A Better Climate for Peace

The weekend election of Mahmoud Abbas as president of the Palestinian Authority opens, in a common image, a “window of opportunity” for progress in the Middle East. In Abbas the Israelis have the negotiating partner they did not have in Yasser Arafat. By voting overwhelmingly for a candidate who has forthrightly rejected violence, Palestinians have put their desire for negotiations on full display. This development alone is reason for hope, and in the convoluted Middle East, hope is always a political act. But it is a mistake to focus too narrowly on the election of Mahmoud Abbas as the source of such hope, because Palestinians acting alone cannot change the dynamic of war. There are many windows in the house of peace.

In fact, there is a remarkable convergence of opportunities just now, developments in Israel and around the globe having significant implications for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. A constellation of signs of the times, including tragedy in Asia and an unjust war in Iraq, defines this moment as uniquely ripe.

James Carroll | read more |

Investigate Alleged Violations of Law in Fallujah Attack

Public buildings, mosques and residences were subjected to assault by air and ground forces. The city now lies in ruins, largely depopulated, but still occupied by U.S. forces. Convoys sent by the Iraqi Red Crescent to aid the remaining population have been turned back. Diseases brought on by bad water are spreading in Fallujah and the surrounding refugee camps.

The means of attack employed against Fallujah are illegal and cannot be justified by any conceivable ends. In particular, the targeting of medical facilities and denial of clean water are serious breaches of the Geneva Conventions. Continuation of these practices will soon confirm what many already suspect: that the United States of America believes it is above the law.

Dr. Jim McDermott and Dr. Richard Rapport, | read more |

Leading by Misleading

Excuse me, but is that smoke in your ear?

I wouldn’t go calling anyone a liar, but as we say in our quaint Texas fashion, this administration is stuffed with people who are on a first-name basis with the bottom of the deck. They’ve been telling us only four out of the 18 provinces in Iraq will be too unsafe to vote in. Doesn’t sound that bad, does it? Unless you happen to know that about 50 percent of the population lives in those four provinces.

Will someone explain to me what earthly good they expect to do by misleading us? If, God forbid, the Iraqi election turns out to be a disaster, will we be better off for not having expected it? How long are Bush and Cheney going to sit there pretending the problem is that the media won’t report the “good news” out of Iraq? Be a lot more useful if they paid attention to some of the bad news.

Molly Ivins | read more |

The Iceberg Cometh

A responsible administration would reverse course on tax cuts and the botched 2003 Medicare drug bill, both of which pose much greater threats to the government’s solvency than the modest financial shortfall of the Social Security system. But Mr. Bush has declared his tax cuts inviolable, and he says that his drug bill will actually save money. (The Medicare trustees say it will cost $8 trillion.)

There’s an iceberg in front of us, all right. And Mr. Bush wants us to steam right into it, full speed ahead.

Paul Krugman | read more |

Bush’s ‘Death Squads’

Refusing to admit personal misjudgments on Iraq, George W. Bush instead is pushing the United States toward becoming what might be called a permanent “counter-terrorist” state, which uses torture, cross-border death squads and even collective punishments to defeat perceived enemies in Iraq and around the world.

Since securing a second term, Bush has pressed ahead with this hard-line strategy, in part by removing dissidents inside his administration while retaining or promoting his proteges. Bush also has started prepping his younger brother Jeb as a possible successor in 2008, which could help extend George W.’s war policies while keeping any damaging secrets under the Bush family’s control.

As a centerpiece of this tougher strategy to pacify Iraq, Bush is contemplating the adoption of the brutal practices that were used to suppress leftist peasant uprisings in Central America in the 1980s. The Pentagon is “intensively debating” a new policy for Iraq called the “Salvador option,” Newsweek magazine reported on Jan. 9.

The strategy is named after the Reagan-Bush administration’s “still-secret strategy” of supporting El Salvador’s right-wing security forces, which operated clandestine “death squads” to eliminate both leftist guerrillas and their civilian sympathizers, Newsweek reported. “Many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success – despite the deaths of innocent civilians,” Newsweek wrote.

Robert Parry | read more |

The Scent of Fear

With the war draining the military of the troops needed for commitments worldwide, the Pentagon is being forced to take extraordinary steps to maintain adequate troop strength. A temporary increase of 30,000 soldiers for the Army, already approved by Congress, will most likely be made permanent. The Pentagon is also considering plans to further change the rules about mobilizing members of the National Guard and Reserve. Right now they cannot be called up for more than 24 months of active service. That limit would be scrapped, which would permit the Army to call them up as frequently as required.

That’s not a back-door draft. It’s a brutal, in-your-face draft that’s unfairly limited to a small segment of the population. It would make a mockery of the idea of an all-volunteer Army.

Something’s got to give. The nation’s locked in a war that’s going badly. The military is strained to the breaking point. And it’s looking more and more like the amateur hour in the places that are supposed to provide leadership in perilous times – the Pentagon and the White House.

Bob Herbert | read more |

For the Record on Social Security

Mr. Bush’s reason for ignoring the far more pressing problem of Medicare while he pursues Social Security privatization is especially tortured. Over the next 75 years, the mismatch between revenues and Medicare benefits for doctors’ care and prescription drugs is 3.5 to 6 times as much as the shortfall in Social Security, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The Medicare hospital trust fund mismatch is two to three times as big. Asked by a reporter last month why he wouldn’t tackle Medicare first, Mr. Bush said that his administration had already taken on Medicare by pushing through the $500 billion-plus prescription drug benefit. Drug coverage, he said, would save money for Medicare by paying for medicine that would prevent the need for expensive heart surgery. “I recognize some of the actuaries haven’t come to that conclusion yet,” he said. “But the logic is irrefutable.”

Logic? That thinking is wishful to the point of being magical. Medicare is not going to fix itself any more than tax cuts will pay for themselves. And Social Security is not a crisis for which enormous borrowing, huge benefit cuts and risky private accounts are a solution. Rather, it’s a financial problem of manageable proportions, solvable without new borrowing by a combination of modest benefit cuts and tax increases that could be distributed fairly and phased in over several decades, while guaranteeing a basic level of inflation-proof income for life.

It appears that the president and his aides are trying to sow ignorance to gain support for their flawed privatization agenda. Lawmakers, policy makers and the American people have to let the administration know that they know better.

New York Times | read more |

Madness in Iraq Continues Unabated

It may have taken an earthquake, a tsunami and a human catastrophe of unimaginable proportions, but George W. Bush finally changed his mind. In so doing, the president helped Americans show the generosity, compassion and know-how for which we’ve long been admired around the world. “I’d much rather be doing this than fighting a war,” a helicopter pilot, Lt. Cmdr. William Whitsitt, told The Associated Press while flying victims from demolished Indonesian villages out to the USS Abraham Lincolnfor medical treatment.

Too bad there’s so little evidence that Bush has the capacity to learn from the experience, because in Iraq, it’s his nearpathological inability to admit error that keeps American soldiers trapped in a nightmare entirely of the administration’s devising. Unless he develops the moral courage to change a disastrously misconceived policy, that nightmare can only continue, isolating the U.S. from its allies and sowing hatred that breeds terrorists like dragon’s teeth. At first, it appeared that the administration would handle the Asian tragedy as it handles everything else: with minimum regard and maximum political spin. Bush’s initial response appeared niggardly and grudging. Vacationing at his Texas dude ranch, the president emerged to express halting condolences only after his silence had evoked worldwide consternation.

Gene Lyons | read more |

Stopping the Bum’s Rush

The people who hustled America into a tax cut to eliminate an imaginary budget surplus and a war to eliminate imaginary weapons are now trying another bum’s rush. If they succeed, we will do nothing about the real fiscal threat and will instead dismantle Social Security, a program that is in much better financial shape than the rest of the federal government.

In the next few weeks, I’ll explain why privatization will fatally undermine Social Security, and suggest steps to strengthen the program. I’ll also talk about the much more urgent fiscal problems the administration hopes you won’t notice while it scares you about Social Security.

Today let’s focus on one piece of those scare tactics: the claim that Social Security faces an imminent crisis.

That claim is simply false. Yet much of the press has reported the falsehood as a fact. For example, The Washington Post recently described 2018, when benefit payments are projected to exceed payroll tax revenues, as a “day of reckoning.”

Paul Krugman | read more |