guest post by Sarah J
So on the “What Now” subject: The economic stimulus bill is up before Congress this week and it’s going to have a rough time in the Senate. The House has the votes along party lines, but the Senate, well, you know the score.
If you’re like me and you live in a state with a rational Republican senator, email/call/picket his or her office (I’m thinking Specter–my Senator–the two from Maine, Voinovich…you know what I mean.) Harass the hell out of ’em. Flood their offices. We need this passed and we need it now.
I’d prefer if we could get this back in, but Obama had to at least look like he was willing to compromise. If the Republicans keep stonewalling, we need to remind ’em who won this election.
We all do a lot of talking and writing, some of it can certainly go in the direction of elected officials. If one of those people isn’t your Senator, fake some sort of a connection and go for it. State you were born in? State where your grandma lives? State you slept in once on an all-night booty call? Whatever.
Let’s do this.
With the advent of a new administration in Washington providing the long-beleaguered citizens of New Orleans, LA a new sense of hope (no doubt increased upon hearing that the President has promised to visit the region) it’s easy for us to forget (too easy to forget) that there are still thousands of residents still displaced from their homes, perhaps permanently. And, if decisions like the following continue to be made (purportedly on their behalf *cough*) many will have f0rever lost what little remains:
A judge didn’t abuse his discretion when he refused to halt the demolition of four public housing complexes in New Orleans that were damaged by Hurricane Katrina, a federal appeals court has ruled.
A group of displaced public housing residents had asked U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle in June 2006 to block plans to demolish and redevelop the B.W. Cooper, C.J. Peete, St. Bernard and Lafitte developments. Lemelle denied their request, a ruling upheld Monday by a three-judge panel from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
Three developments have been totally razed, while the demolition of the fourth is under way. The demolition project spawned a round of demonstrations in New Orleans, including a December 2007 melee at City Hall where police used pepper spray and stun devices to disperse a crowd of protesters.
“Numerous reports showed that the buildings were obsolete, dilapidated, and unsuitable for housing purposes,” Judge Emilio Garza wrote in the court’s 14-page opinion.
Yes, so, in order to save these projects, these people’s homes, let’s completely raze them to the ground. Because no buildings are so much more suitable for living in. Sorry, but, “comparable housing” is not remotely adequate (let alone, er, comparable) when “redevelopment plans leave several thousand families without access to affordable housing [emph. mine].”
Loyola University professor Bill Quigley highlights the bottom line this decision once again underscores:
“At this moment, (the 5th Circuit is) saying that the tragedy to these 5,000 families from Katrina is permanent,” Quigley said. “The fight has always been whether these 5,000 families get to come back to some sort of public housing in New Orleans. The position of the government has been that they don’t.”
The dizzy counterspin from HUD’s spokesmonkey is particularly nauseating:
“This ruling is a win for the families who will return to new, socially and economically integrated neighborhoods, and it’s a win for the city of New Orleans because of the affordable housing component of each of the new developments.”
Yes, well, what about those families who, um, won’t return to ‘socially and economically integrated neighbourhoods’? How can losing everything all over again, having their dreams razed along with their fucking homes even begin to count as a victory? Even George W. Bush wouldn’t have the fucking nerve to hastily throw up a ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner behind this one.
Unfortunately there isn’t much one can do to affect court decisions. But one can pressure Congress to allocate desperately needed funding for NOLA and draw attention to a situation that has been allowed to fester below the radar for far too long. Sarah J notes that “Senators Mary Landrieu and David Vitter have requested funding for “more than $6 billion in coastal restoration and levee construction projects in an economic stimulus bill now moving through Congress”“, making it even more important that Americans contact their Congresscritters and demand that, as the US moves towards revitalizing delapidated national infrastructure, the people of NOLA are not forgotten ever again by their government, their fellow citizens.
As I wrote in comments @ Alterdestiny:
“[W]e… need to purge the guilt and start doing something proactive. Poppy Z. Brite’s powerful 2006 Banned Books Night speech is even more pertinent, more vital, today:
If you live here, stay and give it all you can. If you live elsewhere, please don’t let people forget us. Don’t let your government forget us. Tell them to put money into wetlands restoration, to give us the levees we were told we already had, to rebuild the homes and businesses destroyed by their lying negligence. Tell them we are as valuable as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or A Confederacy of Dunces or A Streetcar Named Desire. Tell them those three banned and cherished books would never have existed without us. Tell them we will never die easy, and if we do die, we will be the most haunted place in the world.
NOLA has not yet been completely “banned”, as Brite devastatingly characterized it, but it won’t be fully re-enfranchised unless we increase the pressure on Washington.
Je me souviens.”
(Major h/t and heartfelt thanks to Sarah J for links and inspiration.)
Following several days of strategically-timed leaks to the press, the Stephen Harper Party has finally tabled its stimulus budget, which, according to the Canadian Press, “submerges Canada in a sea of red ink after more than a decade of clear fiscal sailing.” Indeed, it seems that Jim Flaherty has finally embraced his inner Keynesian, after years of hiding it beneath Milton Friedman’s long shadow:
The Tories are doling out nearly $20-billion – or half the stimulus package – to spur immediate spending on infrastructure projects and home construction.
Nearly $12-billion federal dollars will be made available for “shovel-ready” public works projects across Canada that can be commenced quickly, but there’s a catch. Provinces and municipalities will have to contribute nearly $9-billion more in order to get the roads, bridges and sewer upgrade work started.
Cost-shared projects the Tories are eying include: revitalizing Union Station in Toronto, the Evergreen transit line in Vancouver, road upgrades in Quebec City and the Summerside wind energy project on Prince Edward Island.
Infrastructure spending alone won’t keep all the building trades in Canada busy though and Ottawa has allocated $7.8-billion for other construction activity – to renovate and upgrade housing.
This includes $3-billion it expects to spend giving out tax breaks for the temporary home renovation credit as well as $1-billion in outlays to fund renovations and retrofits of social housing. Ottawa will also spend $400-million on new home construction for low-income seniors, $400-million on first nations reserve housing and $200-million for building northern residences.
Of course, all that spending (and tax cuts) comes at a cost (er…you know what I mean):
Ottawa is forecast to add $85-billion to the debt between now and 2012-13, eroding much of the debt-reduction achievements of the past decade. Current and former governments have shaved $105-billion from the national debt since the late 1990s by using surpluses to retire obligations owing.
Yet out of all the ‘pragmatic’ concessions made by the Harper conservatives that fly in the face of their purported ideological ‘principles’ (a practice the Harpercons have been perfecting recently) there’s still one policy area where old habits die harder than Bruce Willis, as the NDP (which, along with the Bloc, has already vowed to vote down the budget) points out in a press release (h/t The Regina Mom):
The budget…contains no mention of childcare spaces and maintains the attack on women’s ability to pursue pay equity complaints.
Via Antonia Zerbisias, YWCA Canada has also issued a press release with its response to the latest bird-flip to 51% of the population:
“The government has set up some very inclusive spending with this budget for First Nations, seniors and people with disabilities, but we don’t see an awareness that Canadian women are very vulnerable in hard times,” says YWCA Canada CEO Paulette Senior. “Two-thirds of Canadians working for minimum wage are women, many taking any work they can find to hold family and community together. Government stimulus spending must take this into account.”
“The hole in this budget is child care services. For Canadian women and their families, child care is missing, and it is vital,” says Senior. “Everything we know about building strong families says child care services are essential. And that goes double for women needing to leave violent situations. They need affordable, quality care for their children so they can go out and work. Childcare not only creates jobs but it supports women and their families. Now is the time.” The budget announced $200 million for social housing in the north, a much needed investment.
Unlike the November economic update there was no mention of pay equity in the budget. “We are very sorry to hear a resounding silence from the government on this issue,” says Paulette Senior. “Especially as job stimulus spending is concentrated in employment sectors heavily dominated by men. The government needs to rethink its position on this equality issue and take the advice of its own task force.”
Keep in mind that, according to CUPE National President Paul Moist, “[m]any of these measures have a shelf-life of only two years.” Anyone who believes that we have witnessed the birth of a new era of post-partisan Conservative governance needs to stop downing so many goddamn Hope and Change cocktails and reset their GPS (hint: we’re still flying north of the US border, kids–even under NAFTA obligations, Obama’s transformative reach unfortunately stops at the customs desk). Still, it’s all-too-telling that, even in the short term, demonstrative apathy (or, depending how you look at it, antipathy) towards the women of Canada is one principle that the Tories are entirely unwilling to sacrifice at the alter of (temporary) expediency.
And, if anyone really thinks that we’re going to see this budget get killed, as Mark Taylor recommends, or even substantively modified before passage, Brodie Fenlon of the Globe and Mail puts things into perspective with the following lede:
The fate of the Harper Conservative’s massive stimulus plan and its minority government now rests in the hands of Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, as does the future of the fledgling Liberal-NDP coalition.”
In other words, progressives and coalition supporters shouldn’t even bother inhaling, much less holding it in. Still, if the spirit of futile optimism moves you to act despite the long odds (as, um, it always does to yours truly), contact info for Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is as follows:
Room 435-S, Centre Block
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
Tel: (613) 995 – 9364
Fax: (613) 992 – 5880
Alternatively, folks who are more new media saavy can send their thoughts via Iggy’s 1337 Web 2.0 hub.
Related: Various reponses from First Nation leader Phil Fontaine, James Laxer, and Marc Lee of the Progressive Economics Forum, who dismisses the “leakiest budget in Canadian history” as “more of a communications strategy than a serious budget for tough times.”
Toronto Star national security reporter Michelle Shephard, who, over the course of her career, has visited the detention facility at sunny Guantanamo Bay, Cuba fifteen times, gives an essential summation today of what she calls “a place of jarring juxtapositions”:
Suicides of the detainees became “asymmetric warfare” and force-feeding prisoners on hunger strikes was “assisted feeding.” Captives did not have “interrogations” but had “reservations.” And signs posted on the road to the camps listed the “Value of the Week” as “Pride” or “Respect” even as Washington debated the definition of torture.
[…]Journalists have been the public’s eyes and ears at the base for the last seven years and the ever-changing rules have at times hampered our efforts to tell the whole story.
Security regulations surrounding photos and videos were perhaps the most confounding.
Last week, censors erased a photographer’s shots of the tents at “Camp Justice” where journalists reside because there were more than three tents in the frame. A television reporter’s clip was deleted because the shot showed her talking with an orange barricade in the background. No one could explain why that was a problem.
Tight shots of razor wire were okay, except if it surrounded the courthouse, even if the courthouse wasn’t shown. I tried to point out that I didn’t think Al Qaeda would be surprised that razor wire was being used as security.
Detainees couldn’t be interviewed or identified in photographs because of the Geneva Conventions, Pentagon spokespeople and military commanders told us.
The international treaties state that prisoners of war must “at all times be protected … against insult and public curiosity.” The PoWs should be afforded “respect for their persons and their honour.”
But the Bush administration created this offshore prison in an effort to sidestep those same Geneva Conventions. U.S. President George W. Bush, who left office last week, famously stated that only the “spirit of” the Geneva Conventions would be respected at Guantanamo.
Our military escorts would correct us if we referred to captives as prisoners because these were not “prisoners of war” but “detainees.”
And if the reason for censoring photos was to protect a captive’s right to privacy and honour, then the Pentagon violated its own rules when it released Guantanamo’s most famous picture. The photo, taken in 2002, showing shackled prisoners in orange jumpsuits kneeling in the hot Cuban sun while dogs and soldiers bark at them, was actually taken by a U.S. sailor.
When international furor erupted, the Pentagon quickly labelled the photos “For Official Use Only” in an attempt to prevent further distribution. But it was too late.
The entire article is a must-read, if only to counter revisionist attempts to distort the legacy of Guantanamo, such as this unfortunately (if tellingly) titled op-ed from Sunday’s Washington Post, ‘When Gitmo Was (Relatively) Good,’ in which writer Karen J. Greenberg tries to construct a ‘One Good German’ counternarrative lauding “small initial efforts at decency” on the part of detention officials.
Purported good intentions aside, Guantanamo was an immediately tainted effort once the decision was made to, according to Greenberg, “act in a manner “consistent with” the conventions (as the mantra went) but not to feel bound by them [emphasis added].” As soon as the US untied itself from binding international law, specifically and deliberately design a detention facility in order to sidestep regulation and oversight, the entire enterprise was doomed to debasement, no mater how hard officials initially tried to voluntarily (key word) “go with the Geneva Conventions,” as Staff Sgt. Anthony Gallegos, quoted by Greenberg, put it.
Keep that statement–“not to feel bound by them“–in mind as the new administration ties itself in knots trying to untangle the legal and moral mess left behind by the previous–and, as GOP leaders like John Boehner continue to peddle the Club Gitmo myth, also remember Shephard’s stark recounting of Guantanamo’s true legacy.
“President Obama’s plans to expeditiously determine the fates of about 245 terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and quickly close the military prison there were set back last week when incoming legal and national security officials — barred until the inauguration from examining classified material on the detainees — discovered that there were no comprehensive case files on many of them.
Let’s pause for a moment to let that sink in: “there were no comprehensive case files on many of them.”
Ok, moving on:
Instead, they found that information on individual prisoners is “scattered throughout the executive branch,” a senior administration official said. The executive order Obama signed Thursday orders the prison closed within one year, and a Cabinet-level panel named to review each case separately will have to spend its initial weeks and perhaps months scouring the corners of the federal government in search of relevant material.
Several former Bush administration officials agreed that the files are incomplete and that no single government entity was charged with pulling together all the facts and the range of options for each prisoner. They said that the CIA and other intelligence agencies were reluctant to share information, and that the Bush administration’s focus on detention and interrogation made preparation of viable prosecutions a far lower priority.
Rewind my selekta: “[T]he Bush administration’s focus on detention and interrogation made preparation of viable prosectutions a far lower priorty”
A far lower priorty.
Of course, DeYoung and Finn wouldn’t be “objective” if they didn’t (falsely) balance things out with the requisite mealy-mouthed partisan broadsides from–wait for it, kiddies–some unnamed former Bush administration assbaskets who nostalgically break out their by-now-rusty bullshit shovels:
But other former officials took issue with the criticism and suggested that the new team has begun to appreciate the complexity and dangers of the issue and is looking for excuses.
After promising quick solutions, one former senior official said, the Obama administration is now “backpedaling and trying to buy time” by blaming its predecessor. Unless political appointees decide to overrule the recommendations of the career bureaucrats handling the issue under both administrations, he predicted, the new review will reach the same conclusion as the last: that most of the detainees can be neither released nor easily tried in this country.
“All but about 60 who have been approved for release,” assuming countries can be found to accept them, “are either high-level al-Qaeda people responsible for 9/11 or bombings, or were high-level Taliban or al-Qaeda facilitators or money people,” said the former official who, like others, insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters about such matters. He acknowledged that he relied on Pentagon assurances that the files were comprehensive and in order rather than reading them himself.”
Well, isn’t that cute! He never read the (um, non-existent files) that the Pentagon claimed are comprehensive (and are, um, non-existent), yet somehow still remains completely confident that all Gitmo detainees (apart from the 60 designated for release–oopsie!) are lawfully detained and cannot ever be released, because, um, well, because — hey, look! A Wookie from the planet Kashyyyk!
It does not. make. sense.
Ok, say what you want about the Nazis, but at least they had the *ahem* decency to keep oh-so-impeccable records on their detainees; would that the former administration have shown similar consideration.
Hilzoy (h/t) lays it out on the table:
It takes, well, a special kind of administration to detain people for years on end without bothering to assemble case files on them. I’m just glad they’re finally gone.
Yes, gone, but their tainted legacy, unfortunately, festers, like black mold spreading contamination throughout the structure of US and international law.
Steve Benen puts these latest revelations in context:
The previous administration a) tortured detainees, making it harder to prosecute dangerous terrorists; b) released bad guys while detaining good guys; and c) neglected to keep comprehensive files on possible terrorists who’ve been in U.S. custody for several years. As if the fiasco at Gitmo weren’t hard enough to clean up.
And in order to completely mitigate the rot that, over the past 8 years, has almost completely eaten away at the rule of law in the US, Sylvia/M believes that the Obama administration must subcontract the restoration of justice to the Hague:
If Obama really wants to restore our standing in the international community and to reinstate the rule of law here in the United States, now is the time to bind ourselves to the Rome Statute, submit to international justice, and start cleaning up the deeply entrenched messes our previous partisan warhawk regime has wrought. The damage is growing too deep and too great for our national court systems to fix alone.
At the very least, this latest postscript from The Dark Side further underscores how vital it is for the Obama administration to hold accountable those who, whether deliberately or by virture of willful indifference, chose–chose–to napalm all progress Western Civilization has made since the Magna Carta was signed.
Torching our value system, in order to save it.
Well it’s about damn time:
The Senate approved landmark worker rights legislation on Thursday that will make it easier for those who think they’ve endured pay discrimination to seek legal help. The vote was 61-36.
The House of Representatives approved a similar measure on January 9, three days after the 111th Congress convened. Because the Senate made modest changes in the House version, the House must pass it again. Once it does, as is assured, this will be one of the first bills that President Barack Obama signs into law.
Steve Benen patiently explains why this is a good thing (just in case it wasn’t immediately obvious):
To hear opponents of the bill tell it, making it easier to challenge pay discrimination will lead to more lawsuits. That’s almost certainly true. But therein lies the point — if American workers are facing unjust wage discrimination, there should be more lawsuits. Those are worthwhile lawsuits, challenging an injustice. Ideally, employers would stop discriminating, as most already do, and in turn, there’d be fewer lawsuits.
Liss says that “Lilly Ledbetter has reportedly already been invited by President Obama to appear at the White House for the signing ceremony.” If so, that would be yet another politically astute symbolic gesture on the part of the new executive. Let’s hope it works out. Ledbetter has more than earned a place at the President’s side.
Oh, and to the 36 Republicans who voted against this bill and in favour of discrimination against 51% of the US population, a message of post-partisan comity and respect for ideological difference, on behalf of the women of America:
Now that gives me hope for the future.