupation was being carried out primarily by �Saddam loyalists�, they had never ascribed to him any actual leadership role, apart from his status as a symbol, particularly for Ba'athists.

That appeared to be borne out by the circumstances of his capture. Not only was Saddam bedraggled, he also lacked any apparent means of electronic or satellite communication, such as a telephone, with his supporters.

That was noted by some observers, who said it proved the resistance was clearly operating independently of Saddam. �Given the location and circumstances of his capture, it makes clear that Saddam was not managing the insurgency, and that he had very little control or influence,� said Senator Jay Rockefeller, the Democratic leader on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

�That is significant and disturbing because it means the insurgents are not fighting for Saddam; they're fighting against the United States,� he added.

Other argued that, regardless of Saddam's relevance to resistance operations, his capture was bound to have a demoralizing effect on the insurgents, particularly members of the Ba'ath.

Michael O'Hanlon, a military specialist at the Brookings Institution, told National Public Radio (NPR) the psychological impact of the capture was a �devastating blow to (Saddam's) supporters�.

That impact could be more significant on anti-Saddam sectors in Iraq, according to observers, although they failed to agree on whether it would, on balance, favor the occupation.

�I think Saddam's capture will give Iraqis the courage and the psychological boost not to tolerate any more (Saddam loyalists or criminals) within their own society,� Judith Kipper, a Middle East specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), told IPS.

At the same time she also stressed that it will not �solve the problem of the insurgency, of the political chaos or of the reconstruction�.

Retired Gen William Nash, also of CFR, told NPR the capture could lead many Iraqis in the so-called Sunni Triangle to cooperate more with occupation authorities. With the achievement of such a key objective, �everybody (will) want to get on the bandwagon�, he said.

That might be overly optimistic, according to others -- including Cole, who wrote Sunday that Saddam �was probably already irrelevant�.

�The Sunni Arab resisters to U.S. occupation in the country's heartland had long since jettisoned Saddam and the Ba'ath as symbols,� he stressed.

�They are fighting for local reasons. Some are Sunni fundamentalists, who despised the Ba'ath. Others are Arab nationalists who weep at the idea of their country being occupied. Some had relatives killed or humiliated by U.S. troops and are pursuing a clan vendetta. Some fear a Shiite and Kurdish-dominated Iraq will reduce them to second-class citizens.�

Both this thesis, as well as the administration's continued insistence that the insurgency consists mainly of Saddam and Ba'ath loyalists, criminals, and foreign �jihadis�, will be tested in the coming weeks and months.

Congress Has Second Thoughts On Patriot Act

Taking a clear stand against anti-privacy provisions in the Patriot Act, the U.S. House of Representatives in an overwhelmingly bipartisan effort last night agreed to an amendment that would bar federal law enforcement from carrying out secret "sneak and peek" searches without notifying the target of the warrant.

The Otter Amendment, added to the Commerce, Justice and State Departments funding bill and named after Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter, an Idaho Republican, passed by an extraordinary margin of 309 to 118, with 113 Republicans voting in favor.

"Not only does this provision allow the seizure of personal and business records without notification, but it also opens the door to nationwide search warrants and allowing the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) and NSA (National Security Agency) to operate domestically," Otter said.

The Patriot Act, which significantly expands the government's domestic spying powers, was passed within weeks of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The House amendment represents the first major change to the act since it was signed into law by Pres. George W. Bush.

Civil liberties activists immediately hailed the decision as a huge win.

"Congress took a courageous stand last night in its response to widespread public concern over civil liberties--hopefully this is the first trickle in a flood of Patriot fixes," said Laura W. Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington Legislative Office.

"Congress is beginning to respond to what regular Americans have been saying at backyard barbecues and across their kitchen tables for months now: we can--and must--be both safe and free," she said.

The amendment would effectively prohibit any implementation of the controversial section 213 of the Patriot Act, which enables federal agents to obtain so-called "sneak and peek" warrants with far less evidence than was required before the bill was passed..

Under these warrants--also referred to as "black bag" warrants--agents have the permission to search homes, confiscate certain types of property and monitor computers, without notifying the subject of the search.

The amendment still has to get past the Senate and Pres. Bush before it becomes law.

Yesterday's House vote was preceded by a unanimous vote in the Senate last week to deny funding for the domestic cyber-surveillance system known as the Terrorism Information Awareness (TIA) project-- recently renamed from "Total Information Awareness".

A provision blocking funding for the program was included in the Senate version of a military spending bill currently being considered in Congress. In contrast to the House version, which only restricted TIA's use against U.S. citizens, the Senate version denies funding for "research and development on the Terrorism Awareness System."

The program would use data-mining technology to scan vast amounts of personal "transactional" data, including looking for and monitoring suspicious patterns in telephone records, credit card transactions, broadcasts, internet use, medical files, relationships, travel details and legal information, among others.

Democratic Senators Ron Wyden, from Oregon, and Russ Feingold, from Wisconsin, had pledged last winter to block funding of TIA until Congress has a chance to thoroughly review the project's implications.

A fellow senator, Jon Corzine of New Jersey, has complained that TIA takes an "Orwellian approach"--in fact, one of the program's first logos (since discarded) featured an all-seeing eye casting its gaze out over the globe.

The language agreed to in the Senate last week is even more forceful than that suggested by Wyden and Feingold, and stands in clear contrast to the Bush administration's active support for the program and the Pentagon's aggressive lobbying on behalf of TIA.

"Make no mistake, the Pentagon can't erase history by changing a name--it's the same program and contains the same pitfalls," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU's Liberty and Technology Program. "Luckily the Senate historically stood up to the administration and Pentagon and said 'no' to a surveillance society."

"Terrorism Information Awareness, as it's now called, seeks to catch bad guys by spying on law-abiding Americans, making it ineffective and inherently offensive to civil liberties," Steinhardt added. "Those lawmakers who sought to shut it down deserve applause for supporting Americans' right to privacy."

Opposition to the program, as well as to several sections of the Patriot Act, is growing and has been unusually broad, including groups as diverse as the ACLU and the American Conservative Union.

Earlier this week, the ACLU kicked off a "Campaign to Defend Our Libraries," with the aim of warning patrons about Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The section grants law enforcement the ability to obtain--without an ordinary criminal subpoena or search warrant and without probable cause--a court order giving them access to "business records" and "any tangible thing," including records from libraries, booksellers, doctors, universities, Internet service providers and financial institutions.

Critics see the section as too broad and structured in a way that allows ordinary citizens to be caught up in the net of intelligence investigations.

"The New Mexico Library Association is on record expressing its concerns about the Patriot Act," said Eileen Longsworth, president of the association. "The NMLA encourages the library community to educate itself and library customers about the Patriot Act, and the potential dangers to individual privacy and confidentiality of library records resulting from the enforcement of this act."

Bills are currently pending in the House and Senate that seek to restore privacy in libraries and bookstores.

Opposition to the Patriot Act is also coming from state legislatures. Yesterday, the city council of Charlottesville, Virginia blocked some implementation of the act, joining more than 140 communities, encompassing more than 16 million people in 27 states, that have passed resolutions against it.


Vietnam War Terms Make a Comeback

WASHINGTON -- It was just 45 days ago that President George W. Bush, in a campaign-perfect photo-op, landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln off the coast of California, swaggered across the deck in full flight gear, and declared that "Operation Iraqi Freedom" had liberated that nation from the evil clutches of former President Saddam Hussein.



But within six weeks, the U.S. Central Command in Baghdad has unleashed a new campaign with a far more ominous name. "Operation Desert Scorpion" is designed, in the equally ominous words of Monday's 'Wall Street Journal', "to avoid a prolonged guerrilla campaign" that appears to be underway, at least in what is now referred to as "the Sunni Triangle" of central Iraq.



It is clear that the 10 weeks of chaos that followed the collapse of Hussein's government in early April have taken a serious toll on U.S. hopes that Iraqis, either out of fear and awe of Washington's military might or out of gratitude, would simply do what they were told by their supposed liberators.



But even the U.S. mainstream press, which has been dutifully documenting the ardent efforts of the country's troops to restore order and win over the population, is now suggesting that things are not going according to plan, assuming that there ever was one.



"Significantly, this realization is reaching deep into the U.S. heartland," writes respected TomDispatch.com editor Tom Engelhardt. "Newspapers from Cleveland, Tallahassee, Charlotte and Salt Lake City carried headlines this weekend such as 'Losing the Peace', 'Iraq War Still Hot, Commanders Say', 'Civilian Deaths intensify Anti-U.S. Ire' and 'The War Is Over, But U.S. Soldiers Keep Dying'."



Engelhardt also noted this weekend that the vocabulary of the Vietnam War is re-infiltrating the press. For instance, New York Times' military analyst Michel Gordon this weekend used the dreaded word "counter-insurgency" about prospects for defeating unhappy armed Iraqis: "Unlike the rush to Baghdad, this fight will not be measured in days but in months, if not years... For the Americans this is a campaign of raids, bombing strikes and dragnets, as American commanders try to isolate and destroy remnants of the old order."



"It is more like a counter-insurgency than an invasion," Gordon added, in what Engelhardt said marked the first reference to the tactic in relation to the U.S. occupation of Iraq.



In a swift echo, The Christian Science Monitor followed with an article Monday titled "U.S. Anti-Guerrilla Campaign Draws Iraqi Ire". "The U.S. army has changed from being a liberator to an offensive occupier," the article quoted Fawzi Shafi, editor of a new weekly newspaper in Fallujah, the apparent center of anti-U.S. resistance, said.



Rehabilitating schools and providing free gasoline to communities are now referred to by the old Vietnam cliché of "winning hearts and minds"; arms seized by U.S. troops have been called "weapons counts", an eerie echo of the "body counts" of Vietnam days.



And while the U.S. strikes of the past 10 days are referred to so far only by their operation codenames, it takes very little imagination to see them as akin to "search-and-destroy missions" of that unlamented period. Washington's first short-lived governor in Iraq, Ret. Gen. Jay Garner, even told the 'New York Times' that he saw "Vietnam and the strategic hamlet concept" as relevant to the Iraqi occupation, presumably to separate the population from rebellious elements.



It remains unclear precisely who those rebellious elements are, although counter-terrorism expert Paul Bremer, the Henry Kissinger associate who succeeded Garner, said they do not appear to be under centralized command.



While Ba'athists and Fedayeen Saddam are no doubt involved -- the media was filled with stories last week insisting that a bounty is being paid for dead U.S. soldiers, although it was unclear who would pay them if there was no central control -- administration officials here and military commanders in Iraq have also suggested that al-Qaeda and other radical Islamist fighters from outside Iraq are infiltrating the borders and rallying to the resistance.



Eager to expand the war on terrorism to Saudi Arabia, some neo-conservative writers, such as Stephen Schwartz of the strongly pro-Israel Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), have suggested that Wahhabi clerics are infiltrating fighters into Iraq to fight with the resistance. Others say Iran is building a tactical alliance with al-Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups with a similar aim in mind.



But it is also possible that the armed resistance, which has taken the lives of 10 U.S. soldiers and injured dozens more in just the past three weeks, may also be recruiting among sectors that are fast growing disillusioned or angry about the American military presence.



While U.S. forces reportedly have done much better with Shiite communities that opposed Hussein since he emerged as Baghdad's top leader in 1979, last week's "Operation Peninsula Strike" against suspected Sunni rebels also reportedly wiped out several members of a Shiite family near Fallujah, apparently by accident.



Indeed, according to the Journal's account, the main victims of Peninsula Strike turned out to be members of clans that were opposed to Hussein, suggesting that the U.S. military -- as in Afghanistan -- is being manipulated by informants more interested in pursuing their private or clan interests against others than in pacifying the country.



"The show of force so far has failed to stop the attacks, while many civilian casualties have raised support for America's foes," the Journal concluded from the latest offensives.



Or, as Engelhardt noted in reviewing several weekend news reports of apparently innocent victims of the latest operations "that rang with a familiar Vietnam-era conundrum -- how do you carry out brutal assaults on hard-to-find guerrilla forces in civilian areas without knowing the language, area or culture, without alienating that population when some of them die, others are mistreated, and many are humiliated"?



"What we are seeing here is a fundamental reassessment of the situation in Iraq in terms of political and military stability," said Daniel Goure, a Pentagon adviser at the Washington-based Lexington Institute.



"We have been operating on two assumptions: that once the war was over the Iraqis would rapidly move into peaceful mode, and second, that there would be a new political and economic spirit in the country. We discovered neither of these assumptions is true."



Don't call it a quagmire. Yet.

Jim Lobe writes on international affairs for Inter Press Service, Oneworld.net, Foreign Policy in Focus and AlterNet.org.

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